Focus on welfare reform agenda

Simon Community Northern Ireland is a charity that supports people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.  The organisation is committed to its vision of ‘ending homelessness’.

Simon Community NI welcomes the intention to simplify the benefits system and improve incentives to make work pay. However, the organisation is unconvinced, as to whether this can be achieved in practice, given the enormity and potential negative impact of the changes, the housing market and the economic climate. 
Carol O’Bryan, Chief Executive of the organisation, said: “Our top concern is how changes may impact on our clients. Both individually and accumulatively, these measures will lead to increased rent arrears and risk of homelessness.

“We are particularly apprehensive about certain issues such as how separated fathers will have access to their children without appropriate accommodation, what will happen to potential vacant housing as a result of the under-occupancy changes and how  individuals  will be supported to  manage their universal credit payments.

“It is imperative that we continue ensuring that our organisation aims to lessen the impact of these changes. We have established a project board to review information available and consider what our response should be through all aspects of our business, including service development and delivery.”

The organisation argues that housing benefit reforms are the most radical elements of these changes. Changes already in operation include altering how the rates of local housing allowance are determined, capping the bedroom size of properties, removing the £15 excess payment and raising the age for which the shared room rate applies to under 35s.

Additional measures yet to come into force include restricting housing benefit for those who under occupy their property and the uprating of Local Housing allowance rates by the consumer price index.

Simon Community Northern Ireland believes it is appropriate to tailor a Northern Ireland approach to limit the effect of the measures that will disproportionately impact on Northern Ireland and we look forward to working closely with the Northern Ireland Assembly on this important task.

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