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028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

ONS announce re-classification of NI housing associations

The Office for National Statistics has this morning announced that housing associations in Northern Ireland, as well as those in Scotland and Wales, are to be re-classified as public bodies.

Implications of change

Most housing associations in Northern Ireland are independent bodies and registered charities. In practical terms, this means that housing associations are treated as private bodies in the ONS accounts, meaning that their incomes, expenditures and debts do not appear on the national “balance sheet.”

However, ONS has decided that, due to the extent of government regulation and control of the housing association sector, housing associations in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland are to be considered as public bodies. This follows a similar decision for housing associations in England to be reclassified, in October 2015.

In practical terms, this has two primary implications. Firstly, existing housing association debt of almost £1 billion would be added to NI Executive debt levels; this could significantly constrain associations’ ability to finance future developments. Secondly, housing associations gaining public status will mean that they could potentially be subject to a broader range of human rights law in exercising their duties, meaning there is greater scope for advisers to request judicial review of associations’ decisions or actions.

Further developments

In Assembly Questions on 13th September, the Minister for Finance detailed that he had met with the Minister for Communities and finance directors of many housing associations, and would be seeking a temporary exemption from this rule for Northern Ireland, until the Executive can bring forward legislation to reverse this change.


Stephen Orme

This article was written on 29 September 2016. 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.