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When everyone has a home

028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

Proposed changes to definition of affordable housing

A consultation on proposed changes to the definition of Affordable Housing is currently underway. The Department for Communities wishes to revise the definition of "affordable housing" currently used so that it encompasses a wider range of housing products. 

What is affordable housing?

The current definition of affordable housing relates specifically to social rented housing and intermediate housing. Intermediate housing is housing provided through a registered housing association provided on a shared ownership basis, such as that provided by the Co-ownership scheme. 

The Department proposes defining affordable housing as "housing provided for sale or rent outside of the general market, for those whose needs are not met by the market. Affordable housing which is funded by Government must remain affordable or, alternatively, there must be provision for the public subsidy to be repaid or recycled in the provision of new affordable housing".  While the definition no longer specifically mentions social rented housing, the Department has stated that its proposals will not materially impact on the established and agreed meaning of social housing or access to social housing. 

The new definition offers scope to include additional housing models in the definition of affordable housing, such as shared equity and rent to own schemes. The consultation document also touches on build to rent options which would be provided at affordable rents, with the suggestion that affordable rents could be set at LHA levels or at 20 per cent below local market balue. 

Consultees are also asked to consider how government can ensure that affordable housing remains so, through the repayment or recycling of any subsidy. 

Targeted groups

A section of the consultation paper asks respondents to consider how affordable housing can specifically meet the needs of certain groups whose needs are not adequately met by the current housing market. It identifies four broad customer groupings, but also asks for evidence to support the inclusio of additional groups. The four customer groups identified in the consultation document are:

  • First time buyers or buyers returning to the market
  • Active older people
  • People with disabilities and
  • Lower income households, particularly those with low priority for social housing. 

The consultation closes on 13 September 2019. The Department for Communities has published the full consultation and associated documents on its website. 

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This article was written on 29 July 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.