SDLP Housing Spokesperson Mark H Durkan MLA has called for increased housing costs for Universal Credit claimants currently in the private rented sector. A reply to his Assembly question on the matter revealed that almost 32,000 private renters are facing shortfalls between their rent and the amount of housing costs they receive.
The Foyle MLA commented:
“The response from the Communities Minister makes for stark reading. It is a marked failure of the Universal Credit system that 88%, the vast majority of people in receipt of Local Housing Allowance, have to make up the remainder of their rent payment.
“Almost 32,000 claimants are impacted by these shortfalls which are very significant - with some households out of pocket to the tune of £139 per month. That represents money stripped from already struggling individuals and families, better spent on putting food on the table and heating their homes.
“It needs to be noted that the Private Rented Sector in Northern Ireland is the fastest growing across these islands with the housing crisis and social housing supply issues, pushing more and more people into private rented properties. Existing issues will only be compounded post-pandemic. We need a system that serves its intended purpose of supporting people.
“While I appreciate that help may be available through the Discretionary Support Housing Payment Scheme, the reality is that many claimants are still out of pocket, forced to cover the shortfall. These figures highlight the extent to which low-income private renters face huge affordability issues, despite the Local Housing Allowance rate being realigned to the 30th percentile. This is particularly concerning given that rents continue to rise and LHA rate has been frozen yet again in April.
“While efforts were made by the Communities Minister to add a layer of protection for private tenants from evictions during Covid, it does not go far enough. We must ensure all tenants feel secure in their tenure and most importantly can access affordable housing. All departments should be working together to provide the best possible support for people at this challenging time.”