Fuel Poverty and Winter

Some people just love winter. They love the crisp, dry air, the muffling effect of a new snowfall and the contrast of red berries against the whiteness. Then they head back to a toasty indoors to warm their hands around a steaming cup of hot chocolate. Lovely.

For other people, though, winter is a season of dread. Around 40% of households in Northern Ireland see winter as something to endure and struggle through because they struggle to afford to heat their homes adequately. If a household spends more than 10% of its income on heating, it’s considered to be in fuel poverty. Super Saver Oil, the home heating oil company that serves many NI households, sees fuel poverty as a serious concern and recommends that people buy their oil in the summer when prices are cheaper.

The three main reasons behind fuel poverty

The household has a low income – this means that fuel takes up a greater percentage of the entire budget the household has.

The price of oil rises – whether this is in real terms or because of a fall in the value of Sterling, a hike in oil prices will sometimes mean a family dips into fuel poverty for a month or even longer. If OPEC decides to limit production, or there’s unrest in the Middle East, the price of crude oil will rise. Similarly, as the weather in the northern hemisphere gets colder, demand will rise, pushing up prices – sometimes by as much as 20% month-on-month.

The house itself lets out too much heat – if a household is already struggling to maintain safe temperatures (18-21C), then an extra outlay on insulation might seem like a bridge too far. However, if a home isn’t well-insulated, then it costs more to heat. Unfortunately, lower-income households tend to suffer more from problems like uninsulated lofts, loose window frames and so on.

What can households at risk of fuel poverty do?

Any form of extra insulation is better than nothing, so using rubber or foam adhesive strips in loose window frames, old-fashioned draught excluders by doors, thick curtains and closing off unused rooms will be a big help. If possible, loft insulation and repairing windows is a good investment which will pay off in the long-term. Some households may be able to get financial help towards this.

Getting the boiler serviced annually will mean it’s more efficient and much less prone to a sudden and very expensive breakdown. A service can cost from £90, but it can make a big difference.

Using a pre-payment scheme can spread the cost of the yearly spend so that the winter months aren’t such a worry.

Claiming a fuel allowance may help to ease the burden, so if you think you may be eligible for help with your heating costs, contact your council offices.

Placing a bulk order in summer, when the price of oil is cheaper, may be a good solution. Your unit price is much lower and you’ll feel more secure over the winter months. Organising a neighbourhood delivery will also keep your costs down as you’ll share the delivery charge with your neighbours.

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