HC Deb 21 March 1996 vol 274 cc480-1
2. Mr. William O'Brien

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what is the proposed average increase in housing rents for the year 1996–97; and if he will make a statement. [20408]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Malcolm Moss)

The rent for Northern Ireland Housing Executive tenants will increase from 1 April 1996 by 2.75 per cent.—on average, 87p per week.

Mr. O'Brien

The Minister must be aware that, over the past 10 years or so, rents in Northern Ireland have increased well above the rate of inflation. People on fixed incomes obviously suffer the greatest if they are not in receipt of housing benefit. Rent increases push up the housing benefit bill, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer has demanded reductions in public expenditure—which is totally unfair to the people of Northern Ireland. When will the Government do something about being fair and honest with tenants in Northern Ireland? When will the Government give them a better opportunity to retain more of their income?

Mr. Moss

There is a flaw in the hon. Gentleman's thesis: the present average rent paid by Housing Executive tenants in Northern Ireland is £31.65 a week—which is £6 per week less than rents for local authority housing in England and in Wales. Therefore, I believe that the tenants of Northern Ireland get a good deal.

Mr. Clifford Forsythe

The Minister will be aware that 75 per cent. of tenants in Northern Ireland receive housing benefit to assist them with rent. The Housing Executive pays out housing benefit and decides what the rents should be. There have been giro drops in Northern Ireland, but the Housing Executive has no incentive to deal with them, because it gives people money anyway.

Mr. Moss

The Government's policy is to keep Housing Executive rent increases in Northern Ireland in line with the average increases recommended for local authority housing in England and Wales. That is why the rent increases for next year have been limited to inflation—2.75 per cent. We are keeping the rent increases in line with those in the rest of the United Kingdom.