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Live Reporting

All times stated are UK

  1. Join us tomorrow

    Stormont

    That's all from the assembly today.

    You can join us again tomorrow from 10:00 when we'll have live coverage of the Committee for the Economy.

    They'll be given a briefing on the impact Covid-19 is having on tourism and manufacturing.

    In the afternoon we'll hear more about GCSE, AS and A Level exams from CCEA representatives at the Education Committee, before joining the Committee for the Executive Office.

    Until then, enjoy the weather and stay safe.

  2. 'Obviously we're not in normal times'

    The second stage of the Private Tenancies Bill passes on an oral vote and the Communities Minister remains at the lectern for the final piece of business.

    This is a motion to "amend standing orders" - basically it is a proposed suspension of some of the house rules of the assembly to allow for the speedier passage of the bill.

    Deirdre Hargey

    Deirdre Hargey says she firmly believes in due process when it comes to the passage of legislation though the house and committees "but obviously we're not in normal times".

    She explains that one of the rules demands that no bill shall pass through the assembly in less than 10 days.

    Ms Hargey says she hopes the members will understand the need for this given the real threat of evictions.

    As with the other business today, the motion passes on an oral vote.

  3. 'Can't put somebody out willy-nilly'

    Minister Hargey then wraps on the motion.

    She describes it as "disgraceful" that a landlord would issue a notice to quit before this legislation in implemented, especially as government guidance is that "people need to stay at home and should stay at home in order to save lives".

    "We’re saying there should be no evictions at this point," she adds.

    Deirdre Hargey

    Ms Hargey says the "guidance says that" and that you "can't put somebody out willy-nilly".

    She says "you have to go through a court process" and outlines that the "courts aren't sitting for everyday hearings at the moment and they won't be sitting over the coming weeks either".

    The minister says the "legislation is taking a bit of time because of the hoops it has to go through".

    On the issue of homelessness, Ms Hargey says "it shouldn't be a pandemic that resolves this issue" and outlines some proposals she seeks bring forward in the future.

  4. Tenants need 'cast iron support'

    Gerry Carroll from People Before Profit says renters are "people who are often ignored".

    He says there's a "need to ensure they have cast iron support at this time" adding that he welcomes the measures in this bill but says they don't go far enough.

    "The notice to quit period should be extended beyond four weeks," he says adding it should be the case already.

    Gerry Carroll

    "We've a mortgage holiday for landlords, why haven't we got a rent holiday for tenants?" he asks.

  5. 'Social housing should not be a commodity'

    Sinn Féin's John O'Dowd says there is a need to "protect workers, and families in financial difficulty due to the Covid crisis".

    He says this bill will "keep a roof over an out of work family's head".

    "Social housing should not be a commodity that is traded on the open market," he adds.

    Mr O'Dowd says it's one of a number of "lessons to be learnt from the Covid-19 crisis".

    He says there are also lessons around "how we, as a society, manage and look after some of our most vulnerable and low paid workers, who we have found out are our essential workers".

    John O'Dowd
  6. 'Important not to demonise landlords'

    The DUP's Jonathan Buckley says he understands the bill as emerging from the context of the three-month mortgage holiday for some landlords and the guarantee of no evictions for social tenants

    However, he says it's important not to "demonise" landlords.

    Mr Buckley says that "for many private landlords this is their only source of income" and that some tenants "could abuse the system".

    Jonathan Buckley
  7. No extension for 'serious anti-social behaviour'

    Alliance's Kellie Armstrong says there we have "good and bad landlords in Northern Ireland, we also have good and bad tenants".

    She says that while the "notice to quit period has become longer" she has concerns about the length of time it will take for the bill to come into effect - she says between six to eight weeks in total.

    Kellie Armstrong

    Mrs Armstrong adds that there "will not be an extension to the period for those people who engage in serious anti-social behaviour after this bill comes into effect" - something she praises, not just for landlords but for others living nearby.

