Northern Ireland news

Trebling of households hit by 'bedroom tax' in Northern Ireland

The SDLP's Nichola Mallon, and inset, how The Irish News reported on the 'bedroom tax' hitting the north
Brendan Hughes

THE number of homes in Northern Ireland hit by the 'bedroom tax' has more than trebled in six months – despite Stormont pledges to prevent the controversial welfare cut.

Top-up payments to mitigate against the cut ended for 86 housing benefit claimants in the period between October and March.

It comes after The Irish News revealed last October the bedroom tax had arrived in the north, as it emerged 35 claimants were no longer receiving the top-ups.

The controversial British government policy 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 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, who received the details in a letter from the Department for Communities, expressed concern over the impact.

"The latest official figures from the Department for Communities show that the number of households being hit with the bedroom tax across the north has more than trebled in a few short months, with people in West Belfast worst hit," she said.

"More and more individuals and families already struggling to make ends meet will be forced to pay this tax on any spare bedroom in their home."

The constituencies most affected in the six months to March were West Belfast, where supplementary payments ended for 15 claimants; South Belfast with 13 claimants impacted; and Foyle with eight.

The tax was introduced in Britain back 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 November 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 was not what they thought they had agreed to.

Ms Mallon, an MLA for North Belfast, added: "Sinn Féin and the DUP jointly promised people no-one would have to pay the bedroom tax.

"The question these 89 households will rightly want answered is why were they misled?"

The DUP and Sinn Féin did not respond yesterday, but a Sinn Féin spokesman last year said the party is "totally opposed to the Tory bedroom tax".

"That is why we provided a £585m fund to mitigate the impact of Tory welfare cuts," he said.

"We have made our position known to the department and we are absolutely opposed to the decision to impose this tax on a small number of households."

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