NI Housing Benefit Discussed at Westminster By Shannon
Jim Shannon, MP for Strangford, has raised the topic of the ‘bedroom tax’, a controversial feature of the coming welfare reforms, at Westminster during a debate.
If a person claiming has a property that is larger than their needs, they find that they are facing a drop in their housing benefits. The NIHE has projected that around 26,168 tenants have three or more bedrooms. That is 50 per cent of the NI Housing Executive’s stock.
Mr Shannon said: “ To bring it to the local Northern Ireland perspective what we are faced in Strangford alone with is 2,000 households in social housing – whether they are housing executive tenants or housing association tenants – facing a major shortfall in their rent, perhaps up to 25 per cent.
“This is a tremendous number of families that are unsure of how and where they will live. I am aware that in many parts of Great Britain, there are many more smaller social homes of one or two bedrooms. Tenants who wanted to move would have a realistic chance to down size to a property which their benefit would cover.
“This is not the case in Northern Ireland and whilst we have started to build smaller apartments and homes we have no where near the necessary amount to begin implementing this reform to move people who can’t afford to pay the difference. The Social Development Minister has no option but to implement these reforms as the block grant does not allow for a delay. It has been estimated by local commentators at home that there will be a Housing Benefit shortfall of £10 million per year and I doubt that there are many people who are on Housing Benefit that can afford to make up the money themselves.
The Minister for Social Development Nelson McCausland is on record as saying ‘The best way forward is the use of discretionary housing payments. We have increased the money there for those that may be affected.’ And yet again it must be stressed that the Northern Ireland Executive cannot bare the load of these changes out of the block grant and this will inevitably lead to severe hardship for so many families in Northern Ireland and I am sure in the mainland. I have had elderly widows ringing me and asking will they be expected to take in a lodger in their 2 bedroom home and the fear that they have is palpable and is not something that the state should ever be guilty of enforcing on them.
“I could go on and on but at the end of the day – we are not ready to implement this – either morally or physically. We lambast absent fathers for not playing an active role in their child’s upbringing whilst also telling them you are not allowed to have a bedroom for that child to stay with you and build that relationship. We tell people who are married and working – we have no houses for you in the housing executive so you will need to private rent and we will help you with the payments – we then say well your private rented house is one bed too large so we won’t help you with this payment and we can’t re-house you so if you can’t find a smaller home close enough for your child to walk to school as you have no car there is nothing that can be done for you.
“Is this really what Parliament advocates? I know that I do not. There should be changes made in the Housing sector but we cannot enforce changes that we do not have the infrastructure in place to implement and putting 32 000 families into housing stress is not something that i want to be a part of and I ask the (Secretary of State) – is this something that you are prepared implement before the foundations are laid – I hope that the answer will be that you will allow the infrastructure and the details to be in place before this is pushed through.”
“The government is putting the devolved Assemblies into an untenable position and they must face up to this and make changes,” added Mr Shannon.