Intimidated tenants to lose rehousing priority points
Social housing tenants intimidated out of their homes will no longer receive special priority points for rehousing, under proposals to reform the allocation system.
A draft review of the current points-based system for determining housing need has proposed the removal of the 200 points allocated to intimidation victims.
The suggested axing of a criterion that dates back to the Troubles is designed to better reflect the wider needs of all those requiring social housing in Northern Ireland and ensure those waiting longest get priority.
As it stands, the 200-point award means a recent victim of intimidation is potentially better placed to secure a new home than a victim of domestic violence who has been on the waiting list for a while, as the latter does not qualify for a similar 200 points.
However, the proposals were published as the Housing Executive confirmed a number of families in a shared housing development in south Belfast have left their homes amid claims of sectarian intimidation.
Loyalist paramilitaries have been blamed for forcing the families from the Cantrell development.
In Northern Ireland, around 11,000 households a year are considered homeless, with 22,000 deemed to be in housing stress.
The typical waiting time for a social home is two years.
Under the draft Department of Communities proposals, which aim to reduce overall waiting times, those who are victims of intimidation would still be offered help and support by the Housing Executive in terms of securing temporary accommodation.
The removal of the points would factor only in the consideration of allocating a replacement long-term home.
The intimidation criterion dates back decades when such cases were more commonplace.
Under the current system, someone who is the victim of domestic violence would be allocated 20 points under a fear of violence criteron.
A victim of intimidation would also receive that 20 points for fear of violence, but also the additional 200 intimidation points.
The consequence is a victim of intimidation will likely be higher up the waiting list than domestic violence victims.
The proposal is among a number being put out for public consultation by the department.
Another would see the current long waiting list be divided into point bands.
Tenants will also be offered a wider geographical choice of potential new homes, rather than having to specify two particular developments.
It is also proposed that specialist properties, such as wheelchair accessible accommodation, should be allocated through a separate process going forward.
No changes can be made to the system without the sign-off of an elected minister - be that a returning Stormont minister or a direct rule minister if powersharing is shelved.
A spokeswoman for the Department for Communities said: "The department recognises the need for changes to the current Housing Selection Scheme and has therefore launched a public consultation on its proposals on how to make the allocations process more fair, transparent and effective for all.
"The proposals build on the strengths of our current allocations system and put forward proposals, informed by entirely independent research, on how the system can be improved.
"The review aims to tackle the long waiting times many face and address the needs of our most vulnerable applicants, by placing more emphasis on time waiting, based on similar levels of need.
"The department would be keen to hear the views of all those interested in this important issue."
The consultation will run until 21 December 2017 and can be found at www.communities-ni.gov.uk/allocations-review.