There have been calls for Stormont’s Emergency Fuel Payment Scheme to be reopened to help people deal with rising costs.
Between January and March, the £2m scheme paid £100 to successful applicants. The scheme had to be capped at 330 payments daily to prevent the system from becoming overwhelmed.
It was launched because of spiralling fuel costs which were — and still are — impacting families across Northern Ireland.
In January, an official from Stormont’s Department for Communities (DfC), which oversaw the delivery of the scheme, told MLAs that there are around 200,000 to 300,000 households living in fuel poverty here.
“It is not our expectation that this scheme will be able to cater for all those households,” David Polley said.
As the cost-of-living crisis continues to force families between heating their homes or eating, there have been calls for the scheme to be reopened.
Alliance MLA Kellie Armstrong, a former deputy chair of Stormont’s Communities Committee, said she is awaiting information from DfC to confirm if there is any underspend from the previous emergency fuel payment scheme that could be used.
“Until there is a functioning government that can set a budget, emergency schemes such as this one to help people with the cost of fuel, will continue to be denied from the most vulnerable in society,” she said.
“The DUP were prepared to lose 40,000 jobs to Brexit, now they are prepared to continue to block government and emergency measures to help vulnerable people.”
Ulster Unionist communities spokesperson Andy Allen said the government response to the cost-of-living crisis to date has been “wholly inadequate”.
“Steps could and should be taken, however, these are made more difficult by the absence of a functioning Executive to allocate new funding,” he said.
“I would once again call on the Minister for Communities, especially in the absence of an Executive, to proactively explore reopening the Emergency Fuel Payment Scheme and immediately move to establish a fuel poverty task force to develop short, medium, and longer-term support and intervention.
“In addition to this Westminster must do more.
“They have the powers available to them that would directly result in the reduction of the overall cost of energy — with more and more people being affected daily by these rising costs, it is incumbent on the Government, at every level, to do everything within their power to tackle this crisis and support those affected.”
People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll said: “Every year we know that government schemes designed to help people pay for the soaring cost to heat their homes falls short of what’s required.
“Unfortunately, this has been the same this year and over the last few months in particular – as we see repeated and unimaginable levels of price rises, we have seen little action from Stormont ministers when they had the chance to do something.
“The picture we see right across our communities is one where people have funnelled more and more of their own money to keep their homes warm. The warmer weather may provide some short-term relief but we know that people are extremely anxious and worried about what this winter will look like and how much it will cost.
“At the same time as individuals and families are paying more than ever for energy — these same companies are raking it in at their expense. Any incoming Executive or negotiations to form one should have the demand for a Windfall Tax on these companies front and centre.”
DfC has been contacted for comment.