24 February 2015

Question Time: Social Development - Monday 23 February 2015



How does the Social Development Minister plan to help protect people who lose their homes as a result of the ongoing financial crisis. That was the first question asked to the Minister by Mr McCartney, Ms Bradley and Mrs Overend. The Minister stated that " the final report of the housing repossession task force was published on 12 February and outlines a range of recommendations on how existing systems of support can be improved and how people in difficulty can be encouraged to come forward for help earlier. This is an incredibly important area of work, and I am considering how the task force recommendations can be used to make a positive impact for many households affected by this very serious issue.

I plan to publish a formal response to the report shortly, but there are a number of proactive recommendations that I am keen to support. They include continued funding of support for mortgage interest, which assists home owners on certain benefits with mortgage interest payments, allowing them to remain in their own homes; timely assistance from the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, including a homelessness assessment for vulnerable households; and increasing the availability of voluntary exit schemes such as assisted voluntary sales.

Across the United Kingdom, there are signs that the situation is improving, with the number of mortgage approvals increasing and the number of mortgages in arrears decreasing. The task force recommendations aim to improve the situation in Northern Ireland further and help gather the numbers of households that engage proactively with their lenders at an earlier stage".

During Oral Question time the Minister had to answer questions on the affordable warmth scheme and for an update on the progress made in devolving departmental functions to the new local government structures.

Topical Questions to the Minister concentrated mainly on unfit housing in rural Fermanagh and what the Minister is doing to address this and the Minister's Department's assessment of crisis housing need in Strabane and in some parts of Omagh, given the overall social housing stress needs in West Tyrone.