SDLP Communities Spokesperson Mark H Durkan has said the lack of support for people experiencing fuel poverty across the North is leaving people unable to heat their homes.
He was speaking after the £2m Emergency Fuel Payment Scheme opened on Thursday.
Mr Durkan said he had been inundated with people who were struggling to pay their bills, but would be unable to access the scheme due to its limited remit.
He also questioned the decision to limit the number of applicants to the scheme per day, which would mean eligible people in need of support missing out on the payment.
Mr Durkan urged Sinn Féin Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey to get to grips with the issue of fuel poverty in both the short and long term.
Foyle MLA Mark H Durkan said:
“Having finally had the opportunity to view the extremely limited and convoluted criteria for this scheme it is clear that it will help an extremely limited number of people dealing with rising fuel costs. The scheme will only help those in the most dire of circumstances and will do nothing to help the thousands of people struggling with this issue on a daily basis. There is also a limited number of applications per day, so even if people find themselves in need of support and meet all the criteria, they could still miss out on this much needed funding. The scheme isn’t even fit for purpose in emergency situations.
“My constituency office has been inundated with people crying out for support. They have seen their energy bills spiral higher and higher, alongside the cost of living crisis and many of them are simply unable to heat their homes. This is an issue that affects large swathes of society, we have been working with many people who are working full-time, but still cannot meet these price increases.
“Questions also remain about further funding being allocated to help people deal with the crippling fuel costs this winter. Millions were allocated through the Barnett consequential to support vulnerable people and Minister Hargey has also bid for £55m to her party colleague, the Sinn Féin Finance Minister Conor Murphy.
“I would also ask why the rollout of this scheme is not being administered by the Department for Communities. It has been live for a matter of hours and already people are having issues accessing the online application process. People are being asked to provide large amounts of evidence to show they are eligible for the scheme and issues around the application process will just create further barriers to those in need of help. This whole process is intrusive and robs people who desperately need support of their dignity.”