Households in Northern Ireland are to get a £400 (€473) discount on their energy bills, Stormont Finance Minister Conor Murphy has said.

While the Sinn Féin minister was unable to say when the payments would be made, Economy Minister Gordon Lyons, a member of the DUP, said that he expects the discounts to come in a one-off lump sum to energy companies in November.

He also accused Conor Murphy of "playing politics" with the payment scheme, while Mr Murphy retorted that the DUP are trying to "spare their blushes in terms of their prevention of an executive sitting".

The men were speaking after a meeting of a taskforce set up by UK Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi to examine the implementation of an energy support scheme, announced last month, for 29m households.

Specific measures are needed to extend the scheme to Northern Ireland, where the DUP's opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol led to the collapse of the executive.

"Confirmation provided by the Chancellor today that the British Government will deliver the £400 Energy Bill Support Scheme is long overdue," Mr Murphy said.

But he added that it is "deeply regrettable" that the Conservative government has "failed to confirm whether households will receive their payment at the same time as those in England, Scotland and Wales".

Price hike

Meanwhile, SSE Airtricity has announced price hikes which will hit customers in Northern Ireland as well as in the Republic.

The company is raising gas prices by 28.3% and electricity prices by 35.4% from 1 October.

The UK Consumer Council has warned that people in Northern Ireland are facing into a "very serious crisis" this winter.

It said an annual gas bill for SSE customers would rise by about £351 (€415), while electricity bills for average customers would increase to around £1,356 (€1,603) a year.

These are the latest in a series of energy price rises to impact consumers in Northern Ireland and will affect around 188,000 homes in the region.

Andrew Greer, SSE Airtricity general manager (NI) encouraged "any customer who is concerned or having difficulty with their energy costs to please contact us, and we will work with you to find a solution together".

"In the meantime, we will continue to watch markets closely", he said and promised to "pass on any reductions as soon as it is possible to do so."