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Rebecca Kemp, 2009


There is growing recognition of the impact that low indoor temperatures have on the health and wellbeing of the population. Evidence suggests that living in a cold house is associated with an increased risk of respiratory and cardiovascular illness, mental health conditions and social isolation. Fuel poverty, a term developed in the United Kingdom, refers to the inability to afford to heat a house to a healthy level. It implies that cold houses are due to a combination of insufficient household income, poor quality housing and/or high fuel costs.

The objectives of the study were to assess the situation in New Zealand in relation to fuel poverty, identify key risk factors associated with its occurrence and determine the feasibility of developing an assessment tool for identifying fuel poverty in a community setting. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with a purposive sample of 12 professionals with a strong interest in health and housing issues. Key themes to emerge from the interviews provided an insight into fuel poverty in New Zealand.

All informants noted that cold, damp housing is common in New Zealand. Fuel poverty is likely to be the main reason New Zealanders live in these conditions. It is also evident that New Zealanders place less value on heating their homes than other populations and tend to put up with the colder indoor temperatures. Low income and energy inefficient housing were identified as the key risk factors for fuel poverty in New Zealand, but there was less agreement on the specific aspects of income and housing that could act as indicators and on other possible risk factors. Two main models for assessing fuel poverty emerged; a population based estimate of the number of households in fuel poverty using a representative survey, and a screening tool to identify individual households at risk of fuel poverty.

The findings from this study provide evidence to suggest that fuel poverty is a significant issue in New Zealand and that it may be feasible to develop a screening tool to identify fuel poverty within a community setting.

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