SDLP Communities Spokesperson Mark H Durkan has urged Minister Deirdre Hargey to get the £200 fuel support payment to struggling families.
Mr Durkan said people in communities across the North need support now, with payments not expected to be made until March.
He has contacted Minister Hargey to clarify when the payments will be issued and has also questioned why those on legacy benefits have been excluded from the scheme.
Mr Durkan also raised the need to support working families, who have been excluded from support schemes thus far.
Foyle MLA Mr Durkan said:
“Since the announcement of the Energy Payment Support Scheme, my constituency office and those of my colleagues have been inundated by people who desperately need this money wondering when it’s going to be released. We’re nearly in March and people are dealing with a spell of extremely inclement weather and they can’t understand why the support promised has not been forthcoming.
“I have repeatedly highlighted the importance of getting this money to people quickly. This should have been sorted out before Christmas and now we are looking at a payment to support people through a difficult winter being issued in spring. There are people in communities across the North living in cold and damp conditions and this money would be a real lifeline, the reality is that many people simply cannot afford to heat their homes.
“I have also raised significant concerns about the exclusion of people on legacy benefits from the scheme. While the department has cited administrative difficulties, proper planning could have ensured this scheme helped as many people as possible. Working families are also in desperate need of support and they are justifiably frustrated and angry that they have been continually overlooked by Minister Hargey.
“The Minister's apparent lack of interest or appetite when it comes to supporting the many families on the breadline who have not met the criteria for any support schemes to date has left them feeling like an afterthought. Tens of millions of pounds have been underspent by Stormont departments and should be used to help hard pressed families.
“This scheme was announced over a month ago, it’s been dangled in front of freezing families for too long, it must be issued without further delay.”