Ulster Unionist Welfare spokesperson Michael Copeland MLA has said the revelation that there has been no major increase in the number of planning applications for one and two bedroom social housing units exposes the myth that the Social Development Minister has taken action to offset the potentially detrimental consequences the Welfare Reform Bill.
The East Belfast Representative said;
Under the Welfare Reform Bill as it currently stands, working age households in social housing that are considered to have more bedrooms than they need will have their housing benefit cut by 14 per cent a week for ‘under-occupying’ by one bedroom and 25 per cent for under-occupying by two bedrooms or more. Whilst the Department is right to try to place people in housing which best reflects their individual needs, there is a problem in Northern Ireland in that we simply do not have enough one or two bedroom properties for people to downsize if they wish to do so.’
“I recently questioned the Environment Minister whether there has been any increase in planning applications for one or two bedroom properties. His response was worrying because not only did he reveal there has been no change in the type of units being applied for, there was in fact a small reduction in the number of all planning applications for social housing developments. As of mid-November 2012, when I last attained the figures which will be affected, the Minister informed me that there are currently 32,430 working age tenants within social housing which are considered to be under-occupying.’
“This bedroom tax is not only regrettable due to Minister McCausland’s failure to take any of the actions which are within his gift to address the consequences, but also because there are a number of major anomalies within the proposals. How will this affect divorced or single parents with part-time access to their children? Whilst a second bedroom is necessary to accommodate them when they are staying overnight, under the current proposals single parents in these circumstances will still be considered to be under-occupying if they have more than one bedroom.’
“The failure of the Department to take proactive steps to address what I believe will be a crisis within social housing is a damning indictment on Minister McCausland’s own judgment and ability to demonstrate foresight, as well as that of his senior Departmental Officials. What makes the situation all the more preposterous is the fact that there will be an £8million underspend in the Social Housing Development Programme in the current financial year. Never before have I seen such a contemptuous approach being taken to such an important issue.’
“The revelation further demonstrates that neither Nelson McCausland or the DUP are willing to accept that real work needs to be undertaken before Welfare Reform is introduced; either that or they simply don’t care.