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Assembly roundup: March 2015

A round up of housing related questions to Ministers during March 2015. 

Affordable Warmth: Council procedures

To ask the Minister for Social Development what steps his Department is taking to ensure that local councils have the appropriate measures in place by 1 April 2015 to deliver Affordable Warmth.  AQW 42926/11-15 Mr Basil McCrea, NI21

Following two successful pilots in 2012 and 2013 my Department introduced the new Affordable Warmth Scheme on 15 September 2014. Both of these pilots provided sufficient information to determine the resources required by councils to deliver the new Affordable Warmth Scheme.

While the Affordable Warmth Scheme is at an early stage, it is already being effectively delivered across all council areas. Each of the 11 councils has signed a Service Level Agreement with the Department demonstrating their commitment to delivering the new scheme. All councils have appointed a Co-ordinator and support staff for the scheme. Officials from my Department meet regularly with lead council officers to monitor progress, receive feedback and provide additional support where necessary. My officials will continue to work closely with each of the 11 councils to ensure they have appropriate resources in place to deliver their part of the Affordable Warmth Scheme.

Affordable Warmth: Progress and budget 

To ask the Minister for Social Development (i) how many Affordable Warmth surveys local councils are expected to have completed by the end of March 2015; (ii) how many have been completed; (iii) what work has been delivered as a result of completed surveys; and (iv) what is the total budget for paying local councils to undertake these surveys. AQW 42928/11-15Mr Basil McCrea, NI21

For 2014/2015 the Warm Homes Scheme is the Department’s main scheme for tackling fuel poverty. The Affordable Warmth Scheme was launched in September 2014 to run alongside the Warm Homes Scheme until it comes to an end on 31 March 2015. The Affordable Warmth Scheme is being embedded across all council areas. The Service Level Agreement between my Department and Councils specifies a minimum of 1,000 completed surveys to be referred to the Housing Executive each year. Up to 5 March 2015 Housing Executive has received 2,041 completed Affordable Warmth surveys from the councils and surveyors continue to visit households and complete surveys. Housing Executive is now processing these 2,041 surveys to identify what energy efficiency measures are required and also checking the householder’s eligibility for the Affordable Warmth Scheme.

Affordable Warmth: Promotion of scheme

To ask the Minister for Social Development what plans there are for the promotion of the Affordable Warmth Scheme to potential beneficiaries after 1 April 2015. AQW 43591/11-15, Mr Gregory Campbell, DUP

Research commissioned by my Department in 2011 identified 33, 499 homes which were in extreme fuel poverty, that is, they need to spend 25% or more of their income to adequately light and heat their home. My Department has worked with the University of Ulster to identify households considered to be most at risk of fuel poverty. This information has been provided to local councils who are targeting those households starting with the areas of highest priority. The Affordable Warmth Scheme is a targeted scheme and local Councils, working in partnership with the Housing Executive, will visit homes most at risk of fuel poverty and deliver energy efficiency improvements. This direct targeted approach will assist those households most affected by fuel poverty.

Private rented sector: Accreditation of landlords

To ask the Minister for Social Development (i) whether there are any accredited courses for private landlords in Northern Ireland; if so (ii) how many landlords have been accredited; and (iii) whether there are plans to use to the landlord registration fee to subsidise accreditation costs. AQW 42909/11-15Mrs Dolores Kelly, SDLP

The Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) offer an accredited course for private landlords in Northern Ireland. 104 private landlords have been awarded either a “Level 2 Award for Landlords” or a “Level 2 Award in Letting and Managing Residential Property”. There are no current plans to use to the landlord registration fee to subsidise accreditation costs as the fee is being used to recoup the setting up and running costs of the Landlord Registration Scheme.

Private rented sector: Prosecution of landlords for non-compliance

Question: To ask the Minister for Social Development how many landlords have been prosecuted as a result of not registering as existing landlords since February 2014. AQW 42721/11-15Mr Gregory Campbell, DUP

The Landlord Registration Regulations (2014) allowed private landlords who had no changes to existing tenancies and no new tenancies until 25th February 2015 to register.

Since February 2014, any landlord with a new tenancy or changes to an existing tenancy was required to register immediately. Within the first year of the Scheme, councils have issued two Fixed Penalty Notices to landlords who were in breach of these regulations. The Registrar continues to work closely with councils to ensure that they are proactive with enforcement action.

Private rented sector: Additional protections for private tenants

To ask the Minister for Social Development to outline the additional protections afforded to private tenants, that are not already covered by existing legislation, by the introduction of the Landlord Registration Scheme. AQW 42648/11-15Mr Seán Rogers, SDLP

Prior to the introduction of the Landlord Registration Scheme there was no central database of private landlords. Therefore when a landlord was not complying with the law and a tenant reported this to the local council environmental health department it was often difficult for enforcement action to be taken, specifically because they could not access up to date contact details for the landlord.

With the introduction of Landlord Registration existing and prospective tenants are encouraged to check if the landlord is registered and ensure the property is included in a registered landlord’s portfolio. In addition, council environmental health officers can access the full information on the Register to enable them to proactively enforce private tenancy law.

