Concern as councils axed in cost saving measure from fuel poverty scheme
Antrim and Newtownabbey Alderman Paul Michael BEM has voiced concern over the transfer of the Affordable Warmth scheme to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.
Speaking at a meeting of the borough council, Ald Michael, an Ulster Unionist Airport DEA representative, said he believed that this may not be “the best practice”.
Councillors were advised from September 1, the Affordable Warmth Scheme will be operated by the NIHE and referrals through local councils will end. Currently, the Affordable Warmth Scheme operates as a partnership between Northern Ireland’s 11 local authorities and the Housing Executive.
A report to councillors said:
“The Department (for Communities) has indicated that due to budgetary pressures, reducing the cost of delivery is the only way to ensure that the scheme can continue to help those people living in fuel poverty at a time of high energy prices.”
Councillors were also advised the current allocation of 20 referrals per month will continue until August 31. The council’s heater lending scheme remains available.
In March, councillors were told 145 referrals were made to the Affordable Warmth Scheme for Antrim and Newtownabbey householders during the past financial year and that the annual target for referrals by the local authority during 2022/2023 has been achieved.
The scheme, which has been in place since 2014, funds energy efficiency measures for low income private sector households by assisting with measures such as heating system replacement and loft/cavity wall insulation.
It is aimed at households that have a total gross annual household income of less than £23,000. The Housing Executive makes the final decision on eligibility.
Ald Michael said:
“I am concerned that this may not be the best practice. We will see the out-workings as we move to September and into the winter months. I am concerned that once again we will see energy price increases.”
From July 1, government support through the Energy Price Guarantee (EPG) Scheme ended. The EPG Scheme was introduced in Northern Ireland by the UK Government in November 2022 to help households with high energy prices.
As the cost of wholesale energy has reduced, so too has the level of support provided by government. Lower levels of discount applied to all electricity and gas bills from 1 January 2023 and it was reduced again in April
Raymond Gormley, head of energy policy at the Consumer Council, said:
“Nearly all energy companies will change their tariffs on 1 July, so we recommend that consumers shop around to ensure they are on the most appropriate tariff to suit their needs.
“The main reason tariffs are changing is because the Government EPG Scheme, which had subsidised our bills over the winter and spring, has been reduced to zero.
“This is unfortunate given prices remain around double the pre-pandemic norm. However, the scheme will remain in place until April 2024 and the Government will review whether it is needed every three months until then.
“So, if energy prices increase significantly in the winter, the Consumer Council will make the argument to Government that they should reinstate a subsidy. We urge anyone who is struggling to pay their energy bills or top-up their meters to contact their supplier without delay.
“We also encourage consumers to think about ways they can reduce their energy costs through energy efficiency and, if possible, try to budget over the summer months to help cover energy costs during the coming winter.”