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When everyone has a home

028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

Assembly Roundup: November 2015

A roundup of recent housing related questions asked in the Assembly. The topics covered include:

Rural housing supply

To ask the Minister for Social Development for his assessment of whether the provision of social housing in rural areas matches that in urban areas.  Mr Oliver McMullan, Sinn Féin AQO 8968/11-16

I am committed to increasing the number of social homes throughout Northern Ireland whether it is in an urban or rural area. Housing activity in rural areas, which is classed as a settlement with a population of up to 5,000 is identified by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive through their Rural Action Plan, and then delivered through the Social Housing Development Programme.

During the last financial year 2,013 new social homes were started in Northern Ireland of which 119 were in rural areas. In monetary terms, this equates to some £6.5 million of Housing Association Grant invested in new social housing schemes in the rural parts of Northern Ireland to help address need and sustain local communities.

I continue to support the Northern Ireland Housing Executive’s commitment to deliver social housing in rural communities.

To ask the Minister for Social Development for his assessment of the supply of social housing in rural areas. Mr Oliver McMullan - Sinn Féin, East Antrim AQW 50425/11-16

I am committed to increasing the number of social homes throughout Northern Ireland whether it is in an urban or rural area. Housing activity in rural areas, which is classed as a settlement with a population of up to 5,000 is identified by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive through their Rural Action Plan, and then delivered through the Social Housing Development Programme.

During the last financial year 2,013 new social homes were started in Northern Ireland of which 119 were in rural areas, which is an increase of 12% in rural new starts from the previous year. In monetary terms, this equates to some £6.5 million of Housing Association Grant invested in new social housing schemes in the rural parts of Northern Ireland to help address need and sustain local communities.

I continue to support the Northern Ireland Housing Executive’s commitment to deliver social housing in rural communities.

Housing allocation scheme

To ask the Minister for Social Development for an update on the review of the housing points system. Mr Andy Allen, Ulster Unionist Party AQW 50208/11-16

My officials are currently working up proposals for changes to the allocations system, following publication of independent recommendations on this issue. This is a fundamental review, which goes much further than looking solely at a points system. Any proposals for change will be subject to a full public consultation.


Shared housing

To ask the Minister for Social Development to detail the factors used when selecting an area for shared housing under Together: Building a United Community. Mr Andy Allen, Ulster Unionist Party AQW 50207/11-16

Prospective Together: Building a United Community shared neighbourhood schemes are assessed against overarching criteria, which have been approved by the Housing Executive’s Chief Executive’s Business Committee. The stage 1 criteria are:

a. Religious mix of the local community. This examines both the existing wider communities and the make-up of the proposed, new shared neighbourhood;

b. The waiting list should demonstrate that the scheme delivered would not have one community in the dominance of more than 70%;

c. A history of good relations in the area. This criterion considers communities which have participated in Housing Executive Good Relations programmes;

d. Potential size of development (not less than 25 units). Exceptions in rural areas will be considered; and

e. Local political/community issues/views indicate support for sharing.
Selection is made using a Selection Criteria Form with data provided by the Housing Executive’s Community Cohesion Unit, and signed off by the Department for Social Development / Housing Executive Internal Oversight Group.
 

Fuel poverty

To ask the Minister for Social Development what support is available to families that are at risk of fuel poverty, but are not eligible for the Affordable Warmth Scheme. Ms Claire Sugden, Independent AQW 50110/11-16

The Affordable Warmth Scheme is delivered in partnership between my Department, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and local councils. Local council staff make the initial contact with householders considered to be most at risk of fuel poverty to assess eligibility for the Affordable Warmth Scheme. Where the household is not eligible for assistance under the Affordable Warmth Scheme, council staff can refer them on to the Northern Ireland Sustainable Energy Programme which provides a range of schemes to assist low income households improve their energy efficiency. My Department’s Boiler Replacement Scheme also provides a grant of up £1,000 to replace old inefficient boilers. Council staff may also direct householders to the Bryson Energy Freephone advice line to obtain independent and impartial advice for domestic householders in Northern Ireland. This advice line is funded by my Department through the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. Advice and guidance is available on NI Direct for people who want to improve the energy efficiency of their homes.

Council staff also advise householders of the Social Security Agency’s ‘Make the Call’ campaign and if the householder agrees they will send their details to the Make the Call team to undertake a Benefit Entitlement Check.

In addition my Department will issue the annual Winter Fuel Payment (£100 - £300) to qualifying households again this year. My Department also operates the Cold Weather Payment, which is issued to qualifying households when the temperature is or is forecast to be zero or below for 7 consecutive days between 1 November and 31 March. This payment could be made several times during the qualifying period, depending on the temperature.
 

Houses in Multiple Occupation

To ask the Minister for Social Development what consideration has been given to publishing a register of landlords as part of the Houses of Multiple Occupancy Bill. Mr Steven Agnew, Green Party AQW 50043/11-16

Under the Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO) Registration Scheme a list of registered properties is currently available from the Northern Ireland Housing Executive HMO offices on request.

Clause 62 of the Houses in Multiple Occupancy Bill requires each council to keep a similar HMO register which will be publicly available. The Department will publish guidance to assist councils with the new requirements.
 

