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When everyone has a home

028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

Assembly Roundup: September 2016

Private rented sector

To ask the Minister for Communities whether he has given consideration to introducing a minimum Energy Performance Certificate rating requirement in order to rent out a domestic property, as will be the case in England and Wales from April 2018. Mr Steven Agnew, Green Party  AQW 2781/16-21

My Department is currently carrying out a review of the role and regulation of the private rented sector and this is one of the issues being considered as part of the review. Proposals for change resulting from the review will be published for consultation in the coming months

Right to buy

To ask the Minister for Communities to detail how many homes sold under the Right to Buy Scheme have been bought back by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and/or Housing Associations. Ms Carál Ní Chuilín, Sinn Féin AQW 2673/16-21

The ‘Option to Purchase’ under the House Sales Scheme which was introduced in October 2004, grants the Housing Executive or its nominee (Housing Associations) an option to buy back the dwelling from the vendor within ten years from the date of the house sale.

Since the ‘Option to Purchase’ was introduced, 12 properties have been bought back by nominated Housing Associations. No properties have been bought back by the Housing Executive

To ask the Minister for Communities , since the introduction of the Statutory House Sale Scheme, (i) whether there has been any flexibility made to allow a person to purchase a bungalow when their tenancy date was after 1 September 2002; (ii) if so, what was the criteria for allowing the flexibility; (iii) how many times has this been allowed; and (iv) in which areas did this occur. Ms Michaela Boyle, Sinn Féin  AQW 2438/16-21

The House Sales Scheme is a statutory scheme (under the provisions of Article 3 of the Housing (NI) Order 1983 as inserted by Article 96 of the Housing (NI) Order 1992). The Housing Executive has advised that there is no flexibility available to allow a person to purchase a bungalow when their tenancy date was after 1 September 2002.

Consequently as the legislation allows no flexibility, no criteria exist and none has been applied in any area.

Welfare reform

To ask the Minister for Communities for his assessment on the (i) delivery; and (ii) relocation of welfare reform services. Mr Cathal Boylan, Sinn Féin AQW 2583/16-21

I am committed to having a strong regional based network of offices and the Department confirms its commitment to continue to progress a programme of modernisation and continuous improvement aimed at enhancing accessibility to services and the quality of local offices.

The Working Age Services local office network currently consists of 39 local offices, delivering a high level of customer service.

Universal Credit will be delivered from 3 Service Centres based in Newry, Londonderry and Belfast and work is ongoing to finalise the Department’s Universal Credit Service Delivery Model and rollout plans.

Discretionary Support and Short Term Benefit Advances will provide support in a financial crisis. This will be a telephony-based service delivered from Antrim and Dungannon Jobs & Benefits offices.

Financial Support in other times of need that is Budgeting Loans, Sure Start Maternity Grants, Funeral Payments and cold weather payments will continue as part of the new Finance Support service.  These services will be consolidated into a single central processing centre in Lisburn Jobs & Benefits office.

The processing of claims for Jobseeker’s Allowance and Income Support and the provision of telephony services to Jobseeker’s Allowance and Income Support claimants is currently delivered from 11 Benefit Processing Centres located in Jobs and Benefits Offices at Andersonstown, Armagh, Ballymena, Coleraine, Dungannon, Enniskillen, Foyle, Holywood Road, Lurgan, Magherafelt and Newry. In preparation for the delivery of the changes to the benefits system a review is currently underway to determine the restructuring of the Income Support and Jobseekers Allowance Benefit Processing Centres.

The outcomes of the review are likely to be known in the near future. We expect the end state models to consist of a reduced number of Benefit Processing Centres in a functionalised business structure preparing the way for Universal Credit.
The Department needs to strike a balance between meeting the needs of claimants and those of staff and in order to safeguard service delivery to claimants it is sometimes necessary to relocate staff to ensure that services can continue to be delivered in an efficient and effective manner.

To ask the Minister for Communities to detail the network of organisations working on a partnership application for the Fresh Start programme.  Ms Clare Bailey, Green Party  AQW 3200/16-21

Representatives from the organisations listed below have been assisting my officials from the Voluntary and Community Division in developing an early intervention under the Fresh Start Agreement.

  • Department of Justice;
  • Probation Board for Northern Ireland;
  • The Executive Office;
  • Community Foundation for Northern Ireland;
  • Co-operation Ireland;
  • Womens Resource and Development Agency;
  • Foyle Women’s Information Network;
  • Intercomm;
  • Training for Women Network;
  • Women’s Support Network;
  • Rural Community Network;
  • Northern Ireland Rural Women’s Network.

To ask the Minister for Communities to outline what work his Department has or intends to undertake to examine the impact of Welfare Reform post mitigation.  Mr Andy Allen, Ulster Unionist Party AQW 2916/16-21

As part of the Fresh Start Agreement, the approach agreed by the main political parties in Northern Ireland to implement welfare reform, there was a commitment to review welfare arrangements in 2018-19.

