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Anne explains the stress of fuel poverty. Alamy Stock Photo

Opinion 'I am one of those trapped in fuel poverty - please don't forget us in the budget'

Anne is a widow living alone in Dublin. She outlines the stress and anxiety that fuel poverty has caused her.

MY NAME IS Anne. I am 62 years old. I raised my four (now adult) children alone since they were ranging from just three weeks to four, five and six years old. I now live alone live in a very old (1800s) house in South Dublin.

I worked multiple jobs to provide for my children. Some of those jobs were very physically demanding and as a result, I now suffer from osteoarthritis and protruding discs in my spine and am unable to work.

However, because I do not have enough PRSI stamps for the year ending 2019, I am not eligible for any illness benefit. My widow’s pension is €225.50 per week. I am too young to receive the Living Alone allowance.

When I heard about the government’s scheme to support retrofitting I felt relieved as I thought that finally, I would be living in a warm home that didn’t cost so much to heat. Although on paper I was deemed eligible for the Better Energy Warmer Homes Scheme (the SEAI grant), I was told that because of the age of my home and the materials used to build it, my home doesn’t qualify. Many of my friends have received grants of up to €80,000 for retrofitting their 1950s, 60s and 70s homes, but I can’t access this.

Cold house

My house cannot retain heat as it is so badly insulated, so I end up spending a lot of money on heating my home. I receive the fuel allowance, which averages €17 per week when spread out over 52 weeks. However, the increasing fuel prices since 2022 have been very tough to bear.

My home is heated by oil. Five hundred litres of heating oil costs €590, which gives me about 67 hours of heating. If I run the heating for no more than three hours a day, this gives me only 26 days of heating in the winter. I would need to multiply this by four (at least) to get through the winter months, which would cost approximately €2,360, and that is with some of the radiators turned off.

In terms of electricity, I use a Pay as you Go metre because I am worried that if I don’t monitor the amount I’m spending, I will get a shock bill that I won’t be able to pay. I am on both a daytime and night saver rate. I put an average of €35 into the metre every week.

I do not use a washing machine or tumble dryer. Instead, I go to a local laundrette once a fortnight which costs me €20. I never turn on the immersion and I use the electric shower once a day.

Due to the oil costs, in the winter I use an open fire in my kitchen to provide some direct heat in the evenings. The fuel for a week of small fire costs €27 a week or €108 per month.

I know burning coal and wood is not good for the climate, or my health, but as an older person living alone in a poorly insulated house, for me at least, the benefits outweigh the costs.

If I were to use an electric heater at 90c per hour it would cost €76 a month if it was running just three hours a day. This would just be for one room. I don’t have the option to use gas, as Gas Networks Ireland has quoted me €3,000 to run a pipe into my house.

After house insurance, car insurance, car tax, property tax, phone, petrol, a small Credit Union loan repayment, and about €40 a week to heat the house and €35 a week for electricity, I am left with €82 per week. This equates to about €12 a day. I have reduced my socialising because I just can’t afford it anymore.

Living without

I am a child of the 1960s. We weren’t raised with underfloor heating and consistently warm homes. I don’t need an A1 BER rating; I’m more than happy to throw on an extra layer and use an electric blanket. I don’t deal in luxuries. My clothes are all from second-hand shops, as is all my furniture.

But I am kept awake at night with the thought that I am just one burst pipe or illness away from everything crashing down on me.

My eldest daughter and three beautiful granddaughters live in the USA. On €12 a day, to be able to afford to go see them without charity from my family is, to pardon the pun, a pipe dream.

I don’t think there is anybody out there making a policy to intentionally hurt me or people like me. But somewhere in the process, I’ve been left out while well-off people can get a grant to install solar panels which then charge their (part grant-funded) electric vehicle. This doesn’t seem right to me. There is literally, emotionally and physically, nothing left in the tank. I feel left behind and my only option seems to be to sell my home and leave my community.

Anne opted not to use her full name.