Fuel poverty levels in Northern Ireland are set to rise dramatically in the months to come, a leading academic has claimed.
Professor Christine Liddell warned that the vast majority of households will slide into fuel poverty this winter.
She revealed 75,000 homes across the province have already plummeted into extreme fuel poverty.
Speaking at the launch of a report, Defining Fuel Poverty in Northern Ireland: A Preliminary Review, she said the problem in Northern Ireland — which is |already worse than anywhere else in the UK — was becoming even more serious.
“The vast majority of households in Northern Ireland who are not fuel poor yet are sitting close to the 10% threshold,” she said.
“This means that, as fuel poverty levels rise, the majority of our households are at risk of moving into fuel poverty in the future.
Fuel poverty, which occurs when households spend more than 10% of their income on heating and lighting, has risen by two thirds in eight years.
Figures from the 2009 Housing Conditions Survey revealed that 44% of all Ulster homes (302,000) were living in fuel poverty, up 17% from the 2001 figure of 27%.
Households are deemed to be in extreme fuel poverty when they spend over 20% of their income on heat and light.
The report suggested that, while measures to tackle fuel poverty in Northern Ireland over the last decade have been effective, much more must be done.
“Northern Ireland’s levels of fuel poverty remain as they have always been — higher than any other region of the UK and too high for anyone to consider tolerable,” Prof Liddell said.
The University of Ulster Professor said that Northern Ireland needs a “more local approach to measuring and monitoring fuel poverty”.
“If we apply a local threshold, then our current prevalence of households in fuel poverty is 13%,” she added.
“We could aim to bring that down to single digits, which would be a realistic though challenging goal.
A fuel poor household is one that cannot afford to keep adequately warm at reasonable cost. Households which are in fuel poverty are defined as those which must spend more than 10% of their income on heating their home to an adequate standard of warmth. This is defined as the temperature recommended by the World Health Organisation.
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