Fuel poverty crisis report 'underplays extent of problem'
The Fuel Poverty Coalition has voiced concern that a new report commissioned by the Department for Social Development is underplaying the problem.
The FPC said that the fuel poor figure of 13% in the report by academic Professor Christine Liddell represented a "new calculation" that suggested fewer people were suffering.
Prof Liddell's report warned that half of all households in Northern Ireland will be living on the breadline in two years' time as a by-product of the failing economy.
She said that 75,000 local homes (13%) have already slid into extreme fuel poverty.
The FPC said it was worried about the way the figures were being presented.
"Figures said in 2009 at least 44% of people were in fuel poverty and yet today, following two years of energy price rises and many incomes frozen or reduced, we are being told only 13% of households are in fuel poverty," said FPC joint chair Antoinette McKeown.
But Nelson McCausland, Minister for Social Development, said a local approach to looking at fuel poverty would help the department target resources at the most needy.
"The report states that the 75,000 households who experience the highest levels of fuel poverty, compared with average households here, represent 13% of the population," he said.
"The report also makes clear that the current definition of 44% remains fit for purpose as a figure for comparison with other UK regions."
The bad news comes in the wake of the UK Government's decision to reduce winter fuel payments this year - despite forecasters predicting colder weather than ever before at Christmas.
Fuel poverty, which occurs when households spend more than 10% of their income on heating and lighting, currently affects 44% of homes.
A fuel poor household is one that cannot afford to keep adequately warm at reasonable cost. Households which are in fuel poverty are said to be those which must spend more than 10% of their income on heating their home to an adequate standard of warmth. This is defined as the temperature recommended by the World Health Organisation.