Couple in damp house cannot get fuel allowance because income is €9 too high

Elderly pair, who have chronic illnesses, also turned down for insulation and housing grants

Brendan Fairbrother in his home in Crumlin, Dublin. The house is uninsulated, the walls and ceilings are scarred with mould and the floors are damp. Photograph: James Forde

Brendan Fairbrother in his home in Crumlin, Dublin. The house is uninsulated, the walls and ceilings are scarred with mould and the floors are damp. Photograph: James Forde

 

An elderly Dublin couple, who are both chronically ill, are living in a cold, damp house because their income is just over €9 a week too much to qualify for fuel allowance.

Rose (71) and Brendan (76) Fairbrother, who own their former council house in Crumlin, are among “probably thousands” who are in fuel poverty due to being just above the income threshold for the allowance, their local TD Bríd Smith (People Before Profit) said. She has called for a national fuel poverty survey.

The Department of Social Protection, which administers the fuel allowance scheme, has confirmed it was “not possible” to determine how many households were refused fuel allowance.

Brendan’s family moved into the house when it was built, in 1950. It remains uninsulated, its walls and ceilings are scarred with black mould and the floors are so damp they put newspaper down to absorb moisture.

During his working life with Córas Iompair Éireann (CIÉ) Brendan had to contribute to a company pension, which he now receives weekly – €109.69. He and Rose also get State pensions totalling €461.30 a week, bringing their gross weekly income to €570.99 , which is €9.69 a week above the threshold for a couple.

Fuel poverty

Getting fuel allowance – worth €22.50 per week for 28 weeks, from October to April – would also entitle them to home insulation under the warmer homes scheme operated by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, available to homes in fuel poverty.

Instead they try to keep their draughty, damp home warm from their own resources. Rose has hypothyroidism and chronic arthritis, which is particularly sensitive to the cold. Brendan has diabetes, arthritis, hypertension and intermittent vertigo.

In a letter supporting his application for the allowance, dated January 13th, 2017, Brendan’s doctor writes: “It is important medically for him to have heating at home to prevent worsening symptoms of arthritis and also to prevent issues with his peripheries in view of his diabetes.”

Brendan also applied for an “exceptional needs” payment towards insulation, and to Dublin City Council for a housing grant, but was turned down for both.

They have put in double-glazing and central heating but hardly turn it on, using instead an electric heater in the front room and a Superser gas heater in the kitchen.

“We spend about €250 a month on gas and electricity and we’re still freezing,” he says. Rose spends much of her time in bed to keep warm.

“I’ve worked all my life, paid my taxes, paid my water charges, pay the property tax. It’s been tough. We don’t ask for much. I’d gladly give back the €9.69 a week. I’d gladly give back €109.69 a week if we could get some help keeping the house warm.”

‘Outrageous’

Ms Smith describes as “outrageous” that the department has no idea how many households are in this couple’s position. A department spokeswoman confirmed it was “not possible” to determine how many households were refused fuel allowance. She also said the fuel allowance was “based on a clear set of guidelines, with a straightforward means test and a generous disregard”.

“How can Government, which is proposing a carbon tax on households, hope to get a handle on fuel poverty when they haven’t got even basic data?”

Ms Smith said: “At a time when there is such a clamour about increasing carbon taxes this case shows how deeply flawed the scheme is. The level and extent of fuel poverty is clearly not understood by the department or those advocating increased carbon taxes”.