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Assembly roundup: Social Development questions

We've rounded up some of the questions answered by Social Development Minister Mervyn Storey during February.  The Minister's answers can be found below each question. You can use the Assembly's website to search for more questions and answers. 

Private rented sector: Protected tenancies, landlord registration, security of tenure, unregistered landlords and housing benefit

To ask the Minister for Social Development whether there are any changes planned to the protected tenancies scheme before May 2016. AQW 42261/11-15 Mr Gregory Campbell

There are currently 1,065 protected tenancies on the rent register. These are tenancies which are controlled by the Rent Officer for Northern Ireland. The majority of tenants in protected tenancies are elderly people who have been resident in these properties for decades.

As a result of the measures introduced under the 2006 Private Tenancies Order protected and statutory tenancies are gradually being phased out. Rather than immediately abolishing protected tenancies the gradual phasing out has the advantage of eventually removing these tenancies, that some landlords may feel are restrictive, whilst still allowing the tenant their day in the property. This approach protects existing vulnerable tenants whilst at the same time reforms a process that is viewed, by some, as antiquated and outdated.

On a separate note, Rent Control is one of a number of issues that are under consideration in the review of the role and regulation of the private rented sector which I announced in November 2014. Any proposals as a result of this review will be issued for public consultation in autumn 2015

To ask the Minister for Social Development, in relation to the Landlord Registration Scheme, to detail the rationale behind landlords who are joint owners of a property each paying the registration fee. AQW 41761/11-15 Mrs Jo-Anne Dobson

Article 3(2) of the Landlord Registration Scheme Regulations 2014 states that, where a dwelling house is jointly owned by more than one individual, each individual is required to register, provide all of the information and pay the required fee. This is because each owner has both joint and individual responsibility for adhering to the landlord’s duties as laid out in the Private Tenancies (Northern Ireland) Order 2006. As such, to comply with legislative and council requirements, there is no facility to nominate a lead landlord.

To ask the Minister for Social Development for an update on the number of landlords registered under the Landlord Registration Scheme, broken down by council. AQW 42647/11-15 Mr Seán Rogers

The table below details the number of landlords registered since the launch of the Landlord Registration Scheme in February 2014, broken down by council area of the permanent address provided.

To ask the Minister for Social Development what policy measures are under consideration to increase the security of tenure provided to tenants in the private rented sector. AQW 41892/11-15 Mr Phil Flanagan

Increased security of tenure is one of a number of issues that will be considered as part of the review of the role and regulation of the Private Rented Sector which is currently underway.

The purpose of this review is to identify ways in which the sector can be enabled to provide a viable, attractive and good quality housing option for a broad range of households.

To ask the Minister for Social Development, pursuant to AQW 39423/11-15, whether landlords in receipt of housing benefit for tenants must be registered under the Landlord Registration Scheme; and if not, whether registered payments have been stopped or if there a final date for registration from the date of the introduction of the scheme or a timescale from the purchase of the property to let to complete the registration. AQW 42077/11-15 Mr Ross Hussey

The Housing Executive has advised that receipt of Housing Benefit is not conditional on registration under the Landlord Registration Scheme. Landlords are required to register either immediately prior to the letting of a new tenancy or by 25 February 2015 where there is an existing tenancy. Therefore by 25 February all private landlords should be registered and have provided information about the properties they let.

The Department’s advertising campaign is encouraging all tenants to check that their landlord is registered and to report unregistered landlords to their local Council.

Grants and assistance for homeowners who can't afford repairs

To ask the Minister for Social Development whether he has any plans to provide assistance for home owners who cannot afford to maintain their property. AQW 41089/11-15 Mr Fra McCann

To ask the Minister for Social Development if he will provide assistance for home owners whose homes continue to deteriorate as a result of the removal of grants between 2007 and 2011. AQO 7472/11-15 Mr Cathal Ó hOisín

Between 2007 and 2014 my Department has invested nearly £200 million on improving private sector housing stock.  £22.5m of this was for repair and improvement grants helping over 6,000 households, with almost £64m towards grants assisting 6,600 occupants with disabled adaptations. A further £105m in energy efficiency assistance to almost 90,000 households has been provided over the same period thorough the Warm Homes and Boiler Replacement schemes.  

Budgets remain squeezed and my focus for the grant funding I have available will continue to be: improving energy efficiency, tackling fuel poverty, and supporting people with disabilities to adapt their homes.

