Housing Executive is urged to halt plans

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The Housing Executive has been urged to halt the proposed part time closure of local offices in Banbridge, Armagh and Portadown.

Last week The Leader reported how the Housing Executive is planning the reductions due to ‘the changing needs of customers’ however local representatives have now called for the changes to be stopped.

A Sinn Féin delegation led by John O’Dowd MLA and Cathal Boylan MLA met with the Housing Executive to outline their concerns at the proposed changes to the opening hours.

Speaking after the meeting Mr O’Dowd said: “We are deeply concerned that the Housing Executive have not followed best practice in announcing their decision to close three local offices half a day up to three days a week.

“We are concerned that the impact of this decision will have an adverse effect on some of the most vulnerable Housing Executive tenants and also on Housing Executive staff.”

The Banbridge office will be open Monday 9.30am to 4pm; Tuesday 9.30am - 1pm; Wednesday 9.30am - 1pm; Thursday closed; Friday 9.30am - 4pm.

Mr O’Dowd added: “We called on the Executive to halt the process and to conduct an Equality Screening of the proposal as well as a full and proper consultation with Trade Unions and the public. The Executive committed to carefully consider the points raised and come back to us with their decision.”

Meanwhile SDLP’s Dolores Kelly said it was “disturbing” that the opening hours were being reduced “without any public or trade union consultation.”

She said that she intends to meet with officials and union representatives as soon as possible.

DUP MLA Carla Lockhart said she had “grave concerns” regarding the “dramatic changes’.

She said: “It will undoubtedly cause much distress amongst NIHE tenants many of whom are vulnerable and in need of face to face assistance.”

Responding to the concerns, a Housing Executive spokesperson said: “The decision to reduce hours is a consequence of how we review delivery of our services and reflects the changing nature of how our customers seek to interact with us.

“The requirement for face to face contact by visiting a local office has steadily reduced - the overwhelmingly preferred methods of contact are now primarily by phone, e-mail and various social media platforms.

“The reduced hours are a reflection of this and our focus is now on these preferred channels of communication.

“There are no implications for staff jobs nor for any of the services being delivered from the Banbridge Office, with the new arrangements due to commence in May.

“Consideration is being given to the feedback received and we will be updating the local public representatives on further assurances in regards to the access to our services.

“All elected representatives in the area were made aware, as well as the Housing Community Network, which involves residents and community associations, in discussing and developing local services and general housing issues.

“NIPSA were also aware of the proposed changes.”