On registration landlords receive a toolkit which details their obligations and duties under private rented sector law. Landlords are kept up-to-date with any proposed changes and can be involved in policy development. As of 25 February 2015, over 33,000 landlords have registered providing details of over 70,000 tenancies

Private rented sector: Cooperation with landlord registration

To ask the Minister for Social Development for his assessment of how landlords are cooperating with the Landlord Registration Scheme.  AQO 7774/11-15Mr Ross Hussey, UUP

At 1 March 2015 over 35,000 landlords have registered and provided details of over 77,000 private tenancies. I assess this as a positive indication that landlords are cooperating well with the Landlord Registration Scheme. According to the 2011 House Condition Survey there were 125,000 private tenancies so we now have details of approximately 62 per cent of these.

Immediately prior to the Landlord Registration deadline of 25 February 2015 there were approximately 2,000 landlords registering per day.

In the first year of the Scheme, a number of landlords have raised concerns regarding the requirement of all joint owners to register separately and each pay the fee. I announced a review of the role and regulation of the private rented sector in November 2014 and have agreed to look at this requirement in the planned review.

My Department will continue to work with local councils to publicise and enforce the Landlord Registration Scheme to improve co-operation further

Private rented sector: Joint owners and landlord registration

Question: To ask the Minister for Social Development why, in the event of joint ownership of a property, every individual owner must register and pay a fee in the Landlord Registration Scheme.  AQW 43450/11-15Mr Samuel Gardiner MBE, UUP

The Landlord Registration Scheme Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2014 came into operation on 25 February 2014. Regulation 3(2) states that a landlord letting a dwelling house under a private tenancy is required to register, provide all of the information and pay the required fee. A landlord is defined in the Private Tenancies Order (2006) as “any person from time to time deriving title …also includes any person other than the tenant… entitled to possession of the dwelling house.”

Each owner has both joint and individual responsibility for adhering to the landlord’s duties and responsibilities as laid out in the Private Tenancies (Northern Ireland) Order 2006. As the enforcement authority, councils require the details of all landlords to issue a fixed penalty notice or take alternative enforcement action where the landlord is in breach of existing regulations. As such, to comply with legislative and council requirements, all joint owners are required to complete registration.

Private rented sector: Regulation of letting agents

To ask the Minister for Social Development what regulation exists in respect of letting agents; and whether further regulation is required or planned. AQW 43270/11-15Mr Jim Allister, TUV

My Department does not currently have any regulatory powers in relation to letting agents in Northern Ireland.

However, the regulation of letting agents is one of a number of issues being considered under the review of the role and regulation of the Private Rented Sector which is currently underway. Developments in other jurisdictions, in relation to letting agents, will be considered under the review.

Private rented sector: Prohibition of letting fees

To ask the Minister for Social Development for his Department’s position on the enforceability of legislation limiting or prohibiting up-front fees when renting homes. AQW 42618/11-15Mr Stewart Dickson, Alliance Party

While my Department is responsible for the legislation governing the private rented sector it does not have any legislative/regulatory powers in relation to upfront fees charged by landlords or letting agents in Northern Ireland.

The regulation of letting agents is one of a number of issues being considered under the review of the role and regulation of the Private Rented Sector which is currently underway. Developments in other jurisdictions, in relation to letting agents, will be considered under the review.

Housing Executive tenancies: Succession

To ask the Minister for Social Development what is the policy when a tenant in a Housing Executive property dies or moves permanently into full time nursing care; and what assessment is completed on the property and works are completed. AQW 42765/11-15Mr Paul Frew, DUP

The Housing Executive has advised that when it is made aware that a tenant is deceased the local Housing Executive office will check the property records to establish if anyone was living with the tenant. If so, the local Housing Executive office will investigate the potential for succession and request completion of succession application form if appropriate. If a succession is granted the person inherits the tenancy including the deceased tenant’s tenancy conditions.

If the Housing Executive records indicate that the tenant lived alone, staff from the local office will call to the property to establish contact with the next of kin to arrange vacant possession.

If the tenant goes into residential care on a long term basis and other member(s) of the household remain in the property and wish to become tenant(s), the Housing Executive will assign the tenancy to the household member(s) in accordance with the rules of the Housing Selection Scheme.

From a maintenance perspective the Housing Executive has an obligation to carry out an inspection to determine if there are any outstanding repairs necessary that are the responsibility of the Housing Executive and also to ensure there are no Health and Safety issues. Any outstanding repairs or Health and Safety issues, particularly with regard to heating appliances and electrical installation, would be carried out.

Question to Minister of Finance and Personnel: Illegal letting fees

To ask the Minister of Finance and Personnel what actions her Department has taken to highlight that the common practice in Northern Ireland whereby on the grant of a lease, or letting of land, a landlord may oblige their tenant to pay for the agent’s professional services, also referred to as letting fees, is illegal.  AQW 42962/11-15, Mrs Dolores Kelly, SDLP

My Department does not oversee the activities of landlords nor is it responsible for monitoring trade practices or the protection of consumers. In relation to the former, the Department for Social Development has introduced a Landlord Registration Scheme which provides for a central register of landlords and helps with education and support to landlords. In relation to the latter the Trading Standards Service of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment has investigated a number of cases relating to letting agents and, in so doing, has highlighted available guidance.

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This article was written on 1 April 2015. 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.