Friday, 3 September 2010

Winter Fuel Allowance and Fuel Poverty

Despite being blessed with sunshine at the minute, the summer months are drawing to a close, so it’s appropriate to post the following information to ensure people don’t miss out on the winter fuel payment. It's also appropriate to highlight fuel poverty which affected 429,000 households in Ireland in 2001

Winter Fuel Payment

People over the age of 60 are entitled to the winter fuel payment benefit, which helps alleviate the financial strain on order citizens during the winter period.

To have reached the qualifying age for a Winter Fuel Payment for winter 2010/11 you will need to be born on or before 5 July 1950.

In order to apply for the Winter Fuel Payment you must be aged 60 or over during 20 to 26 September 2010 and normally live in the north of Ireland. Those who are eligible can get up to £250 which increases to £400 if the person is aged 80 or over.

Couples both aged 60 and over whom qualify and who are receiving Pension Credit or income-based Jobseeker's Allowance will get one payment made to the person receiving that benefit, the other person is not entitled to the payment.

You won’t qualify for a Winter Fuel Payment if, during the week of 20–26 September 2010:
  • You were in hospital for more than 52 weeks previously, getting free treatment as an inpatient
  • You were in custody serving a court sentence
  • You were subject to immigration control and did not qualify for help from the Department for Work and Pensions
  • You lived in a care home, an independent hospital or Ilford Park Polish Resettlement Home (and had done so for the previous 12 weeks or more) and you were on Pension Credit, income-based Jobseeker's Allowance or income-related Employment and Support Allowance
 People who need more information can contact the helpline on 084 59 15 15 15


Fuel Poverty
The Human Cost of Expensive Fuel

What is fuel poverty?

Dr John Healy and Dr Peter Clinch, two of Europe’s leading researchers in the field have defined ‘fuel poverty’ as being ‘the inability to heat the home adequately because of low household income and energy inefficient housing’ (Alleviating Fuel Poverty in Ireland, 1999). Other definitions link fuel poverty to household income, defining households that spend in excess of 10% of disposable income on heating as suffering from ‘fuel poverty’.

While there may be no universally accepted definition of what constitutes fuel poverty there is general agreement that fuel poverty is caused not only by low household income, but also by poor quality housing. Features of such housing may include little or no insulation, poor or non-existent damp proofing, poor quality or ill-fitting doors and windows. Fuel poverty disproportionately effects those on lower incomes, the old and those with disabilities.

How many people in Ireland are affected by fuel poverty?
The total number of households suffering from fuel poverty in Ireland in 2001 has been estimated at 429,000 households. Working on the basis of household occupancy of 2.5 persons per household this figure suggests that more than one million people in Ireland were affected by fuel poverty in 2001. With the dramatic rises in energy prices since 2001 it is safe to assume that the number of people living in households experiencing fuel poverty is no lower today and may indeed be significantly higher.

26 Counties:
Statistics from 2001 estimated that 226,000 households in the twenty-six counties were affected by fuel poverty (‘Quantify the Severity of Fuel Poverty’, Healy and Clinch 2002).

Six Counties:
The situation in the six counties is even worse with 203,000 households deemed to be suffering from fuel poverty in 2001 (‘Ending Fuel Poverty’ Department for Social Development).

What impact does fuel poverty have?
The Institute of Public Health in Ireland have stated that those experiencing fuel poverty are at increased risk of:
  • Respiratory illness
  • Increased blood pressure and stroke
  • Worsening arthritis
  • Accidents at home
  • Social isolation
  • Impaired mental health
  • Adverse effects on children’s education
  • Adverse effects on nutrition

Premature Deaths:
The most serious documented effect of fuel poverty is that of premature deaths from avoidable illnesses. Each winter the mortality rate in Ireland rises by roughly 20% when compared with the rate throughout the rest of the year (23% in the twenty-six counties – Healy; ‘Action on Poverty Today, Winter 2005’ and 17% in the six counties – Excess Winter Mortality in Europe, 2002).

These deaths which are known as ‘excess winter deaths’ account for roughly 3,000 ‘extra’ deaths across the country each year with between 1,500 and 2,000 of those being in the twenty-six counties (‘The Potential Health Benefits of Improving Household Energy Efficiency’ Clinch and Healy 2000) and the remainder in the six counties. The rate of ‘excess winter mortality’ can vary dramatically with higher rates coinciding with harsh winter and/or higher levels of influenza.

While it would be overly simplistic to suggest that all of these ‘extra’ deaths can be attributed directly to fuel poverty it is clear from recent research that fuel poverty is a significant contributory factor in many of these deaths.

What can be done?
Fuel poverty is caused by a combination of low income/high energy costs and poor housing. As such the elimination of fuel poverty can only occur by addressing both issues.

Take Back the Gas:
While thousands of Irish citizens are dying prematurely because they cannot afford to heat their homes the Dublin government is giving away billions of euros of Irish oil and gas to the international energy companies. The gas in the Corrib field alone is sufficient to meet much of Ireland’s needs for at least a decade but it will only be available to the Irish people at the same price as gas from the Ukraine or Russia.

The Dublin government should immediately begin a process of re-negotiation with the international energy companies to ensure that Irish oil and gas is made available to the people of Ireland at an affordable price. Failing to act will leave hundreds of thousands of people exposed to the fluctuations of the international energy markets.

Improve Housing Standards:
Measures need to be taken to ensure that all new house-builds meet the highest international standards in terms of insulation and energy efficiency. In addition a major government-led programme of retro-fitting of such measures to the existing Irish housing stock should be undertaken without delay.

Linking of ‘Fuel Allowances’ to Energy Prices:
All ‘Fuel Allowance’ payments should be directly linked to the price of fuel and energy. As the price of fuel and energy increase (or decrease) appropriate adjustment in the payment of such payments should be made automatically.



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