Jack Quann
Jack Quann

14.57 13 Jan 2021


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A charity has called on the Social Protection Minister to increase the Fuel Allowance payment for the end of January.

St Vincent de Paul says it has written to Heather Humphreys seeking the change, as more people struggle to heat their homes.

It comes a day after Rachael in Co Mayo told Newstalk she has been facing difficult living conditions.

"The winter months are really expensive as it is with electricity, food and Christmas - and now that we're staying at home they have to keep heating the house and it's very hard", Rachael said.

"In our house we have a range, which is extremely slow, and that takes a lot of coal which would be OK only for our house is so badly insulated that the heat just leaves so quickly.

"We put on the fire and it's OK, but by the time I wake up in the morning I can see my breath again.

"And our windows are really bad - they're supposed to have two handles, but almost every window is missing one so they have a really bad draft, and we have to put kitchen paper in-between to try and stop it but it doesn't really help.

"Even in our rooms we have to cover the air vents because they just make our rooms really, really cold no matter what we do".

Dr Tricia Keilthy is head of social justice at St Vincent de Paul (SVP).

She told Lunchtime Live: "My heart really goes out to Rachael, that's a terrible situation to be living in.

"I fully agree that it's not right that in a wealthy country like Ireland, there's people who have to choose between heat and food - but it's all too common in the experience of St Vincent de Paul".

The charity wrote to Minister Heather Humphreys on Monday, seeking an extra Fuel Allowance payment for the duration of the lockdown.

"We hope to get a positive response in that regard, which would help people like Rachael and other people in similar circumstances during this next difficult period", she said.

"We would like to see a double payment for two weeks end of January/start of February - so that's when people may have bigger bills coming in."

'400,000 without adequate heat'

However, there is a 15-month waiting period to qualify for the Fuel Allowance for those who become unemployed.

"It's important to point out that a lot of people are in energy poverty, but may not necessarily qualify for the Fuel Allowance."

Dr Keilthy said energy poverty is an issue that affects a large number of people.

"That latest data we have shows that, in 2019, over 400,000 people were going without adequate heat due to costs.

"We would take calls from people who are struggling - and I would also say to Rachael that SVP are here if she needs help".

"Obviously we've had to change how we support people, given the COVID-19 restrictions, but we are here, we're taking calls.

"I know it is very difficult to pick up the phone - but we are here to listen, we are here to help and I would encourage Rachael and anybody else in a similar situation to pick up the phone to help."

Anyone affected by issues raised in this article can contact the St Vincent de Paul on (01)-884-8200.

Main image: Minister Heather Humphreys addresses the media at Government Buildings, Dublin in June 2020. Picture by: Sasko Lazarov / Photocall Ireland

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