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Rural Housing Association Supports National Day of Action for Warm Homes
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 [27 November] Rural Housing Association 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.
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 Government for the recent introduction, we still need to highlight that more 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”.
The campaign will launch on Fuel Poverty Awareness Day (27 November) and continue through the winter. You can support the campaign by:
• Writing to your local MP, MLA or Councillor to ask them to support the campaign;
• Committing to supporting people in fuel poverty this winter and sharing this commitment and any action taken on NEA’s social media channels;
• Sharing a video or other message of support with NEA on their social media channels;
• Using #FuelPovertyAwarenessDay and #WarmSafeHomes so we can share your posts more widely and help demonstrate the work that is being done to support vulnerable energy customers this winter;
Twitter handles for this campaign are @NEA_NIreland and @NEA_UKCharity. You can also find them on Facebook as National Energy Action NI.
Fuel Poverty and Covid-19 – The Impacts
During the first wave of Covid-19 NEA put out a call for evidence to organisations supporting people in fuel poverty, to understand how Covid-19 had impacted on vulnerable and low-income households. NEA received 73 responses covering the breadth of the UK.
NEA found that the impact has been unparalleled, both for fuel poor households and those that support them.
The five main impacts on fuel poor households were;
• An increase in energy use, due to more people spending more time at home;
• A reduction in income, as many jobs were either lost or placed on furlough;
• Increased affordability issues and therefore debt, leading to energy rationing;
• Reductions in smart meter and energy efficiency installations; and
• Difficulties in accessing support, especially where households were digitally excluded or spoke English as an additional language.
95% of respondents said 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 during lockdown; and three quarters said they were concerned that there is a high risk of the increased building up of fuel debt this winter, as a direct result of the pandemic.
The Fuel Poverty Monitor, which featured the research, also noted that the usual strategies which people often employ to get them through winter may not be available. In particular, people may often take to public spaces or the homes of friends and family to try and stay warm. With many public buildings closing, and various restrictions on mixing with other households, this is no longer an option.
As the crisis deepens and people are furloughed or made redundant, millions are facing their first winter on a reduced income. Householders who had previously managed their finances are now finding themselves struggling to meet basic living expenses like food and energy.
In October 2020, Citizens Advice estimated “6 million UK adults have fallen behind on at least one household bill during the pandemic, including: 3.4 million on mobile phone or broadband, 3 million on water bills, 2.8 million on energy, 2.8 million on council tax, and 1.2 million on rent”, an estimated total of £1.6 billion in household arrears.
In November, The Resolution Foundation released research looking at how low incomes, spending and saving had changed during both the lockdown (April to June) and re-opening (July to September) periods. It found that ‘there is evidence that serious financial stress is building….half (54 per cent) of adults from families in the lowest income quintile had borrowed in recent months to cover everyday costs such as housing and food’ and ‘almost one-in-three adults that has had a persistently low income through the pandemic say they cannot afford basic items such as fresh fruit and vegetables every day, or to turn on the heating when required’.