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NI Assembly All Party Group on Housing hears from Cliffedge NI Coalition on end of mitigations
The end of welfare mitigation payment in March 2020 will have a devastating impact on 34,000 social housing tenants across Northern Ireland unless action is taken - that was the message from the Cliffedge NI Coalition to the NI Assembly All Party Group on Housing. The coalition, which is made up of more than 70 local organisations, has called for the mitigations to be revised to ensure protections also take account of new challenges, such as Universal Credit.
At the meeting Sinn Fein MLA for North Belfast Carál Ní Chuilín was elected as the new chair of the All Party Group, which is a forum for all aspects of the housing sector to come together with elected representatives to discuss key policy issues.
The All Party Group on Housing, whose membership counts MLAs from all political parties, looked specifically at the impact on the 34,000 tenants from across NI, who could see an end to supplementary payments to mitigate the bedroom tax.
The welfare mitigation payments, which were introduced in 2017, meant that tenants in Northern Ireland did not have to pay the ‘bedroom tax’. However, these mitigations were time-limited, and will run out in March 2020. Furthermore, as people move from Housing Benefit to the new Universal Credit benefit, many will struggle financially and face rent arrears as a result of the design of the benefit which causes delays in the initial payment. As part of their work on this issue, organisations who are part of the Cliffedge NI Coalition have proposed a number of new mitigations.
The new chair Carál Ní Chuilín MLA said “I am delighted to take on the role of chair of the All Party Group on Housing, as we face some crucial issues for the sector in the coming months. The presentation fro the Cliffedge NI Coalition was particularly important as we approach March 2020, and it is critically important that the Department for Communities take on board the evidence that was presented. It is also crucial that the mitigations are agreed by all of the political parties and are extended to protect citizens living in social housing.”
Speaking after the meeting, Steven Agnew MLA, Vice Chair of the All Party Group on Housing, said “The end of welfare mitigations is a hugely concerning issue for both tenants and housing providers. The figures provided by the Cliffedge Coalition to the All Party Group today show that the roll out of Universal Credit is likely to mean increased housing arrears for many tenants, which will bring a huge amount of stress and uncertainty of tenancy. The impact will also be felt by all social housing providers, who will face reduced income which may have consequences on how they can deliver services and borrow.”
Kate McCauley, from Housing Rights, who presented to the All Party Group on behalf of the Cliffedge NI Coalition, said “We welcomed the opportunity to give evidence to the All Party Group, organisations across Northern Ireland are deeply concerned that time is running out for welfare mitigations. It is vital that agreement is reached about how we can best protect people post March 2020. Many people don’t yet realise they are facing this cliffedge and the impact of the loss of these vital protections will be exacerbated with the hardship caused by Universal Credit as it continues to roll out. Our political parties and our government have an opportunity to reaffirm their commitment to protecting people here from some of the worst elements of welfare reform, it is vital that they act now to do so.”
Steven Agnew continued “Many people will not be aware of how they will be impacted after March 2020, and we need to take steps now to ensure that tenants do no find themselves over the cliff edge. The impact is much wider than those in social houses and the role of mitigations for those in the private rented sector should also be considered. Politically, there is a general consensus that action needs to be taken, and the All Party Group on Housing back the call of the Cliffedge NI Coalition to introduce new protections.”
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