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028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

Risk of "Bedroom Tax" not being mitigated in Northern Ireland

Housing Rights is seriously concerned that the potential dissolution of the Assembly could have the unintended consequence of the Executive failing to mitigate the introduction of the Social Sector Size Criteria (the so-called “bedroom tax”) in Northern Ireland. This means that around 34,000 households in Northern Ireland could be fully affected by the policy.

Social Sector Size Criteria is already on the books

In the Fresh Start agreement, the NI Executive agreed to implement Welfare Reform in Northern Ireland. Welfare powers were passed to Westminster until the end of 2016, meaning that the Welfare Reform provisions – including the bedroom tax – were passed at Westminster level.

The bedroom tax was brought into law for Northern Ireland, by Westminster, via two sets of Regulations:

How mitigations work

The Fresh Start agreement agreed that – until at least 31st March 2020 – the “social sector size criteria – the so called bedroom tax – will not apply.”

Enacting this agreement, to mitigate the impact of the Size Criteria in Northern Ireland, is the responsibility of the Executive and Assembly. For Welfare Reform mitigations to date, which are considered a “cross-cutting” issue, the Minister for Communities has had to bring draft Regulations to the Executive for agreement; these Regulations were then considered and passed by the Committee for Communities.

Unlike the mitigation arrangements for some other welfare changes, such as the Benefit Cap, no Regulations to mitigate the impact of the Social Sector Size Criteria have yet been brought forward.

Resignation of deputy First Minister

On Monday 9th January, deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness announced his resignation. In these circumstances, it appears that the Executive will not be meeting, and thus will not be approving any draft mitigation Regulations.

If he is not replaced within 7 days, under section 16(8) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, the Assembly will be dissolved and an election must be held within 6 weeks. In this scenario, the Assembly is dissolved and the Regulations cannot be passed by the Committee for Communities.

In these circumstances, it appears unlikely that any measures to mitigate the Social Sector Size Criteria will be passed by the Assembly.

It is therefore likely that, in the absence of other action, the policy will come into full force on 20th February, affecting around 32,600 households across Northern Ireland.

Options

Housing Rights is calling for urgent focus on this issue to ensure that, if the Assembly is unable to pass regulations mitigating the impact of this policy, alternative action is taken. Potential options could include:

  • Consideration of policy options by the NIHE and/or housing associations, at the landlord level
  • The Westminster Parliament further delaying the introduction of the Social Sector Size Criteria
  • The establishment of an emergency fund for affected households

Any considerations should involve discussions with stakeholders, particularly those who represent the interests of both landlords and tenants who stand to be immediately impacted. 

Impact of the bedroom tax in Northern Ireland

The bedroom tax is forecast to have a disproportionate impact on Northern Ireland. A screening report published by the Department for Communities found that around 34,000 households could be affected by the policy, with average losses reaching up to £20.42 per week.

 

Tagged In

Benefits, Welfare Reform, Affordability

Author

Stephen Orme
This article was written on 10 January 2017. 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.