How is fuel poverty defined in Northern Ireland?
According to the fuel poverty definition used by the Department for Communities, a household is considered to be in fuel poverty if, in order to maintain a satisfactory level of heating (21 degrees centigrade in the main living area and 18 degrees centigrade in other occupied rooms), it is required to spend in excess of 10% of its household income on all fuel use.
A household is considered to be in severe fuel poverty if it needs to spend more than 15% of income on all fuel use.
How many people in Northern Ireland are in fuel poverty?
The most recent official figure for fuel poverty in NI was measured by the 2016 House Condition Survey and sets the rate at 22%. However, in June 2022 National Energy Action commissioned market research company LucidTalk to undertake a Northern Ireland-wide representative poll to evaluate the impacts of rising energy prices on households. This poll found that 45% of NI households were spending more than 10% of their income on their home energy costs.
What is government doing to tackle fuel poverty?
In response to the dramatic rise in energy prices the Minister for Communities announced two schemes during the 2021 winter period.
A £2m Emergency Fuel Payments Scheme
- In December the Department for Communities, in collaboration with Bryson Charitable Group, the Consumer Council NI and a range of local energy companies, contributed £2 million to an Emergency Fuel Payment Scheme.
- The scheme was aimed at supporting up to 20,000 households with the cost of energy through the provision of one-off support in the form of up to £100 worth of electricity, gas, or oil to 20,000 households across Northern Ireland that were experiencing an emergency fuel crisis during winter 2021/22.
- Demand for the scheme was underestimated and the operators Bryson Charitable group soon found themselves overwhelmed with requests for support. Their online platform frequently collapsed and a number of other problems accessing the scheme became apparent. This included a problem for those households who are digitally excluded as no written format for submissions was established until weeks after the scheme’s launch.
- The scheme was very publicly promoted which also served to mount pressure on Bryson Charitable group. We believe due to the small pot of money available it should have been designed on a referral basis.
£55m Energy Payment Support Scheme
- In mid-January it was announced that there would be a targeted one-off payment of £200 to provide support for people struggling to meet rising energy costs.
- It was made automatically to around 280,000 eligible people in receipt of specified benefits.
- The payment was made through existing payment channels, without the need for an application.
- The money for this intervention was drawn from underspend across all NI departments following a budgetary review exercise.
- The scheme was broadly welcomed by NEA and other advice sector organisations, however due to the collapse of the NI Assembly there was a delay in the rollout of the scheme and payments were not issued until after 10 March.
- At one point the scheme itself was considered at risk and it was only due to cross-party consensus that the emergency measures were approved and signed off before the resignation of the NI First Minister.
Following the Chancellor’s announcement in March, Northern Ireland received £435 million in funding through the Barnett Formula. To date this money has not been allocated due to the collapse of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
The response in Northern Ireland has been disjointed and underwhelming, largely due to Stormont not functioning during a period of crisis and the limitations that the lack of a functioning government places on accessing crucial emergency funding including the £435million in Barnett Consequential. Whilst the targeted support payments brought forward by HM Treasury have been issued to qualifying households in Northern Ireland, questions remain around what level of universal support might be made available. Efforts are ongoing to replicate the Energy Bills Support Scheme in Northern Ireland. However, there are a number of barriers that are still to be overcome.
Excess winter deaths
Every winter 290 people die in Northern Ireland due to cold homes.