Belfast Telegraph

Where did house cash go, Spellar is asked
Possible sales scam probed

By Noel McAdam, Political Correspondent
07 September 2004

The Government was today urged to disclose how cash raised from the sale of Housing Executive homes in Northern Ireland has been spent.

Direct Rule Minister John Speller also came under pressure to reveal how much money has gone into Government coffers from the public sector sell-off.

And it also emerged that since 1981, when the house sales scheme began, almost 110,000 Executive properties in the province have been sold at a discount.

The disclosure demand followed a Belfast Telegraph report that the Executive is investigating an alleged housing sales scam centred on 70 cases of potential fraud.

The deception claim has been tied into the high level of house sales in the last year to individuals and families on housing benefit - almost half of the total.

Assembly member David McNarry said there were fears that the monies accrued from Executive house sales had been squandered.

The Ulster Unionist housing spokesman also argued the housing situation is in a "mess" with 16,426 reported as homeless, 31,600 unfit dwellings, a third of households said to be in fuel poverty compared to 9% in England and 1,000 people a year in Northern Ireland dying from cold related illnesses.

"The big questions are - where has the money raised from house sales gone? How has the money been used and where is the evidence that it has been spent wisely?" the Ulster Unionist housing spokesman said.

"I have written to Mr Spellar asking in total how much has been raised on house sales and to also quantify and qualify how the money was and is being spent."

The Department for Social Development said however it was "utter nonsense" to suggest that money from house sales has been squandered and that social housing is in a mess.

It pointed to a two-year-old Needs and Effectiveness Report which concluded that the public resources invested in housing in the province have been used economically.

"The house sales scheme has been, and continues to be an effective way of promoting home ownership for thousands of people by providing affordable housing to those who would otherwise be unable.

"It has, in addition, been instrumental in helping to build and promote more stable and balanced communities. It has enabled more than 100,000 tenants to buy their homes."

Receipts from house sales are used to improve the quality of Executive housing stock. The spokeswoman said: "In just over thirty years Northern Ireland has gone from having the worst housing in Western Europe to having some of the best."

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