The Housing Executive was set up in 1971, a major demand of the Civil Rights Movement in Northern Ireland, responding to concerns that housing was being unfairly allocated by gerrymandered local authorities.
The Housing Executive’s Annual Report from 2015 outlines that there are 3,380 permanent staff working for the organisation. (Source pg 125)
A Voluntary Exit Scheme for civil servants was launched in April 2015, which included the Housing Executive. The Executive, as part of the Stormont House Agreement, borrowed millions to facilitate redundancy packages.
As of May 2015, 190 staff had left the Housing Executive – within two months of the start of the Exit Scheme. Another tranche of voluntary redundancies is due to come into effect before Summer 2016. Applications closed on 29th February 2016 and our figures are exclusively up to date following that second tranche. Those accepting any of the 220 places across some parts of the civil service will leave on 31st May.
Given the concerns that the Exit Scheme would leave the Housing Executive without sufficient staff to carry out its duties, and instead complement the agenda that would see the Executive close, BtP undertook to investigate.
In the central offices of the Housing Executive – i.e. its headquarters that deal with the corporate management of the organisation, 232 staff were offered a place on the voluntary exit scheme. 504 in total had applied, but the rest were not offered the opportunity to leave.
This does not include any of the Housing Executive offices that are situated in each district, that you might visit to lodge a housing application.
We also got the information about staff in Regional Offices – your local offices. Whilst conveniently the Executive did not name the specific offices as we had asked them to – such as the Waterloo Place office in Derry, or the Larne office, they did give us an indication of where the offices where when they gave us the breakdown of those who had applied and been offered voluntary redundancy.
Added to the central office redundancies, almost 700 (697) permanent members of staff have now already left or will soon be leaving the Housing Executive. That is almost 21% of its total staff. There are now 2,683 staff remaining only a year after the 2015 annual report.
The most concerning aspect of those people leaving the Executive is not the number, but the roles they previously held.
As is evident, staff at levels 4, 5 and 6 are those who are leaving the Executive in their droves. What are those roles?
Level 4 – Housing Officer
Housing officers are the core staff of any Housing Executive office, they are those with responsibility for assessments and processing applications.
Level 5 – Senior Housing Officer
Senior Housing Officers are those who make allocations for housing. They can also be in the form of Complex Needs Officers within District Offices that allocate housing points to those who have disabilities for example.
Level 6 – Assistant Housing Services Manager/Assistant Housing Manager
There is only normally one or two of these senior officers in each District Office. As there is sixteen offices, and 32 level 6 redundancies – ALL of these posts are now redundant.
Looking at the figures we have been given, the Housing Executive’s core function has been irreparable broken.
95 Housing Officers are no longer in the Housing Executive
44 Senior Housing Officers are gone and;
35 Assistant Housing Managers have now left.
What we are seeing here is the systematic dismantling of the Housing Executive regardless of public discontent. For example, should tenants in homes that are being proposed for stock transfer to Housing Associations chose not to be transferred, that is one thing, but it is quite another to expect that the Housing Executive will be in a position to manage those properties – so in the medium term, the run-down of the Executive is handing public properties to the Housing Associations by stealth.
In January 2013 then-DSD Minister Nelson McCausland announced that plans would be put in place to ‘abolish’ the Housing Executive. This would involve stripping the organisation of its landlord function, effectively removing it from the management, allocation and care of public properties across NI – some 89,000 homes. This could lead to huge stock transfers to the private sector.
Stock transfers have happened before – 55 properties in the Rinmore area of Derry were transferred to Apex in 2011, and 72 properties in the Bloomfield area of Bangor were transferred to Oaklee in 2014. The Stock Transfer Programme instigated by the Executive plans to transfer 2,000 homes to Housing Associations. In a separate FOI response, they told us;
“The proposed transfer of 2,000 properties is still at a very early stage and a housing association has yet to be appointed to work with us on taking forward the proposals”.
As we exposed in January, the Economic Advisory Group – which advises Ministers on economic matters – criticised the Voluntary Exit Scheme by saying:
“All voluntary redundancy schemes must take due consideration of the skills and service implication of potential staff losses for efficiency and risk. EAG is very concerned that the voluntary exit scheme that has been offered recently as key pillar in reform does not appear to do this”
You can read our exclusive story on that issue here. In essence, the EAG is saying that voluntary redundancies are being offered to staff regardless of the impact it will have on the public service – which would appear to be helpful to the agenda of those who want to dismantle the Housing Executive.