Social housing arrears exceed £20 million

Session: 2009/2010

Date: 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.”

ENDS

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