07 September 2011

The Fuel Poverty Coalition (FPC) has reacted with considerable concern at today’s press statement issued by the Department for Social Development (DSD), which presents a new ‘calculation’ putting Northern Ireland’s fuel poverty levels at 13 per cent.  Today’s statement contradicts DSD’s own Departmental official statistics which showed at least 44 per cent of households are in fuel poverty here in Northern Ireland.

Antoinette McKeown, joint Chair of the Fuel Poverty Coalition, said

“We are extremely concerned that the press state ment may be suggesting that fewer people are suffering.  The Department’s own figures said that in 2009 at least 44 per cent of people in NI were in fuel poverty and yet today, following two years of energy price rises[1] and many incomes frozen or reduced, we are being told only 13 per cent of households are in fuel poverty.  The Fuel Poverty Coalition is appealing to the NI Executive and Social Development Committee to step in and ensure that the current budget is ring-fenced and increased to help those households who are suffering. We heard from fuel poverty experts today that it is time to stop putting money into monitoring figures and start taking action to help people. We welcome those calls andurge the Executive to take heed.

“We have outlined on several occasions suggestions and schemes which are happening elsewhere which could be adopted in Northern Ireland to relieve the fuel poverty crisis that exists here. The NI Executive has a duty to examine these immediately and ensure that we stop monitoring figures and start helping more people.”

The Fuel Poverty Coalition backed recommendations in the University of Ulster’s report, launched today, for a targeted approach to tackling fuel poverty[2].  The report highlights the fact that at least[3] 33,000 households in Northern Ireland are in ‘severe fuel poverty’, paying more than 25 per cent of their income on energy[4], and calls for urgent action to support those worst affected by fuel poverty.

Said Antoinette McKeown: “The Fuel Poverty Coalition welcomes the publication of this report in the context of a UK wide review of fuel poverty.  With the majority of households in Northern Ireland spending around £900 a year more on energy bills than the majority of households in Great Britain[5], we support the Report’s recommendation to adopt a targeted approach to tackling fuel poverty.

 The Northern Ireland Fuel Poverty Coalition is calling the NI Executive to:

  • Develop a detailed and costed action-plan setting out how and when fuel poverty will be eradicated in Northern Ireland; and
  • To provide support to all fuel poor households to stay warm until fuel poverty is eradicated.

[1] Home heating oil prices have risen by 63 per cent between August 2009 and August 2011 and 68 per cent of households in NI use oil heating.
[2] The report was commissioned by the Department for Social Development.
[3] The report is based on 2009 figures, so may be even higher in 2011.
[4] Fuel poverty = paying more than 10 per cent of income on energy bills.
[5] Consumer Focus website provides the average GB gas and electricity bills which combined amount to about £900 more than the average NI oil and electricity bill. (The majority (87%) of people in GB use gas heating, while the majority (68%) of NI consumers use oil).

Notes for Editors:

In addition, the Coalition has suggested the following practical actions that the Executive should undertake;

  1. Establishing a Cross Departmental Ministerial Fuel Poverty Task Force with a duty to eradicate fuel poverty in Northern Ireland.
  2. All Government Ministers should commit to incorporating action on fuel poverty into the Programme for Government and their Department’s strategic plans.
  3. Examine whether regulation of the oil industry could provide consumers with the necessary confidence that they are paying a fair price for oil and provide fuel poor households with the support and safeguards that natural gas and electricity consumers currently have.
  4. Implement a national insulation retrofitting programme to improve the energy efficiency levels of all households in fuel poverty.
  5. Develop and encourage Energy Brokering Schemes, and implement a system of Social Tariffs to help make the energy bills of all low income households more affordable.
  6. Make sure that people eligible for existing benefits claim them.
  7. Extend the Winter Fuel Payment to other vulnerable groups to include children and young people and those with long term health conditions.