Homelessness

To ask the Minister for Social Development for his assessment of (i) homelessness in the last five years; and (ii) the capacity of the current housing stock to address this issue. Ms Claire Sugden, Independent AQW 50039/11-16

With regard to point (i) the changes in homelessness over the last 5 years have shown the following:

From 2010-15 there was a decrease in the number of people presenting as homeless by around 3% reducing from 20,158 to 19,621 with the trend in households accepted as statutorily homeless remaining stable over the 5 year period at around 50% of applicants;
Single households are consistently the highest household group of homeless presenters, representing a trend of about 50% of all households, with families at around 31% being the second largest household category.

The trend in the same period for the top 3 reasons for households presenting as homeless remain as sharing breakdown/family dispute, accommodation not reasonable, and loss of rented accommodation.

With regard to point (ii) the social housing sector capacity has been significantly developed to address housing need has through the use of existing stock and new build. Other housing solutions, including the private rented sector, have also been utilised to address housing need.

The Housing Executive and Housing Associations allocate around 11,000 properties each year. The majority of these are allocated to homeless households, with 68% of all allocations in the last financial year being to those owed a full housing duty under homelessness legislation.

A total of 7,598 new or additional social housing homes have been provided over this period, averaging 1,520 completions per year.

The Information provided in this response is governed by the Principles and Protocols of the Code of Practice for Official Statistics. This is enforced by UK Statistics Authority.

To ask the Minister for Social Development to detail what responsibility he has for addressing homelessness. Mr Robin Swann, Ulster Unionist Party AQW 50229/11-16

As Minister for Social Development I have responsibility for addressing homelessness in Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Housing Executive has statutory responsibility for responding to homelessness. My Department chairs the Homelessness Strategy Steering Group that oversees the implementation of the Homeless Strategy by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and partner organisations.

Whilst in office as Minister for Social Development I have visited many organisations involved in addressing homelessness and I have seen at first hand the issues faced by these organisations and heard from those who have experienced homelessness. This year, my Department has allocated £27 million to homeless related services through the Supporting People Programme, administered by the Housing Executive. This funding provides practical assistance such as temporary accommodation and funding to support organisations.

From 2010-15 there has been a decrease in the number of people presenting as homeless in Northern Ireland by around 3% reducing from 20,158 to 19,621 with the trend in households accepted as statutorily homeless remaining stable over the 5 year period at around 50% of applicants.

Tenancy deposit protection

To ask the Minister for Social Development whether he has any plans to amend the Tenancy Deposit Scheme regulations so tenants can report failure to comply after the first six months of the tenancy, given that most deposit disputes occur at the end of the tenancy. Ms Anna Lo MBE, Alliance Party AQW 50613/11-16

The Tenancy Deposit Scheme which was introduced in April 2013 requires private landlords to protect tenancy deposits within 14 days of receiving the deposit and inform the tenant where and how the deposit has been protected within 28 days. Tenants who do not receive this information should report the landlord immediately and not wait until the end of the tenancy.

An advertising campaign including TV, press, bus sides, street liners and online advertising is currently taking place. The material informs landlords and agents of the legal requirement to protect deposits in an approved scheme and urges private tenants to report their landlord to their Council as soon as possible after the 28 day deadline. This would allow Councils to take appropriate enforcement action.

Negative equity 

To ask the Minister for Social Development to outline any surveys or studies her Department has undertaken to establish the extent of negative equity among local home owners. Ms Claire Hanna, Social Democratic and Labour Party AQO 9073/11-16

As your question relates to the work of the Housing Repossessions Taskforce, Minister Foster has forwarded your query to my Department. The Housing Repossessions Taskforce was established at the start of 2014 to investigate the impact of mortgage repayment arrears, repossessions and negative equity in Northern Ireland. Membership included representation from the advice sector, lenders, private landlords, professional bodies and the statutory sector. The work of the Taskforce was completed in two phases: the first phase produced an initial evidence paper on the mortgage debt landscape in Northern Ireland which was published in July 2014; the second phase used this evidence base to produce a suite of recommendations which was published in February 2015.
 

Antisocial behaviour

To ask the Minister for Social Development how many cases of anti-social behaviour have been recorded by the Housing Executive due to (i) damage caused to property; or (ii) problem tenants in the last three years. Mr Alex Easton, Democratic Unionist Party AQW 50455/11-16

The Housing Executive has advised that in relation to (i) the number of anti-social behaviour cases recorded for damage to property were as follows:-

2013/1460
2014/1595
2015/16 to date59

The Housing Executive has further advised that the information in relation to (ii) is not available in the format requested because they record 22 categories to determine different types of anti-social behaviour and the table outlines the cases recorded across Northern Ireland since 2013.
 

Travellers

To ask the Minister for Social Development to detail (i) the provision of each traveller halting site; and (ii) whether he has any plans to expand this provision. Mr Daithí McKay, Sinn Féin AQW 50373/11-16

The current provision of Traveller halting sites (transit sites) is detailed in below:

  • Strabane
  • Greenbrae
  • Londonderry
  • Daisyfield
  • Ballyarnett
  • Coalisland
  • The Glen
  • Belfast
  • Glen Road Heights
  • Craigavon
  • Legahory Close

Based on the latest Traveller Needs Assessment and NIHE’s record of unauthorised encampments, there are currently no plans to expand this provision.
 

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