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08 Aug 2022

Foyle MLA Durkan: Unfit for purpose application process for Emergency Fuel Payment Scheme is stripping people of their dignity

DUP dangerously undermining power sharing says Derry MLA

Foyle MLA Mark H Durkan: "I’ve been inundated with complaints from constituents who have been left frustrated by this unfair process."

SDLP Communities Spokesperson and Foyle MLA, Mark H Durkan, has called for an urgent intervention from Sinn Féin Minister Deirdre Hargey to get a grip on the inherent flaws within the £2 million Emergency Fuel Payment Scheme.

Applications for the Scheme were being taken last week but so far, many have complained about not being able to access the website and get their application processed.

Mr Durkan said the application process for the Emergency Fuel Payment Scheme is stripping people of their dignity.

And he insisted that Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey should stop “passing blame” and “get a handle on the multiple flaws” of the application system.

He said: “People have waited with bated breath for news of a fuel support scheme yet just days since the launch of the £2 million Emergency Fuel Payment Scheme it is clear that the application process is not fit for purpose.

“The convoluted criteria and online process is excluding many vulnerable people from this crucial support.

“The decision to limit the number of applicants to the scheme per day is of huge concern.

“The fact that the scheme reopens at 9am each morning has been to huge detriment for many, including parents or those carrying out the school run in the mornings or simply making their way to work.

“Considering the scheme has closed for applications by 9.20am on each day it since it has been opened, people are missing out from even submitting an application in the first place.

“I’ve been inundated with complaints from constituents who have been left frustrated by this unfair process.

“The barriers placed on those in need of help is inexcusable and Minister Hargey, rather than passing blame on this issue really needs to get a handle on the multiple flaws within this system.

“It is abhorrent that a provision intended to support families and individuals struggling to meet rising energy costs is being treated like a lottery.

“In doing so, people in desperate need are being stripped of their dignity. No-one should be forced to beg for assistance which they are entitled to.”

In response, a spokesperson for the Department of Communities said: “The £2million Emergency Fuel Payment Scheme aims to deliver targeted support to those who present as being in an immediate fuel crisis and who have a temporary inability to meet their fuel costs. 

“Applications to the scheme, which is administered by Bryson Care, are limited each day to manage demand and to ensure the scheme is accessible to people who need it over this winter period. The amount of applications that can be submitted each day may therefore vary and will be an operational decision for Bryson Care. 

“This scheme is only a very small part of the planned overall response to the crisis.  The vast majority of this year’s Winter Fuel Payments have been issued and to date 290,632 people have received their payment, with a total value of £51.7 million. The Department also currently provides support through the Affordable Warmth Scheme, Cold Weather Payments, and Discretionary Support.

“This is a global fuel crisis and undoubtedly will have a major impact, including on those who are already struggling financially. The Department continues to engage with the Utility Regulator and the Consumer Council and given the scale of this crisis the Minister will work with her Executive colleagues to try and mitigate the impacts.”

A spokesperson for Bryson added: “Bryson Charitable Group is committed to supporting those most in need in Northern Ireland.

“As part of the collaboration between the Department for Communities, the Consumer Council, and with a contribution from energy companies, we will support 20,000 households experiencing severe fuel crisis with emergency relief.

“To provide a continuity of support across the winter period to the target number of households, it is agreed that we process 333 eligible applications per day.

“The scheme is active daily Monday-Friday and is operating effectively at its agreed daily rate. For those eligible, gas, electricity and oil have been processed.

“The criteria is provided on our website (www.brysongroup.org). It would be really helpful if applicants could ensure they provide all of the correct information.

“The unprecedented demand from the public has led to us reaching our daily agreed limit very quickly each day. This scheme is akin to a food bank and is designed to help those with little or no fuel.

“Unfortunately, it is inevitable that demand will be considerably more than the scope of the scheme.”

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