In terms of private sector repair and improvement, grant funding will be limited and my Department is therefore looking at other opportunities which are sustainable into the future, including current practice in Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland where low cost loans are available to assist householders on affordable terms.

To ask the Minister for Social Development how the Warm Home Scheme was evaluated for (i) value for money; and (ii) reducing fuel poverty. AQW 41320/11-15 Mr Basil McCrea

The Warm Homes Scheme has been my Department’s main tool in contributing to tackle fuel poverty since 2001. It has assisted over 125,000 households and has invested over £150 million in energy efficiency improvements. The Warm Homes Scheme relies on households self referring to the scheme and those householders must be in receipt of certain social security benefits in order to qualify.

Evaluation of the Warm Homes Scheme was carried out in 2014 and highlighted:-

  • 61 per cent of claimants as being either very satisfied or satisfied with the cost of running their heating system following intervention through Scheme assistance; and
  • That 89% of claimants were overall either satisfied or very satisfied with the Warm Homes Scheme.

This is a positive claimant satisfaction achievement.

Following installation of Warm Homes Scheme measures, households achieved an average SAP improvement of 15%.

The evaluation of the Warm Homes Scheme also found that fuel poverty may benefit from a move away from self-referral applications to a targeted approach based on identifying households in greatest need. The evaluation concluded that the Warm Homes Scheme successfully met its objectives.

However in spite of the investment in domestic energy efficiency the rate of fuel poverty in Northern Ireland continued to rise, with a significant number of people living in extreme or severe fuel poverty, who were not self referring into the Warm Homes Scheme.

Future of NIHE and the social housing reform programme

To ask the Minister for Social Development for an update on the current work of the Social Housing Reform Programme. AQO 7474/11-15 Mr Barry McElduff 

During 2015 the Social Housing Reform Programme will bring forward reform proposals in a number of areas. On 15 January 2015 the Programme published its draft tenant participation strategy for consultation. It is also on track to publish in March, consultation proposals for a new regulatory framework for social housing.

Concurrently the programme continues to develop its proposals for a Northern Ireland social housing rent policy and for the future structures to deliver social housing. These proposals are currently planned to be brought forward later in 2015.

To ask the Minister for Social Development for an update on his plans for the future of the Housing Executive. AQW 41767/11-15 Mr Pat Ramsey

No decisions have been made with regard to social housing reform. The Social Housing Reform Programme has a mandate to explore the potential for reform of housing structures and policies in NI which includes the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. It will present a range of proposals for consultation throughout 2015.

Mitigating the impact of the bedroom tax

To ask the Minister for Social Development whether the removal of the proposed bedroom tax will be accounted for in the calculation of any proposed hardship top up fund. AQW 42285/11-15 Mr David McNarry

The provisions within the Welfare Reform Bill (NI) 2012 which enables the calculation of the maximum housing benefit payable to those claimants whose tenancies are deemed to meet the eligibility criteria for the Social Sector Size Criteria, sometimes referred to as the bedroom tax, passed consideration stage in the Assembly on 11th February 2015. The Executive has agreed as part of the Stormont House Agreement to mitigate the impact of these provisions by creating a separate Discretionary Housing Payment.

Officials are finalising proposals which will be brought to the Executive for approval on how such a mitigation scheme could be made available.

Fuel poverty

To ask the Minister for Social Development for his assessment of the changes in the level of fuel poverty since 2012. AQO 7476/11-15 Mr Sammy Wilson

A household is considered to be in fuel poverty if it needs to spend more than 10% of its income to heat the home. There are three main factors that contribute to a household being in fuel poverty, these are income, fuel prices and energy efficiency. While improvements to the energy efficiency of homes helps to reduce the risk of fuel poverty, it is important to acknowledge that low income and high fuel prices are the main contributors to fuel poverty. Almost 70% of homes in Northern Ireland rely on oil to heat their homes.

The 2011 Northern Ireland House Condition Survey reported that 42% (294,240) of households in Northern Ireland were in fuel poverty. The House Condition Survey provides a robust estimate of fuel poverty in Northern Ireland and the next survey is planned to be undertaken in 2016. Recently oil prices have reduced significantly and it is reasonable to assess that the level of fuel poverty in Northern Ireland has decreased in line with this oil price reduction.

My Department, working with the Housing Executive and other partners, is modelling the impact of reduced fuel prices on the level of fuel poverty.

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Policy, NI Assembly
This article was written on 2 March 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.