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When everyone has a home

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Assembly roundup October 2016

Social Housing

To ask the Minister for Communities to detail how many new builds are planned over the next five years, broken down by property size.  Mr Andy Allen, Ulster Unionist Party AQW 3276/16-21

The Social Housing Development Programme (SHDP) is formulated on a three year basis, so information on new social housing schemes is only currently available for the period 2016/17-2018/19. Current plans for new social housing starts under the SHDP, subject to budget availability, are based on:

1,600 units for 2016/17;
2,000 units for 2017/18;
2,200 units for 2018/19

Housing Associations proposed mixes for new social housing schemes are supported by the Housing Executive based on housing need identified through the Common Waiting List. Housing mixes are subject to change and some will only be indicative at this stage, therefore it is not possible to collate the planned numbers of units by property size for the time period requested. For indicative purposes only, the typical balance for new social housing delivery is around 15% one-beds, 50% two-beds, 30% three-beds and 5% four+ beds.
 

To ask the Minister for Communities how many people are on the housing waiting list, broken down by constituency.  Mr Andy Allen, Ulster Unionist Party AQW 3272/16-21

The Housing Executive have provided this information in the table overleaf. Please note that some of the Common Landlord Areas (CLAs) used for administration purposes straddle two constituencies and this is reflected in the table and the explanatory note underneath.
 

To ask the Minister for Communities how many people on the housing waiting list are deemed to be in housing stress and/or homeless, broken down by constituency. Mr Andy Allen, Ulster Unionist Party AQW 3271/16-21

The Housing Executive have provided this information in the table overleaf. Please note that some of the Common Landlord Areas (CLAs) used for administration purposes straddle two constituencies and this is reflected in the table and the explanatory note underneath.
 

To ask the Minister for Communities to outline his plans for future stock transfers from the Northern Ireland Housing Executive to Housing Associations. Mr Steven Agnew, Green Party AQW 2861/16-21

As part of the Housing Strategy for Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) has undertaken to transfer 2,000 homes to housing associations in order to deliver £100 million of investment to the stock. Any such transfers as part of this process of small scale stock transfer require tenant agreement. This is currently being taken forward by the NIHE.
 

To ask the Minister for Communities whether he has plans to address the housing waiting list.  Mr Chris Lyttle, Alliance Party AQW 4913/16-21

Officials are currently working up proposals for changes to the allocations system for social housing, following publication of independent recommendations on this issue. Any proposals for change will be subject to a full public consultation.

Increasing the supply of social housing also addresses the housing waiting list. My Department has been working with the Housing Executive and housing associations to deliver new build across all areas of Northern Ireland. We have made significant achievements in new build and exceeded Programme for Government targets each year. We will continue to deliver new build housing and target those areas most in need, bearing in mind that many sites have competing development demands and some will have planning constraints, including zoning for non-residential use.

Empty Homes

To ask the Minister for Communities to outline the progress to date on achieving data sharing protocols on empty homes between Land and Property Services, his Department, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and local councils. Mr Fra McCann, Sinn Féin AQW 3343/16-21

My Department is in the process of finalising a data sharing protocol on empty homes with Land and Property Services.

Land and Property Services has a data sharing agreement in place with the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and is updating the protocol to reflect any changes following the commencement of the Housing (Amendment) Act (Northern Ireland) 2016.

The Northern Ireland Housing Executive, as part of their work on the empty homes strategy agreed a data sharing protocol with the Belfast City Council on the 23rd November 2015 which came into effect from 1st March 2016.

To ask the Minister for Communities , in light of the acute housing shortage, to (i) outline the rationale for the closure of the NIHE Empty Homes Unit; (ii) provide an update on the review of the Empty Homes Strategy; and (iii) outline the actions being taken to address the problem of empty properties while the review takes place. Ms Nichola Mallon, Social Democratic and Labour Party AQW 3022/16-21

The NIHE Board, at its January 2016 meeting, considered its interim review of empty homes work, particularly in the context of budgetary constraints and the need to ensure priority of their statutory functions. In light of the Board’s decision, the Empty Homes Unit was scaled back but continues to operate the Empty Homes website through which empty homes can be reported and manage a matching service which allows prospective buyers to view potential properties with a view to purchasing.

