Warm homes scheme leaves families in the cold
At least thirty five percent of all homes in the North of Ireland are in fuel poverty. That is one of the shock findings in the Public Accounts Committee's report on the Warm Homes Scheme.
The Report, which investigated the Department for Social Development's management of the scheme during 2006, found that although the scheme, has made a positive contribution to some 60,000 vulnerable families, it also had significant failings.
Chairperson of the Committee, Paul Maskey MLA said, "One of the issues that we are particularly concerned with is that the Department has no means of identifying individual households in fuel poverty. That being said, the Warm Homes is a popular scheme and is valued greatly by those it helps.
"One of the findings from the Report is that the Scheme does not always help those most in need. Currently, the eligibility criteria exclude those in work but receiving low pay, who are likely to be fuel poor. We are pleased, therefore, that the Department has proposed changes to the eligibility criteria to ensure that grants are better targeted."
The Committee also found that while the Scheme had enabled more than 60,000 families to improve home energy efficiency, the target of eliminating fuel poverty by 2010 now appears impossible to achieve.
Commenting on this, Paul Maskey said, "The recent credit crunch and the huge hikes in utility costs undoubtedly have increased the number of households who now find themselves in fuel poverty. As a result, many, including some of the most vulnerable in our society, will continue to experience fuel poverty.
"Without tackling household incomes or fuel prices, the Warm Homes Scheme cannot really be effective.
"In addition, the Committee noted that almost half of rural families are in fuel poverty and we are keen to ensure that they are not neglected.
"There is clearly scope to more closely match expenditure to need. The Committee welcomes the Department's proposal to introduce a target within Warm Homes for grants provided to rural areas.
"No one should have to decide between eating and heating this winter."