Fears for Housing Benefit employees in Derry

SDLP Councillor Shauna Cusack.  (DR4113JB145)
SDLP Councillor Shauna Cusack. (DR4113JB145)

Fears have been expressed that the jobs of 70 Housing Benefit staff in Derry could be under threat.

The issue was raised by SDLP Councillor Shauna Cusack at Derry City & Strabane District Council’s monthly Full Council in the Guildhall.

Colr. Cusack said there was growing unease among the Housing Executive staff at Richmond Chambers in the city centre, since it transpired over recent weeks that a review of the Housing Benefit service was being expedited.

Colr. Cusack said: “This is causing great concern for the workers. There is great concern as you can imagine for their futures.”

She added that there were rumours circulating that the whole service could be gone within seven to eight months, and called for clarification over whether the Derry jobs were secure.

Colr. Cusack said that if there were to be proposals to redeploy staff, clarity was needed around whether these would be realistic and practical for the people currently employed in Derry.

She further warned that Derry’s economy could ill afford the loss of 70 jobs.

On Colr. Cusack’s suggestion, the Council unanimously agreed to write to the Chief Executive of the Housing Executive Clark Bailie and Communities Minister Paul Givan on the matter.

“I think we should do all we can to protect these jobs,” she said.

Sinn Fein Councillor Tony Hassan said he too had been approached by a number of people over the issue.

Colr. Hassan said the situation was so bad that some of the workforce had taken sick, and suggested the council consider bringing in a representative from the Housing Executive or someone with authority within the Housing Benefit division into the Council chamber to answer concerns.

A spokesperson for the Housing Executive said: “There are no immediate plans for changes to the staff in Housing Benefit.

“The Housing Executive is currently working with the Department regarding the implementation of Universal Credit which is due to commence in September 2017.

“We have been engaging with staff and Trade Union side on this.”

Colr. Cusack had previously raised concerns back in March 2016 in relation to the impact the planned introduction of Universal Credit would have on the workforce.

Universal Credit will be phased in across the north from September 2017 under the Northern Ireland (Welfare Reform) Act 2015.

The changes will affect working-age claimants aged 18 to 64 years old.

It involves a new single payment for people on a low income or out of work and which will replace Employment and Support Allowance,Income Support, Child Tax Credits, Working Tax Credits as well as Housing Benefit.