Faults within the Housing-Executive’s benefit system are a major cause of concern. Over the last few months, the IRSP has engaged in numerous cases wherein Housing Executive and housing association tenants have been threatened with eviction as a result of accruing arrears.
Part-time workers, in receipt of benefits, face automatic housing-benefit reassessments at each and every change of their circumstances. Monthly changes to what tenants must pay on-top of their housing benefit are creating an escalating problem that will only be added to by universal credit and other austerity measures now due as part of the unfolding Fresh Start Agreement.
Lower Falls IRSP representative Michael Kelly, who has been heavily involved with local housing issues said, ‘’We have liaised with both the Housing Executive and various housing associations on behalf of several tenants recently. Worryingly we have been told that housing officers are facing pressure from their management to pursue evictions in cases of increasing arrears. Rent arrears are often increasing due to faults within the system, as opposed to being a result of tenant failings.”
The Housing-benefit system is linked to the over-all benefit system. Ciaran Cunningham of the IRSP in Belfast told us that, ‘’If, for example, a person working 16 hours per week, has their hours changed or receives an increase or decrease in their working tax credits, then that change in hours, or increase/decrease in tax-credits is deemed as a change of circumstances, and because everything is computerised, an automatic reassessment of housing benefit begins.”
These reassessments determine that tenants are often oblivious to the amount which they must pay in order to clear their rent and arrears weekly. In cases whereby tenants in arrears are defaulting because of the confusion; not only will their arrears increase, but their land-lords will identify them as toxic tenants and designate them for eviction proceedings.
Tarlach Mac Dhónail, Representative of the IRSP in North Belfast and who has been working on several cases informed us that, ‘’Some of the housing officers whom we have spoken to of late are openly critical of the present system. They have complained that these constant reassessments, which are being conducted by the housing-executive, have left them as confused as tenants are. They have even warned activists to begin preparing for impending evictions.”
Low-income working-parents have enough to deal with in today’s society without being expected to double-job as accountants and solicitors. Bureaucracy has reached a new level here. The IRSP in Belfast is and will be challenging the housing-executive’s current system.
We encourage anyone who is under the threat of eviction because of arrears, or who is affected by constant housing-benefit reassessments and, the consequent accruing arrears to contact our representatives.
We again make it clear that Tory Austerity will never creep unnoticed into Working-class areas without meeting a forceful Republican Socialist challenge.