Every winter millions of people across the UK struggle to stay warm and healthy at home. Rising energy costs, low incomes and energy inefficient homes leave them unable to afford even basic household essentials like energy, food and heating.
Living in a cold home can have a range of impacts on physical and mental health and treating cold-related illness is estimated to cost the NHS in Northern Ireland £40m a year.
This year the situation will be even more difficult. COVID-19 is squeezing household finances further and compelling people to spend more time in their homes. Some of the health conditions caused or worsened by cold homes, such as asthma and COPD, also place people at greater risk from the virus.
A survey of 73 organisations supporting people in fuel poverty during the first wave of COVID-19, conducted by charity National Energy Action, showed that 95% felt there was a moderate or high risk of more households cutting back on their energy use due to being forced to spend more time at home; and three quarters said they were concerned that there is a high risk of the increased building up of fuel debt this winter.*
This Fuel Poverty Awareness Day [27th November] SGN Natural Gas is joining national charity NEA Northern Ireland and others up and down the country to highlight these issues and encourage people to seek the help that is available to keep warm at home.
Darren Young, Head of Business Development with SGN Natural Gas said: “The ‘Gas to the West’ project originated from a need to offer an alternative energy choice to consumers in the west who, up until now, have been heavily reliant on solid fuel and oil. Our company has been very conscious of this driver from the outset, and we are already actively helping to enable customers to move out of fuel poverty by connecting to our new network. Customers in our network area now have access to an affordable and more convenient form of energy which is much cleaner than the other traditional fossil fuels that are typically in use today.”
“Our recent participation in the hugely successful NISEP scheme has ensured that lower income households benefit from funding to help convert their homes from oil and solid fuel to natural gas, and it is imperative that we continue to further assist this consumer group in the coming years. Given that fuel poverty is higher in the western area than in other parts of Northern Ireland, we will continue to lobby for further support for residents within our network area on an ongoing basis.”
Pat Austin, Director of NEA Northern Ireland, commented: ‘‘160,000 households in Northern Ireland are in fuel poverty and dreading the onset of the cold weather, with no idea of the support that may be available to them. While we commend the Department for Communities’ efforts with the Affordable Warmth Programme, alone this is not enough to tackle the ongoing problem. We still need to highlight that much needs done and by working together, we can get help to those who need it most, ensuring that people can live in a warm and safe home this winter.”