Belfast Telegraph

Minister vows to look at the impact of plan to cut benefits

By Brendan McDdaid

Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland has promised to intervene on forthcoming cuts to housing benefit that could affect thousands of families across the north west.

The DUP man said he intends to commission reports to assess the impact changes being introduced by the Westminster Government will have in Northern Ireland.

His department yesterday gave the confirmation after warnings were issued in Derry about the potentially catastrophic impact of the cuts.

Sinn Fein and the SDLP had called on Mr McCausland to draw up plans to help social housing tenants who will be penalised for having empty rooms.

The Government in London is planning to cut benefits paid to social housing tenants with empty rooms by up to a quarter.

Sinn Féin housing spokesman and Derry City councillor Tony Hassan warned that if this is not challenged locally it could plunge people already on the breadline into greater poverty.

Calling on Mr McCausland to make provision for those people who will be penalised by the Under Occupancy Policy, Mr Hassan said: “It is proposed in the Tory welfare reform bill that people living in under occupied houses could lose 15% housing benefit for one room under occupied and 25% for two rooms empty.

“This could impact on thousands of tenants when you consider there are over 90,000 Housing Executive houses and over 30,000 owned by housing associations the scale of any reduction in housing benefit could force tens of thousands out of their homes.

“It is important that people are not penalised for living in a house that has been home for many years. The minister Nelson McCausland needs to ensure that people are not forced further into the poverty trap by accruing a penalty on the basis of their home.

“I would call on the minister to make provision for people who find themselves penalised through no fault of their own by implementing measures to offset the penalty.”

Responding to Mr Hassan’s concerns, a spokeswoman for the the Department for Social Development said: “The under occupancy measure is contained within draft legislative proposals for welfare reform in Northern Ireland which Minister McCausland will shortly introduce to the Assembly.

“The minister has commissioned work to fully understand the impacts here and to develop appropriate interventions and services to assist those most impacted.”

SDLP welfare spokesman, Foyle MLA Mark H Durkan described the Government’s plans as they stand as “draconian”.

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