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When everyone has a home

028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

ADVISER: Representing tenants at county court

Sandra is a tenant of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive who was represented at court by Emma from our Housing Possession Court Duty Scheme, a project that provides court representation to people who have been taken to court because of rent or mortgage arrears.

Emma spotted Sandra sitting outside the court room.  Emma introduced herself, explained who Housing Rights are and told Sandra about our Housing Possession Court Duty Scheme.   Sandra said she felt a huge relief knowing that Emma was going to be by her side at court and that she’d do all the talking for her.  

Sandra is a single mother and has two sons aged 18 and 19.  Neither of Sandra’s sons is in full time education and so the boys are not seen as dependent children. This means that any income they have is taken into account when assessing Sandra’s entitlement to Housing Benefit assistance.

Reliance on high cost lending led to rent arrears

Emma found out that Sandra owed the Housing Executive more than £5,000 in rent.  Sandra told Emma that she’d been in a difficult relationship and that her former partner had put her under serious financial pressure.  She said she’d started to rely on doorstep lenders and money shops over the past few years and had prioritised making payments to these lenders over paying her rent.  Sandra had been diagnosed with depression during her relationship and said she’d felt unable to cope with the problem.  She told Emma that her depression had made it difficult for her to engage with attempts by the Housing Executive to sort out her arrears problems. 

Eventually, the Housing Executive started possession action against Sandra.  Depending on the outcome of the court case, Sandra and her sons could end being evicted.  Sandra attended the court without representation in November 2015.

Last minute court assistance for tenants in rent arrears

At the hearing, Emma requested an adjournment to enable Housing Rights to look into Sandra’s circumstances further. The judge agreed to adjourn the case for 3 months.

Back at the office, the advice team at Housing Rights looked into the case a bit more deeply.  Our adviser negotiated with the Housing Executive and was able to work out an affordable payment plan so Sandra could start repaying what she owed in manageable weekly instalments.  

At the next hearing, an order with a stay was secured.  This means that as long as Sandra keeps paying the agreed extra £5 to the Housing Executive every week she can continue to live in her home.

Legal help for tenants and homeowners experiencing debt problems in Northern Ireland

Our Housing Possession Court Duty Scheme is available to homeowners and tenants who are at risk of losing their home because of rent or mortgage arrears.  The service is funded by the Department of Justice and is free for tenants or homeowners who are scheduled to attend court because of rent or mortgage arrears. Clients attending Court should ask court staff to direct them to Housing Rights staff for free advice and representation. 

Tagged In

Repossession, Social Tenancies, Adviser

This article was written on 23 February 2016. 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.