By David Lynch, PA Parliamentary Reporter
UK ministers are “examining” others ways to get financial support for rising bills to people in Northern Ireland because energy companies have experienced “significant difficulties” in delivering the payments, the Northern Ireland Secretary has said.
Chris Heaton-Harris made the claim as he was told people in Northern Ireland are sat in cold homes due to issues with support payments not yet being resolved.
While homes in England, Scotland and Wales have received the cost-of-living support, households in Northern Ireland have not.
The DUP, which is blocking the formation of an executive at Stormont as part of its protest over post-Brexit trading arrangements, has accused the UK government of using the delayed £600 cost of living payments as leverage to try to force the party back into powersharing.
DUP MP Jim Shannon (Strangford) told the Commons: “On behalf of my constituents, who some are sitting in cold houses today not receiving the energy help that the rest of the UK is receiving from Government, can I encourage the Secretary of State and Government for the establishment of the Northern Ireland executive, for vulnerable people who need the energy help and the aid now?
“To bring that forward, and also bring forward and enact the Protocol Bill, which the people of Northern Ireland want to see, and no more delays?”
Mr Heaton-Harris replied: “Energy policy is a devolved matter with responsibility normally resting with the Northern Ireland executive and assembly. These matters would have been better sorted, more quickly sorted, had that been in operation now.
“However, yesterday I met with the energy companies myself. There are significant difficulties in how they could possibly deliver this support and the Government is now examining other options, as well to try and get this money out the door as quickly as we possibly can.”
Northern Ireland has a separate energy market, with all households due to receive £600 rather than the £400 credited to homes on the mainland.
Tory chairman of the Northern Ireland Select Committee Simon Hoare urged ministers to “sort this pressing issue out by Christmas so that people can have that peace of mind and try to enjoy the festive period”.
Mr Heaton-Harris replied: “There have been dozens if not more meeting between various secretaries of state, Beis, myself, ministers of state, the energy companies and a whole host of others to try and get this solved.
“I guarantee to you that the energy of the whole British Government is concentrating on this one issue because we want to crack this nut in the timeframe that he suggests, but it is way more difficult than it should be.”
In his autumn statement, UK chancellor Jeremy Hunt said all households in Northern Ireland would receive an additional £200 payment on top of the £400 received in other areas of the UK, in recognition of the North’s dependence on home heating oil.