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Laois TD highlights dramatic increase in fuel bills and calls for change in schemes

Brian Stanley

A Laois TD has highlighted the dramatic increase in the cost of fuel bills that home owners are now experiencing.

Speaking in the Dail recently, Sinn Fein’s Brian Stanley explained how bills have increased by as much as €450 to €500 in the last 12 months.

He said: “Households are facing the highest increases in my lifetime. On average, fuel bills have gone up by 28% or 30% in the past 12 months. That adds an extra €450 or €500 this winter for using a similar amount of energy to last year.

“The increase in carbon tax has added to that cost. In the area in which I live, a bale of briquettes was €3.50 a short time ago. One shop is now charging €6.70 per bale. That is a significant increase.

“The increase in carbon tax alone put an extra 20 cent on a bale of briquettes. A bag of coal increased by 89 cents. The increase in the carbon tax has added €20 to the cost of the average refill of home heating oil.

“I point that out to bring home the significant cost coming onto families. This is placing enormous pressure on families who are struggling.’’

“In Laois-Offaly, for example, we have the highest percentage of homes dependent on solid fuel. Those houses will not be retrofitted in the near future. It will take time to get through all of that. We cannot have people freezing with the cold in the interim.

“The charity ALONE has estimated that there are in the region of 3,000 deaths directly or indirectly related to fuel poverty each year.

“That is one of the highest rates in Europe. Almost 400,000 people experience some level of fuel deprivation in the State each year.’’

He also outlined how he believes the issue should be tackled.

Deputy Stanley said: “The fuel allowance scheme is very important for families on low incomes, but it is not enough in terms of who gets it.

“In our alternative budget, Sinn Féin proposed extending the period by two weeks in which the fuel allowance is paid, but also broadening the eligibility bands.

“In future years a discretionary fund could be set up through the community welfare officer system so that a payment would be made to help people who have very high costs.

“There should be some kind of discretionary fund to assist people. It is something the Department should seriously consider.

“The Government announced a payment of €100 to offset the increase in energy bills. Any such payment is welcome, but I ask the Minister to try to fast-forward that payment.

“It would have been great to see it coming before Christmas or very soon thereafter. My understanding is that the payment may not come until late March.

“The fuel allowance scheme requires changes and fine tuning. Sinn Féin carried out an online survey recently which showed that a significant number of full and part time workers are experiencing poverty.

“That is a reality we must face. Bills have gone up and wages are not keeping pace with them.

“As we move forward, we should keep such matters under review while trying to ensure as many people as possible are assisted under the fuel scheme each year.”

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Stradbally native Alan Hartnett is a graduate of Knockbeg College who has worked in the local and national media since 2008. Alan has a BA in Economics, Politics and Law and an MA in Journalism from DCU. His happiest moment was when Jody Dillon scored THAT goal in the Laois senior football final in 2016.