Adam Scorer calls for ‘targeted financial support’ on energy bills
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People have been piling up outside post offices across Northern Ireland to cash in their vital energy bill discount vouchers for the first time. Billpayers in England had already started to receive monthly discounts as part of the £400 winter support payment amid skyrocketing energy prices that were sparked by Russia’s war in Ukraine and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s weaponisation of energy.
But while English households were cashing in their monthly checks, those in Northern Ireland had been left in the dark for months, despite the alarming energy costs.
Now, they have been offered a one-off £600 payment which they can finally claim. Those not on direct debit payment plans with their energy suppliers don’t get the cash sent straight into their account automatically. Instead, the 500,000 ir so households in Northern Ireland who pay quarterly for their energy or use pre-payment meters are eligible for a discount voucher.
They have to cash in these vouchers at their local top-up points, such as post offices. On Tuesday, eager citizens poured into post offices to redeem the vouchers and got their hands on the much-needed lump sum. One man queueing at a post office in Belfast told BBC News NI that the money would “make a massive difference”.
He said: “Food, gas and electric – that’s what I’ll be spending mine on.”
The payment is takes into account the £400 support payment announced last May, adding an extra £200 because of the high proportion of homes using heating oil in Northern Ireland.
The rollout is set to be staggered over the next four weeks and completed by the end of February.
However, while many households in England got their hands on the discount before their Northern Irish counterparts, over a million were left in the cold as their discount vouchers came through the door months late.
Last month, Express.co.uk reported that an estimated 1.3 million vouchers for homes with prepayment meters either got lost, delayed or went unclaimed, resulting in hundreds of thousands of people missing out on the Government’s vital discounts.
A number group of organisations, including Which?, Citizens Advice, Age UK and Money Saving Expert and Fuel Poverty National Energy Action, wrote a letter to the Government urging it to address the issue as some of society’s most vulnerable households were left in the dark.
The letter, which is addressed to Business and Energy Secretary Grant Shapps reads: “We are writing to raise our serious concern that vital Government help with energy bills is not reaching hundreds of thousands of people who need it most.
“We urge you to take immediate action so that customers can access this vital support as the cold weather sets in and puts vulnerable groups, including older and disabled people, at greater risk of health difficulties and even death.”
Sharleen Holiday, 71 a 41-year from Middlesborough was left waiting for months more than she should have done before receiving an energy payment as her vouchers were never delivered.
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While she finally received the a £200 payment in January following the delay, she should have started seeing that cash from October.
Ms Holiday has severe mental health problems, and due to this, she cannot leave the house. She lives in a flat with her carer and she said the pair are surviving were surviving one meal every three days at times just to keep warm as they waited for the discount vouchers.
She previously said: “It’s getting to the point where we are having one meal every three days if we are lucky so we can keep the electricity on. Some days we go without anything just to put the gas on. We have no family support to get financial help.
“It’s as though with us being on legacy benefits we don’t matter. My mental health has dramatically been affected by the worry and stress of me being able to afford to put the gas and electricity on each month.”
Government data showed that 34 percent of vouchers were not redeemed from October to November.
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