Northern Ireland news

DUP has blocked welfare plans 39 times, communities minister says

Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey

THE DUP has blocked plans to extend welfare mitigations in Northern Ireland 39 times, the communities minister has said.

Deirdre Hargey asked to address her department's scrutiny committee at short notice yesterday morning to explain that she had been "continually blocked" and was now running out of time to introduce much-needed legislation.

The legislation aims to help people affected by the 'bedroom tax' - a reduction in housing benefit for people who live in social housing with one or more spare bedrooms.

Ms Hargey accused First Minister Paul Givan of blocking her plans and said they need Executive approval before they can be put before the assembly.

The bedroom tax was due to be introduced to Northern Ireland in 2017 but the assembly agreed to fund a mitigation scheme.

Mitigations, which come as a top-up payment to benefit claimants, had been due to end in March 2020 but were extended temporarily.

Ms Hargey said yesterday she had made 39 requests and sent 12 letters to the Executive Office, plus additional letters to other executive ministers, asking for her plans to be tabled by the Executive.

"It has been continually blocked, and I don't say that lightly," she said.

"The paper has been ready for well over a year. The legislation is ready."

She added: "The blockage is clear... in the Executive Office it's with the DUP."

Ms Hargey said the Executive had already been told that the legislation was due to be progressed in this assembly mandate.

She said legislation was needed to protect "thousands of families" who are impacted by the bedroom tax.

"So I do I think it's disgraceful that despite me having the paper in well over 18 months ago, the money is in place, the legislation is ready, that that has still not reached the Executive agenda for decision," she said.

"People may now have different opinions or views in terms of the paper that I have presented but democracy should take place and that should be decided at the Executive table."

The DUP supports the extension of the welfare mitigation measures for three years. However, the party is unhappy that the proposed legislation does not include an end date for the measures.

Ms Hargey said her legislation had not included an end date because "we're going to bring people to another cliff edge in three years' time if we put an end date of three years".

DUP committee member Paul Frew accused Ms Hargey of "playing politics" with he issue.

"Why would you not pursue a Bill that had a three-year period contained within it, which then could be enacted on and built upon by a new minister, depending on the fiscal arrangements and environment at that time?" he asked.

But Ms Hargey said she had worked for 18 months to reach agreement.

"I don't agree with Tory ideology - we have broken parity (with Britain over welfare) and I think it's good we have," she said.

A loophole means that a social housing tenant will no longer receive a mitigation payment if they move to a new property.

The committee heard that, according to figures collated in May, more than 800 people have been hit by these loopholes.

The committee agreed to write to the Executive asking for Ms Hargey's plan to be put on the agenda to allow ministers to make a decision.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

Northern Ireland news