A new joint task force has been set up after talks on providing an equivalent to the British £400 energy bill rebate in Northern Ireland.
British Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi met Stormont Economy Minister Gordon Lyons and Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey in Belfast last week to discuss extending the scheme to the region, a move which has been complicated by the absence of a functioning Stormont Assembly.
After Wednesday’s meeting, Ms Hargey and Mr Lyons said they were discussing whether the UK Treasury would pay money to energy companies in Northern Ireland to reduce customer bills.
Ms Hargey said she hoped to be able to give certainty this week, but on Monday she expressed concern that a “workable solution” had yet to be agreed.
In a statement, the Chancellor said the task force will include UK officials and the Stormont executive who “will be tasked with pushing a solution forward over the next few weeks to ensure the people of NI get support as soon as possible. “.
There will be a regular schedule of meetings until the issue is resolved.
Mr Zahawi said: ‘We need to keep the momentum going to get equal energy support to the people of Northern Ireland and that is why I have today launched a joint task force to present practical delivery options. to ministers. No options are on the table.
“We have our noses in the grindstone, we are making progress and we have a common goal with Northern Ireland ministers to get this off the ground as soon as possible.”
Ms Hargey said: ‘This needs to be done urgently.
“We are approaching a fall and winter that will be extremely difficult for workers and families as the price of home heating and lighting continues to soar.
“Discussions are continuing to try to find a workaround to get the payment back into people’s pockets, but there is no doubt that the absence of a functioning executive makes this more difficult.”
Ms Hargey urged the DUP to end its protest action against the Northern Ireland protocol and appoint ministers to a new, fully functioning executive.
Mr Lyons said a commitment had been made in the UK House of Commons that the Chancellor would make the payments to homes in Northern Ireland, as in the rest of the UK.
“In Britain the payment will be made directly from the Treasury to the energy companies,” he said.
“I am pleased today that the utility regulator was able to put forward a proposal to implement the scheme directly through our six Northern Ireland energy suppliers. This is the fastest and easiest way to make payment.
“A working group is being created to move things forward. Time is the main pressure point.
“The Treasury must use the tools at its disposal to ensure that this money is in people’s pockets as quickly as possible.
“I was disappointed that more progress was not made by Treasury officials ahead of today’s meeting, but I remain committed to holding Treasury to its commitments.”
Last month the UK government revealed details of the scheme in which UK households would get more than £60 off their energy bills each month throughout the winter as part of its support for the cost of life.
The money, part of a package announced in May, will be disbursed in six installments to 29 million households.
Households will see £66 deducted from their energy bills in October and November, and £67 per month between December and March, the UK government has announced.