Belfast Telegraph

Warning over 'housing crisis' as Universal Credit rolls out

Housing crisis warning.
Housing crisis warning.
Emma Deighan

By Emma Deighan

Affordability here is the biggest barrier to people being able to live in the homes of their choice, according to a housing boss.

Eileen Patterson, the new chair of the Northern Ireland Board of the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH), said the full rollout of Universal Credit would only make the situation worse.

Recent data from Nationwide revealed that house prices here were the strongest performing in the UK during 2018 with a 5.8% increase to an average of £139,599. The HomeLet Rental Index showed that rental rates here are now an average of £632 per month, up by 1.9% on the same time last year.

Ms Patterson, who is also Radius Housing director of communities, said: "Across the public and private sector affordability is becoming the biggest barrier to people being able to choose the best type of housing for themselves and their families.

"Tightening access to mortgage credit means that rates of home ownership are declining, but there is no pick-up from the private rented sector which is becoming more expensive in some areas and short in supply in others. While there is an active new build programme for social housing, the undeniable fact is that social housing waiting lists continue to grow across Northern Ireland."

Ms Patterson said that the introduction of the revamped benefits payments next year could also hamper new builds within the social housing sector.

She said: "We have maintained healthy investment, but it's challenging to keep that affordable with welfare reform because people are struggling.

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"Under what used to be housing benefit, if you were means-tested your rental costs would have been met.

"But under Universal Credit, they will only pay what they feel is the local allowance for that market. It means lots of people won't get full rental commitment. What does the future hold for them and us? We as a business need rent and people need housed. Social landlords' income is at risk but what's the option for tenants? It's much more costly if we increase homelessness."

Ms Patterson called for welfare reform mitigation to be extended as well as an increase in capital investment in social housing.

She also said while reforms of the planning system are underway, delays are still impeding the development of housing, "especially in areas of housing stress".

The National House Building Council (NHBC) yesterday said that the number of new homes registered here last year was up 39%, from 3,391 to 4,803, with an increase in housing association activity.

Belfast Telegraph