By Sarah Mac Donald - 04 October, 2013
The St Vincent de Paul has expressed concern over the impact of cumulative fuel increases warning it has effectively wiped out the value of the 2013/2014 Winter Fuel Allowance.
The Fuel Allowance comes into force on Monday.
But the SVP warns that the increases in energy costs in the past three years – by as much as €500 – has negated the value of the allowance.
The €20 per week fuel allowance for 26 weeks is failing to cover the energy price rises, leaving households who were already struggling to pay their fuel bills at a loss, according to Brendan Hennessy of the SVP Social Justice team.
He has highlighted that the most recent increase of 2% for natural gas is not the problem; it’s the cumulative increase over a few short years.
Gas prices rose by 22% in 2011, 8.5% in 2012 and 2% in 2013. Along with increases in electricity prices, the latest being a 3.5% increase in household bills announced by Airtricity last week, the cost of energy bills have risen by €500.
Between 2008 and 2011, even before the most recent increases, the Society of St Vincent de Paul increased its fuel assistance to Irish families from €3.8 million a year to €10.4 million annually.
The need in Irish Society is now so great that more and more people are approaching the SVP because they cannot afford the cost of energy. “This is an unsustainable situation for Ireland and an unsustainable cost for the SVP,” Brendan Hennessy said.
Over the last year, the SVP has worked with energy companies to promote the use of Pay As You Go meters.
The SVP says that these meters, using similar top-up technology to mobile phones, should be available to electricity and natural gas customers in financial hardship.
The SVP says Pay As You Go meters can handle arrears and help budgeting. In turn this helps households reduce unnecessary energy use, thus changing behaviour.
Another measure for reducing household energy bills is retrofitting homes with energy saving and efficiency packages. With some basic investment many homes could be warmer, healthier and cheaper to run, while other homes require deeper retrofitting measures to bring them up to an acceptable level of energy affordability according to Brendan Hennessy.
“While 250,000 homes have acquired retrofitting measures such as attic and cavity wall insulation, draught proofing and low energy lighting, the Government’s own target of retrofitting 1 million homes by 2020 is not going to be achieved,” he warned.
He added, “It is the SVP view that low income households with high fuel costs should be prioritised in any capital investment package, as part of the Government’s Warmer Homes / Better Energy Strategy to tackle fuel poverty.”
The SVP’s pre-budget submission for 2014 sets out specific targets for the Government to make energy more affordable.