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When everyone has a home

028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

Achieving Affordable Warmth for households in the private rental sector

Christine Liddell is Professor of Psychology and Distinguished Community Fellow at the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland. She has recently co-authored an evidence based audit titled Fuel Poverty in Northern Ireland's Private Sector. 

Living in cold and damp housing is recognised worldwide as a health risk. For that reason, the World Health Organisation recommends that people keep their living rooms at a temperature of 20oC, and all other rooms at 18oC. This can help protect people from a wide range of illnesses, including asthma and other breathing difficulties in children, as well as chest infections and cardiovascular problems in adults . It also helps ensure that people feel comfortable and “at home” in their house, which helps protect people from feeling depressed and anxious .

Living as we do in a region which is cold and damp most of the year, households in Northern Ireland should be using their heating systems for most of the year – an expensive business, especially if homes have poor insulation, or old boilers, or radiators that don’t heat up properly. The simplest and most long-lasting way to ensure people’s health and wellbeing are looked after during cold weather is to ensure that all of the heat they pay for comes into the house, and then stays in the house. If it disappears through uninsulated lofts, or out of single-glazed windows, or around poorly fitted doors, then money is wasted and people are either still cold, or unable to pay their heating bills. Dampness and mould can quickly follow.

The NI Housing Executive estimate that virtually half (49%) of all households living in privately rented accommodation cannot afford to heat their home adequately – this amounts to more than 60,000 households in Northern Ireland . In a recent survey of 2,145 households living in some of the poorest housing , over 10% of private renters reported their main heating system was not working, double the rate found among owner occupiers.  Over 30% described their homes as cold.

For both private landlords and tenants, government schemes such as the current Affordable Warmth Programme  offer much more affordable opportunities for upgrading the energy efficiency of their houses, than any offers available to them on the commercial market. In the past, however, rather few private landlords and tenants have taken up these offers. As with many government-backed energy schemes, these offers may come and go quickly, especially if there is low take up. Making sure we do everything we can to inform landlords and tenants of what is available, and that we support them in making healthy living choices, could help achieve warmer homes that are, at the same time, much cheaper to heat.  The evidence we have for Northern Ireland is that schemes like the Affordable Warmth Programme can make substantial differences to people’s energy bills and to their sense of comfort and wellbeing .

Tagged In

Private Tenancies, Policy, Affordability

This article was written on 10 February 2015. It should not be relied on as a statement of the current law or policy position. For help with housing issues please contact our helpline on 028 9024 5640 or use our online chat service at www.housingadviceNI.org.