Mental Health Champion says £600 energy payment should be made ahead of Christmas, warns ‘absolutely crucial’ issue is addressed

A payment of £600 to help households with their fuel bills should be made before Christmas, Northern Ireland’s mental health champion has said.

Siobhan O’Neill was speaking after it emerged Westminster is looking at ways to allow people in Northern Ireland to spend a £600 energy credit on things other than energy.

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where households have not yet received financial payments for energy bills.

It was initially presented as a £400 energy support discount, and £100 for oil heating, the latter later doubled and given to all households.

But with the Government still considering how to get the money into people’s hands, more delay is likely.

Warning of the link between poverty and suicide, Ms O’Neill said it is essential government provides clarity on when people in Northern Ireland can expect to receive the energy support payment.

However, it is understood it may be next year before the payments are made to people in Northern Ireland. “Financial difficulties do cause distress and levels of stress that can even lead to suicide,” said Ms O’Neill.

“There is distinct evidence that the last recession resulted in an increase in suicides, so it’s absolutely crucial this issue is addressed as soon as possible.

“We know that people living in deprived areas are more likely to suffer from poor mental health and the idea that this payment could be pushed back will create stress for people and affect mental health.

“A lot of people have been planning around getting this payment, they have budgeted for it, and getting it in the next month or so will mean they’re able to get a fill of oil to keep the house warm through Christmas.

“I would urge the leaders to do whatever they can to try and get this to people before Christmas and if that isn’t possible, then provide clear information on when people can expect the payment so they can plan and budget.”

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