Northern Ireland

Months after money was pledged Tory minister says it will be January before households receive funds

Former economy minister Gordon Lyons
Former economy minister Gordon Lyons Former economy minister Gordon Lyons

HOUSEHOLDS will have to wait until January at the earliest before receiving money pledged months ago to help with soaring energy costs.

Weeks after the DUP's Gordon Lyons gave assurances that the money would be delivered to the north in November, Tory minister Graham Stuart said funds were unlikely to made available before Christmas.

Customers in Britain began receiving their Energy Bills Support payment at the beginning of October.

The delay in delivering two payments totalling £600 is being blamed widely on the absence of a power-sharing administration, coupled with the delay in handing responsibility for the scheme's rollout to Whitehall.

Mr Stuart also signalled that when the funds do become available, people will likely be allowed to 'cash out' to ensure they are not left with what he termed "stranded electricity credit" that may not used up until next winter.

"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.

The minister had been asked about the payments by DUP MP Carla Lockhart, who said previous prime minister Liz Truss pledged that funds would be made available in November, an assurance similar to that given in September by caretaker economy minister Gordon Lyons.

"What we get from the government is delay, doubt, different stories as to the type of scheme as each day passes," Ms Lockhart said.

Mr Stuart reminded DUP MPs that "energy is devolved" and that the Stormont executive should be dealing with the payments instead.

Former Sinn Féin finance minister Conor Murphy described the payments' delay as "outrageous" and said DUP claims that the money would be delivered in November "had no basis and were dishonest".

"They have left people out in the cold this winter with their cruel boycott of the executive," he said.

"People in Britain started getting these payments weeks ago, that would have been the case here too if we had local ministers working together around the executive table."

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry described the delays as "intolerable".

"A devolved executive would have delivered this by now, but in that absence, Whitehall is taking far too long," he said.

"Even with the complications of this scheme, people should have every expectation of prompt implementation, especially ahead of Christmas."

SDLP MP Claire Hanna urged the British government to ensure there wasn't a "collective punishment for people".

"Is it not the hard truth that this is a casualty of ransom politics, and that hard-pressed families—whether unionist, nationalist, or neither—are paying the price of the decisions of one party, the DUP?" she said.