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A tough winter awaits as energy bills keep rising

Value of fuel allowance wiped out says Society of St Vincent de Paul

Energy bills have increased dramatically in recent years and the value of the 2013/2014 Winter Fuel Allowance has already been wiped out, according to St Vincent de Paul.

The cost of energy has gone up by more than €500 in three years and the new allowance, which starts on October 7, is virtually nullified even before its introduction.

The Society of SVP has already increased its fuel assistance for Irish families from €3.8 million to €10.4 million annually in a bid to tackle the issue.

Brendan Hennessy of the SVP Social Justice team said more people are approaching them out of necessity.

“The need in Irish Society is now so great that more and more people are approaching SVP because they cannot afford the basics, like the cost of energy,” he said. “This is an unsustainable situation for Ireland and an unsustainable cost for the SVP.”

Gas prices have recently risen by 2% in the past year, but it is the cumulative rise since 2011 that is seen as the major factor.

Prices rose by 22% in 2011 and 8.5% in 2012, so the smaller rise last year just piled on the misery for many people.

It is not just gas that is on the rise either, as the cost of electricity continues to climb – Airtricity announced a 3.5% increase recently.

Mr. Hennessy explained: “Basically, within three years the value of the €20pw fuel allowance for 26 weeks is failing to cover energy price rises, leaving households who were already struggling to pay their fuel bills at a loss.”

He went on to explain that many homes can be made more efficient with only a little bit of investment and encouraged retrofitting homes with some of these measures.

So far, 250,000 homes have acquired measures such as attic and cavity wall insulation, draught proofing and the installation of low energy lighting.

The government wants to retrofit one million homes by 2020 to reduce energy bills, but Mr. Hennessey feels that is an unrealistic target.

“It is the SVP view that low income households with high fuel costs should be prioritised in any capital investment package to tackle fuel poverty,” he added.