Department for Communities officials have now developed and refined a composite Welfare Reform evaluation strategy. This strategy has been designed to specifically evaluate each of the key reforms as well as the associated mitigations. It will be central in assessing and monitoring the impacts of Welfare Reform in Northern Ireland and will help to inform implementation and future strategy.

To ask the Minister for Communities for an update on the allocation of funding outlined in the specific advice in the Welfare Reform Mitigations Working Group Report. Mr Andy Allen, Ulster Unionist Party AQW 2715/16-21

As part of the Fresh Start Agreement, £8m funding was committed over four years to put additional independent advice services in place for Welfare Reform.

The Department is currently in the final stages of agreeing a contract with the Welfare Reform Advice Services Consortium (Citizens Advice, AdviceNI and the Law Centre NI) to provide a freephone helpline and additional frontline advisers.

And I have recently announced that the Department will also be providing £800k of additional funding, inclusive of £600k to local councils to help them support and prepare existing frontline services in advance of the new services being put in place

To ask the Minister for Communities (i) to detail the total number of claimants that will be transferred from Disability Living Allowance to Personal Independence Payment; and (ii) to provide a breakdown of the qualifications of those conducting the assessments of Disability Living Allowance to Personal Independence Payment claimants. Ms Carál Ní Chuilín, Sinn Féin AQW 2674/16-21

(i) Personal Independence Payment was introduced in Northern Ireland on 20 June 2016 and in addition to new claims for this benefit, all existing Disability Living Allowance working age claimants (aged 16 – 64), of which there are approximately 125,000, will be invited to claim Personal Independence Payment.

(ii) Capita Health and Wellbeing deliver the PIP Assessment Service on behalf of the Department. To date Capita have recruited 97 Healthcare Professionals which consists of 57 Nurses, 19 Occupational Therapists, 15 Physiotherapists and 6 Paramedics.

All Healthcare professionals must have the following qualifications and experience:-
• They are an occupational therapist, nurse (level 1), physiotherapist, paramedic or doctor;
• They are fully registered with the relevant licensing body (doctors must have a licence to practise);
• They have no sanctions attached to registration unless they relate to disability;
• They have at least 2 years post full registration experience.

Affordable warmth

To ask the Minister for Communities whether he has any plans to review the qualifying conditions for the Affordable Warmth Scheme. Ms Michaela Boyle, Sinn Féin AQW 2439/16-21

The Affordable Warmth Scheme completed its first full year of operation in March 2016. To qualify for the scheme a household must have an annual gross income of less than £20,000. As part of a broad review of the Affordable Warmth Scheme being undertaken by my Department, officials have engaged with a wide range of stakeholders to seek views on the effectiveness of the scheme. Among other things the review is examining the income threshold level and if, for example, disability benefits should be excluded from the income calculation. I expect the review to come forward with recommendations later in 2016 and any changes I make to the scheme will come into operation from April 2017.

Social housing

To ask the Minister for Communities to outline (i) what discussion he has had with the Minister of Finance; and (ii) what contingencies plan he has in place should the Office of National Statistics reclassify housing associations. Mr Andy Allen, Ulster Unionist Party AQW 3180/16-21

As you are aware, the ONS decision is due to issue shortly and is expected to have potentially significant impacts if housing associations are to be reclassified as public bodies. I can confirm I have met with the Minister of Finance and his officials and discussed the pending ONS decision. The most recent of these meetings was on Tuesday 13 September 2016.

In relation to the contingency plans, these can be finalised once the scope and impacts of the ONS decision is known. To ensure we are prepared, in advance of a decision, my officials have reviewed both the current legislative and regulatory framework to identify the most likely areas that ONS will focus on.

My Department have also been in regular contact with Departments in other jurisdictions to discuss various issues and identify comparisons.

Empty homes

To ask the Minister for Communities to detail the number of empty homes in each constituency. Mr Mark Durkan, Social Democratic and Labour Party AQW 2835/16-21

Information on the number of empty homes is held by the Department of Finance’s Land and Property Services. The most recent figures (as at 31/03/16) that Land and Property Services (LPS) have provided to my Department indicate a total of 20, 629 empty residential properties across Northern Ireland. LPS only provide this information by Council area and this table below shows the breakdown.

LPS have advised that these figures should be treated with caution as there is no requirement for ratepayers to inform Land and Property Services that their property is vacant.

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 Statistic Authority.

Homelessness

To ask the Minister for Communities to outline how Base 2 are currently establishing how allegations of intimidation are substantiated.  Ms Carál Ní Chuilín, Sinn Féin AQW 2672/16-21

The Base2 project does not fall to the responsibility of my Department.

However, the assessment of the entitlement to intimidation points is the Housing Executive’s responsibility. Enquiries to assist in their decision making process may be made to various sources, including Base2.

Housing Executive staff must obtain specific consent from the applicant permitting enquiries with Base2. Only after this consent has been given can the Housing Executive contact Base2. Base2 may make enquiries within the local community regarding the applicant’s circumstances and their personal situation


 

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