‘Much more to be done’ for those struggling with gas price hike and other energy pressures

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An expert on poverty says much more must be done to help struggling families, after the fourth hike in gas prices in a year hits Northern Ireland.

Kevin Higgins, Head of Policy at Advice NI was speaking after Firmus Energy announced a hike of 34% in gas prices, to take effect next month. In November it announced its third rise last year – with prices at that time having more than doubled since October 2020.

“The seemingly never-ending round of energy price increases continue, with a related disproportionate impact on low income households,” Mr Higgins said.

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“Whilst there are local measures in place, for example the £2m Emergency Fuel Payment Scheme for those in emergency need via the Bryson Charitable Group website, and the £55m Energy Payment Support Scheme which will provide £200 to people on means tested benefits; given the scale of the energy price crisis and the wider cost of living crisis, much more must be done to help struggling families.”

Firmus gas prices had already doubled since October, but a further hike of 34% has been announced.Firmus gas prices had already doubled since October, but a further hike of 34% has been announced.
Firmus gas prices had already doubled since October, but a further hike of 34% has been announced.

He said that anyone struggling should contact his organisation via Freephone 0800 915 4604 or www.adviceni.net.

Peter McClenaghan from the Consumer Council said anyone struggling should first of all contact their energy supplier for support, as well as the council itself on Freephone 0800 121 6022 or [email protected]. He also recommended people get their boiler serviced and shop around for the cheapest energy provider.

SDLP Communities Spokesperson Mark H Durkan said yesterday that Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey needs to act now to ensure the £55m Energy Payment Support Scheme is open before the planned time frame of mid-March.

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“If the Minister is serious about protecting vulnerable people she must issue fuel support payments now to allow people to get the best value for money rather than just filling the coffers of energy companies,” he said.

The Department of Communities (DFC) responded that the scheme will see a one-off payment of £200 to around 280,000 people but that “the scale of this crisis, which is beyond the remit of DfC, requires a larger government response”.

The DFC also provides a Winter Fuel payment to people born on or before 26 September 1955 and Cold Weather Payments. Support is also available through Discretionary Support and an Affordable Warmth Scheme, DFC added.

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