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028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

Assembly Roundup: January 2017

We've rounded up some of the questions answered by Communities Minister Paul Givan during January.

Welfare Reform

To ask the Minister for Communities whether he has, or intends to explore the potential of a universal basic income model instead of the current benefit system. Mr Robin Swann, UUP- North Antrim.  AQW9133-/16-21

The current system of income related social security benefits is being replaced by Universal Credit in September 2017. There are currently no plans for a further overhaul of the social security system to change to a universal basic income model where all citizens or residents of a country would regularly receive an unconditional sum of money, either from a government or some other public institution, in addition to any income received from elsewhere.

To ask the Minister for Communities in relation to the Social Sector Size Criteria known as the Bedroom Tax (i) in light of the previous equality screening exercise unduly restricting itself to the period of mitigation his Department will now equality screen the policy to assess the potential equality impacts of any actual implementation of Bedroom Tax; and (ii) in light of a formal review of the original equality Screening Decision being triggered by consultees whether all further screening decisions will not repeat the omission of due consideration of four of the nine Section 75 categories, religious belief, political opinion, racial group and sexual orientation. Ms Nichola Mallon (SDLP- North Belfast). AQW 0339/16-21

The Department for Social Development conducted an Equality Impact Assessment examining the implications of the introduction of Welfare Reform in Northern Ireland, including the introduction of Social Sector Size Criteria. The findings were published in April 2012 https://www.communities-ni.gov.uk/publications/welfare-changes-equality-impact-assessments.

The Department for Work and Pensions carried out an Equality Impact Assessment on the introduction of the Social Sector Size Criteria in Great Britain, these findings were published in June 2012  https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/social-sector-housing-under-occupation-equality-impact-assessment

In relation to the screenings carried out on the Social Sector Size Criteria and Mitigation, the Department for Communities completed and published an equality screening exercise in July 2016, revised the original screening and published it in December 2016 and again in January 2017. Legislation to give effect to the mitigation scheme was passed by the NI Assembly on 16 January 2017.

Social Sector Size Criteria and Mitigation July 2016

Social Sector Size Criteria and Mitigation December 2016

Social Sector Size Criteria Mitigation January 2017

The data employed to complete the equality screening was drawn from the housing benefit system and property records held by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) and the Housing Associations. These are the main tools available to NIHE for analysing Housing Benefit. Provision of a further breakdown by Section 75 category is not possible at present. Data relating to Religious Belief, Political Opinion, Racial Group and Sexual Orientation is not currently collected as it has no bearing on eligibility for Housing Benefit and as such this information is not stored within administrative systems. However, for the iteration of the screening templates, available information from other sources has been used.

In addition, officials in the Department for Communities have developed a Welfare Reform Evaluation Strategy which will be instrumental in the continuing scrutiny and assessment of the impact of Welfare Reform and associated mitigation measures, including the Social Sector Size Criteria. All research commissioned as part of the evaluation of Welfare Reform will see Equality Information collected as a matter of course, and the Department intends to collect Section 75 data for those availing of the mitigation schemes. The strategy has been shared with the Committee for the Department for Communities. The NI Executive has committed to reviewing the mitigation schemes in 2018/19 and a Section 75 rescreening exercise may be carried out at that time.

To ask the Minister for Communities why mitigation payments cannot be made under the Budget Act (Northern Ireland) 2016 and section 59 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, as outlined by the Minister of Finance; and to detail the work his Department has undertaken in relation to this matter. [Priority Written]. Mr Andy Allen (UUP- East Belfast).  AQW 9459/16-21

The Housing Benefit (Welfare Supplementary Payment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2017 (the “Regulations”) which are approved by the Assembly on 16 January 2017 detailed how the Social Sector Size Criteria (‘bedroom tax’) would be mitigated in Northern Ireland.

These regulations were necessary as the Budget Act 2016 and section 59 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 provide either only general powers which allows Departments to spend resources or provides a DOF official with powers to draw down monies from the consolidated fund and to specify the purposes and services for which the resources can be used. These legislative provisions do not provide the powers necessary for my Department to determine entitlement, rates or frequency of payment of mitigation payments to households.  The best way to ensure the Social Sector Size Criteria does not result in Housing Benefit claimants in Northern Ireland suffering any financial disadvantage was for the Assembly to act in the way that it has and to put the appropriate legislation in place.

Private Rented Sector

To ask the Minister for Communities whether she has given consideration to the introduction of legislation similar to the Energy Efficiency (Private Rented Property) (England and Wales) Regulations 2015. Ms Clare Bailey (GPNI- South Belfast). AQW9261/16-21

On 10 January I published proposals for change for the private rented sector as a result of an extensive review of the role and regulation of the private rented sector. The standard of properties, including plans to introduce a minimum energy efficiency standard for the private rented housing sector, is within the scope of the review. The public consultation on the proposals closes on 3 April 2017.

Social Housing

To ask the Minister for Communities to detail the cost to build a new social house and new affordable house, broken down by house size. Mr Andy Allen (UUP- East Belfast). AQW 9114/16-21

The figures below show the costs for new social housing and are calculated using the current Northern Ireland Average 2016/17 Departmental Total Cost Indicators (TCI) and Grant Rates. All dwellings are built to DfC Housing Association Design Guide standards.

