Further support urged after fuel payment announced

THE Department for Social Development will be making payments to some of the most vulnerable people to help heat their homes this winter.

The payment of up to £100 will be made to those receiving certain benefits and is aimed at helping those struggling to heat their homes.

Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland said: “This payment is vital in helping some of the most vulnerable people throughout Northern Ireland, particularly with the continued rise in household costs. People are struggling to heat their homes adequately and they need help. This payment will help improve this serious situation.

“My Department will notify people who are due to receive a payment by letter in advance of payments being issued. People do not need to make an application.”

Local MLA Ian McCrea has warmly welcomed the decision which will benefit 250,000 people in Northern Ireland.

“In March 2011 the Executive established the Social Protection Fund which was designed to help the most vulnerable in our society who are being squeezed in this tough economic climate,” he said.

“I wholeheartedly welcome this announcement that will see support given to our pensioners, cancer suffers and individuals receiving a number of income based benefit.

“In the most harsh of economic times I am glad that the Executive led by my party leader, Peter Robinson MLA is putting the most vulnerable first and with energy costs escalating this is indeed a timely intervention.

“Whilst there are others who don’t qualify for this payment, I can assure them that I will continue to press Government to ensure that they do everything possible to help everyone who is in need.”

Maghera councillor Kate Lagan welcomed the Executive-funded fuel allowance payment but said more support was needed for vulnerable people.

“This recognition of vulnerable people in our communities who need help is very welcome, particularly the inclusion of those suffering from cancer as these people are often especially susceptible and sensitive to the cold weather,” she said.

“However, this one-off payment is a very short term solution and we, in the SDLP, would like support for cancer patients to be continued, enhanced and delivered in a more consistent way as part of a long-term commitment from the Executive,” she continued.

“If devolution is to make a difference, one of the acid tests will be around how the most vulnerable in our community are treated. Rather than piecemeal initiatives and one off payments there has to be a more sustainable way to help those in fuel poverty.

“Cancer sufferers and the elderly who are confined to their homes all day need constant heat. Although welcome, this £75 payment will buy approximately 120 litres of heating oil at today’s price and will not last very long in these cold winter days.”

Ulster Unionist MLA Sandra overend added: “This will be welcome news for many people in Mid Ulster who are currently finding it tough with the rising cost of living - especially the increasing cost of fuel. Fuel poverty is a very real issue facing an alarming number of our citizens and I hope that this additional money will help to alleviate the financial burden on our most vulnerable and those currently being treated for cancer.

“It is expected that the payments will be issued in February 2012 and I encourage everyone to listen out for further details from the Executive in the coming days.”

Payments are expected to be made in February 2012. A date will be confirmed in due course. Social Security Agency customers can get additional information by calling NI Direct on 0300 200 7870. Information is also available at: http://www.nidirect.gov.uk/one-off-fuel-allowance-payment.