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028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

2021-2022 draft budget would negatively impact vulnerable groups 

In January 2021, the Department of Finance published their draft budget. The document sets out the Northern Ireland Executive’s proposed spending plans for the one year period from 1 April 2021 to March 2022. 

Housing Rights has submitted a response to the Department for Communities' equality impact assessment for the budget. We are very concerned at the lack of funding for some critical services. In saying thisHousing Rights welcomes the funding commitments to:  

  • Allow the continuation of co-ownership in the coming year 

  • Extend the existing welfare reform mitigations 

  • Close the loopholes in the existing arrangements (the bedroom tax and the benefit cap) 

  • Meet the department’s new social house building targets of 1,900 units in 2021-22 

  • Continue to fund shared housing 

Housing Rights is disappointed the welfare mitigations have not been properly strengthened. There is no funding to scrap the universal credit 5 week wait or to introduce mitigations against the two-child limit.  

Funding gaps risk damaging vital housing services  

The draft budget also does not include adequate funding for some critical areas, such as: 

  • Housing Transformation: The Department has received no money for the planned transformation of the NIHE. This could impact the social housing revitalisation programme.   

  • Supporting People: The budget does not meet bids from Supporting People providers. Supporting People provides critical support to help people live independently. This funding gap could have a negative impact on at-risk groups, including survivors of domestic abuse.  

  • Universal credit staffingThe universal credit (UC) caseload has doubled since the beginning of the pandemic. Yet, there is a lack of funding to recruit the staff necessary to deal with surging demand. Staff shortages would make 6 or 7 week waits for UC payment much more common.  

  • Independent advice: The draft budget’s £1.5mn cut to independent advice is alarming. Independent advice has given vital support for people accessing universal credit. Housing Rights welcomes the Minister’s commitment to find the funding elsewhere.  

The draft budget fails to tackle homelessness 

Housing Rights is concerned with the lack of funding in the draft budget for supporting homelessness services. The funding issues we have raised include:  

  • Lack of funding for emergency accommodation. This means emergency interventions to house rough sleepers will likely reduce or stop.  

  • Damage to the work carried out through the memorandum of understanding, which allows for those with no recourse to public funds to access emergency temporary accommodation. This would make it more difficult to house people, regardless of their immigration status, who are sleeping rough.  

  • Lack of funding for "Housing First". Cutting this vital support for chronically homeless people could make sustaining long-term tenancies more difficult for many people.  

Failure to protect low-income private renters 

Housing Rights believes the department should reverse cuts to housing benefits. The impact of these cuts put more private renters at risk of homelessness. 

Due to the pandemic the department set the local housing allowance (LHA) rate to cover the cheapest 30% of rents. Yet, many are still struggling with a shortfall between their rent and benefits. Indeed, while rents continue to rise the LHA rate is frozen until April 2021.  

The lack of support for private renters particularly affects these groups:  

  • Young people41% of young people aged 25-34 lived in the private rented sector in 2019, (up from 18% in 2003)  

  • Single parents: 45% of single parents are private renters  

  • Women: 90% of single parents are women 

Housing Rights recommends the department secures the necessary funding to address these concerns. Failure to do so will have an adverse impact on some of the most vulnerable groups of people by increasing insecurity and homelessness.  

Tagged In

Private Tenancies, Policy, Homelessness, NI Assembly
This article was written on 24 February 2021. It should not be relied on as a statement of the current law or policy position. For help with housing issues please contact our helpline on 028 9024 5640 or use our online chat service at www.housingadviceNI.org.