Welfare Reform: Northern Ireland’s Executive Acts While Scotland’s Hands Tied
Published by SFHA for Scottish Federation Of Housing Associations in Housing
The Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) has called for greater flexibility in the introduction of welfare reforms after Northern Ireland’s Social Development Minister secured key concessions from the UK Government this week.
Unlike in the rest of Britain, tenants in Northern Ireland’s housing associations, Housing Executive, and private rented homes will now be able to continue to have housing costs paid directly to their landlord when Universal Credit is introduced.
The introduction of Universal Credit in Northern Ireland will now take place from April 2014 rather than October 2013 as had been originally planned, allowing them more time to prepare for implementation In addition, the payment of Universal Credit may be split between two parties in the household and be payable twice each month.
The current constitutional settlement however, means Scotland does not have the powers to replicate the Northern Irish changes, which the SFHA and others believe will be financial damaging to both tenants and social landlords.
Research undertaken by SFHA shows:
Changes to housing benefit could cost households in the housing association & co-operative sector at least £220 million by 2016-17, and put at risk social landlords’ efforts to improve existing home sand build new ones. (1)In Scotland, the last five years have seen housing benefit expenditure increase by 76% for on private rents, compared to just a 10% increase for tenants renting from councils or housing associations. (2)It would make sense for the whole benefits system to be devolved to Scotland, to better manage housing, employment and welfare issues in the round. (3)
SFHA Policy Manager David Ogilvie said:
“Given that 96% of tenants in receipt of housing benefit currently have it paid directly to their landlord, naturally we and our members are very interested in the arrangement which has been made between the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the Northern Ireland Executive. However, Northern Ireland has only really been able to do this because they already had powers over welfare policy, which sadly Holyrood doesn’t.
“In her evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Welfare Reform Committee earlier this week, Nicola Sturgeon commented that if anything then this development perhaps strengthens the case for Scottish independence or getting further powers for Holyrood, but it doesn’t offer anything more than that in the immediate or short term and certainly not under the current constitutional arrangements.
“Though we may wish for Holyrood to replicate the arrangements in Northern Ireland, the fact is that we can’t do much more than envy the concessions they’ve negotiated, although we hope that Scottish Ministers will use the fact that Northern Ireland has won this concession as further leverage in their on-going discussions with the DWP.”
SFHA’s sister body in Northern Ireland also welcomed the move.
Cameron Watt, Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations (NIFHA) said:
“Social Development Minister McCausland deserves great credit for winning these flexibilities on welfare reform. In spite of the strong cross-party consensus in Northern Ireland on the need for a different approach from GB to reflect our particular circumstances, Ministers in London were pushing for a uniform system across the UK. However the Minister has listened to the strong case made by NIFHA and welfare groups and delivered for Northern Ireland.
“These changes will greatly help limit the impact of welfare reforms on low-income households. Without them, many tenants in Northern Ireland would have been set up to fail under the new system.
“Without these flexibilities, housing associations would also have faced hugely increased administrative costs in individually collecting hundreds of thousands of extra rent payments annually from tenants, compromising their ability to build much-needed new social and affordable homes.
“These flexibilities will therefore protect hard-pressed tenants, help safeguard the financial viability of social landlords and maximise future private investment to build homes and refurbish the existing stock.”
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For more about the Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations visit http://www.nifha.org/
The Impact of Welfare Reform on Housing Associations and Co-operatives in Scotland, July 2012, http://www.sfha.co.uk/component/option,com_docman/Itemid,82/gid,2393/task,doc_download/
The SFHA’s full research paper Housing Benefit: Busting the Myths is available on our website HERE http://www.sfha.co.uk/component/option,com_docman/Itemid,37/gid,2542/task,doc_download/
Devolving Housing Benefit: A Discussion Paper ( Chartered Institute of Housing Scotland and Scottish Federation of Housing Associations) http://www.ink-tank.co.uk/CIH_dhb/CIH_dhb.html
There are around 335,000 households on housing association and co-operative housing lists for affordable rented housing in Scotland. Scottish Government (2011), Housing Statistics for Scotland, Available at http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2011/08/30084023/1#chartten
2013-14 Budget Evidence – SFHA available on our website here http://www.sfha.co.uk/component/option,com_docman/Itemid,37/gid,2476/task,doc_download/
The SFHA was established in 1976 and has around 170 members providing affordable housing and wider community services in Scotland, as well as a further 200 commercial members. The SFHA is owned by its membership and exists to support the work of housing associations and co-operatives in Scotland by providing services, advice and good practice guidance.The SFHA is the voice of the principal builders and managers of new affordable housing for rent in Scotland. Housing Associations own and manage around 40% of the country’s affordable rented housing stock, over a quarter of a million homes across Scotland.Housing associations and co-operatives are not-for-profit bodies regulated by the Scottish Housing Regulator.