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Fuel Poverty News

Ulster fuel poverty rates highest in the UK - 2 Feb 09  

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Northern Ireland has the highest rates of fuel poverty in the UK, according to the latest report by the Home Energy Conservation Authority.

Families that were previously not at risk are being pushed into fuel poverty as fuel costs rise, the group said, insisting that fuel poverty can only be eradicated if action is taken on all three of its causes — low incomes, high fuel prices and poor energy efficiency.

The report said the Housing Executive has taken action to improve energy efficiency in Housing Executive stock, including switching from inefficient fuels, adding insulation, installing double glazing, providing energy advice and installing renewable technology, but warned that improving energy efficiency will not be enough to take people out of fuel poverty.

The Authority, which comes under the Housing Executive, said some 226,000 households were facing fuel poverty when the most recent figures were taken in 2006.

However, levels have probably risen much higher now, it said. Since May 2008, coal prices have risen by 25%. Gas prices rose 28% in May followed by another 19.2% in October, oil prices rose by 87% in 2008 and electricity rose by 14% in July followed by 33.3% in October.

“It is accepted that fuel poverty will have increased dramatically since 2006 as a result of escalating fuel prices,” the report said.

The Authority said energy efficiency in Northern Ireland housing stock increased by 20% between 1996 and 2006, mainly due to fuel switching from inefficient heating fuels such as coal and electricity to natural gas and oil, as well as increased insulation levels.

“Further progress on these programmes continued in 2008 although at a reduced rate due to funding,” the groups said.

“However, despite the major improvement in energy efficiency, fuel poverty has actually increased in recent years primarily due to escalating prices for all household fuels.

“Level of fuel poverty would however have been much worse if investment in energy efficiency had not taken place. This demonstrates that the eradication of fuel poverty requires action on all three of its causes, namely low incomes, high fuel prices and poor energy efficiency.”

The report revealed that the majority (56%) of fuel poor households in Northern Ireland use oil as their main heat source. Around 75% of all households use this fuel.

“What is evident is that the vast majority of fuel poor already have energy efficient heating systems such as oil or natural gas but they remain in fuel poverty due to either low incomes and/or the rising cost of these fuels,” it said.

“This is a further indication that improved energy efficiency alone is insufficient to take people out of fuel poverty.”

A breakdown of council area showed that the Belfast area had the highest number of fuel poor households. However, Moyle had the highest rates of fuel poverty (45.3% of all households), followed by Larne (43.1%) and Cookstown (41.2%). Over 50% of fuel poor householders are elderly, aged 60 and over.

“Whilst it may come as no surprise that 43% of fuel poor households are retired people, it is surprising that 27% of the fuel poor are employed people. Traditionally there may have been a view that fuel poverty only affects elderly people or those on benefits. In recent years more and more of the fuel poor are working households and this is likely to have increased substantially since 2006 as fuel prices soar,” the report said.

“Over 27% of the fuel poor have incomes of between £10,000 and £15,000. In 2001 only around 20,000 households in this income band were in fuel poverty whereas by 2006 this had trebled to over 61,000 households. This reflects the impact that the rising cost of fuel is having in pushing families into fuel poverty that previously were not at risk.”

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Source: Belfast Telegraph