Press Release

Social housing arrears exceed £20 million

Session: 2009/2010

Date: Thursday, 05 November 2009

Reference: PAC 03/09/10

Rent arrears of nearly £21 million in the social housing sector have been highlighted in a report released today by the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee. The arrears are owed to the NI Housing Executive (NIHE) and the Housing Associations, which collect some £350 million in rent annually.

Speaking at the launch of the report, Paul Maskey MLA, Chairperson of the Committee, said: “There are serious implications for the social housing sector in failing to collect rental income, particularly in this difficult economic climate. First and foremost, without this income the NIHE and the Housing Associations may not be able to provide essential services, such as maintenance, to their tenants.

“The key to controlling rent arrears is to prevent them from occurring in the first place. We found that the NIHE has been very slow to introduce measures designed to maximise rental income. For example, a direct debit facility will not be in place for rent payments until 2010.

The Committee found that only one of NIHE’s 73 corporate targets relates to rent arrears. This target simply requires that the overall level of arrears does not deteriorate year-on-year. Meeting this target in the five years up to March 2007 was only possible because NIHE wrote off £10.6 million of rent debt. When examined against a broader range of relevant indicators, deficiencies in NIHE’s performance can clearly be seen. This underlines the need for more comprehensive performance reporting and a more stretching set of corporate targets in this area.

Mr Maskey concluded: “Until recently, the Department for Social Development’s oversight of Housing Associations has been weak. More recently, the Department has made progress in improving its regulatory activities. However, it must do more to share information and to identify and promote best practice developments across the whole social housing sector.”


Notes to Editors:

1. NIHE and Associations had arrears of £14m and £7 million respectively.
2. The report details that, in NIHE alone, the level of serious arrears (defined as tenants owing more than £1,000) at September 2008 was £5.6 million. Acknowledged deficiencies in NIHE information systems make it difficult to establish how much of the arrears relates to true rent arrears and how much to Housing Benefit overpayment. However, the NIHE reported to the Committee that the very high value cases all related to benefit overpayment or fraud.

3. Standing Orders under Section 60(3) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 provide for the establishment of the Public Accounts Committee (the Committee). The main statutory function of the Committee is to consider accounts and the reports on accounts laid before the Northern Ireland Assembly.

4. The C&AG is head of the Northern Ireland Audit Office (NIAO) and lays his reports on accounts and efficiency before the Assembly. The C&AG is empowered to investigate any area of public expenditure and to access all relevant files in Departments and public bodies in carrying out his investigations.

5. The PAC Committee members are:-


Mr Trevor Lunn

Democratic Unionist Party

Mr Jim Shannon 6

Mr Jonathan Craig

Mr David Hilditch 7,10

Rt Hon Jeffrey Donaldson 3,4,5,9

Sinn Fein

Mr Paul Maskey (Chairperson) 2

Mr Mitchel McLaughlin

Social Democratic and Labour Party

Mr John Dallat
Mr Patsy McGlone 1,8

Ulster Unionist Party

Mr Roy Beggs (Deputy Chairperson)

Progressive Unionist Party

Ms Dawn Purvis

1 With effect from 04 March 2008 Mr Thomas Burns replaced Mr Patsy McGlone.
2 With effect from 20 May 2008 Mr Paul Maskey replaced Mr John O'Dowd.
3 With effect from 1 October 2007 Mr Mickey Brady replaced Mr Willie Clarke.
4 With effect from 21 January 2008 Mr Ian McCrea replaced Mr Mickey Brady.
5 With effect from Tuesday 27 May 08 Mr Jim Wells replaced Mr Ian McCrea.
6 With effect from Monday, 15 September 08 Mr Jim Shannon replaced Mr David Hilditch.
7 With effect from Monday, 15 September 08 Mr George Robinson replaced Mr Simon Hamilton.
8 With effect from 29 June 2009, Mr Patsy McGlone replaced Mr Thomas Burns.
9 with effect from 18 September 2009 Rt Hon Jeffrey Donaldson replaced Mr Jim Wells.
10 with effect from 18 September 2009 Mr David Hilditch replaced Mr George Robinson.

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