McCarthy slams Social Development Department on housing benefit chaos

Alliance Chief Whip Kieran McCarthy MLA has blasted the confusion caused by the Social Development Department and the Housing Executive over direct housing benefit payments to landlords. He stated that he had in his possession, a letter clearly stating that from 1 April 2008, the system will change, and housing benefits will be paid to tenants instead of landlords. He raised this important issue during the Welfare Reform Bill debate last Tuesday in the Assembly and the matter will be tackled again today in the chamber.

Opposition MLA, Mr McCarthy, said: “I have in my possession a letter informing landlords of a change regarding who will receive housing benefit payments. I quizzed the Minister, Margaret Ritchie, about it in the Assembly and she said that no decision has yet been made on this matter, even though I have notification of this policy change in writing.

“The decision obviously has been made already, over the head of the Minister, by the Housing Executive. This is a total embarrassment for both the Department of Social Development and the Housing Executive.

“The Minister told me that no change would be made to this policy until the Social Development Committee had their say on it. Confusion now reigns on this issue, and this confusion could lead to chaos within the housing sector.

“It appears that the Housing Executive has usurped powers of Minister, and this has created total uncertainty over housing benefit payments. This policy change could potentially result in tenant evictions and a rise in homelessness locally.

“The Minister must provide clarification on this issue and resolve this ridiculous episode urgently.”


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