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When everyone has a home

028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

Strategic impact of Housing Champions project

Picture of Housing Champions at CIH Awards

At Housing Rights, we are particularly proud of our Housing Champions, a group of volunteers from minority communities in Northern Ireland who help people within those communities by providing housing advice and interpreting services. The Housing Champions project was recently Highly Commended in the Chartered Institute of Housing NI Housing Awards.

The project provides interpreting and housing advice training to volunteers, who then hold advice clinics and one-to-one sessions with people in need of help. Our long-standing adviser Jonathan provides guidance to the champions, but will also take on particularly complex cases that are brought to his attention. Jonathan discusses one such recent case which resulted in a very positive outcome for a client, and has far-reaching consequences for other people in similar circumstances.

Syrian families homeless after fleeing conflict

Jonathan met Bilal through Ahmed, one of our Housing Champions. Ahmed had met Bilal and his wife, Adela, at a community outreach event. Bilal, Adela and their three young children had come to Northern Ireland from Syria under the refugee resettlement programme. They are currently living in a single-let, while they wait for an offer of social housing. Adela’s nephew Rahim also fled the war in Syria. Rahim was resettled in Northern Ireland and was assessed as homeless by the Housing Executive. In need of temporary accommodation while he waited to be offered a tenancy, Rahim agreed to share with his aunt and her family.

Starting paid work leads to deductions from benefits

Rahim’s English quickly improved and he found a job shortly after moving in with Adela and Bilal. Bilal, who was receiving benefits to help with the costs of rent in the family’s temporary accommodation, was unaware that Rahim’s earnings had triggered a deduction in his Housing Benefit. By the time the family was aware of the issue, the weekly deduction had been in place for several months and significant arrears had accrued. The landlord of the single-let was now threatening to evict the family if the debt was not cleared. It was at this stage that Bilal and Adela spoke to Ahmed. Ahmed gathered as much information about the situation as he could, and then passed the case on to Jonathan for further exploration.

Using legislation to construct casework argument

Regulation 72 of the Housing Benefit (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2006 sets out that deductions are made from Housing Benefit claims in respect of certain adults who live with the claimant. However, the regulation goes on to state that a deduction will not be made in respect of a non-dependent whose normal home is elsewhere. Jonathan argued that Rahim had been displaced from his normal home and had been accepted as a homeless person, and should not, therefore, be seen to be “normally” resident with Bilal and Adela.

Jonathan’s initial representations to the Housing Benefit decision maker were rejected. However, he escalated the matter to the Housing Executive’s Housing Benefit Policy Unit. On reviewing Jonathan’s argument, the policy team accepted that a non-dependent deduction should not have been made in this case, and instructed the Housing Benefit team to revise Bilal’s claim to remove the non-dependent deduction from the date Rahim was awarded Full Duty Applicant status. As a result, much of the debt owed to Bilal’s landlord was cleared by a backdated payment of Housing Benefit. Jonathan then helped Bilal and Adela to devise a household budget and set up a repayment plan with the landlord to clear the remaining arrears.

Wider strategic impact for other Syrian families

The Syrian Refugee Relocation Project within the Housing Executive has now agreed to examine its caseload to establish if any other Housing Benefit claimants within this cohort have been similarly affected. This potentially alleviates financial hardship and prevents homelessness for a number of vulnerable people.

Tagged In

Benefits, Minority Groups, Practical tips, Adviser
This article was written on 15 April 2019. It should not be relied on as a statement of the current law or policy position. For help with housing issues please contact our helpline on 028 9024 5640 or use our online chat service at www.housingadviceNI.org.