Social Development Minister, Mervyn Storey, provided his assessment of the current process for allocating social housing during today’s Question Time. The current selection scheme has been in place since 2000 but the preceding Social Development Minister decided a fundamental review was in order and has now been taken forward by the Department in close discussion with the Housing Executive and the Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations. The Minister declared “it is clear from this review that there is strong support for many aspects of the current scheme. However, it is also clear that, after 15 years in operation, the scheme may benefit from some changes to make it operationally more effective.” The Department commissioned independent research that has now been discussed and used to propose changes to the system – “I am of the view that changes are needed to the current scheme to ensure that those in the greatest objective need are prioritised and to ensure that the common waiting list operates smoothly and effectively to enable those who are in the greatest housing need to access accommodation.” Mr Storey continues to give consideration to the proposals and to ensure that they will result in positive changes. Any proposals will be presented to the Social Development Committee as soon as possible.
The Minister then discussed the delivery of the Affordable Warmth Scheme across each council area. The affordable warmth scheme is a new and innovative approach to tackling fuel poverty in Northern Ireland. The scheme is delivered in partnership with the 11 local councils and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. All 11 councils have shown full commitment to the scheme and, as well as assessing homes for affordable warmth, they have been able to introduce other council services such as home safety checks. The scheme focuses on helping those in most urgent need. As such the targeted nature of the scheme means that there is no need to take any additional measures to maximise take-up as local councils have extensive lists of potentially eligible homes to visit. Almost £9m in funding has been approved for the scheme. While the Minister acknowledged that the processing of applications is taking longer than anticipated, he assured that a review has taken place to streamline the process and speed up delivery.
During Question Time the Minister also answered questions on the regeneration of Queen’s Parade in Bangor, public realm improvements in Lagan Valley and the Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme. During the topical question period the minister continued to answer questions on welfare reform, the redevelopment of Portrush and the Royal Exchange Project.