    She adds that "84% of landlords only have one or two properties" but she says to hear of a "landlord attack, bully, or put pressure on a tenant" when they have lost their job, or are waiting for payment, is wrong.

    In relation to homelessness, Mrs Armstrong says the figures have "completely collapsed" and calls for the minister to "continue that as a good news story" in the future.

  8. Bill is 'proportionate and reasonable'

    The UUP's Andy Allen says private tenants "should not be worrying as to whether they have a roof over their head"

    He notes that support has been offered to landlords and it is hoped that landlords will, in most cases, extend that help to tenants "but there will always be those bad apples".

    Houses

    Mr Allen says says that in most cases landlords carry out their duties correctly.

    Expressing his support for the bill, he says, "its proportionate, it's reasonable".

  9. 'Scourge of homelessness'

    The SDLP's Mark Durkan says he supports the bill adding that many members of the house will be aware of the "scourge of homelessness and devastating impact that has on families and individuals".

    He says homelessness hits "financially, emotionally and psychologically".

    "The threat of homelessness at any time is hugely unpalatable, but the threat of homelessness at this time is completely unacceptable," he adds.

    Mark Durkan

    He adds that the legislation seeks to give tenants in private rental property “one less thing to worry about”.

    He goes on to say "the vast majority of our landlords are small or single property landlords, they aren’t all big, bad Ebenezer Scrooges".

    Mr Durkan adds that the legislation isn't perfect but needed.

  10. 'Loss of jobs can lead to rent arrears'

    Sinéad Ennis

    Sinn Féin's Sinéad Ennis says social housing tenants have already been given assurances that there will be no evictions during the emergency period.

    "It is only right that tenants within the private rented sector are not the only section of society that's excluded from protections," she says.

    Ms Ennis says many of those tenants will have lost their jobs, possibly putting them into rent arrears through no fault of their own.

    She says this legislation will make a real difference to families at risk of losing their home.

  11. Covid-19 'puts people at risk of homelessness'

    Paula Bradley

    Paula Bradley is the chair of the Communities Committee.

    She says the "impact of the Covid-19 crisis is wide ranging, including putting many more people at risk of homelessness".

    She says the bill seeks to minimise the risk adding that tenants may be "potentially at risk of conviction if support isn’t coming".

    She says it will ensure those in the "private rented sector can stay in their homes for longer" which would be in adherence with public health advice.

    Mrs Bradley says it is a "proportionate response" which is in keeping with three month mortgage holiday for landlords.

  12. 'Bill necessary to control spread of coronavirus'

    Having quickly dealt with the motion on accelerated passage, the assembly moves to the debate on the bill's second stage.

    Minister Deirdre Hargey says that vulnerable people who have been told by their GP to stay in their home for three months due to the coronavirus could get a letter from their landlord today "telling them to leave in four weeks time".

    "This is just unacceptable," she adds.

    Deirdre Hargey

    "I consider the bill necessary to prevent the spread of coronavirus and to provide private tenants and renters with additional support during the Covid-19 period," the minister says.

    She notes that private rentals make up 18% of the total housing stock with approximately 134,000 properties.

    She says the legislation that no private tenant will be evicted from their home during the emergency period.

  13. Bill receives accelerated passage

    The chairperson of the Communities Committee, Paula Bradley says its members are supportive of the motion and aware the "impact of the crisis" is having on the economy and "has left many people with significant reduction in income".

    Sinn Féin's Sinéad Ennis says the measures will ensure private tenants do not become homeless during the Covid-19 crisis, which she says is in line with government advice around people not moving house at this minute in time.

    Sinéad Ennis

    Mark Durkan of the SDLP says "it is far from ideal" to have accelerated passage on this legislation but he says not passing it would be "potentially disastrous".

    The Alliance party's Kellie Armstrong says "there are certain things missing from this bill" which mean accelerated passage is "not the way we would have preferred to go on this, but time is of the essence".

