Modern technology can be a wonderful tool, but it has to work. All too often a surge in demand sees a website crash, be it a clamour for concert tickets, a major breaking event and now the website for people seeking to apply for payments for the winter fuel scheme.
It would be acceptable if the demand was unexpectedly high.
But over the past few months we have seen energy prices rising, with an estimated 20,000 households, probably more, struggling to afford to heat their homes.
Sometimes it’s a choice between staying warm and feeding a family.
It can’t be that hard to foresee that demand for applications would be “exceptionally busy”, even though the scheme will remain open for applications until March 31 and that increasingly desperate families would want to see the money for fuel payments coming through as quickly as possible. January is a long, cold, dark month.
Instead of a swift, simple to use and accessible service, those going online were greeted with the message: “We are unable to accept any more applications at this time. Please try again later.”
In October, the gas supplier Firmus Energy increased prices by up to 35.15%, while SSE Airtricity Gas Supply announced a rise of 21.8%. just two examples of the soaring energy costs.
That adds up to a huge amount to take out of a family budget and a time when the cost of living is rising in all aspects of life.
In December, Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey said the additional funding was vital to support vulnerable families to meet their energy costs and, where essential, protect people’s mental and physical wellbeing.
She added that the scheme was “an excellent example” of government working together with private companies and voluntary and community sector to benefit those in need of support.
But the benefit has to be accessible as and when applications open.
If not, all it does is add to the frustration.
You wonder whether the true scale of the financial situation many families are finding themselves in has been underestimated, or whether the software used to allow access to the application process is never tested as robustly as needed.
Either way, it’s not a great look to be offering people the chance to access payments to help them stay warm over winter, then add to their frustration when that application process is affected by difficulties on day one.