Tasmanians are likely dying in their homes due to housing that is inadequately built, heated, or unaffordable to warm during the coldest periods of the year, say housing groups and a University of Tasmania lecturer.
The comments follow the release of an ACT renting organisation report, which estimated more than one third of the 140 cold-related deaths each year in that state could be attributed to cold housing conditions.
The Tenants' Union of Tasmania and Shelter Tasmania say current minimum standards for residential properties do not ensure tenants, some already struggling to pay rent, can also afford to heat their homes.
Drawing on international research which suggests between 30 and 50 per cent of "excess winter mortality" relates to living environments, Better Renting's Unsafe as House report said a "conservative estimate" of 42 deaths could be caused by cold housing in the ACT each year.
IN OTHER NEWS
"Generally, these people would be dying from cardiovascular or respiratory disease."
People aged 65 and older, renters and those on low incomes are more vulnerable from the impacts of cold living conditions, the report continued, largely due to a combination of "physiological vulnerability, limited capacity to afford heating, and lower-quality housing that requires more heating".
"As our population ages, energy costs increase, and renting continues to become more popular, the risk of death from cold housing will continue to worsen."
While there is no equivalent data in the state, the report findings were not surprising and "likely similar" in Tasmania, according to Tenants' Union solicitor, policy officer and community legal education officer Alex Bomford.
Under minimum heating standards in Tasmania's Residential Tenancy Act, owners are only required to ensure the main living room of a property contains a heating device.
Cold homes are a health risk in Tasmania.Shelter Tasmania chief executive Pattie Chugg
But these do not go far enough as the devices provided are often "ineffective and expensive" electric heaters, Mr Bomford said. He added that the standards could be changed to improve the standard of heating required.
"There is currently no incentive for owners to provide tenants with energy efficient homes as the tenant almost always has to pay for power," said Mr Bomford. "All tenants should have access to affordable and efficient heating, and all properties should be built and maintained with energy efficiency in mind."
Dr Mark Dewsbury, a senior architecture and design lecturer at the University of Tasmania, agreed that heating was only part of the problem.
"Tasmania has very low grade housing for our climate type and the implications are long term health effects and an impact on the state's health budget," he said.
Housing Minister Roger Jaensch said the government considered heating "fundamental" to good housing, health and well-being, installing more than 4000 heat pumps over the past five years at a cost of about $13.5 million.
"As a result of these efforts, two thirds of Housing Tasmania properties now have heat pumps as a principal source of heating and we continue to make further improvements to upgrade heating across Housing Tasmania properties," Mr Jaensch said.
With power bills often doubling in winter, people often have to make "cruel choices" between heating and other essentials, said Shelter Tasmanian chief executive Pattie Chugg. While temperatures and poorly insulated homes mean many still struggle to stay warm.
"Cold homes are a health risk in Tasmania," she said.
While you're with us, you can now sign up to receive breaking news updates and daily headlines direct to your inbox. Sign up here.