NI tenants facing bedroom tax ‘cliff edge’ in March, Stormont group warned

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Around 34,000 Northern Ireland tenants are facing a ‘cliff edge’ drop in income when payments design to mitigate the impact of welfare reform are cut next year, MLAs have been warned.

A coalition of over 70 local organisations made the warning to an all-party group of MLAs tasked with looking at housing issues.

The ‘Cliffedge NI coalition’ are calling for welfare reform mitigations to be revised to “ensure protections also take account of new challenges, such as Universal Credit.”

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.

The ‘Cliffedge NI coalition’ say that 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.

Carál Ní Chuilín heads up the all-party working group on housing.

She 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 from 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.”

Steven Agnew is vice-chair.

“The end of welfare mitigations is a hugely concerning issue for both tenants and housing providers,” he said.

“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 “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.”