SDLP Communities Spokesperson Mark H Durkan has said a scheme to help people struggling with fuel poverty falls drastically short of what’s needed.
The £2m Emergency Fuel Payment Scheme opens on Thursday.
Mr Durkan said that given the scheme was only intended to help 20,000 families, huge numbers of people would be left without support in the face of rising energy costs.
Foyle MLA Mr Durkan said:
“After months of warnings that people across the North would struggle to heat their homes this winter, the support announced by Sinn Féin Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey will do little to tackle the fuel poverty that is affecting thousands of families at the minute. Rather than being a day late and dollar short, it’s a month late and millions short and hardly constitutes an effective 'emergency' response.
“We have seen record energy bill hikes for everyone – it’s not just the worst off in society who are struggling, everybody is being squeezed and more and more people are struggling to keep up with the rising costs. While support for these 20,000 families is welcome, it’s a drop in the ocean compared to what’s actually needed to deal with this problem.
“With the scheme set to open tomorrow we are still completely unaware of what exactly it entails, what the criteria it is and who will benefit? There are going to be a lot of people very disappointed tomorrow when they realise they will be getting no support, despite facing significant financial pressures.
“We’ve seen temperatures plummet below freezing this week and I’ve no doubt there will be people who were unable to turn on their heating as a result of the crippling fuel poverty many people are experiencing. Minister Hargey needs to come up with a proper plan to help these people through this winter and to address the long-standing issues around fuel poverty. £2m simply isn’t going to cut it.”