Belfast Telegraph

Pipes crisis tenants may get payout

Thousands of Housing Executive tenants caught up in the burst pipes crisis could be in line for compensation payments, the Social Development Minister has said.

The money would help cover the cost of redecorating in the wake of repair work, replacement of water damaged property and inflated electricity bills due to running fan heaters.

Alex Attwood told members of his scrutiny committee that he was in discussions with the first and deputy first ministers to access additional funds from Government.

While the Housing Executive (NIHE) already has a pot of money set aside for redecoration payments, the minister hopes to set up a special programme under the terms of the Financial Assistance Act or Emergency Assistance Scheme similar to that established following recent flooding episodes in the region. As well as thousands of privately owned homes, more than 25,000 Housing Executive properties - in excess of a quarter of its entire stock in Northern Ireland - were damaged in the emergency.

Facing questions from the Department for Social Development (DSD) committee, Mr Attwood insisted that despite initial problems coping with the influx of calls, the agency, which owns a stock of 90,000 social homes, faced up well to the unprecedented episode.

While Government-owned company Northern Ireland Water (NIW) - an arm of the Department of Regional Development (DRD) - has borne the weight of criticism for failings during the crisis, questions have also been asked of the Housing Executive, which comes under Mr Attwood's remit.

Some tenants whose heating broke or pipes burst have claimed the executive was slow to respond and DSD committee member Jonathan Craig told the minister of one tenant in his Lagan Valley constituency who had 106 bursts in their pipes.

Mr Attwood replied: "On a case by case basis I can understand why people were scathing. What I don't agree with is on a broad consideration that you can be equally scathing of what happened on the DRD/NI Water side compared with the DSD/Housing Executive side.

"I think those are not comparable, there may be cases were people were let down and the response wasn't what it should have been but the scale and character of what transpired compared to NI Water and the Housing Executive are different, the response was different."

Mr Attwood said he had contacted First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness in writing at the end of last month and in the middle of this month about a potential payment scheme. A spokesman for the OFMDFM indicated no direct talks had yet taken place on the matter.

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