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Social Fund repayments should be further delayed, says Armstrong

Repayments for loans taken out from the Department for Communities’ Social Fund to help people through the pandemic should be delayed for a further period to stop people falling further into poverty, Alliance Communities spokesperson Kellie Armstrong MLA has said.

The Social Fund gives interest-free loans to those on low incomes to help with important costs. Strangford MLA Ms Armstrong said she had been contacted by a number of people who had taken out the loans in previous months and had been asked to start to repay them in December. The Department had arranged for repayments to be postponed by nine months but with restrictions increasing, Ms Armstrong said the repayments should be postponed further.

“I had requested the commencement of repayments, originally due in December, be postponed until the new financial year. People have been left destitute through this crisis, with it being compounded by being told repayments would have to start in the month of Christmas, along with all the financial outgoings that entails.

“The Department postponed repayments, thinking COVID would not be such a problem by December. However, we are now seeing further restrictions coming in and people being put under more financial pressure. I have been contacted by a number who have taken out Social Fund loans throughout this crisis and who are worried they will not be able to afford to heat their home or buy groceries during this stricter period when we have to stay home to save lives.

“While I appreciate the Communities Minister has confirmed individuals can contact the Department to ask for a review of their personal circumstances, there must be an option to delay all repayments for a further period, to ensure people are not pushed further into poverty during this pandemic.”