The review of the empty homes strategy is ongoing. The review is examining best practice from other jurisdictions and will consider options for a more targeted partnership approach to bringing empty homes back into use. The review will be completed by the end of the financial year.

In the meantime, the Department has provided loan funding to Clanmil and Apex Housing Associations with a target of bringing over 300 empty homes back into use. In addition, the Housing Executive has vesting powers to address blight that risks wider housing areas and recently used these powers to vest and demolish a block of flats in the Rathcoole area which will be replaced with 12 social homes.

Welfare Reform

To ask the Minister for Communities for an update on the implementation of the Welfare Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 2015. Mrs Emma Little Pengelly, Democratic Unionist Party AQW 3717/16-21

The Welfare Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 2015 was made on 9 December 2015 by Westminster and to date there have been 5 commencement orders to introduce various provisions within the Order. There have also been a series of regulations passed to implement future welfare changes in this Order. These have been made at Westminster with commencement dates in the future to align with IT and operational requirements.
The welfare changes which have been made during 2016 have included the Benefit Cap which was introduced on 31 May and Personal Independence Payment which commenced on 20 June 2016. There have also been changes to how claimants can appeal social security decisions with the introduction of a mandatory reconsideration process and new fraud and error powers have also been introduced.

Moving forward the new Discretionary Support service will replace discretionary aspects of Social Fund from the end of October and the time-limiting of contributory Employment and Support Allowance will begin on 28th November 2016.

The next phase of Personal Independence Payment, which starts the managed migration of existing DLA claimants to the new benefit, commences in December and it is currently planned that housing benefit changes relating to under occupancy in the social rented sector will commence on 23rd January 2017. My Department has also recently agreed with the Department for Welfare and Pensions (DWP) that the roll out of Universal Credit will commence in September 2017.

In addition, there have also been four sets of Welfare Supplementary Payments Regulations made through the Assembly. These provide the level of mitigation outlined in the Evason Report for the welfare changes which have already been implemented.

All Regulations are available at www.legislation.gov.uk
 

To ask the Minister for Communities to detail the changes to benefits sanctions following the introduction of Welfare Reform. Mr Daniel McCrossan, Social Democratic and Labour Party AQW 3089/16-21

The changes to benefits sanctions are contained in the Employment and Support Allowance (Sanctions) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2016 (S.R. 2016 No. 240) and the Jobseeker’s Allowance (Sanctions) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2016 (S.R. 2016 No. 241) and will come into operation at the same time as Universal Credit comes into operation in Northern Ireland.

The Employment and Support Allowance (Sanctions) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2016 revise sanctions for those claimants of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) who fail to attend a work-focussed interview (WFI) or to undertake work related activity (WRA) without good cause. The amount of the new sanction will be 100 percent of the personal allowance for a single person. The revised sanctions regime will have two parts – an open ended period and on top of that a fixed period:

  • the open-ended part of the sanction is that the claimant will be sanctioned until they take part in the WFI or undertake WRA or agree to do so on a scheduled date.
  • the fixed period part of the sanction will be an additional fixed period of 1 week for a first failure, 2 weeks for a second failure within 52 weeks of the first and 4 weeks when it is a third or subsequent failure which is within 52weeks of the last previous failure.

When claimants re-engage within one week of the failure or before a decision to sanction has been made, only the fixed period will apply. In the case of multiple sanctions, they will run concurrently. If, after a sanction begins, the claimant is moved out of the work related activity group (WRAG) and therefore no longer subject to the requirements of WFIs and WRA, the sanction will end at that point.

