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When everyone has a home

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Assembly question round up

The newly appointed Minister for Communities Deirdre Hargey will regularly respond to questions from fellow MLAs. Below are a number of questions which have already been answered and which relate to housing and affordability issues. 

Departmental priorities

Question from Mr Andy Allen, UUP East Belfast

To ask the Minister for Communities to outline her Departmental priorities for (i) 2020/21; and (ii) 2021/22.

Response

My Departmental priorities for (i) 2020/21; and (ii) 2021/22 will be informed by ongoing discussions with Executive colleagues, senior Departmental officials and other stakeholders. I’m committed to protecting the most vulnerable in our society including children and young people, those with disabilities and low income families. I want to ensure the targeting of resources based on objective need, a focus on community engagement and embedding a human rights based approach in our policies and services.

The key priorities for my Department are outlined within the New Decade, New Approach Agreement and these include:

  • Welfare Reform Mitigation Schemes;
  • Housing agenda including Office of National Statistics (ONS) Reclassification;
  • Delivery of Regional and Sub Regional Stadia Programmes;
  • Language, Culture and Arts commitments;
  • Development of key strategies including an Anti-Poverty Strategy; and
  • Reform of liquor licensing laws and regulation of gambling.

 

Social housing

Question from Mr Andy Allen, UUP East Belfast

To ask the Minister for Communities for an update on the review of the Housing Selection Scheme.

Response

Analysis of stakeholder feedback regarding the Fundamental Review of Social Housing Allocations has been completed by officials. I look forward to considering the Review and possible next steps in the coming weeks.

Housing affordability and welfare reform

Question from Mr Andy Allen, UUP East Belfast

To ask the Minister for Communities how many Universal Credit claimants had to wait longer than five weeks for their first payment.

Response

Each week approximately 860 new claims for Universal Credit become due for their first payment, with 95% of these paid at the end of that first 5 week period.

Anyone suffering financial hardship during this 5 week period can apply for an Advance Payment, with further support also available from the Universal Credit Contingency Fund or Discretionary Support.

Question from Mr Andy Allen. UUP East Belfast

To ask the Minister for Communities whether she will initiate a review of the implementation of Universal Credit for new claimants.

Response

Universal Credit was introduced for new claims, on a phased geographical basis between September 2017 and December 2018. This incremental approach over 14 months enabled the Department for Communities to continuously review implementation and ensure that the delivery arrangements were working effectively. The Universal Credit service is working as expected with around 95% of people receiving a first payment on time.

My Department will continue to review, evaluate and make improvements to the delivery arrangements on an ongoing basis, and I am committed to working with external stakeholders to consolidate progress. I am also committed to ensuring the broadest range of protection is available to support the most vulnerable.

Question from Mr Andy Allen, UUP East Belfast

To ask the Minister for Communities to outline (i) when she expects to bring forward legislation to extend Welfare Supplementary Payments (mitigations); and (ii) the process she intends to undertake to ensure full consideration is given to what further mitigations are required.

Response

(i) My Department is taking all necessary steps to ensure appropriate legislation to extend the existing welfare mitigation schemes will be in place by 31 March 2020. A date for the introduction of draft legislation to the Assembly is under consideration.

(ii) Officials are currently developing proposals for a review of the welfare mitigation measures as detailed in the New Decade, New approach Deal. I can provide an assurance that as part of the review officials will be engaging with key stakeholders in the independent advice sector. Any proposals for further mitigations will also give due consideration to my Department’s equality and human rights responsibilities. The outcome of the review will be presented to the Executive in due course

Question from Mr Andy Allen, UUP East Belfast

To ask the Minister for Communities what engagement her Department has had with the Minister of Finance or Executive colleagues to ring-fence funding for welfare supplementary payments.

Response

Senior officials within the Department have been liaising with senior officials in the Department of Finance in relation to mitigations beyond March 2020. The Department has provided estimates the future funding required (£40.4m) for welfare supplementary payments as part of the Department of Finance commissioned budget exercises and also to inform costing of ‘New Decade, New Approach’. As Minister I will work with the Executive to extend existing mitigations measures beyond March 2020.

Departmental officials continue to liaise with Department of Finance officials as we seek to secure this funding to continue to provide financial support for claimants who have been impacted by welfare reforms

Question from Mr Patsy McGlone, SDLP Mid Ulster

To ask the Minister for Communities for an update on an extension of the welfare mitigation measures.

Response

My Department is taking all necessary steps to provide for an extension of the existing welfare mitigations schemes. This includes ensuring that the appropriate legislation, “New Decade, New Approach”, will be in place by 31 March 2020.

I am also engaging with Executive colleagues to secure the estimated £40.4m per year of funding required to continue with the delivery of the welfare mitigation payments.

Housing supply

Question from Mr Keith Buchanan, DUP Mid Ulster

To ask the Minister for Communities how many (i) one bedroom: (ii) two bedroom; and (iii) three bedroom houses have been sold to sitting tenants by the Housing Executive in the last three years, broken down by area office.

Response

Data provided in tables available on NI Assembly Aims portal

Housing conditions

Question from Mr Andy Allen, UUP East Belfast

To ask the Minister for Communities to detail

  1. how many homes are in severe fuel poverty; and
  2. when they will no longer be in this position.

Response

  1. The Northern Ireland House Condition Survey (2016) estimated that approximately 160,000 or 22% of homes were in fuel poverty. Of those homes in fuel poverty approximately 44,000 or 6% were estimated to be in ‘severe’ fuel poverty. Severe fuel poverty is defined as needing to spend more than 15% of income, including benefits, to maintain a satisfactory level of heating (21ºC in the living room and 18ºC in other occupied rooms).

My Department and our delivery partners in the Housing Executive and local Councils remain committed to delivering the Affordable Warmth Scheme to target and assist those homes most at risk of fuel poverty. Since its introduction in 2015 the Scheme has invested more than £73 million to improve the energy efficiency of almost 17,500 homes.

  1. Three factors influence fuel poverty (fuel prices, household energy use and income). Given that two of these are outside my Department’s control it is not possible to predict when households currently in fuel poverty will no longer be in that position. However, the Department and its delivery partners remain committed to delivering the Affordable Warmth Scheme to reduce fuel poverty.

Question from Mr Andy Allen, UUP East Belfast

To ask the Minister for Communities what plans she has to revise the NI Housing Executive adaptations procedures to ensure they are carried out in an expedious manner.

Response

The Housing Executive successfully piloted an internal major adaptations review within the South Region in 18/19. This included a streamlining of processes as well as the introduction of an in-house Design Team. This team has eliminated the requirement for external Consultants and as a result has reduced the timeframe for delivery of major adaptations within the region.

The Housing Executive has now moved towards a similar strategy for the North Region and is also reviewing its service delivery provisions in the Belfast Region.

The Housing Executive is preparing a new major adaptations contract which will be tendered in the coming months. It is anticipated that it will accelerate the delivery of projects and increase the number of Contractors that may be awarded within any contract area.

Question from Mr Andy Allen, UUP East Belfast

To ask the Minister for Communities to detail (i) the number of Northern Ireland Housing Executive properties currently listed as uninhabitable; (ii) the total projected cost to bring these properties into a habitable state; and (iii) how many are beyond a habitable state of repair, broken down by constituency.

Response

For the purpose of this Question, “uninhabitable properties” are defined as those that cannot be occupied as a result of:

  • fire;
  • vandalism;
  • where conversion work is ongoing to facilitate letting.

A breakdown of uninhabitable properties and the cost of repair is provided, by parliamentary constituency, on the NI Assembly Aims portal. No properties are beyond a habitable state of repair.

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NI Assembly