No energy support payment in Northern Ireland 'before Christmas', says Minister

Energy Bill Support Scheme payments are unlikely to be issued to people in Northern Ireland before Christmas, the business minister has said.

Support payments have already begun in the rest of the UK, but people in NI remain in the dark as to when they will get the funds.

On Tuesday, Graham Stuart told MPs his 'aspiration and aim' was to deliver the £600 payment in January.

He was responding to an urgent question from DUP MP Carla Lockhart.

She told the Commons that people in the region need a firm commitment that the £600 payment will be issued before Christmas.

The member for Upper Bann said: "Whilst across GB, households have received their energy bills support payment, my constituents and people right across Northern Ireland have not.

"£400 has been dangled in front of them but remains beyond their grasp. The promise of an additional £200 in recognition of our dependence on heating oil also remains unpaid.

"The previous prime minister assured the people of Northern Ireland that a payment would be issued in November. Today November draws to a close and no payment."

Business minister Graham Stuart says the lack of an Executive is to blame for the delay in the payment. Credit: Parliament

She insisted "what we get from the Government is delay, doubt, different stories as to the type of scheme as each day passes", adding: "It is not good enough. We need a firm commitment from the Government that this payment will be issued before Christmas."

In response, the Minister for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) told Ms Lockhart that the lack of an Executive is to blame for the delay in the payment.

Mr Stuart said: "Energy is devolved. And I understand why her party is not part of that executive, but that has consequences and that meant that we did not start until August and we should not be doing this.

"The executive in Northern Ireland should be doing it."

He added: "I met with CEOs of the energy suppliers last week, whatever she may have heard, they are not ready. Their systems do not allow the dispensing, the cashing out and I hope she agrees with me, I don't want to see a stranded credit to an electricity account that people can't access.

"I've insisted that we find a way to make sure that people can cash that out and use it to meet their heating oil bills this winter. That is my insistence."

Mr Stuart said he was "determined to find a way to ensure that we can allow cashing out this winter" but that he does not see "given the situation", that "we are going to be able to stand that up before Christmas".

He went on: "But we are aiming to stand that up in January if we possibly can.

"That is my aspiration and my aim and is what I'm seeking to achieve."

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