Belfast Telegraph

Urgent decisions on welfare and housing required: UUP MLA

By Noel McAdam

Crunch decisions on welfare reform and housing are in limbo as a result of the ongoing Stormont stalemate, it has been claimed.

The political crisis has hit an intended review of the points system for allocating Housing Executive homes which is no longer "fit for purpose," a senior Ulster Unionist MLA said yesterday.

Plans for mitigation measures on the new Universal Credit system and a green light for building new social homes are also in abeyance because of the lack of ministers, according to Andy Allen.

The MLA's comments came after a meeting with Department of Communities permanent secretary, Leo O'Reilly, and other senior officials across a range of issues.

It was the first in a series of meetings planned by the UUP with departments which have now been operating for more than six months without ministers at the head.

Mr Allen said: "There is no word of a date for the negotiations beginning. There is no sign of a date. Things have come to a halt."

His comments came as the Northern Ireland Office was unable to confirm whether there have been any meetings with the main parties involved in the talks over the last week.

Following his meeting with the senior Department of Communities team, Mr Allen said: "They look to be under pressure. They are more in limbo than anything else.

"Basically, they are managing to keep the ship afloat, but the point is rapidly approaching where urgent decisions are needed."

The go-ahead is needed for building more than 250 social homes and the programme for new sports stadia in the province also needs a ministerial say-so.

Mr Allen said the department intends to push ahead with a pilot scheme as part of the roll-out of Universal Credit - which replaces six existing benefits - in the Limavady area next month.

"There were some concerns about computers being able to handle the new scheme, but they have been assured by the Department of Work and Pensions in London that these have been sorted out," he added.

"Housing and welfare are issues affecting many thousands of people in our society and they simply cannot be allowed to drift any longer."

Belfast Telegraph


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