Fivefold surge in homes hit by 'bedroom tax' in Northern Ireland
THE number of homes in Northern Ireland hit by the 'bedroom tax' has increased fivefold in the past year – despite Stormont pledges to prevent the controversial welfare cut.
Top-up payments to mitigate against the cut ended for 54 housing benefit claimants in the period between April and September, new figures show.
It brings the total number in the north who are no longer receiving the top-ups to 175 – five times more than the 35 affected at the same point last year.
The controversial British government policy – dubbed the 'bedroom tax' – sees housing benefit claimants have their payments reduced if their home is deemed to have more bedrooms than they need.
In Northern Ireland, mitigation measures were passed before Stormont's collapse so that claimants have their benefits topped up from a separate fund.
The funding was supposed to protect people from being financially worse off due to the bedroom tax until 2020.
However under the provisions, people stop receiving the extra money if they move to another Housing Executive or housing association property that has the same or more bedrooms than their previous home.
The payments are cut unless the claimant has 'management transfer status' due to issues such as being intimidated out of their home.
SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon urged all Stormont parties to work together to tackle the "escalating" issue "especially before the cliff edge in 2020 when the current mitigation package runs out".
"Come 2020, 34,000 households will be hit by the bedroom tax causing unprecedented despair, debt and homelessness. An executive and an assembly could act to protect these families," she said.
The 'bedroom tax' was introduced in Britain in 2013 and came into force in Northern Ireland in February last year. It applies to tenants in Housing Executive or housing association houses.
Funding to mitigate against it was pledged in 2016 under the 'Fresh Start' deal between the DUP and Sinn Féin, after the party pulled out of the earlier Stormont House deal in 2015.
Sinn Féin had initially claimed the Stormont House measures would protect "current and future" claimants, but amid criticism walked away saying it wasn't what they thought they had agreed to.
Ms Mallon, a North Belfast MLA, hit out at the "repeated false promises made to people by Sinn Féin and the DUP that no-one would have to pay the bedroom tax".
Sinn Féin has previously insisted it is "totally opposed to the Tory bedroom tax", saying the party has informed Stormont civil servants they are "absolutely opposed to the decision to impose this tax on a small number of households".