Thursday, 19 January 2017

NIHE rent freeze confirmed

The 90,000-home Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) is to freeze rents for one year while the government conducts a review of rent policy.

Lord Maurice Morrow, minister for social development, has also recommended that housing associations in Northern Ireland freeze their rents.

The move follows measures in the welfare Reform and Work Bill, which is going through parliament, to force all English social landlords to cut their rents by 1% annually for four years.

It is understood that George Osborne’s Treasury had been pressuring the devolved governments to take measures to lower social housing rents following the policy in England.

A spokesperson from the Department for Social Development (DSD), which has powers to approve NIHE rent policies, said: “The department can confirm that the minister [Lord Morrow] has frozen Northern Ireland Housing Executive rents at their current level while the department considers a rent policy for Northern Ireland. 

“The minister has also recommended that housing associations also freeze their rents.”

Inside Housing understands that the NIHE, which owns and manages 89,000 homes, had asked the DSD to approve a rent increase for 2016/17, but this was rejected by Lord Morrow. The rent increase would have funded much of its planned maintenance work.

Paddy Gray, a housing academic and former Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) president, said the move would lead to cutbacks in millions of pounds of planned social housing maintenance spend.

“There’s a major amount of investment that’s required in the Housing Executive’s stock,” he said. “It’s going to have a serious effect on the current stock.”

NIHE rents in 2015/16 increased by 4.85%, bringing average rents to £66.60 a week.The NIHE’s total rental income for 2014/15 was £288m, up from £278m the previous year.

The body says its rents remain around £20 a week less than the average rent for similar local authority accommodation in England.

John Swinney, Scotland’s deputy first minister, warned in November that Treasury officials were planning to cut Scotland’s budget if social landlords did not reduce their rents in line with England.

In December, the Welsh Government decided against imposing a social housing rent cut, following a review.

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