MLA calls for fair deal for Servicemen
An east Belfast MLA has expressed his shock at confirmation from the Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland that the Housing Selection Scheme operated by the Housing Executive could discriminate against existing and former members of the armed forces who are, or have been based in Northern Ireland.
However, the Housing Executive says that the issue is one of the ending of positive discrimination in favour of former Service personnel.
Mr Copeland, who is the UUP’s spokesperson on Social Development issues, said: “I recently tabled a question to the Social Development Minister asking how he ensures that existing and former members of the armed forces are not disadvantaged in accessing social housing.
“I was extremely concerned by the Minister’s answer which referred to the Housing Executive’s Housing Selection Scheme and stated: ‘The work to date has identified an aspect of the Scheme that has the potential to prevent existing and former members of the armed forces who are, or have been based in Northern Ireland from applying for social housing here’.
“I find this not only deeply worrying but an absolute scandal,” said Mr Copeland.
“For decades we have heard bureaucrats and the human rights industry lecture us on the importance of equality particularly with regard to Housing — indeed that was why the Housing Executive was established — yet we now learn that discrimination was practised against existing and former members of the armed forces who are or have been based here in Northern Ireland.
“I shall be pursuing this matter with the Minister and seeking to find out exactly how this situation arose, for how long it existed, how many people were disadvantaged by it, and why nothing was done sooner to remedy the matter.”
A Department of Social Development spokesperson said: “The Department recognises that the wording of one particular rule in the Housing Selection Scheme is slightly ambiguous and is currently planning to change this to ensure that the Scheme can never be interpreted in a way that might discriminate against members of the armed forces.
“The Housing Executive has confirmed that they do not, nor ever have, interpreted any rule in the Housing Selection Scheme in a way that discriminates against members of the armed forces.”
A Housing Executive spokesperson said: "Military personnel and police are all treated exactly the same as other people on the housing selection scheme.
“Once upon a time — quite a few years ago — people coming out of the army got additional points. It was decided that that wasn't sustainable and now everyone gets treated exactly the same."