The Committee was reminded that, at its meeting on 21st October, it had adopted a motion calling for the establishment of a Fuel Poverty Hardship Fund of £500k for households in most need in Belfast, which had been proposed by Councillor Groogan and seconded by Councillor Ferguson, on behalf of Councillor Flynn.
The Committee had agreed that a report be submitted to its meeting in November on the funding, design and delivery of the scheme.
Accordingly, the Director of Neighbourhood Services submitted for the Committee’s consideration a report which proposed that, given the scale and complexity of the challenges being faced by households across the City, the Council adopt a phased approach to delivery. Phase 1 would focus upon the urgent distribution of £100 fuel vouchers to households in most need, with Phase 2 being developed in tandem, in order to provide a broader range of support over a longer-term period, in collaboration with key voluntary, community and social enterprise and city partners and would be dependent on additional resources becoming available.
The Director then drew the Committee’s attention to an initial set of draft design principles, eligibility criteria and delivery and funding allocation models to be considered, following which it was
Moved by Councillor Murphy,
Seconded by Councillor McLaughlin,
That the Committee agrees, in terms of the delivery model, to adopt Option 2 within the report, to use the Local Strategic Partners, and agrees also that the Ashton Centre replace Intercomm as a Strategic Partner in North Belfast.
The proposal was subsequently amended to include Alderman Dorrian’s proposal that the Greater Shankill Community Council replace the Greater Shankill Partnership as a Strategic Partner in West Belfast.
Moved by Councillor Ferguson,
Seconded by Councillor Long,
That the Committee agrees to adopt Option 5, to use Advice Services to deliver the scheme.
On a vote, seven Members voted for the amendment and eleven against and it was declared lost.
On a recorded vote, twelve Members voted for the original proposal, as amended, and six against and it was declared carried.
Aldermen Dorrian and Haire; and
Councillors Beattie, Bradley, Bunting, Ferguson, Garrett, McLaughlin, Murphy, Spratt, Verner and Walsh.
Councillor McDonough-Brown (Chairperson);
The Deputy Lord Mayor (Councillor M. Kelly); and Councillors Heading, Long, Lyons and McMullan.
The Committee agreed further:
i. to increase the Hardship fund to £1m, with this allocation to be met, in the first instance, from Departmental underspends and from the realignment of specified reserves, if required;
ii. that the Scheme should, if possible, be implemented before Christmas;
iii. to endorse the Design Principles set out within paragraph 3.7 of the report;
iv. to endorse the recommendation to establish a Cost-of-Living Task Group, with membership to be confirmed but to include, as a minimum, representatives from the Council, the Department for Communities, the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust and the Belfast Area Partnerships, to ensure that effective referral pathways are created to support the most vulnerable within the City;
v. to endorse the eligibility criteria set out within paragraph 3.11 of the report, with the proposal to increase the gross annual household income eligibility threshold from £40k to £60k to be referred to the Cost-of-Living Task Group for consideration, to ensure that those most in need, including the working poor, were targeted;
vi. that there be sufficient flexibility in the scheme to ensure that householders using forms of heating other than oil and payment methods other than vouchers are included and that this be referred to the Cost-of-Living Task Group to work out the detail;
vii. to note that correspondence had been forwarded to the Department of Communities requesting that consideration be given to potential match funding for the Fuel Hardship Scheme, as requested within the motion;
viii. to note that the design and delivery of the scheme would have implications internally, particularly for those staff leading on community planning and on community capacity/neighbourhood integration and that assistance would also be required from the Finance and Audit Sections, in terms of ensuring that all necessary requirements and regulations were met;
ix. to note that, in anticipation of any additional funding becoming available, including through Government departments, Council officers were currently developing a funding framework, details of which would be provided at the Committee meeting in December; and
x. agreed that a report be submitted to the Committee within the next two months providing an update on the work being undertaken to review the strategic and thematic partners.