Belfast Telegraph

Helm suspended from home building

The largest social housing association in Northern Ireland has been suspended from developing more homes, Alex Attwood said.

Helm Housing constructed an apartment block on the edge of the Gas Works site near the Markets, Belfast, at a cost of almost £1 million without planning permission. The block is still unoccupied.

Separately, the Social Development Minister announced proposals for greater departmental oversight of all associations as well as reducing their number to 10 and cutting grant rates paid to them by a 10th. He also threatened legal action against those who failed to cooperate. A review of Helm Housing is expected to be published soon.

The minister told the Assembly: "I instructed the oversight team to conduct an in-depth examination of the association. Its work has been extensive and exhaustive and of worry. It has led to my decision to suspend the housing association from the development programme."

Helm Housing has been a registered housing association in Northern Ireland with charitable status since 1975 and has won a series of awards for customer service excellence. It manages and maintains around 6,000 properties throughout Ireland.

Mr Attwood said all housing associations would be subject to searching examination from his department.

He added: "This is how things shall be. Oversight is a shield to those who live up to all appropriate standards; it is a spotlight on those who do not."

Speaking generally, the minister said not one of the senior housing association staff had agreed to take a salary reduction but warned as part of governance oversight the Department for Social Development (DSD) shall establish thresholds for payment of senior staff.

Mr Attwood said: "It is utterly wrong and upside down that one housing association can write to government and say their chief executive is taking legal advice about the powers of government to request salary restraint and another housing association, and I jest not, who dared write to government about their company car policy stating that one car was for the use of an employee who 'was a single man who enjoyed driving'."

He said the number of housing associations should fall to 10-14 which would include larger developing associations, management-only associations and a number of specialist associations.

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