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When everyone has a home

028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

ADVISER: Housing benefit problems and backdates

Our Housing Champions project is a vital element of our work with vulnerable communities. Through this project, we have established links with advisers in Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities who help us to advise clients within their communities and signpost people who may not otherwise contact Housing Rights to us for advice and assistance with homelessness and housing issues.

Where cases are particularly complex, experienced adviser Jonathan will step in. In this particular case, Jonathan advocated for a Somali family who were facing an overpayment demand. Jonathan was introduced to the family by Tifow, one of our housing champions who works with the NI Somali Association. The intervention from Jonathan and Tifow resulted in a backdated payment of Housing Benefit, clearing the overpayment and lifting a huge financial and emotional weight from this family.

A was granted refugee status in 2016. Her husband and children joined her in Northern Ireland under the family reunification programme in autumn 2017. The family approached Housing Rights in February 2020, after receiving notification from NIHE that they had received too much Housing Benefit and had to repay this.

Two-child policy restricted family’s benefits

Jonathan was concerned at the amount of money the family was already contributing towards rent while on a limited income and carried out a benefits check. After some research and consultation with NIHE, it became clear that the family had been impacted by the 2-child limit, introduced to benefit rules in 2017. Under Housing Benefit rules, a person who is in receipt of income related benefits will receive help with their full eligible rent, but people who are in receipt of income from wages and other sources will have their entitlement based on a government assessment of their needs and resources. Until 11 May 2017, a family was given an allowance for each child in their home in recognition of the costs of feeding, clothing and providing for each child. But, a change in rules in 2017, means that this allowance is now limited to a maximum of 2 children, regardless of how many children the family is actually caring for.

After the birth of a baby girl in 2018, the family now had four children, but was only receiving allowances for two.

Challenge results in backdated award

There are some exceptions to the 2-child rule, including where an award of child tax credit includes more than 2 children. In this case, A’s award of tax credit included allowance for three children. On this basis, Jonathan asked the Housing Executive to reconsider the amount of benefit it had paid to A and her family. After reviewing the file, the Housing Executive reassessed A’s claim between March 2019 and April 2020 and included a third child in her entitlement. This cleared the overpayment and the small amount of arrears, as well as creating a credit in the family's rent account. 

Providing services to everyone

Our work with underserved and underrepresented communities has taught us how vital it is to provide opportunities to people from these communities. It's made us appreciate how vital people like Tifow are to helping organisations like us reach the communities who need assistance 

We are incredibly grateful for what we have learned from our Housing Champions, and we've used these lessons to shape our services. We've learned that there are barriers and blockades that stop people coming to organisations like Housing Rights: people don’t know what we do; people may not understand why we do it; people may be concerned about costs or language difficulties or getting in trouble with authorities. During Refugee Week it’s important to reiterate that we want to help, we are here to help and we want to learn how to do better.  

Without our champions, we couldn’t do this work.

If you’d like to learn more about our Housing Champions project, contact Brenda Parker.

Our housing helpline is available for people who need help with housing problems and we have access to telephone interpreting servcies. Call 028 9024 5640 and choose option 5 between 09:30 adn 16:30 Monday to Friday.

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Minority Groups

This article was written on 16 June 2020. 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.