Northern Ireland

Hardship fund for people struggling to pay energy bills approved by Derry and Strabane council

The £258,000 fund has been approved. Picture by Peter Byrne/PA Wire
The £258,000 fund has been approved. Picture by Peter Byrne/PA Wire

A HARDSHIP fund for people struggling to pay home heating bills has been approved by Derry and Strabane district council.

The £258,000 fund, which has previously been delayed over issues finding a company to administer the scheme and issue payments, will support people going through fuel poverty.

A one-off payment of up to £100 will be made to those living in the council area with the scheme designed for emergency situations when a householder is not able to pay fuel bills or buy a top-up.

However, the BBC last night reported that the Discretionary Emergency Fuel Support Programme will only be available to oil and electricity customers and not gas users.

Several councillors have criticised the decision, including Aontú councillor Emmet Doyle, who said he was disappointed that gas customers would not be able to avail of the fund.

He said the gas supplier Firmus Energy had said they could not "process the payments in the way in which we would like".

Shaun Harkin from People Before Profit also said he shared the "deep frustration that gas customers aren’t included".

"It’s our opinion Firmus Energy could and should have found a means to make sure gas customers would be included," he said.

Firmus Energy said they were "surprised and disappointed" that the council had decided not to include gas customers in fuel hardship payment scheme and they had been "working with this scheme's administrators on other funds to ensure payments are provided to those that qualify".