Audit Office requests copy of report on funding awards after Alliance raises concerns about roll-out of Fuel Poverty Hardship Fund

Following a meeting with the Alliance Party to discuss concerns about the continued use of the same Local Strategic Partners used since 2020 without any proper review, in light of the roll-out of the Fuel Poverty Hardship Fund scheme, the NIAO has demanded a copy of an independent financial audit, which the Council is now preparing.

Belfast City Council Sam Nelson fuel poverty

Under the scheme’s guidelines, as voted for by the DUP and Sinn Féin, households earning up to £60,000 a year had the right to apply for a one-off £100 fuel hardship payment from the total £1 million set aside by the Council.

The distribution of the £100 funds was decided on a ‘first come, first served’ basis, and was controversially carried out by the same ‘strategic partners’ or community groups that were picked to receive and deliver millions of pounds of ratepayers' money from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Alliance have asked for an update on the progress of this report for this month's Committee and it is due to be completed 'in the New Year', according to a Council response.

“I am pleased that the Audit Office are taking our concerns seriously and want to examine the independent review”, said Belfast City Councillor Sam Nelson, who attended the emergency meeting with the Audit Office.

“When the Partners were first used, they were nominated in the initial emergency around Covid, which meant that we had to act quickly. However, since then the same groups have been continually used to allocate millions of pounds of Council funding with absolutely no review of how effective they have been.

“In addition, there has been no open competition for other organisations to become involved.

“The DUP/SF block have continually pushed through the same groups again and again. The fact that they unilaterally swapped in and out new Partners, with no competition for the Fuel Poverty Hardship Fund, is also of concern and reeks of a carve up.

“Alliance has no issue with any of the Partners, but we have always believed in open and transparent processes. When groups are being used to allocate food parcels or funding on behalf of the Council, we need to be sure that they are the best equipped to do so and that the most vulnerable in our community are receiving the help they need. With that in mind, this independent review must be completed quickly to ensure that this has been the case.

“I am pleased that the Audit Office are closely monitoring the situation and hope that the independent review findings will be made available as soon as possible.”