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Housing Executive rent rise is the last thing people need, says Stormont minister as 2.7% hike is put on ice


Deirdre Hargey insists Housing Executive rent will not rise until later in the year

Deirdre Hargey insists Housing Executive rent will not rise until later in the year

Deirdre Hargey insists Housing Executive rent will not rise until later in the year

Plans to increase Housing Executive rents have been put on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The 2.75% hike - announced in January ­­­- was due to take effect this month.

It would have resulted in an average weekly increase of £1.79.

However, it has been postponed until October. Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey said a rents increase was the "last thing" people needed at present.

"I am well aware that the Housing Executive needs a long-term revitalisation programme in order to deliver much-needed investment in its homes and neighbourhoods," she said.

"One of my earliest decisions as Minister was to approve the first Housing Executive rent increase in five years, in recognition of this. But we are now in a very different landscape.

"People are worried about their jobs, their income and whether they can pay their rent. The last thing they need is to face a rent increase this week.

"I want to assure the Housing Executive's tenants that the rent increase will not take effect until the beginning of October 2020."

Earlier, appearing before a Stormont committee, Ms Hargey said there is a responsibility to protect people after pledging that housing tenants will not be evicted during the coronavirus crisis.

Courts are not hearing the cases during the emergency.

She added: "We know through our engagements with the Court Service that there won't be evictions, they won't be listing evictions hearings at this time.

"That is something we want to push further on and that is why we are bringing this legislation forward.

"We are in a public health emergency. They have a responsibility to protect people as well."

Stormont's Communities Committee agreed to the speedy passage of the Private Tenancies Bill.

Alliance Party Assembly member Kellie Armstrong said: "This is a very welcome piece of legislation."

She said some tenants on fixed term contracts were being told they must pay outstanding debt or their credit rating will be affected.

North Belfast Assembly member Caral Ni Chuilin called for a hardship fund, saying: "Students are falling between the nets.

"We hear about the landlords and through their letting agents that are applying undue pressure."

SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan said Ulster University's Magee Campus is within his Foyle constituency and he has been "inundated" with queries from students in housing and financial stress due to coronavirus.

"Many students have been forced to move out of student accommodation, have lost their job and income source, and have had to move home," he said.

"It is not acceptable that students should have to continue paying rent for accommodation that is not being used, through no fault of their own.

"The Communities Minister should urgently consider implementing rent suspension through the duration of this crisis and penalty-free termination of housing contracts. A rent freeze would also be appropriate to ensure when this pandemic ends, landlords cannot unfairly increase the rent for next year."

NUS-USI (National Union of Students Northern Ireland) president Robert Murtagh said the meeting offered no comfort to student renters.

"Students are often in short-term tenancies where landlords have less vested interest in maintaining good relationships," he said.

"Asking landlords to be lenient is quite simply not enough.

"We need the Government to step in and enforce a rent suspension for the duration of the crisis, penalty-free termination of contracts, a rent freeze and for these measures to be backdated to the start of March."

Belfast Telegraph