Belfast Telegraph

We'll do all we can to ease fuel burden, vow First Ministers

By Claire McNeilly

The First and Deputy First Ministers have vowed to do whatever it takes to help ease the burden for the most vulnerable in society.

Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness were speaking after the first Executive meeting of the new session at Stormont where the economy was top of the agenda.

A spokesman for the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister said officials have now been tasked to explore options as to how the pain can be lessened for Northern Ireland's most needy.

He added that they will work in tandem with representatives from the Department for Social Development after a recent study revealed that 75,000 households here are living in extreme fuel poverty.

Following the meeting at Stormont, Mr McGuinness referred to "the very serious matter of the hike in heating costs and electricity charges over the course of the recent while".

"We're very aware that all of this impacts particularly on the poorest and most needy within our society," Mr McGuinness said.

Antoinette McKeown, Consumer Council chief executive, welcomed the comments and called on the Executive to work with stakeholders to agree an action plan of how and when fuel poverty will be eradicated in Northern Ireland.

"Many households are struggling financially and will face very stark decisions coming into this winter about how they heat their homes," said Ms McKeown.

The news comes as a leading charity revealed that the recent gas and electricity price hikes have send shockwaves through the community.

Indeed, they have prompted a dramatic increase in the number of calls from older people worried about how they will cope with paying their home heating bills during the coming winter.

Age Sector Platform's Fight The Winter Fuel Cut campaign has seen thousands of people from across Northern Ireland sign their name in opposition to the planned cut to the winter fuel payment this year, with over 6,000 supporters now officially recorded.

This year the Government decided to cut the winter fuel payment by £50 for people aged between 60 and 80, and by £100 for those aged over 80 - despite spiralling fuel prices and last December being the coldest in Northern Ireland for over 100 years.

Bill Carson, chair of Age Sector Platform, said older people are extremely worried about how they will cope with paying their home heating bills during the coming winter.

He said: "With a planned cut to the winter fuel payment, this concern has become even greater."

A fuel-poor household is one that cannot afford to keep adequately warm at reasonable cost. Households in fuel poverty are said to be those having to spend over 10% of income heating the home to an adequate standard. This is defined as the temperature recommended by the World Health Organisation.

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