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When everyone has a home

028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

Next steps in social housing reform?

As part of the ongoing review of the Housing Executive, it is anticipated that up to 2000 NIHE dwellings will transfer to housing associations.  The rationale behind this transfer is that housing associations can access private sector funds to bankroll the improvements that some of the older NIHE dwellings desperately need. 

The Housing Executive’s multi-element improvement programme rumbled to a halt in 2008/09 due to funding shortfalls. Over 5000 NIHE-owned dwellings had been earmarked for improvement schemes at the time the programme was suspended.   By the Housing Executive’s admission, this stock was “in poor condition, requiring modern facilities”.

Although some small improvements were carried out to these dwellings since 2009, some 2000 dwellings were identified as being suitable for transfer to housing association ownership.   In July 2013, Minister McCausland announced that these 2000 properties, in 65 locations throughout NI, would be transferred to the control of housing associations in three phases, beginning in September 2013.

To date, only 2 small size pilot transfers have taken place; one in Rinmore and the other in Bloomfied, Bangor. In June 2014, the NI Audit Office published a report, which was critical of some elements of these pilots.

Restricting the improvements delivered by stock transfer

The NI Audit Office questioned whether having housing associations deliver the NIHE Multi-Element Improvement Programme was the most efficient use of taxpayer money.  The report suggests that any stock transfer programme should consider refurbishing the properties in question to the less extensive, and less expensive, decent homes standard rather than delivering on the MEI programme.

The report questioned whether the delivery of multi-element improvement schemes was the most appropriate and the most affordable method of improving these units.  The Department of Social Development felt that it was unlikely that tenants would agree to a stock transfer if the improvements they were being offered would have been to a lesser standard than those carried out in other local areas. 

Tenant engagement is essential

The Audit Office recognised the importance of involving tenants fully in any decision about their homes.   At the time of writing its report, NIAO was unable to establish whether promises made to tenants of Rinmore and Bloomfield had been kept.  It recommends

  • that any assurances given to tenants as part of stock transfers are clearly defined, measurable and time related and
  • that a monitoring and evaluation process be adopted with future transfers to ensure that any assurances made to tenants are delivered on.

Other recommendations

The Audit Office also recommended that

  • NIHE continues to engage in regular discussions with Housing Associations to ensure the process of transferring housing stock proceeds as efficiently as possible and consider the extent to which the Housing Association sector can best be supported to ensure that plans for transfers can be successfully implemented.
  • clear, measurable and time related performance targets are established for NIHE’s three phase transfer programme involving around 2,000 homes
  • the Department for Social Development and Department of Finance and Personnel should consider carefully the treatment of NIHE’s loan liabilities prior to embarking on any future transfer schemes and programmes
  • the Department for Social Development ensure transfer values, as used in GB, are calculated by NIHE in all social housing transfers.

The Audit Office’s report has further detail on its recommendations and its reasoning for these.

Tagged In

Social Tenancies

This article was written on 19 September 2014. 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.