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Housing Rights briefs All Party Group on Housing

This week, Housing Rights’ policy team had the opportunity to present at the All Party Group on Housing about the Cliff Edge NI Coalition and housing specific issues relevant to the planned end of the welfare mitigation package in March 2020. The Coalition, a broad group of over 70 organisations, has two key messages:

  1. The protection in place to support people impacted by welfare reform through mitigations is due to end in March 2020.
  2. It is important that people impacted by welfare reform in Northern Ireland continue to be able to access support beyond March 2020. This support should take account of the new challenges people are facing, particularly around Universal Credit.

Housing impacts should mitigations end

The mitigation package has provided crucial protection to vulnerable groups across Northern Ireland from some of the harshest aspects of welfare reform. If this protection were to end these groups would face significant financial loss. Up to 34,000 households affected by the Bedroom Tax would lose an average of £50 per month, while up to 1,500 families affected by the Benefit Cap would lose an average of £42 per week.

These losses would lead to a significant rise in rent arrears which, in turn, would likely lead to a rise in housing stress and homelessness.

Housing impacts of Universal Credit

Universal Credit is already causing a significant rise in rent arrears, particularly due to the benefit's built-in five-week wait for payment, which in reality is often longer than five weeks. This issue affects both the social and private rented sectors, but can be a particular issue for private tenants whose landlords are less likely to be able and willing to withstand the arrears. Housing Rights highlighted to the All Party Group the need for:

  • A one off payment to people moving onto Universal Credit to offset the hardship experienced during the initial five week wait for payment
  • A review by the Department for Communities to remove barriers to the Universal Credit Contingency Fund, which, to date, have been restrictive and have contributed to an underspend in this important safety net.

An additional issue has arisen with regards to direct payments to landlords in NI. An unintended consequence of the way in which these direct payments have been paid to social landlords means that an arrear accrues on a tenant’s account which is not their fault. The Housing Executive has termed these arrears ‘residual arrears.’  Housing Rights stressed to the All Party Group the importance of the Department for Work and Pensions urgently investigating this issue. It is equally important that social landlords are alert to the issue and do not take action against tenants to recover arrears which have arisen solely due to a design flaw with the processing and payments system.

Recommendations for a revised mitigation package

 

During the meeting, Housing Rights highlighted our recommendations for a revised mitigation package. You can read these recommendations in Housing Rights’ written response to the Joint Inquiry on Welfare Policy in Northern Ireland. The Cliff Edge NI Coalition has also responded to the Inquiry.

Tagged In

Benefits, Welfare Reform, Policy