More than 3,000 Derry families face “potentially devastating” financial penalties with the introduction of the “flawed, unfair and illogical” bedroom tax, according to one local MLA.
The figure was secured by Foyle MLA Mark Durkan, SDLP, in a parliamentary response from the Minister for Social Development, Nelson McCausland.
Mr. Durkan told the ‘Journal:’ “The figures released suggest that there will be tens of thousands of people penalised by the introduction of the ‘bedroom tax’ across the North.
“The SDLP will do everything we can to prevent implementation of this unfair and illogical tax on the vulnerable.”
In a response to Mr. Durkan’s queries, the Housing Executive estimated that within its Derry district offices: “The number of cases at risk of financial penalty for under-occupation is 3,364. This information is drawn from the affected Housing Benefit claimants that include families, couples and single people.”
Mr. Durkan, the SDLP Social Development spokesperson warned Minister McCausland of the: “potentially devastating impacts of the so-called ‘bedroom tax.’
“I urge him to reverse his decision,” he said.
The Foyle MLA added; “In a recent question to the Minister of Social Development, he revealed that almost 3,400 people in the Derry area alone would be at risk of financial penalty with the introduction of a ‘bedroom tax.’
“The policy also fails to consider ill or disabled people, many of whom rely on overnight carers or the need for extra bedrooms by foster parents who provide a much needed home for vulnerable young people.
“I have no confidence in the “discretionary payments” that the Minister is promising, and this is a completely unacceptable attempt to plug the hole in this flawed policy.
“Further to this, the fact that the Minister saw fit to return £15 million to the Finance Minister in the past two months demonstrates a failure on his part to adequately allocate his budget.
“It is a slap in the face to those who he is taking more money from.”
However at the NI Assembly yesterday, the pair seemed to strike some understanding when a motion put forward by Mr. Durkan MLA - for additional emergency funding for community advice groups who specialise in benefit entitlement, received the unanimous support of all in Stormont.
A similar funding package worth £64 million was recently announced in England.
While the full details of the local package are yet to be finalised. Mr. Durkan described the carried motion as: “Welcome. It is a commitment that anyone who needs advice will receive it.
“I would urge the minister to clarify the details as soon as possible.
“During the debate Minister McCausland said he was committed to ensuring that anyone who needed advice on their welfare entitlements would receive it. This is to be welcome.
What the Minister has yet to do however is to spell out how his Department will fund this advice service. In England £64 million has been allocated for an advice service transition fund to assist people with the changes that welfare reform will bring.
“There should be an equivalent fund given over to the people of Northern Ireland so that vulnerable people with ever more complex benefits claims can be assisted.
“Many good organisations across the North work tirelessly to provide welfare rights advice to individuals struggling to deal with these changes.
“There is a huge fear in the advice sector that they will be completely swamped with the expected changes and cuts to benefits. Those on the front line in the fight against poverty need and deserve our full support.
“The Minister for Social Development needs to make clear just how exactly his department can help provide that vital support,” concluded Mr. Durkan, MLA.