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When everyone has a home

028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

Adviser: Domestic abuse and homelessness

A few months back we received a call from a very distressed young woman.  Louise had been assaulted by her partner.  She was 12 weeks pregnant at the time of the assault. She fled the home she shared with her partner.  She spent a week hiding out in a friend’s house before that friend managed to get her to agree to go to the Housing Executive.  The Housing Executive provided Louise with temporary housing while they looked into her circumstances to determine whether or not she was homeless.

Right to request a review of a negative homeless decision

Louise contacted us after receiving a letter from NIHE telling her that she had to leave her temporary accommodation in 28 days because she was not a Full Duty Applicant and had not requested a review of this decision.  Anyone who receives a decision to say that they have failed one of the four tests for homelessness has a right to request that this decision be reviewed.  However, applicants must request this review within 40 days of receiving a decision letter from the Housing Executive.  The Housing Executive allows applicants 40 days to request a review, despite the relevant legislation only requiring a time period of 28 days.  If an applicant has not requested a review by the end of this 40 day period, he or she will have to ask for an out of time review.  You will normally have to provide strong reasons to show why it was not possible to request the review within the proper deadline.

Did client receive decision letter?

Louise told us this was that the letter asking her to leave her hostel was the first information she’d had from NIHE since she had moved into this accommodation.  She was incredibly upset and told us that she hadn’t received any other letters from the Housing Executive and didn’t even know she had been turned down for assistance.  She said she had nowhere that she could go.  The friend that she’d previously stayed with had moved to England and Louise’s ex-partner had started hanging around her mother’s house.  She said he had been pressuring her to go back to him, but that she was terrified that he would attack her again if she did.

Liaising with the Housing Executive to secure best outcome for client

Our adviser immediately contacted NIHE to find out what had happened.  The Housing Executive had sent out a decision letter but had sent this to ‘care of’ address she had provided, rather than her temporary accommodation.  The address the Housing Executive used was that of the friend who had since moved to England. 

Although it is the responsibility of applicants to keep the Housing Executive updated of any change of address, our adviser explained that Louise’s distressing circumstances and lack of familiarity with the system led to her failing to do this.  The adviser also pointed out that the Housing Executive had placed Louise in temporary accommodation so should have known where she was living at the time the decision was made.  After considering Louise’s difficulties and the arguments put forward by our adviser the Housing Executive accepted our request for an out of time review.

Our adviser submitted a review on Louise’s behalf, pointing out how she met each of the four homeless hurdles.  Happily, the Housing Executive overturned its original decision and, on reading our submissions, found that Louise should be considered a Full Duty Applicant.  She was allowed to remain in the hostel and is waiting for an offer of housing in an area far away from her ex-partner’s home.

Helping victims of domestic abuse

Advisers helping clients who are experiencing domestic violence should liaise closely with the Housing Executive if the client has requested assistance under the homelessness legislation.   Often people affected by domestic abuse can be utterly terrified of their abusers.  It’s so important that the client’s safety is paramount and that sensitive details, like the client’s former whereabouts or the fact that the person has sought advice and assistance, are not accidentally disclosed to the abuser.  Housing Rights is running a training course on Domestic Violence, Relationship Breakdown and Housing.  This course will look at the issue from the victim’s perspective, accessing protection through occupation orders and the issue of ongoing safety. This will help you deal with a client who is a victim of domestic violence by explaining how housing law and practice impacts on the rights of the client to remain in their home.

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Homelessness, Adviser