Dungannon pensioners left to shiver in their homes

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FOUR out of ten households in the Mid-Ulster area, which includes the Dungannon district, cannot afford to heat their homes adequately.

As cold weather grips the local district, shocking new figures released by the Housing Executive show that over half of senior citizens aged between 60 and 74 are living in fuel-poor homes — meaning that over 10% of household income is being spent just to keep warm.

Across the Mid-Ulster area, there are now 17,430 households currently designated as being in fuel poverty.

The 2011 House Condition Survey, which was released last week, offers its preliminary results on fuel poverty across the province, and they make for grim reading.

With more and more elderly people forced to choose between heating and eating, local politicians are calling on eldery people to check on their benefit entitlement.

Calculations by Age NI suggest that a successful benefits check can boost a pensioner’s weekly income by an average of £62 — or £3,224 a year.

That means £6,200 in weekly unclaimed benefits could be released in just five days; and £322,400 overall.

Sinn Féin MLA Bronwyn McGahan has called on local pensioners to ensure that they are not missing out on benefits

Ms. McGahan said: “It’s unacceptable to think that many people could be missing millions in pension credits at a time when many of them are under severe financial pressures.

“The Tory cuts agenda is deliberately targeting people on benefits and spending millions in an attempt to reduce the benefit bill. However they are ignoring the fact that pensioners are missing out on millions of pounds that they are entitled to.

“More needs to be done to make sure that pensioners get their full entitlement and I would call on DHSS and other support groups to be more proactive in highlighting how pensioners can claim that entitlement.

“I would encourage people to phone the Benefits shop on 02890336958 or the local Sinn Féin office where they can check that they are receiving their full entitlement.”

The results of the survey show that the number of households in fuel poverty has increased by 21% since 2004, while there has been a 13% hike in the total percentage of fuel poor 60-74-year-olds in Northern Ireland.

One in four (42%) of households here were defined as being fuel poor in 2011 — that’s up 18.1% from 23.9% in seven years.

Fuel poverty has been consistently on the rise across the province, but last year’s results show a marginal decrease.

However, the problem remains significantly greater here than elsewhere in the UK, where the average is 18.6%.

Households are considered to be in ‘fuel poverty’ if they have to spend more than 10% of their household income on fuel to keep their home in a ‘satisfactory’ condition.

It is a measure which compares income with what the fuel costs should be rather than what they actually are. Whether a household is in fuel poverty or not is determined by three key factors: the cost of energy; the energy efficiency of the property (and therefore, the energy required to heat and power the home); and household income.”