Housing Benefit (Welfare Supplementary Payment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2017

Part of Executive Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 1:00 pm on 16th January 2017.

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Photo of Steven Agnew Steven Agnew Green 1:00 pm, 16th January 2017

I agree once again with the Member. I hope it does not come to that. It was regrettable that we ceded power back to Westminster on welfare reform. I suggest we should not cede any more power by failing the people of Northern Ireland by failing to find a political solution to our current impasse.

My concern — it comes back to the point of what happens post-2020 — is that it was always the intention of the DUP to phase in the bedroom tax. The DUP's purported opposition came late in the day, and, as I said, it was prepared to pass the legislation in this House. Minister Mervyn Storey, at Consideration Stage of the Welfare Reform Bill, said that:

"the Executive have agreed to create a separate fund... that will mitigate the impact of this measure"

— referring to the bedroom tax —

"by protecting existing and future tenants from any reduction in their housing benefit unless there is a significant change in their personal circumstances or they are offered suitable alternative accommodation." [Official Report (Hansard), Bound Volume 101, p489, col 2].

It was the intention of the then Minister still to apply the bedroom tax where people had a change in circumstances or they were offered alternative accommodation. It was not complete opposition; it was not a case of no bedroom tax ever. That is my concern: beyond 2020, the bedroom tax will be introduced to Northern Ireland, as was legislated for by Westminster. It was mitigated for four years, but there is uncertainty beyond that.

I welcome the legislation today to provide temporary protection for those who are vulnerable to the provisions of the bedroom tax. However, the question remains how long this will be mitigated and why we wasted the opportunity to pass bespoke Northern Ireland legislation that would have said no definitively to the bedroom tax. The Green Party continues to oppose welfare cuts and will continue to take every opportunity to do so.