Durkan: Energy support scheme failings underscores need to extend payment to all households

SDLP Communities Spokesperson Mark H Durkan has criticised the prolonged roll out of the £200 Energy Support Payment announced by Communities Minister, Deirdre Hargey in January.

Foyle MLA Mark H Durkan.
Foyle MLA Mark H Durkan.

The payment was delayed until Friday, March 11 but recipients have since been advised that it could take up to 14 days to reach bank accounts.

The Foyle MLA commented; “It is completely unacceptable that people who have been waiting in desperation for months for this promised £200 payment, have had to contend with delay after delay. In the interim energy prices have risen significantly.

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“I have repeatedly highlighted the importance of getting this money to people quickly but at this stage, the response or failure to respond in a timely manner is unforgivable. I also have concerns that the qualifying week 13-19th December will have locked many claimants out of this crucial support. For example, given that the week coincides with early Christmas wage payments for many working individuals, this could have resulted in a zero award for some individuals in receipt of Universal Credit, thus locking them out of the £200 energy support payment.

“The qualifying week should have been reviewed given the two-month delay which would have allowed many more people forced onto the welfare system in the intervening period and impacted by early Christmas payments, to access this scheme.

“I appreciate that the payment has reached the pockets of some people for but not enough is being done to support enough people. I’ve been contacted in the past week by constituents anxiously counting down the days until this payment hits their account so they can heat their home. For them and their families and additional 14 days is a significant wait which they cannot afford.

“Support schemes to date have been targeted at vulnerable individuals with the department determining arbitrary eligibility criteria. However, in the current climate everyone is vulnerable; there are households with two working individuals who are barely scraping by.

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“This payment must be extended to all households and the SDLP will continue the fight to ensure everyone is supported.”