Stormont collapse 'could see 34,000 hit by bedroom tax'

Thousands of low-income households in Northern Ireland could be on average £80 a month worse off, if the Stormont Assembly collapses, a housing advice charity has warned.

Housing Rights says as many as 34,000 households would not be shielded from what critics called the "bedroom tax" if mitigation measures are not introduced.

Additional funding to be provided by the Executive to offset welfare cuts was a key element of an earlier agreement to save power-sharing.

Kate McCauley, a manager at Housing Rights, said, "We are concerned that if the current political uncertainty continues it could have unintended consequences for people living in social housing who stand to be impacted by the bedroom tax.

"If the regulations to make arrangements for supplementary payments are not brought forward, an alternative solution must be found."

Steps to protect those on benefits were championed by Sinn Féin and negotiated as part of the 2015 Fresh Start Agreement.

Now Martin McGuinness has resigned as Stormont's Deputy First Minister those protections are under serious threat as an election looms.

The party's president Gerry Adams said the blame lay with Arlene Foster for refusing to step aside as First Minister while an investigation was held into a mismanaged green energy scheme.

He added, "The responsibility for the current difficulties don't rest with Sinn Féin. When you get a scandal to the tune of half a billion pounds sterling it has to be dealt with, there has to be transparency, that has to be protected."He said it could have been addressed without an election.

"The person who set her face against that was the First Minister.

"She is to blame for the collapse of the institutions and I stress again that Martin McGuinness's record is clear for all to see and it is obvious to anybody fair-minded that this was a step taken by him because he felt, and I support him absolutely, that he had no other option."

Housing Rights said the dissolution of the Assembly would mean claimants receive less money if they live in a property deemed to have a spare bedroom.

The charity said a screening report published by the Department for Communities found that around 34,000 households could be affected by the policy, with average losses reaching up to £20.42 per week.

DUP East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson said welfare reform cost the Stormont Executive £174 million.

"Yet in a bizarre irony, the decision to resign and walk out of the Northern Ireland Executive means there will be no Assembly to pass the mitigation measures that were due from the Stormont House Agreement and so Sinn Féin will be delivering the bedroom tax in Northern Ireland in six weeks' time."