Dickson gravely concerned for right-to-buy homeowners

East Antrim MLA Stewart Dickson has said he is “gravely concerned for homeowners” who are now struggling to fund refurbishments and repairs after purchasing their property as part of the Housing Executive’s right-to-buy scheme.

Mr Dickson said it was unfair on those caught up in the process, after “the neglect and mismanagement of these properties” prior to purchase by the Housing Executive.

He added: "NIHE has a long history of failed maintenance of blocks of flats from roofs, guttering, balconies, damp and other major structural repairs after years of neglect. NIHE are now demanding huge and completely unaffordable sums of money from the homeowners for these essential works.

"This situation would not have arisen had it not been for the neglect and mismanagement of these properties up until this point. It is entirely unfair, particularly at a time when people are already struggling, to punish homeowners for NIHE failures.”

He continued: “I have been in discussion with constituents who are at their wits' end. Some owners have been asked to pay upwards of £20k for renovations for an apartment worth a little over £30k. Even without the pandemic, without the cost-of-living crisis, and without an impending recession, many homeowners will simply be unable to afford these massive amounts. Many of them cannot borrow against their properties as mortgage companies are not lending for repairs, and a further added complication exists around the short length of leases.

"People feel that they have been left with two choices; either leave their homes and face homelessness or stay and face crippling legal and repair bills. The fear of bankruptcy or destitution is looming large for many.

Some homeowners had contributed to a ‘maintenance fund,’ the level of which had been set by NIHE (and in some circumstances never collected). This maintenance fund is nowhere near the typical type of fund that is levied in a privately owned block of flats, leaving a massive shortfall. Had NIHE properly cultivated and managed a Reserve Maintenance Fund, residents could have avoided these colossal, and life altering, cost demands.

NIHE also failed to consult with residents regarding how repair and furbishment payments could be made. While they have mooted a potential offer of a buy-back the apartment, currently no such scheme exists, they have also indicated that they could bring forward some form of repayment scheme, but it is doubtful whether NIHE could deliver this. Furthermore, they will not receive any ‘homeless points’ as they will be considered as making themselves 'voluntarily homeless' despite actually being homeless.”

Mr Dickson concluded: "In the time I have been looking into this case, initially for residents in Greenisland, Carrickfergus, I have become aware of other areas in East Antrim whereby people are in the same situation, and I have no doubt this is just the beginning for previous right-to-buy homeowners being in similar dire straits throughout Northern Ireland.

"I have written to the Minister for Communities, the Permanent Secretary for the Department, and the Chief Executive of NIHE, seeking urgent meetings. I have also contacted the Law Society for Northern Ireland and held meetings with residents and director-level management within NIHE.”