Belfast Telegraph

People benefiting from bedroom tax payments could lose their homes: UUP

North and west Belfast households benefiting from mitigation payments for bedroom tax will suffer the biggest hit when measures to ease the impact of welfare reform come to an end in March 2020
North and west Belfast households benefiting from mitigation payments for bedroom tax will suffer the biggest hit when measures to ease the impact of welfare reform come to an end in March 2020
Ralph Hewitt

By Ralph Hewitt

North and west Belfast households benefiting from mitigation payments for bedroom tax will suffer the biggest hit when measures to ease the impact of welfare reform come to an end in March 2020.

Thousands of welfare claimants could lose up to a quarter of their benefits if they are deemed to have a spare room in their house.

East Belfast's Ulster Unionist MLA Andy Allen obtained a breakdown of the number of people across Northern Ireland in receipt of mitigation payments for bedroom tax - otherwise known as Social Sector Size Criteria (SSSC) - from the Department for Communities.

In total, 32,850 individuals receive Welfare Supplementary Payments for SSSC, with the constituency of Belfast North coming out on top with 4,200 and Belfast West just behind on 3,940. Other areas that could be badly affected by the change to mitigation payments include Foyle (3,320), Belfast East (2,000), East Londonderry (1,750) and Belfast South (1,690).

Mr Allen said that if new or amended mitigations are not in place before the end of March 2020 it will lead to individuals and families losing their homes.

"I know some might say if you have a house that is bigger than you require, why stay and incur the charges," said Mr Allen.

"The problem is that there is a clear mismatch in our housing stock, the houses we have simply don't meet the houses we need.

"Even if householders actively try to downsize to what would be deemed a more suitable sized house, often properties of the right size aren't even available."

Figures for Welfare Supplementary Payments for SSSC per Assembly constituency in the rest of Northern Ireland are: North Antrim and West Tyrone (1,660); Upper Bann (1,570); Lagan Valley (1,490); Newry and Armagh (1,370); Fermanagh and South Tyrone (1,320); Strangford (1,310); East Antrim and Mid Ulster (1,150); South Antrim (1,090); South Down (1,050); North Down (1,010) and "unknown" (120).

Mr Allen added that the figures are just one example of why the UUP has called for time-bound talks to restore Stormont and, failing that, he believes Westminster should appoint ministers to make the decisions in Northern Ireland.

"As an MLA, it angers me to witness first-hand my constituents and Northern Ireland being adversely affected," he continued.

"It is simply unacceptable and the Secretary of State [Julian Smith] needs to step up."

However, a spokesperson for the Northern Ireland Office stated that Mr Smith does not have the power to direct the extension of the mitigations - that is a matter for the Civil Service and ultimately a restored Assembly Executive.

"Issues like these are why the Secretary of State wants to see Stormont back up and running as soon as possible so that locally-elected politicians have a say on what is best for the people of Northern Ireland," he added.

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