Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Northern Irish politicians to debate meeting £17m cost of unpopular measure

Northern Ireland rejects bedroom tax

Politicians from Northern Ireland’s four biggest political parties will recommend the rejection of the ‘bedroom tax’.

Representatives from the Democratic Unionist Party, Sinn Fein, the Social Democratic and Labour Party and the Ulster Unionist Party have confirmed they will attempt to scrap the introduction of a cut in housing benefit for social tenants with spare rooms during a debate later this month.

On 16 April Northern Irish members of the legislative assembly will debate whether to implement reforms in line with changes made in Westminster via the country’s own Welfare Reform Bill.

The country must draw up its own welfare reform agenda because the specific decision-making power for benefits is devolved.

Legislation is usually tabled in line with Westminster’s policies. Northern Ireland has been expected to implement the bedroom tax, which came into effect across Britain on Monday, but because the Department for Work and Pensions is cutting the housing benefit available to the country it is likely to cost the Northern Ireland around £17 million each year.

Westminster would expect the Northern Irish Government to fund the shortfall. Housing organisations have calculated that two thirds of social tenants in Northern Ireland will be hit by the penalty.

Michael Copeland, an Ulster Unionist politician, said: ‘We have an amendment which states the Northern Ireland Executive should fund £17 million to plug the cost of the bedroom tax and not implement it now.’

Alex Maskey, Sinn Fein representative for south Belfast, said he would be willing to make a ‘petition of concern’ to block implementationof the bedroom tax, meaning that legislation will only be passed if supported by a 60 per cent majority, including at least 40 per cent of each of the nationalist and unionist members present and voting.

Simon Hamilton, a member of the Democratic Unionist Party which has the most seats in the assembly, has expressed concern that the tax will hit Northern Irish tenants disproportionately hard, while Mark Durkan, SDLP spokesperson for welfare, said the bedroom tax is ‘immoral’.

Cameron Watt, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations, said: ‘There’s unity across the political spectrum that this policy would be damaging and that we wouldn’t want it in Northern Ireland.’

Research conducted by NIFHA found that the bedroom tax would cost landlords £20 million – £3 million more than the intended savings.

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