Northern Ireland

Proposed budget cuts ‘could see £7m slashed from homelessness services’

The Housing Executive is funded by the Department for Communities (Liam McBurney/PA)
The Housing Executive is funded by the Department for Communities (Liam McBurney/PA)

Proposed budget cuts will see more than £7 million slashed from homelessness services, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive has warned.

Departments across Stormont are facing cuts to their budgets and there are estimates that an extra billion is needed to maintain public services at their current level.

The Housing Executive is funded by the Department for Communities.

Responding to the department’s Budget 2023/4 Equality Impact Assessment, the Housing Executive said the proposed cuts will impact households most in need in Northern Ireland.

Chief executive Grainia Long warned of an impact on homelessness as well as the social housing new build programme at a time when demand for housing is at a record high.

“At a time when we need to be building more homes, preventing homelessness and helping those experiencing fuel poverty, the proposed budget would result in substantially fewer social homes started than originally planned for next year, an increase in people needing temporary accommodation and the effective suspension of the boiler replacement scheme,” she said.

Ms Long said the indicative funding of £26.4 million for homelessness services equates to a shortfall of £7.4 million.

“As a consequence, it will be virtually impossible to provide services to prevent homelessness, with the overwhelming proportion of the homelessness budget focused on response,” she said.

“Perversely, failure to fund prevention services will lead to greater numbers living in expensive temporary accommodation, leading to greater budgetary pressures.

“We are extremely concerned that failure to fund homelessness services will lead to job losses in the voluntary and community sectors.”

In terms of the social housing new build programme, Ms Long said a funding requirement of £199.5 million has been identified in order to target 2,000 new social housing starts in 2023/24, to meet housing need.

However she said a funding allocation of between £141.6 million and £159 million is likely, which means substantially fewer homes will be built in 2023/4 than originally planned.

Concern was also voiced at shortfalls in funding for the Affordable Warmth scheme, and it is contended that indicative funding of £148,000 for the Boiler Replacement scheme “effectively closes the scheme to new applicants this year”.

Ms Long also said the proposed budget does not allow for the high cost of goods and materials, contingency planning for emergency situations such as a Covid-19 outbreak or cold snaps during the winter.

“Furthermore, it does not enable us to meet additional numbers presenting as homeless following positive ‘leave to remain’ decisions,” she said.

“The outlined budget in the EQIA and other departments’ current budget announcements will also have a negative impact on the much-needed collaboration across sections such as health, education and justice as well as with partners in the housing sector.

“We have been working closely with the Department of Communities to set out the impact of the budget reductions proposed and today published our response to their EQIA.

“We will of course work to minimise any disruption to services and programmes of work, however, it is our view that the proposed expenditure as it stands will have an adverse impact on the most vulnerable people across Northern Ireland, who are urgently in need of housing services.”