Northern Ireland news

Minister says he hopes to issue £400 energy bill payments to the north in January

Graham Stuart reminded the House of Commons “energy is devolved” and the executive in Northern Ireland should be dealing with the payments instead
Martina Bet, PA Political Staff

A business minister said he cannot see the Energy Bill Support Scheme payments being issued to Northern Ireland before Christmas but is hoping to “stand that up” in January.

Graham Stuart reminded the House of Commons “energy is devolved” and the Executive in Northern Ireland should be dealing with the payments instead.

He told DUP MP Carla Lockhart, who asked an urgent question on the issue, he understands why her party is not part of “that Executive” but added: “That has consequences.”

The Upper Bann MP said people in Northern Ireland need a “firm commitment” from the government that the payments would be issued before Christmas.

She said: “Whilst across GB, households have received their Energy Bills Support payment, my constituents and people right across Northern Ireland have not.

“£400 has been dangled in front of them but remains beyond their grasp. The promise of an additional £200 in recognition of our dependence on heating oil also remains unpaid.

“The previous prime minister assured the people of Northern Ireland that a payment would be issued in November. Today, November draws to a close and no payment.”

She said “what we get from the Government is delay, doubt, different stories as to the type of scheme as each day passes”, adding: “It is not good enough. We need a firm commitment from the Government that this payment will be issued before Christmas.”

Mr Stuart said he met energy supplier CEOs last week and “they are not ready”.

“Their systems do not allow the dispensing, the cashing out and – I hope she agrees with me – I don’t want to see a stranded credit to an electricity account that people can’t access.

“I’ve insisted that we find a way to make sure that people can cash that out and use it to meet their heating oil bills this winter. That is my insistence”, he said.

Mr Stuart said he is “determined to find a way to ensure that we can allow cashing out this winter” but does not see, “given the situation”, how “we are going to be able to stand that up before Christmas”.

He added: “But we are aiming to stand that up in January if we possibly can. That is my aspiration and my aim and is what I’m seeking to achieve.”

Shadow business minister Kerry McCarthy said: “It is not good enough to let this issue drift.”

She said: “The Northern Ireland Utility Regulator said in August that he believed there was a simple mechanism to get the money out and he had been left frustrated that the Government hadn’t taken this forward.

“So can the minister please explain why this option put forward by the Northern Ireland Utility Regulator has not been taken forward and how much longer people in Northern Ireland will have to wait for the support?”

Mr Stuart said he could assure MPs “if it were possible, and whatever people may have heard from suppliers, when I met the CEOs last week, they told me they needed more time”.

He said: “They told me they didn’t have the systems to do cashing out. I told them that was not acceptable. And that is why I’m on a daily basis holding them to account and making sure that we push, so that we can get this out as early in the new year as possible – because Northern Irish families deserve better than what they have right now.”

Northern Ireland news