The UK government today (Friday 30 December) sets out how around 500,000 households in Northern Ireland will receive support with their energy bills, with new vouchers starting to be issued from mid-January.
On Monday 19 December the UK government announced all households across Northern Ireland will receive a single £600 payment, consisting of £400 through the Energy Bills Support Scheme Northern Ireland (EBSS NI) and the £200 Alternative Fuel Payment (AFP).
Energy and Climate Minister Graham Stuart today confirmed that for customers on standard credit schemes without direct debits set up, and those on prepayment (keypad) meters, this will take the form of vouchers, with the most vulnerable customers getting priority access.
Standard Credit customers need to ensure their supplier has the correct name of the accountholder. Keypad customers will receive a voucher from their supplier addressed to the occupier of their property, and need to bring their keypad card or app to the Post Office to redeem the voucher, either by depositing it in a bank or credit union, or where needed as cash.
Customers with a direct debit arrangement with their energy supplier will receive the payment directly to their bank account and will not be provided with vouchers.
Vouchers will start to be issued from mid-January, with every eligible customer receiving them in time to feel the benefit this winter.
It comes on top of the Energy Price Guarantee which has so far saved each household in Northern Ireland using electricity around £65 and a further £75 for those using gas.
Energy and Climate Minister Graham Stuart said:
We are determined to ensure that whatever their circumstances, every customer in Northern Ireland gets the support they are entitled to.
Those without direct debits set up, and those on prepayment meters, will from January start to get these important vouchers which will provide vital help with their bills. Those already paying by direct debit will get the support straight into their bank accounts.
I would urge those customers getting vouchers to look out for them, and to use them swiftly so they can benefit, and see the impact on their bills as soon as possible.
Welcoming the detail, Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris said:
This is welcome news for many Northern Ireland households who do not pay for their electricity via direct debit and I hope provides further reassurance as we enter the new year.
I appreciate the hard work from officials and NI stakeholders to overcome the difficulties presented by NI’s energy market, and the absence of the NI Executive, to ensure NI households receive this much needed support this winter.
While today’s news should give peace of mind to customers in Northern Ireland, Mr Stuart also urged them to beware scams which the government is already aware are being attempted.
He warned customers that vouchers will come in the form of letters, will carry badges of the relevant electricity supplier and the UK government, and will contain a barcode. Customers will not be asked to go online or to provide any details.
The easiest way people can redeem their voucher will be paying the money directly into their bank account by taking their bank card to the Post Office and requesting to deposit. For those without a bank or credit union account, going to the Post Office and redeeming for cash will be an option – but that will be subject to the branch having the cash available.
Nick Read, Chief Executive at the Post Office, said:
Our 500 Post Offices across Northern Ireland are at the heart of their communities and Postmasters are preparing for the vital role they will play in getting people the £600 support they are entitled to from mid-January.
It’s vital that anyone who doesn’t pay for their energy usage by direct debit, or have a prepaid meter, looks out for their voucher in the post. Before coming to the Post Office, make sure to bring your letter, the correct proof of address and photo identification as this will speed things up in branch.
We know how difficult the rising cost of energy has been for many. In Great Britain, we are administering the Energy Bill Support Scheme on behalf of six energy providers and each week hundreds of thousands of people are coming into our branches to get cash support. Our ability to move cash around the whole country is a national infrastructure asset and we will be using our experience to deliver this payment to people in Northern Ireland.