Water Leak Claims

Oral Answers to Questions — Communities – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:00 pm on 7th December 2020.

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Photo of George Robinson George Robinson DUP 3:00 pm, 7th December 2020

5. Mr Robinson asked the Minister for Communities whether the Northern Ireland Housing Executive or third-party contractors are responsible for paying tenants' claims for goods damaged due to a water leak. (AQO 1276/17-22)

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

I thank the Member for his question. For a payment to be made in a public liability claim, some degree of negligence must be established. Depending on the circumstances giving rise to a water leak, in some cases that negligence may attach to the Housing Executive, while in others it may attach to the contractor. It is also possible that negligence could be established jointly against both the Housing Executive and the contractor. Tenants are advised to have contents insurance in place, but that is not always affordable. The Housing Executive provides useful guidance and information on public liability claims on its website, and I welcome comment on that content from anyone who looks at it.

Photo of George Robinson George Robinson DUP

I thank the Minister for her answer, but will she undertake to ensure that clear guidance is issued to tenants? At present, there is confusion and frustration over the fact that there is no clear pathway for Northern Ireland Housing Executive tenants.

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

I will certainly have another look at it. The Member tells me that it needs cleared up, so I will need to have a look at it. I will write to the chief executive and the chair of the board thereafter. Any guidance on a departmental website needs to be as clear and plain as possible so that people can access the information and services that they need.

Photo of Mike Nesbitt Mike Nesbitt UUP

I wonder whether the Minister can inform the House, either today or in writing, of the average amount paid out in recent years because of damage that is the responsibility of contractors.

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

I will have to respond in writing, because I do not have that information. When responsibility is contested, the situation can become protracted, and it is tenants who are, unfortunately, caught in the middle. I do not think that anyone thinks that is a satisfactory position to be in. I will get the information in writing to the Member.

Photo of Liz Kimmins Liz Kimmins Sinn Féin

Will the Minister advise whether public liability claims against the Housing Executive are a frequent occurrence?

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

For anyone who has been subjected to water damage and leaks, particularly if a contractor has been in, once is enough. As I said to the Member for Strangford, Mr Mike Nesbitt, I will provide the Member with a breakdown of what has happened, even for 2019-2020, and I will share it with Mr Robinson, who asked the listed question, to determine whether the Housing Executive was responsible or the contractor was responsible, and what the outcome was, if any.

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party

I ask the Minister about the importance of updating tenants on their responsibilities to have proper insurance cover for contents and the like. We are coming into really cold weather. We have had a wee sample of it. We do not want people being left literally wet and caught with no cover at all, and their house possibly ruined through flooding or another circumstance that has occurred in their home as a result of poor weather.

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

The Member probably heard what I said at the start of my answer to Mr Robinson. It is about affordability. For many families who are on low income and living in poverty, they are often dealing with a decision either to pay for house insurance or to feed their kids. It is the tenant's responsibility — it is in the tenant's handbook — and housing associations and the Housing Executive constantly remind tenants of it. When you are talking about families living in poverty, however, house insurance is not at the top of their list.