Tenants dying as they wait for adaptations

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People with disabilities who have died waiting for home adaptions; children bitten by fleas in sub-standard temporary accommodation; and a potential Universal Credit rent arrears tsumani were among the issues raised when the Housing Executive’s top brass visited Derry this week.

NIHE Chief Executive, Clark Bailie, led a delegation to the Guildhall on Tuesday to update members of Derry City & Strabane District Council’s Governance and Strategic Planning Committee on its investment plans.

During the meeting a range of stress points and some distressing personal cases were raised by members in what was a frank discussion.

Mr. Bailie acknowledged some of the agency’s failings, assuring committee members of his commitment to improve services while outlining the challenges it faces in the years ahead.

Among the problems raised were unacceptable waiting times for people with complex housing needs and those with disabilities requiring adaptations.

Independent Councillor, Gary Donnelly, said this was a “serious issue” and cited the example of one Creggan tenant who suffered from Multiple Sclerosis, was moved out of her home in February, and told she would be back in June following adaptation works.

This hadn’t been completed due to issues with the contractor concerned and the woman’s husband now had to lift his wife in and out of the bathroom in their unsuitable temporary accommodation, said Colr. Donnelly.

This was having a toll on the couple’s health, said Colr. Donnelly, who told the committee he was aware of some tenants who had passed away while waiting for adaptations.

SDLP Colr. Brian Tierney said he understood only one person was working on complex needs cases in the North area which stretches from Newtownabbey to Strabane.

He said: “I understand that there are approximately 220 existing and ongoing cases and 185 new, unassessed cases within this area and this is extremely worrying.”

Mr. Bailie was candid in his response to these concerns.

He said: “In terms of complex needs there have been cases where, I’m embarrassed to say, people have passed away. Would I want that for my mother and father? People living downstairs with a commode?”

Independent Colr. Darren O’Reilly told Mr. Bailie that there were problems sourcing suitable temporary accommodation for tenants. He said he was aware of a case in which the child of a young pregnant mother was bitten by fleas in substandard housing.

Meanwhile, Mr. Bailie, projected £15m in arrears across all its offices as changes in tenants’ circumstances shunted them off the old Housing Benefit regime onto Universal Credit.

Independent Councillor, Paul Gallagher, said he didn’t believe ‘arrears’ was an accurate description because it implied it would be paid. Debt, he said, would be more apt, adding that this would put further stress on the NIHE, which, he said, had been cast as the “whipping boy” forced to implement UC.