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When everyone has a home

028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

Is housing on the election agenda?

The General Election is looming. We all know that there are important housing issues that need addressed by our local politicians on a local and national scale. We have a real disparity between the supply and demand of social housing, an ongoing problem with homelessness, a growing private rented sector that needs to be improved to make it a truly viable housing option and the highest levels of negative equity in the UK; to name but a few.

In addressing some of these issues, the Department for Social Development has been carrying out a series of consultations on the area of social housing reform. Work has also been done with a number of organisations, including Housing Rights, to look at how to tackle the serious issue of mortgage repossessions in Northern Ireland. The Department will also be consulting in the coming months on the review of the private rented sector and fitness standards for accommodation.

The Housing Rights ‘Manifesto’

Housing Rights recently met with a number of local parties to put forward our own ‘Manifesto Asks’. Our Manifesto Asks covers four main themes:

  1. Ensuring that the private rented sector is a more viable and attractive tenure option for the 1 in 5 people who live in the private rented sector and the many others who will take up a private tenancy. 
  2. Increasing the supply and ensuring a fair and effective system of social housing allocation.
  3. Social housing reform with better homes and services for tenants and people in housing need at the heart of the process.
  4. Helping those faced with losing their home as a consequence of debt, including implementing the recommendations of the Mortgage Repossession Taskforce.

What are the local parties saying about housing?

We have summarised the housing policies and aims the various Northern Ireland parties have included in their recent manifestos. We are pleased to see some of our own 'Asks' are reflected in the these, especially as housing is one of the most important issues affecting the quality of people’s lives.  Working with our elected politicians to improve the lives of those who are homeless or badly housed will remain at the top of our agenda well after the final votes in the forthcoming election have been cast.

Alliance

  • Invest in a Green New Deal which will provide low-cost and free insulation and home-heating measures.
  • Support legislation to improve the regulation of the private rented sector, focusing on increasing security of tenure, improving standards in poorer homes and reducing up-front fees.
  • Strengthen the Pre-Action Protocol for Mortgage Arrears proceedings to ensure all reasonable options to avoid possession are considered thoroughly and to better reflect the incidence of both negative equity and number of repossessions from people who are affected by negative equity in Northern Ireland.
  • Ensure any proposed reforms to social housing provision do not jeopardise fairness, quality or diminish equality of access.
  • Develop an Empty Homes Strategy to bring derelict and unused properties back onto the market using legislative proposals and a sustainable funding model to allow revenue from houses brought back into use to be allocated to future houses.
  • Propose that European funding be made available to develop new social housing, similar to a recent project in the Republic of Ireland.
  • Promote shared housing by tackling the division within our community.

DUP

The DUP manifesto for the Westminster elections does not specifically mention any housing policy; they do, however, have existing policies on housing.

Green Party NI

  • Abolish the ‘priority need’ category for homeless applicants (as has been done in Scotland), so that almost everyone who does not have their own secure accommodation is entitled to apply.
  • Invest in energy efficient social housing to combat homelessness and fuel poverty whilst also creating jobs in construction.
  • Freeze the Housing Sales Scheme until such a time as there is surplus social housing relative to need.
  • Protect the Supporting People budget, to ensure that vulnerable people can receive housing-related support.
  • Ensure that homeless households are not housed in the private rented sector without their consent.
  • Work to ensure higher standards for private sector tenants.
  • Provide vulnerable owner occupiers, including those in negative equity, with access to housing support and advice.

SDLP

  • Prioritise an increase in the supply of social housing and ensure that allocation is fair and based on need.
  • Champion creative and innovative housing policies and strategies and tailor them to the North’s specific needs.
  • License landlords and letting agents to ensure they are fully informed of their responsibilities and duties. This would also protect and enhance their relationships with their tenants.

Sinn Fein

  • Increase the stock of social housing to prevent people from being forced into living in the private rented sector.
  • Seek a moratorium on evictions for those who are in mortgage arrears.
  • Enable the Housing Executive to use its assets to borrow in order to finance a major house-building programme

TUV

  • Wholesale transfer of public housing stock to Housing Associations, which habitually charge higher rents, is not advisable, particularly if it involves overriding the views and wishes of tenants.
  • Dismantling the NIHE may not be the best way forward. Political meddling in housing is not healthy.
  • An adequate supply of social housing is essential and tenants need and deserve reliable maintenance and repairs.

UKIP

  • Prioritise ‘brownfield sites’ and empty homes over the green belt to create housing.
  • Give the final say about whether large-scale developments should be built to local people.
  • Make sure local people are given priority for social housing.
  • Tackle homelessness.

UUP

  • Make it a priority for councils to review housing demand in their areas and to identify a supply of specific, developable sites.
  • Accelerate the transfer of properties from the NIHE to Housing Associations.
  • Put an end to publicly owned homes remaining endlessly boarded up.
  • Give Councils the ability to give preference to planning applications that target first time buyers or owner occupiers. This would protect against housing speculators.
  • Increase the development of greater mixed tenure housing - a mix of owner occupied, privately rented and social rented properties.

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Policy
This article was written on 29 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.