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29-10-2022 11:00 am -2:00 pm
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26-11-2022 11:00 am -2:00 pm
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Families in Newry, Mourne and Down will face a gruelling choice between  “eating and heating” this winter due to soaring energy bills, a councillor says.

The comments were made as Slieve Gullion councillor, David Taylor, brought forward a motion calling for a departmental fuel poverty task force to be established at Stormont.

Hundreds of families are contemplating how they will get through the winter months, following a huge spike in energy bills in Northern Ireland.

In November, Firmus Energy announced that it would be putting gas prices up by 38%, despite already increasing prices by 35% in October 2021 and by 18% earlier in the year.

The energy firm said rising global energy costs had “forced” its hand to put prices up for the third time this year.

Meanwhile, the country’s largest electricity company, Power NI, is also expected to increase its prices for domestic customers by 21.4% from  January 2022.

It’s expected that this spike will impact around 450,000 domestic customers.

Cllr David Taylor.

Cllr Taylor said that “skyrocketing” energy bills were “putting untold pressures” on families across Northern Ireland.

Councillor Taylor's motion reads: “That this Council notes with concern the significant increase in the cost of energy; recognises this will adversely affect many households across Northern Ireland and calls on the Minister for Communities to establish a departmental led fuel poverty task force to assist the department in developing solutions to support those impacted and prevent many more people from falling into fuel poverty.”

Sinn Fein’s Oonagh Hanlon said her party supported the motion brought forward but asked for an amendment to be included.

The Downpatrick elected rep asked for Cllr Taylor to extend the motion beyond Department for Communities by including the Department for Finance and Department for Economy.

Cllr Taylor accepted the amendment.

“There can be no doubt that the significant increase in the cost of energy has adversely affected many households,” Cllr Hanlon said.

“I have even noticed it myself with my own house, you are constantly watching it.

“This has come at the same time that the [UK] government has cut Universal Credit by £20 and raised National Insurance.

“The contributions of all of these factors will not only increase the number of people experiencing fuel poverty but the number of people falling into poverty overall.”

Meanwhile, DUP Cllr William Walker said the motion had been brought forward during a “very prudent time”.

He added: “We all know, particularly because of Covid, that people are finding it hard.

“I see it at first hand by working in a constituents office in Ballynahinch and the number of people that are coming in looking for crisis loans is staggering.

“This is a choice between eat or heat for families and they’re coming in looking for these loans and they’ve maxed their loans out, which is leaving them in limbo.

“Some of these people are working in low paid jobs and they’re coming in under pressure because they have children and this is something that does need to be tackled.”

A Department for Communities spokesperson said that they allocated over £50million in schemes to help over 200,000 people throughout winter.

The spokesperson added: “The Department for Communities currently provides support through the Affordable Warmth Scheme, Cold Weather Payments, Discretionary Support and the Winter Fuel Payment.

“The vast majority of this year’s Winter Fuel Payments have been issued and to date, 289,762 people have received their payment, with a total value of £51.6million.

“This is a global fuel crisis and undoubtedly will have a major impact, including on those who are already struggling financially.

Cllr Taylor's motion was carried.

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