The Regulations also change the effective date of a sanction, so that it takes effect from the first day of the benefit week after the one for which the claimant was last paid ESA. The aim is to make the link between claimants’ failures to comply and the sanction clearer and swifter. A right of appeal against the decision continues to be available.

The new regime will include access to hardship payments for those who have a sanction imposed on their award. Hardship payments will be available from the beginning of a sanction period, providing the claimant meets the conditions for entitlement to income-related Employment and Support Allowance.

The Jobseeker’s Allowance (Sanctions) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2016 introduce a new three-tier regime of fixed period sanctions for Jobseekers’ Allowance -

  • higher level sanctions - for example for leaving a job voluntarily, or through misconduct, or failing to take up a job or mandatory work activity – those subject to a higher level sanction will lose all of their JSA applicable amount for a fixed period of 13 weeks for a first failure, 26 weeks for a second failure, and 78 weeks for a third or subsequent failure (within a 52-week period of their last failure);
  • intermediate level sanctions - if not available for or actively seeking work the claimant will lose their entitlement – those subject to an intermediate level sanction will lose all of their JSA applicable amount for a fixed period of 4 weeks for a first failure, rising to 13 weeks for a second or subsequent failure (within a 52-week period of their last failure) to be applied following a period of disallowance; and
  • lower level sanctions - for example for failure to attend an adviser interview or failing to attend a training scheme - those subject to a lower level sanction will lose will lose all of their JSA applicable amount for a fixed period of 4 weeks for a first failure, and 13 weeks for a second or subsequent failure within 52 weeks of the previous failure.

The amount of the sanction for all three types of sanction will not change under the revised regime. The current hardship provisions to protect the vulnerable will continue to apply to allow payment of income-based JSA, at a reduced rate, for the duration of the sanction period.
 

To ask the Minister for Communities (i) to detail the number of people receiving Housing Benefit that will be affected by Welfare Reform; and (ii) for his assessment of the impact welfare reform will have on social housing providers. Mr Steven Agnew, Green Party AQW 2709/16-21

The aim of the current welfare change programme in Northern Ireland is to make the system fairer, more affordable and to better assist people into work, thereby helping reduce levels of poverty. The programme will change benefits for people of working age.
At March 2016 there were 161,000 recipients of Housing Benefit of which 124,000 are Working Age.

The Benefit Cap, with a household limit of £26,000, was introduced in Northern Ireland on 31 May 2016 and 313 households were impacted. The Benefit Cap only applies if someone in the household receives housing benefit. From 7 November 2016 the Benefit Cap threshold will be reduced to £20,000. It is currently estimated that potentially 2,636 households will be impacted.

The Northern Ireland Executive has put arrangements in place to provide financial support for those people impacted by the Benefit Cap. An additional supplementary welfare payment may be available up to 31 March 2020 for households with children.

The Social Sector Size Criteria will introduce under-occupancy restrictions to housing benefit entitlement for working age claimants resident in the social rented sector, based on the number of people in a household and the size of accommodation. This is similar to how housing benefit is calculated for claimants in the private sector and it could mean that housing benefit payments could be reduced for current and future claimants occupying a larger property than their household size warrants.

It is currently planned that the Social Sector Size Criteria will be introduced in Northern Ireland in January 2017. Data provided by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) concluded that as at May 2015 an estimated 33,916 households in the social rented sector were under-occupying.

The Northern Ireland Executive has put in place arrangements to ensure that no household is negatively impacted in financial terms or has to move house as a result of the introduction of the Social Sector Size Criteria. A supplementary welfare payment will be made to Housing Benefit claimants who have their Housing Benefit reduced as a result of the Social Sector Size Criteria, will be available to 31 March 2020.

In addition to other benefit changes Universal Credit will replace housing benefit for all working age claimants. The implementation of Universal Credit will begin in September 2017 and during the next number of years all existing working age housing benefit claimants will be migrated to Universal Credit Housing Component.

