NI plan to reverse reclassification of housing associations
Northern Ireland communities minister, Paul Givan, has launched a consultation on the legislative changes needed to ensure housing associations remain as independent social enterprises.
In September 2016, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) announced that housing associations in Northern Ireland, alongside in Scotland and Wales, would be reclassified to the public sector – a decision which has the potential to significantly reduce the amount of money available for new social housing.
The Northern Ireland Executive has charged the Department for Communities with bringing forward proposals on how current housing legislation can be amended so that the ONS decision can be reversed.
Launching the consultation, minister Givan said: “This is a very technical consultation as it sets out my Department’s proposals to amend current housing legislation and policy to facilitate a reversal of the recent ONS decision. It is vital for the future delivery of social housing in Northern Ireland.
“Currently, housing associations in Northern Ireland are the only organisations that build new social homes. They do this with significant investment from the Executive through my Department and by being able to draw down private finance – as they sit outside of Government. If the ONS decision is not reversed, budgeting rules would limit the funding available for building new social and affordable housing as this would all have to funded from the public purse. That is not a realistic or sustainable position in the current economic climate.”
The consultation document sets out the implications for the social and affordable housing sector if the ONS decision is not reversed and also how tenants’ rights and the public interest would be safeguarded if the Department’s proposals are implemented.
Minister Givan added: “The Northern Ireland Executive has charged my Department with bringing forward proposals on how current housing legislation can be amended so that the ONS decision can be reversed. This document provides outline proposals for how that will be approached. I would welcome views on this important consultation.”
Finance minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir added: “It is imperative that our Housing Associations have clarity on their status to allow them to take strategic decisions on social housing investment. This is a critically important issue for us all and the Executive will do all it can to create that clarity.”
The consultation period will run from 8 December 2016 – 8 February 2017.
In Scotland, a new Housing Amendment (Scotland) Bill was mooted to classify Registered Social Landlords (RSLs) as public bodies, just days after the ONS decision.