    The UUP's Andy Allen also says accelerated passage is not how his party would seek to do legislative business but they understand that "due to the exception nature" of events it is needed.

    The house takes an oral vote in favour of the bill having accelerated passage.

  14. Private tenancies bill

    The members are back from lunch and Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey is back on her feet to introduce a motion on accelerated passage of the Private Tenancies (Coronavirus Modifications) Bill.

    If passed, the bill would extend the notice to quit period a landlord must give a tenant to 12 weeks.

    Deirdre Hargey

    in her opening remarks, the minister says the bill is necessary to extend the notice to quit period from "four to twelve weeks".

    She says it will help "reduce the movement of people between households" and is in line with the chief medical officers recommendations.

    Ms Hargey then outlines why she is seeking accelerated passage for the bill and says it's because the "crisis has happened quickly and we need to respond".

    She says without accelerated passage it may not be enacted before the summer recess which would be counter productive.

  15. Lunch break

    Sandwich

    The assembly takes a short lunch break.

    We'll be back with more live coverage of the plenary sitting from 14:00.

    Until then, enjoy some of that lovely weather outside - safely and socially distanced of course.

  16. 'Over 50,000 universal credit applications'

    The Minister for Communities, Deirdre Hargey, winds on the debate.

    She thanks the staff in her department for their work on this project.

    She says one of the difficulties with discretionary support is that it is a manual system, which has meant that staff have had to be moved from other duties.

    Universal credit is one area that has required additional staff in order to deal with the "massive influx of over 50,000 applications".

    She says that her aim has been "to do all that I can to protect the most vulnerable".

    The regulations are passed on an oral vote.

    Deirdre Hargey
  17. 'It isn’t far enough'

    Gerry Carroll

    People Before Profit's Gerry Carroll says: "No doubt, everybody will support this move but I can't help point out it isn’t far enough."

    He says the "executive is dragging it’s heels to help the unemployed".

    Mr Carroll says he believes "discretionary support is very restrictive".

    He says more should be done to help those who are self-isolating.

    Mr Carroll then asks the minister to clarify the "breakdown of grants versus loans" given out by her department "since this crisis began".

  18. 'Far from ideal'

    Jonathan Buckley

    The DUP's Jonathan Buckley shares his "appreciation to the Department for Communities staff".

    He says in the event of huge job losses due to Covid-19, "the pressure on the department and those members of staff will be quite considerable".

    He says the conditions in which the regulations are being brought forward are "far from ideal" as there has been "little to no opportunity to scrutinise the regulations before the house".

    But he says he is aware that "speed is an essential asset" to ensure funds go to those in need and supports the regulations.

  19. 'Many more people now eligible for benefit'

    Kellie Armstrong of Alliance says the amendment is "very welcome".

    She says the type of people now eligible for the scheme includes skilled tradespeople, administration and secretarial staff and sales and customer staff.

    Ms Armstrong says that many people "who never thought that they would be in receipt of benefits are now finding that they have no other option than to apply and to seek that support".

    She says she wants to ensure that "people who have been innovative and have set up businesses are not left behind".

    Kellie Armstrong
  20. 'Onus on us all to bring forward support measures'

    Sinéad Ennis of Sinn Féin thanks the minister for her work during the Covid-19 crisis.

    She says she knows the minister and her department will work to ensure "financial support goes to people without delay".

    Ms Ennis also commends the "people working in the department" particularly those "in the jobs and benefits office" who are "managing calls from people needing advice and support at this difficult time".

    She says there is an "onus on us all to bring forward any and all measures to support people, particularly vulnerable people, that we can".

    Sinéad Ennis

    The SDLP’s Mark Durkan says it’s important there is “awareness” of the fund for those who need it.

    He says there needs to be more done in this regard.

    Mr Durkan adds: "There are a lot of vulnerable people out there and this has made them even more vulnerable."