Winter Support for Vulnerable People

Oral Answers to Questions — Communities – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:45 pm on 7th December 2020.

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Photo of Karen Mullan Karen Mullan Sinn Féin 2:45 pm, 7th December 2020

3. Ms Mullan asked the Minister for Communities to outline her plans to support the most vulnerable people over the winter period. (AQO 1274/17-22)

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

I thank the Member for her question. My Department has a number of supports in place, including an automatic one-off COVID-19 heating payment of £200 to people who are in receipt of pension credit or the highest rates of disability benefits; a £10 Christmas bonus, which is paid to people who are in receipt of a qualifying benefit; a winter fuel payment of between £100 and £300 for eligible older people; and a cold weather payment of £25. The universal credit allowance has also been increased. I have increased the annual income threshold for discretionary support and introduced a self-isolation grant for people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19.

The provision of food support remains a priority for me, so I have provided almost £800,000 to FareShare, which is a food redistribution charity. I have allocated £750,000 to councils to provide access to food. My Department has also allocated a further £3·5 million to support access to food, and I hope to make an announcement in the not-too-distant future about our warm, well and connected policy, which will operate throughout December and January.

Photo of Karen Mullan Karen Mullan Sinn Féin

I thank the Minister for her answer and for her work and ongoing support for those who are most vulnerable. I also want to thank her for meeting the community and voluntary sector in Derry and Strabane with me last week. Will she outline her intention to work collectively with other Departments and agencies to ensure that long-term and targeted support is provided to those who are most in need?

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin 3:00 pm, 7th December 2020

I thank the Member for her question. It was a pleasure to meet, along with the Member and Martina Anderson, the many workers from across the community in the Foyle constituency. It is important to put on record — this is also in response to the previous question — that Edwin Poots, Nichola Mallon and I are working on the revitalisation fund for councils; and Naomi Long, Robin Swann and I are working on supporting people, particularly in relation to homelessness. From an Executive point of view, I have enjoyed the full support of each Minister for every substantial allocation of money that has gone to sports and arts. It is important that we use public money to get better outcomes for people. I reassure the Member, and other Members, that I will continue to take that approach.

Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Social Democratic and Labour Party

Will the Minister confirm whether a household can receive multiple heating payments if more than one eligible individual is living at the address?

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

It is for one household. The COVID heating payment is a one-off, and the household is the applicant. It is on top of the winter fuel payment, which is anything from £100 to £300. This payment is in addition to what is already there. Given that people have had to isolate for a lot longer than we thought in March would be the case and the fact that we are going into a very, very cold spell, I am sure that the Member will agree that it is important that people stay not only warm but safe and well.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Are individuals who are in receipt of a supplementary payment, due to the complete loss of their award when transitioning from DLA to PIP, entitled to the additional heating payment?

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

The payment is for anybody on pension credit, higher rates of disability or higher rates of PIP, and it includes the children. People who are currently in receipt of any of those, never mind what they are transferring to, meet the criteria and should receive the payment. If the Member has examples of where he feels that that may not be the case, he can drop them up to my office.

Photo of Paula Bradshaw Paula Bradshaw Alliance

The Minister will recall that, approximately this time last year, she, Christopher and I met with the —. Sorry.