Fuel Poverty Awareness Day 2019
The 15th of February 2019 is Fuel Poverty Awareness Day.
This is a day recognised in the UK where we raise awareness over the extent of fuel povery and the impact it can have on health, peoples' quality of life and the wider community.
It is estimated that 22% of households in Northern Ireland are impacted by fuel poverty and 4 million households throughout the UK live in cold homes. This is caused by a range of factors including having a low income, rising energy costs and living in a property that has poor heating systems and low quality insulation.
What effect does fuel poverty have?
Thousands of people in Northern Ireland are unable to heat their home properly. This has many detrimental effects on their life and the lives of their families.
There has been a 130% rise in the number of preventable deaths over the winter period in Northern Ireland due to people not being able to heat their homes to an acceptable standard. This is a particular concern for older people. In fact, the UK has the second worst rate of deaths during the winter period in Europe as a result of the fuel poverty many households suffer.
Living in a cold and damp home can have other major health effects too. This includes respiratory and circulatory issues, lower strength and dexterity among older people which can increase the likelihood of falls and there is evidence that links living in a cold home to poor mental health.
There are also a number of indirect effects of fuel poverty.
This includes social isolation in older people as they have to spend more money to try and heat their home so have less disposable income to spend going out. Households also have less money to spend on basic items like clothing and food with many people having to choose whether to ‘heat’ or ‘eat’.
What temperature should your home be?
Your home should be 21 degrees Celsius in the main living area and other occupied rooms should have a minimum temperature of 18 degrees Celsius.
Vulnerable people and those with long term health conditions are particularly at risk. Consistent temperatures below 16 degrees Celsius start to impair respiratory function, below 12 degrees Celsius can have cardiovascular effects and there is a high risk of hypothermia at lower temperatures.
What can you do about fuel poverty?
There are some steps households can take to try and mitigate the effects of fuel poverty.
Maximising your income such as having a benefit check carried out can help to bring in more money. This is particularly relevant to older people as an estimated £200m worth of benefits go unclaimed by older people in Northern Ireland every year. You can find an Advice NI member organisation in your area that can carry out a benefit check for you to ensure that you are getting everything you are entitled to.
Changing energy supplier can allow you to save money on your electricity and gas bills. The Consumer Council has a handy energy comparison tool for Northern Ireland where you can compare prices from different suppliers.