(See table)

In terms of affordable housing my Department currently sponsors four housing associations to supply affordable housing across Northern Ireland. These houses are provided through three schemes; Co-Ownership, the Rent to Own initiative and the Affordable Home Loans pilot. Both Co-Ownership and Rent to Own are based on properties purchased from the open market with a ceiling price of £150,000. The Affordable Home Loans pilot allows housing associations to build and/or refurbish homes for sale.

The cost of building these homes will vary according to location and other factors, such as, site development costs. However, the average government investment across all the schemes mentioned above is around £35,000 per home. This investment is provided through loan funding which, the house associations must pay back to the Department.

To ask the Minister for Communities pursuant to AQW 7713/16-21, to outline the (i) reasons the Housing Executive would hold land, other than for development; and (ii) consideration given to releasing land with development potential to housing associations to develop. Mr Steven Agnew (GPNI- North Down) AQW 8954/16-21

The Housing Executive has advised that:

It would only retain land that is required for development or to support wider programmes, initiatives and developments related to the housing market, social well-being and regeneration or that is required to be retained as open space/amenity lands. In the past five years, the Housing Executive has transferred 108 sites to housing associations, facilitating starts on 1,645 new social homes and is working closely with housing associations to progress the transfer of a further 13 sites in 2016/17 to facilitate starts on 129 new social homes.

Affordable Warmth Scheme

To ask the Minister for Communities to detail how many NIHE properties have no insulation in their cavity walls. Mr Roy Beggs (UUP- East Antrim). AQW 8944/16-21


The Housing Executive implemented a major programme to install cavity wall insulation from the mid to late 1980s. This was prior to the introduction of the Housing Executive’s computerised recording of completed works and therefore detailed information on the incidence of cavity wall insulation in the stock is incomplete. For this reason the Housing Executive is taking forward further surveying in order to establish the extent and quality of cavity wall insulation in its stock. It should be noted that a substantial number of Housing Executive Houses (solid wall homes, many of non-traditional construction) have no wall insulation at all.

To ask the Minister for Communities how many of the 25,150 complaints of dampness made to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive in the last four years cited a lack of or inadequate cavity wall insulation as a factor. Mr Alex Easton (DUP- North Down). AWQ 9393/16-21

The Housing Executive has advised that it has no record of complaints of dampness where lack of, or inadequate, cavity wall insulation has been a factor.

To ask the Minister for Communities how many houses have had cavity wall borescope inspections completed through the Affordable Warmth Scheme to date. Mr Alex Easton- (DUP- North Down). AQW 9395/16-21

NI Housing Executive has advised that they do not keep a record of the number of borescope inspections completed through the Affordable Warmth Scheme. The policy in NI Housing Executive is that borescope inspections are carried out unless it is clear that the cavity wall is already filled and there is no evidence of problems within the dwelling that can be attributed to cavity fill.

To ask the Minister for Communities to detail how many of the 135 NIHE houses, identified in the March 2014 SERC Report as having severe or critically inadequate cavity wall insulation, have been dealt with by the NIHE response maintenance service. Mr Alex Easton (DUP- North Down). AQW 9217/16-21

Following the reporting of specific issues by the tenants, three houses within the SERC sample have now had work to their cavity wall insulation carried out by the NIHE response maintenance service.

To ask the Minister for Communities for (i) an update on his departmental Review of the Social Housing Common Selection Scheme; and (ii) when he intends to make an announcement in relation to the review. Ms Nichola Mallon (SDLP- North Belfast).  AQW 9171/16-21

The review has produced proposals for changing the scheme that are ready for public consultation. I expect this consultation to begin before the end of March and complete in the summer. The results of the consultation will be considered before a decision on the implementation of proposals will be made and communicated – most likely after the summer recess.

Social Housing Sector and Private Rented Sector

To ask the Minister for Communities to outline the steps his Department is taking to support the provision of more (i) private; and (ii) public sector housing for older people. Mr Roy Beggs (UUP- East Antrim); AQW 9298/16-21

(i)My Department has been undertaking work to support older people to remain in their own private sector homes. Along with the Department of Health, my Department completed an Interdepartmental Review of Housing Adaptation Services and a report was published in 2016. My Department also continues to fund Disabled Facilities Grant which provides funding to adapt private sector homes for people with disabilities, including older people, to remain in their own home.

The draft Programme for Government, which was out to public consultation at the end of 2016, contains, within the draft Housing Delivery Plan, a number of actions designed to increase the supply of housing for older people.

(ii) The Interdepartmental Review of Housing Adaptation Services also covers the social housing sector.

In terms of new build social housing, the Social Housing Development Programme (SHDP) aims to provide for the specific needs of older people both through general needs and supported housing. In addition, all new build social homes are built to ‘Lifetime Homes Standards’, ensuring that homes can be easily adapted to meet the changing needs of tenants. In light of an ageing population, my Department has been exploring other options to address social housing need for older people. In particular, new design and space standards for wheelchair accommodation have recently been introduced as part of the SHDP which will improve the range, quality and flexibility of accommodation for wheelchair users, many of whom are older.


To ask the Minister for Communities to provide (i) a breakdown of the number of housing intimidation cases; (ii) the reasons given; and (iii) the organisation behind the threat, over the past 5 years by constituency. Ms Nichola Mallon (SDLP- North Belfast). AQW 9265/16-21

The Housing Executive has advised that it does not record housing intimidation cases by Parliamentary Constituency. Please see below tables which provide data on the numbers of people who presented as homeless to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive due to intimidation, broken down by category, in each of the last five years. Please note that the Housing Executive does not record any information in relation to organisations behind alleged intimidation. See table

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