There is a robust evaluation strategy in place to monitor the impact of the Welfare Changes programme in Northern Ireland. My department has published an extensive range of analyses of the main reforms, estimating the number of individuals and households that could be impacted along with the financial impacts. These booklets contain information on:

  • Size restrictions within the social rented sector;
  • The introduction of Universal Credit and Support of Mortgage Interest;
  • Additional Support for Housing Costs;
  • The Housing Benefit Caseload.
  • Assessments can be found at the following link.

www.communities-ni.gov.uk/topics/welfare-changes-briefing

More recently the Department for Work and Pensions with support from the Department for Communities have produced a range of impact assessments to support the passage of the Welfare Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 2015 and the Welfare Reform and Work (Northern Ireland) Order 2016 legislation through Westminster and these can be found at the following link
www.legislation.gov.uk/ukia?title=northern%20ireland
 

Housing Finance

To ask the Minister for Communities to outline the criteria developed in relation to Discretionary Housing Payments to ensure (i) private rental tenants are not impacted by the opening up of the payments to social sector tenants; and (ii) that social tenants impacted by the removal of the family premium or the benefit cap can access payments. Mr Steven Agnew, Green Party AQW 3977/16-21

Discretionary Housing Payments are administered by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. Housing Benefit claimants living in the private rented sector, who require further assistance with housing costs above and beyond their Housing Benefit payment may apply for a Discretionary Housing Payment.

The Department for Communities allocates a budget to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive on an annual basis, which the Housing Executive manages in such a way as to ensure that Discretionary Housing Payments are available to tenants in greatest need throughout the year. Housing Executive decision makers determine each application on its own merits.

From 5 September 2016, Discretionary Housing Payments are also available to tenants in the social sector impacted by the removal of the family premium. This will ensure that those in receipt of a partial award of Housing Benefit, for example, those claimants who work part-time and are therefore not entitled to full Housing Benefit, are not adversely impacted by this change. This ensures that social sector tenants are not unduly affected by this reform to Housing Benefit.

For the majority of claimants whose Housing Benefit has or will be restricted by the application of the Benefit Cap, Supplementary Welfare Payments will be available as agreed in the Fresh Start Agreement. From 7 November 2016, Discretionary Housing Payments will be available to anyone in the social sector impacted by the Benefit Cap and who is not entitled to a Welfare Supplementary Payment.

Discretionary Housing Payments are designed as a short-term measure to provide financial assistance to those Housing Benefit claimants who require further financial assistance to meet housing costs.
 

Private Rented Sector

To ask the Minister for Communities to provide an update on the next stages of his Department's reviews into (i) the role and regulation of the private rented sector; and (ii) the fitness standard. Mr Stewart Dickson, Alliance Party AQW 4098/16-21

A set of proposals for change resulting from the Review of the Role and Regulation of the Private Rented Sector will be published for consultation in the coming months.
My Department has also committed to undertake a review of the Housing Fitness Standard to ensure that the legislation that governs our understanding of unacceptable housing is fit for purpose and enables us to take action to address poor housing conditions.

In March 2016 my officials circulated a discussion document setting out the case for change and potential options for the way ahead. Responses to the document are being given careful consideration, and I expect in the coming months to bring forward proposals for consultation on the future of the Housing Fitness Standard.

Antisocial Behaviour

To ask the Minister for Communities how many cases of anti-social behaviour have been recorded by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive over the last two year period. Mr Alex Easton, Democratic Unionist Party, AQW 3907/16-21

The Housing Executive has advised that the total number of cases of anti-social behaviour which have been recorded by them over the last two year period are as follows:
2014/15 – 3,052 cases
2015/16 – 3,230 cases

Victimisation

To ask the Minister for Communities how many people have presented as homeless to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive due to victimisation, broken down by category, in each of the last ten years.  Ms Clare Bailey, Green Party, AQW 4990/16-21

The Northern Ireland Housing Executive holds data on those who present and are accepted as homeless due to intimidation, rather than victimisation, across a number of categories. This data for the last 10 years is set out at Appendix 1.