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5 November 2014

Committee Talks Housing With Private Tenants' Forum

The Northern Ireland Assembly has been committed for some time to make Committee sittings more accessible to the public by having meetings outside Parliament buildings and in venues where local people and interested groups can attend. 

As part of this commitment, the Committee for Social Development recently held its meeting at the Housing Rights Service in Belfast, where agenda items included a briefing from the Social Security Agency on improving benefit uptake and from departmental officials on the Fundamental Review of Social Housing Allocations Policy. This particular review seeks to ensure that current ways to access the social housing waiting list and the allocation of social housing is fit for purpose. 

Following the meeting, Members took the opportunity to walk around the offices of the Housing Rights Service, view the facilities, chat to staff about their work and hear more about the issues and problems they deal with on a daily basis. Members were particularly keen to learn more about the work staff are doing to tackle housing problems and the growing issue of local homelessness.  

The Committee also met with the Private Tenants' Forum (PTF), a group of volunteers supported by the Housing Rights Service which aims to address issues specifically affecting tenants in the private rental sector. Members of the PTF talked about how private rental here is often viewed as a fall-back or secondary option, but with more effective regulation, the sector could be a much more desirable option for people looking for a home. Committee members were able to have a first look at a recent video produced by the PTF and the Housing Rights Service which provides advice and helpful tips to first time renters.

Members of the PTF also discussed the range of issues currently affecting private renters such as the lack of assurance around security of tenure, the requirement for large deposits to be paid upfront and other unanticipated costs. Committee members were also keen to hear more about the PTF ‘Mystery Shopper’ (PDF) report on the hidden costs of renting here.

The discussion also touched on how successful private rental sector regulation has proven to be in Scotland and how similar regulations could benefit people here. 
Committee members commended on the very positive work being undertaken by the Private Tenants' Forum, and noted that their contribution towards recognising and working to protect the rights of private renters was invaluable. 

You can find out more about the Committee for Social Development, its remit and its current forward work programme here.

Committee Members pictured with members of the Private Tenants' Forum
Micky Brady MLA, Deputy Chairperson; Bridget Mateer; Jan Branch; Serge Tagro;
Fra Mccann MLA; Brigitte Anton; Tracey McKeating, Stewart Dickson MLA;
Alex Maskey MLA Chairperson.
The Committee meet with staff from the Housing Rights Service
The Committee meet with the Private Tenants' Forum