Published Tuesday, 18 December 2012
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Fuel poverty fears
Age Sector Platform
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Being in fuel poverty means you spend more than 10% of your income heating your home.
It affects 42% of families here - and 21% of pensioners, compared to 16% in Great Britain.
Tom Robinson is 85 years old. He lives on his own and generally spends most of his time in just a few rooms in his north Belfast home.
But staying warm can be expensive and for Tom, keeping the cold out has been getting pricey in recent years. He now pays £106 a month to heat his home.
"It's a lot more than what I used to pay," he said. "Eight years ago I paid £50 or £60 a month but I used the one bedroom and I have the heat turned down in all of the other bedrooms.
"My dining room heat is turned down but I very rarely use it. The games rooms as I call it, I have it turned down so I have the heat up in the working kitchen and the heat up here at full and usually keep the heat fairly well up in the main bedroom."
Many pensioners are uncertain as to how to solve the problem.
Pat Austin, of National Energy Action NI, said: "There's a very confused picture and there's no one telephone number to call.
"So perhaps somebody might call the Housing Executive to see who is responsible for the boiler replacement scheme, or the warm homes scheme to see if they're eligible for that."
Five hundred people died in NI last year in what is called an excess winter death - which means deaths higher than the average in other parts of the year.
Charities want action to be taken to prevent such incidents.
"The cold is killing older people," James Orr from Friends of the Earth said. "These are preventable deaths and we simply don't think enough is being done to help the most vulnerable people."
Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland believes there are clear solutions to the problem of fuel poverty.
The DUP minister said: "Our primary approach is through the warm homes scheme and we have a target this year of 9,000 homes which will as a result of the scheme be much more efficient, and that means the people living in them will have to spend less money on fuel.
"We also have a boiler replacement scheme and over the course of three years £16m is made available for boiler replacement, that means 16,000 homes will have a more efficient boiler replacing one that may be 20 years old."
He also encouraged older people to claim the benefits they are entitled to.
Meanwhile for Tom, insulating his house a number of years ago, as well as switching to gas, was the best financial move he's made on this front.
He said: "These cavity walls that are insulated and the loft is well insulated."
It's advice he hopes other pensioners will bear in mind as they try to keep warm this winter.