As the Member for South Antrim will be aware, the responsibility for housing matters rests with the Minister for Social Development. With regard to actions to address house repossessions, the Department for Social Development (DSD) recently submitted a business case for a mortgage-rescue package. That will be assessed to ensure that it represents value for money and is affordable.
I have not found the money to fund the scheme, because the business case for it was submitted so recently; the Member needs to take that up with the Minister for Social Development. As he is as keen as I am on the mortgage-rescue scheme, he will want the Department that is advocating it to treat it as a priority. I expect the Department that is responsible for housing matters to put resources into the mortgage-rescue scheme, as, I am sure, does Mr Burns. He cannot expect my Department to treat the scheme as a priority, if the Department for Social Development does not give it priority. That stands to reason.
Those matters will be considered when the business case has been assessed properly. Like all business cases, it will be assessed to establish whether the scheme will be effective and offers value for money. Those discussions are continuing, and, no doubt, the case will be processed in due course.
In answer to the Member’s question, the business case was received so recently that it would have been improper to do anything before it was subject to due process.
The question that I answered previously related to possible assistance from the Executive, and that money will come out of public finances and public resources. There are, therefore, other competing demands and pressures on those, so it is important that the banks, building societies and other financial institutions do their bit for households and people who are facing difficulties at this time.
Times are difficult, and money is tight for people. Public bodies, such as the Rate Collection Agency, are discovering that in their efforts to collect money. Therefore we have to be sensitive to those issues.
I am aware that actions have been taken at a UK level and that new protocols are being considered by the courts in relation to showing that certain actions have been taken by lenders before an order for repossession — which is the ultimate recourse — is given. Those new protocols also state that there should be a minimum time before orders are sought. There is a duty on us all — not least on financial institutions such as banks and building societies — to do what we can to help those who face difficulties as a result of the severe challenges that confront us all.
I thank the Minister for his very detailed responses and for outlining some of the actions that are being taken. Everyone in the Chamber is alarmed at the frightening increase in the rate of repossessions in Northern Ireland. Given his discussions with representatives of banks and building societies, can the Minister confirm what feedback he has received from those organisations? Will the Minister outline whether there are any actions beyond his remit that other Ministers can take to help him to stop repossessions?
The Member’s question relates to the first question about whether I could provide more money to fund the Government-run mortgage rescue scheme, but I do not provide such money; the Executive do. Therefore, if other Ministers feel that this is an important issue that should be made a priority, no doubt they will want to contribute some of the finances from their budgets to schemes providing help and assistance. It will be interesting to see whether other Ministers attach the same importance to the issue.
The Member asked what else is being done. Earlier, I referred to actions that are being taken at a UK level. The homeowner mortgage-support scheme enables households that experience a significant but temporary loss of income to defer a portion of interest payments on their mortgage for up to two years. The Government will guarantee the deferred interest payment in return for banks’ participation in the scheme.
The support for mortgage interest scheme entitles homeowners on income support, income-based jobseekers allowance or income-based employment and support allowance to support on their mortgage interest payments after 13 weeks. Some of the details of those schemes are still being worked through at a UK level, but those measures will be helpful, as will some of the other actions that I mentioned. In our discussions the importance of ensuring that consideration be given to people who are suffering temporary but severe difficulties in paying mortgages was impressed upon the banks and other financial institutions.