Swann challenges Minister over Warm Homes scheme

Robin Swann. (Editorial Image)
Robin Swann. (Editorial Image)

Mr. Robin Swann, the North Antrim Ulster Unionist Party Assemblyman and Chairman of the Stormont Employment and Learning Committee, has called on the Stormont Social Development Minister “to ensure that all North Antrim constituents are able to take full advantage of the Warm Home scheme”.

Assemblyman Swann, who is UUP Chief Whip and North Antrim UUP Chairman, said he intended “to seek urgent answers from the Social Development Minister over Warm Home scheme in North Antrim”.

Mr Swann’s challenge to the minister came after he asked the Minister for Social Development for an update on work undertaken through the Warm Homes Scheme and the Affordable Warmth Scheme in North Antrim.

In a detailed response to Assemblyman Swann given the seriousness of the issue, the Minister said: “The Affordable Warmth Scheme replaced the Warm Homes Scheme from 1st April 2015 and is a vital part of our efforts to tackle fuel poverty.

“The new scheme has been designed with the help of the Ulster University to target support at those households which need to spend 25% or more of their income on heating and lighting their home.

“It is open both to owner occupiers and tenants from the private rented sector. Northern Ireland is the first region to adopt a targeted area-based approach on this scale.

“It differs significantly from the previous Warm Homes Scheme in that it actively identifies vulnerable people in the poorest housing and draws on the local knowledge of councils and the Housing Executive grants experience.

“The Warm Homes Scheme ran from 1 July 2009 until 31 March 2015 and in that time a total of 8,325 homes were assisted across the Ballymena, Ballymoney, Carrickfergus, Coleraine, Larne, Limavady and Moyle Council areas.

“Using the targeting model designed by the Ulster University 33,000 households across Northern Ireland were identified as being in extreme fuel poverty; 12,272 households have been referred through to the Affordable Warmth Scheme. In this financial year 1,517 of these referrals were in the former council areas

Up to 31 December 2015 of the 1,517 referrals, 524 failed to proceed for various reasons including income ineligibility or no measures required. 477 formal approvals have been issued to commence energy efficiency improvement works in homes in the new Causeway Coast and Glens and Mid and East Antrim Council areas. 516 cases are awaiting a response from the householder.

“The average amount of grant for energy efficiency improvements per household is currently £3,800 which equates to a spend of £1.8 million in some of the most fuel poor households in the North Antrim area,” the Minister told Assemblyman Swann.

Mr Swann added: “With weather forecasters predicting cold snaps and severe winter conditions ahead, I want the Minister and the Social Development Department to have action plans in place so that no constituent is placed in a disastrous heat or eat dilemma, especially in our vulnerable elderly and poverty line sections of the community.”