Northern Ireland news

Fuel poverty scheme approvals suspended due to budget issue

The Department for Communities has asked the Housing Executive to temporarily delay approving applications for the Affordable Warmth Scheme
Brendan Hughes

A STORMONT scheme aimed at tackling fuel poverty has had application approvals suspended due to a budget problem.

The Affordable Warmth Scheme provides grants to low-income households to improve the energy efficiency of their homes.

Application approvals have been temporarily stopped by the Department for Communities (DfC) due to an issue preventing expenditure against the scheme's available budget.

The delay affects around 1,300 applications – about 900 received by the Housing Executive since December 31 last year and 400 beforehand.

The Housing Executive, which delivers the scheme along with councils, confirmed the issue in a letter to SDLP assembly member Mark H Durkan.

Read More: Lack of minister forcing vulnerable into fuel poverty claim

The Foyle MLA branded it "unacceptable" and urged for the problem to be "rectified as a matter of urgency".

"This scheme aimed at tackling fuel poverty within areas of deprivation, had the sole objective of assisting low-income households ergo some of the most vulnerable within our society," he said.

"Given the current juncture it seems likely that many households will go another winter without these energy efficient adaptations."

SDLP Foyle MLA Mark H Durkan. Picture by Hugh Russell

On its website, the Housing Executive said DfC asked it to "temporarily delay the issuing of approvals for applications".

It said DfC has apologised for the problem and is "working to resolve this issue as fast as possible".

"The reason for the delay is a scheme approval issue within the department which prevents expenditure against the scheme's available budget," the housing body said.

It said it will continue to process applications "so that when the budget issue is resolved, applications may be progressed as fast as possible".

In its letter to Mr Durkan, the housing body said some "extremely urgent" applications have been approved, such as for those aged over 85, with a disability, or with a serious illness and who do not have an operating heating system.

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