Almost half of Northern Ireland households are currently living in fuel poverty, a new survey has suggested.
In Northern Ireland a household is considered to be in fuel poverty if the occupants would have to spend more than 10% of their income on all household fuel use in order adequately heat the home.
The last official monitoring of the fuel poverty rate was carried out in 2016 and set the level at 22%, with subsequent modelling by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive indicating a 2019 figure of around 24%.
Unlike the rest of the UK, Northern Ireland does not have any statutory targets for fuel poverty and the last strategy dealing with it was produced over a decade ago in 2011.
A recent LucidTalk poll carried out by the fuel poverty charity National Energy Action (NEA) has now painted a worrying picture of rising energy costs. It indicated that 45% of households here are considered to be in fuel poverty.
The survey is based on 2,468 responses from NI households.
The charity is now calling on politicians and policy makers here, as well as the Utility Regulator and the energy industry, to form an emergency taskforce to address the energy crisis ahead of this winter, in an effort to reduce the pressure on hundreds of thousands of households.
NEA is worried that this dramatic jump in fuel poverty will pile significant further pressures onto health and social care services in the coming months as there is a direct correlation between cold homes and increased risk of circulatory and respiratory diseases. Exposure to the cold also has a hugely detrimental impact on health and wellbeing, including mental health.
Asked if rising energy prices have had an impact on their household, 29% of respondents said that either their own health and wellbeing, or someone else’s in their household, had been impact by the cost-of-living crisis.
Stress and anxiety over rising prices have become commonplace in NI households, with 17% of respondents admitting that they currently worry about how they can pay for their energy.
A further 58% stated that they are worried about how they will afford their bills this winter.
When asked if politicians in NI have been doing enough to address the cost of living crisis an overwhelming majority of respondents (85%) said no.
Commenting on the findings of the research, NEA director Pat Austin said that he fears if action isn’t taken soon “we could be leaving it too late and heading towards a very difficult winter". He added that, without action taken soon “we will be looking at excess deaths this winter due to cold homes”.
“We need to establish an emergency Fuel Poverty Taskforce with immediate effect to tackle this issue while we still can,” said Mr Austin.