Fears are growing for the future of NI Housing Executive offices in Portadown, Lurgan and Banbridge.
Sinn Fein MLA John O’Dowd has written to the NIHE’s Chief Executive opposing any plans to close local offices.
The NIHE admitted it is looking at the way customers access services. A spokesperson said: “We can confirm that in south region specifically, we are looking at a number of options which include phased relocation and reduced hours given there are five offices within a short geographical distance of each other. But no decision has yet been taken.”
Mr O’Dowd said: “I have been made aware that the Housing Executive is intending to a close a number of district housing offices including, Banbridge, Lurgan, and Portadown offices. Staff are being transferred to Marlborough House in Craigavon and other regional offices.
“I am very concerned about the implications of this news for Executive tenants. They are losing a much valued local service and contact with Executive staff.
“I am calling on the Housing Executive to carry out a full Equality Impact assessment and rural needs assessment before any final decisions are made about the future of the local offices.
“The Housing Executive are a vital part of community infrastructure and should not be disappearing from local areas.
“I have written to the Chief Executive of the Housing body to express concern and to request an urgent update on the future of local district offices.”
A Housing Executive spokesperson said: “The Housing Executive is currently looking at how to best deliver its service and we are committed to maintaining services in local areas in line with customer demand.
“Any proposals would be subject to a formal process to include consultation with union, staff, customers, the local community and political representatives. It will also assess the impact on equality and rural areas.
“We would like to reassure customers that any decision taken by the Housing Executive will not affect the high quality service we deliver to them. We have also reassured our staff that there will not be job losses as a result of any changes to how we deliver services locally.”
The spokesperson added: “The way in which our customers access services is rapidly changing.
“We have seen a 23% reduction in footfall into our offices in the last four years, and a marked increase in telephone and online contact and we expect this trend to accelerate in the future.
“Later this year, we will be moving out of our Belfast office in Great Victoria Street to our Headquarters in Adelaide Street with a new customer service office.
“We are looking to develop our online services for our tenants within the next year and have already extended our phone service operating hours.
“We have also changed the way in which we deliver services to our tenants and those who are seeking social housing by increasing the number of front line officer and having them call directly to customers’ homes rather than them having to visit our offices.
“We are, of course, mindful that our customers are requiring our assistance now more than ever, and that is why we offer services online, on the phone and face to face across Northern Ireland.
“We want to be able to respond to the needs of our customers and provide the services they require, while at the same time ensuring value for money and effective use of our offices.
“Currently, we have offices in buildings which we either own or which we rent from private or public sector landlords.
“We would prefer to spend money on services than unnecessarily on buildings.
“If we have any proposals to alter services across Northern Ireland or in a local area, we will of course be consulting with the local community, staff, their unions and political representatives.”