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Author: News Letter - www.newsletter.co.uk
Published on 02 December 2010 12:00 PM

The minister in charge of the cold weather payments in Northern Ireland has acknowledged that there are issues with the criteria used to decide who should receive the £25 top-ups.

Yesterday the News Letter reported that residents living just a few miles from where a new record low temperature was recorded will not receive the first cold weather payment released on Tuesday.

In a statement, the department for social development said the "qualifying criteria", and "the amounts paid" are decided in London.

"The minister (Alex Attwood] agrees that this can be restrictive and indeed raised with a department for work and pensions minister in London yesterday, Lord Freud, the severity of the weather and its impact."

A total of £1.3 million is currently being paid out to 52,000 people here "who qualify for the payment in postcode areas covered by the Met Office's Castlederg, Glenanne and Katesbridge weather stations".

Payments are triggered when the daily temperature is, or is forecast to be, zero degrees celsius or below for a period of seven consecutive days.

DUP assembly member Ian McCrea hit out at the payment system after it emerged that people living in his Mid-Ulster constituency – which saw the new record low for November of -9.5C on Sunday – had missed out.

"Is it the case that the people here have missed out because it rose above zero for one day out of the seven, and will they now have to suffer for another seven days of freezing temperatures to qualify the next time around?" said the MLA.

Meanwhile, leading charity Age NI dismissed the cold weather payment as having "minimal impact" and called for an immediate strategy to tackle fuel poverty in Northern Ireland.

"While Age NI welcomes all measures to assist more older people during particularly cold spells, the cold weather payment system has a minimal impact on fuel poverty levels for older people overall," said the charity's chief executive Anne O'Reilly.

She said 83 per cent of older people living alone in Northern Ireland are currently experiencing fuel poverty and called for "urgent and decisive action" to be taken.

"Age NI believes that there is an urgent need for Northern Ireland to implement a social tariff for fuel costs already offered in Great Britain, and that all funding options should be explored in depth."

The charity is urging older people who are concerned about staying warm this winter to contact their advice line on 0808 808 7575.

Temperature measurement is made by seven meteorological stations located at Katesbridge, Aldergrove, Ballykelly, Castlederg, Glenanne, St Angelo (Enniskillen) and Stormont, which monitor the weather across Northern Ireland.

The social security agency said payments will be made automatically to qualifying customers and there is no need to make a claim.

For more information: Call Age NI Advice: 0808 808 7575