Pensioners struggle in fuel poverty

Published Tuesday, 18 December 2012
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With many households in Northern Ireland struggling in fuel poverty, one pensioner has told UTV his energy bills have rocketed this winter.

Pensioners struggle in fuel poverty
Many are struggling with fuel poverty. (© UTV)

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.

© UTV News
Comments Comments
Ryan in Belfast wrote (770 days ago):
Disgraceful, the bankers who bankrupt Europe and the western world get bailed out and even get a PAY RISE while old people are choosing to either stay warm or to eat? Absolutey disgraceful. The amount of poverty in the 6 counties, amongst BOTH the catholic and protestant communities, is shocking and its mosty all happening behind closed doors. Now, i dont mean to mention the flag issue but why is it that when a stupid flag has restrictions on how many days its flown put on it people riot, block roads and cause mayhem for neary 3 weeks and its ongoing. And yet people from BOTH communities are struggling in terrible poverty and yet theres barely a word spoken about it? I'd understanding rioting and blocking roads if it were because children, adults and old people were starving, freezing, etc
Caoimhe in Coleraine wrote (771 days ago):
Y are there so many elderly living alone?? They should b looked after by their children or in a warm fold!!! The government does not care in the slightest about pensioners.
UK resident in belfast wrote (772 days ago):
Fuel poverty is a major problem for both the elderly and families alike. We pay considerably more to heat our homes than on the mainland. We also pay much more for the materials to insulate our homes. To bring the issue of the "rag" or UNION flag into this discussion says it all. Way to go on respect for another tradition. Just to say also that your republican friends have made sure many people in Northern Ireland didn't reach pension age.
norman.d in bangor wrote (772 days ago):
people care more about flags and parades as does this executive stormont voted to cut peoples benefits while still funding ex prisoners groups pensioners and families are all struggling with paying their bills and nobody comes out to protest about this and the economy but when asked to protest about flags they come out onto the streets its time people got into the real world
Frosty in Here wrote (772 days ago):
Of course the government won't do anything about it, less pensioners means less pensions to pay out. And for all their gurning about benefit fraud, which is actually around 1% in the UK, there is approximately £16 billion in benefits that go unclaimed every year.
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