Civil servants using energy support as ‘lever’ to get Assembly back, says DUP MP

Senior civil servants are “interfering” in Northern Ireland’s politics by withholding energy support payments, a DUP MP has claimed.

Sammy Wilson told the Commons that civil servants were seeking to use the £400 energy payments as a “lever to get the Assembly back into operation”.

It is understood he was referring to civil servants at Westminster, rather than Stormont.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt responded that he was unaware of the claims but would make enquiries.

Jeremy Hunt
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said the Government was determined that energy payments got to everyone (Victoria Jones/PA)

The timing and delivery of the Energy Bills Support Scheme in Northern Ireland is still unclear.

Households in the region are due to be credited with the £400 payment automatically to help with energy costs this winter as part of a UK-wide scheme announced by the Westminster Government.

But the Utility Regulator has said the payments may not arrive until January.

It is also not clear if the payments in Northern Ireland will be made as one lump sum or in smaller instalments.

Elsewhere in the UK, gas and electricity customers are receiving the payment in the form of six monthly payments of £67.

Discussions involving Stormont officials and the London government have been ongoing for months about how to deliver the payment in the region.

Northern Ireland has its own market regulator and does not have the energy price cap system that operates in the rest of the UK.

Northern Ireland Office minister Steve Baker
Northern Ireland Office minister Steve Baker suggested last week that the process of making the energy payments would be easier if the Stormont Executive was functioning (Aaron Chown/PA)

In the Commons, Mr Wilson said: “Ministers have worked with the (former) economy minister (Gordon Lyons) in Northern Ireland, they have made commitments that payments will be made before Christmas.

“But it seems that some senior civil servants are seeking to use non-payment as a lever to get the Assembly back into operation again.

“Can the minister confirm that first of all the money is available for the package?

“That secondly, energy companies are ready to deliver it?

“And thirdly, the Government will keep its commitment to ensure that payments are made before Christmas?

“And would he investigate whether civil servants are interfering in the political process in Northern Ireland?”

Mr Hunt responded: “Can I assure him that we are absolutely determined to make sure that support gets out to everyone in the United Kingdom this Christmas as quickly as possible and I am absolutely not aware of any delay in the way that he suggests, but I will happily make enquiries to make sure that is not the case.”

Northern Ireland is without functioning powersharing institutions as part of the DUP’s protest against the post-Brexit Northern Ireland Protocol.

There are also no ministers in post at Stormont following the passing of a deadline for the parties to form a new executive.

Last week, Northern Ireland Office minister Steve Baker suggested the process of making the energy payments would be easier if the Stormont Executive was functioning.