Sinn Féin Social Protection Spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has told the Dáil that the department is refusing to make the first scheduled payment of fuel allowance to thousands of people in October due to an error that it made last April. He asked the government to intervene urgently and direct the department to reverse its decision in light of the hardship that it will cause.
Speaking in the Dáil having secured a Topical Issue Debate on the matter today deputy Ó Snodaigh said:
“We understand that 60,000 families dependent on social welfare received a letter last month informing them that due to a departmental error last April in which the department paid for an extra week they will not receive any fuel allowance payment for the week of 8th October.
“The fuel allowance is a means-tested payment and by definition is only available to the people who cannot afford to pay for home heating fuel.
“The government seems determined to leave people in the cold. Following the election Minister Burton cut fuel allowance for people in smokeless zones from €23.90 to €20 (-16%). At the same time she cut the fuel components of the Household Benefits Package: Electricity (-25%), Gas (-20%). These cuts were the brainchild of FF but the Labour/FG government introduced them.
“Then in the Budget the government cut the fuel allowance season by 6 weeks. That’s a cut of €120 or 19%. This government have cut the fuel allowance already by a total of 35%.
“These cuts are all happening at a time when fuel prices are rocketing. The Commission for Energy Regulation just approved a hike of 8.5% which will add €75 to the average families’ annual gas bill – these bills have already risen by €230 over the past year. Likewise electricity hikes are set to rise by almost 5% from mid-October adding more than €50 to the average annual bill. In the year to June the price of 1,000 litres of home heating fuel rose from €800 to €940.
“120,000 Bord Gáis customers are now in arrears. Of these 83,500 are in arrears of more than €100 for more than two months.
“The government should direct the department to reverse this decision and make the fuel payment on the 8th October. To do otherwise is to condemn poor families to the cold.”
Responding to Minister Dinny McGinley who apologised for the error but refused to reverse the department’s decision, Deputy Ó Snodaigh said;
“Your response is appalling and I know where my constituents would tell the government to shove its apology.”