NI shuns Freud's direct payment reforms
Paying housing benefit to landlords will remain the ‘default position’ in Northern Ireland once universal credit is introduced, the housing minister has announced.
Housing minister Nelson McCausland said in the Northern Ireland Assembly this afternoon that following discussions with Westminster’s welfare reform minister Lord Freud, landlords in Northern Ireland would continue to receive the housing benefit part of universal credit directly.
From October 2013, benefit claimants in the rest of the UK will receive their benefits and will be responsible for paying their rent, in a bid to make the welfare system reflect employment.
Mr McCausland said: ‘While being fully committed to social security parity between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, I also recognise that we do have unique circumstances.
‘Traditionally between 80 and 90 per cent of all our housing benefit payments have been made directly to landlords. Now is not the time to make a wholesale change to this arrangement.’
He said that payment to landlords would remain the ‘default position’, with an option for tenants to choose to manage their own payments if they wish.
‘The housing cost element of universal credit will automatically be paid to the landlord rather than the claimant with an opt-out element for those who want it.’
He also said that he had successfully negotiated with the Department for Work and Pensions to alter the IT system used to pay benefits to allow tenants in Northern Ireland to receive their benefits every two weeks, rather than once a month, to help with budgeting.
Northern Ireland will also have longer to prepare for the changes, which will not come in until April 2014.
Cameron Watt, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations, said the minister ‘deserved great credit’ for winning the flexibilities with Westminster.
‘These changes will greatly help limit the impact of welfare reforms on low-income households. Without them, many tenants in Northern Ireland would have been set up to fail under the new system,’ he said.
‘Without these flexibilities, housing associations would also have faced hugely increased administrative costs in individually collecting hundreds of thousands of extra rent payments annually from tenants, compromising their ability to build much-needed new social and affordable homes.’