Can Northern Irish Housing Associations cope with the bedroom tax?

Political uncertainty in Northern Ireland has thrown housing associations into somewhat of an abyss. Since the Northern Ireland Executive has dissolved and fresh elections are not planned until March, failure to form a future government would leave the sector under direct rule by Westminster and in some financial straights. The implications of direct rule coupled with the uncertainty of the Brexit decision, in that situation, seems likely to take its toll on budgets, leaving access to finance uncertain and creating instability for housing association tenants. But that’s just the half of it….

Northern Ireland set out its stall in 2015 with the Fresh Start Agreement – which was signed between the Northern Ireland executive, UK and Irish governments. It agreed to bring budgets and finances under control and mitigate certain policies – delaying the bedroom tax until April 2020 was one such mitigation it made as well as regulations to the welfare cap. However, the resignation of Martin McGuinness has thrown this into disarray, as it hadn’t received a final decision from the NI executive on these mitigations. The upshot is that an election without managing to pass any regulations delaying the bedroom tax will see it come into force at the end of February – affecting around 32,600 households. On top of that, the government has agreed to give monthly payments to social landlords so tenants would not lose out on housing benefit.

Quite aside from the social and economic factors that would affect tenants should the bedroom tax not be mitigated, the housing associations themselves are probably unprepared for the upheaval to their organisations too. At the eleventh hour they are faced with getting their house in order to cope with any fallout. That has further repercussions for their IT systems that must deal with the ‘tax’ in terms of rental accounts and the knock on effect to void properties. Are the systems they have in place able to cope with the new calculations, provide tenants with the information they need to ascertain their position and provide peace of mind to families, or will they be left unable to help?

I can only imagine the feeling of panic for IT directors or customer services departments who right now must be wondering if the IT systems they have in place are up to doing the job. The thought that in less than a month’s time, they will be fielding calls from worried tenants and potentially have a complete inability to help them in any meaningful way until their IT catches up, must be keeping them awake at night. Uncertainty brings mayhem.

MIS AMS’s housing management system is bedroom-tax ready – if you’d like to speak to one of our consultants, please contact us at ask@mis-ams.com.