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028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

Assembly Roundup: March 2016

A roundup of the questions answered by the Minister for Social Development in March. 

Homelessness

To ask the Minister for Social Development for the definition of rough sleepers, as used by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.  Mr Steven Agnew, Green Party AQW 54898/11-16

The Housing Executive follows the guidance used by Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) for the definition of rough sleepers, which is:

  • people sleeping, about to bed down (sitting on/in or standing next to their bedding) or actually bedded down in the open air (such as on the streets, in tents, doorways, parks, bus shelters or encampments);
  • people in buildings or other places not designed for habitation (such as stairwells, barns, sheds, car parks, cars, derelict boats, stations, or ‘bashes’).

The definition does not include people in hostels or shelters, people in campsites, or other sites used for recreational purposes, or organised protest, squatters or travellers.

To ask the Minister for Social Development what (a) strategies; and (b) provisions the Northern Ireland Housing Executive has in place to support homeless people that (i) are excluded from multiple homeless shelters; (ii) are failed asylum seekers home; (iii) have no recourse to benefits; and (iv) are excluded from being a full duty applicant. Mr Steven Agnew, Green Party AQW 54897/11-16

The Housing Executive has statutory responsibilities for responding to homelessness under the Housing (Northern Ireland) Order 1988. The Housing Executive’s current Homelessness Strategy, produced under the auspices of this legislation, focuses on prevention and early intervention.

Where a person has full duty applicant status, the Housing Executive may discharge that duty in stages, via temporary accommodation, until a permanent accommodation solution can be found. Where a person, who is a full duty applicant, is excluded from multiple shelters, the duty remains, and the Housing Executive will continue to secure accommodation for that applicant so long as it is required.

People generally become excluded from temporary accommodation due to a combination of complex factors, including behavioural issues, poor mental health, addictions and an inability or unwillingness to engage with services attached to accommodation facilities. The Housing Executive has developed a range of services to assist individuals with complex needs. These include:

  • a range of high tolerance, low threshold supported accommodation;
  • a pilot Housing First Model, which case manages complex individuals in individual accommodation with wraparound support;
  • in Belfast, the Housing Executive and Belfast Trust work with Extern to provide a Multi-Disciplinary Homeless Support Team.

The Housing Executive has no statutory authority to provide accommodation to failed Asylum Seekers or others with no recourse to public funds and must operate within the bounds of UK immigration law.

Persons subject to immigration control and other persons from abroad with no recourse to public funds are entitled to free advice in relation to homelessness and the prevention of homelessness. This may include referring the applicant to other support agencies. If the Housing Executive has decided the homeless applicant is a person who is ineligible, but believes they are destitute, and has a pre-existing care need or has children in the household, the Housing Executive may secure the services of the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety under the Health & Personal Services (NI) Order 1972. In the same way, the Health and Social Care Trusts have a duty under the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 to provide services for persons under 18 who are children in need. Therefore, the Housing Executive will make a referral to the relevant Health and Social Care Trust in such instances.

The Housing Executive has a duty to provide advice and assistance to any homeless applicants who do not meet the statutory criteria for Full Duty Applicant status. Advice and assistance includes signposting to self-referral hostels, providing information on routes into the privately rented sector and other housing tenures. People who are not awarded full duty applicant status, and who remain eligible for housing services, can also be placed on the social housing waiting list.

To ask the Minister for Social Development how many people are considered to be homeless and sleeping on the street.  Mr Alex Easton, DUP AQW 54856/11-16

In relation to the Belfast area an audit of those considered to be homeless, and sleeping on the street, was carried out between May and July 2015. At the end of each day during this period, the Street Audit Team recorded the number of individuals who had been recorded as actually sleeping rough.

The average number of rough sleepers per night was 6. Advice and assistance was offered in all cases.

There is currently no data available to gauge the number of individuals who are homeless and sleeping on the street outside of Belfast.

Social Housing

To ask the Minister for Social Development what action his Department is taking to address the lack of social and affordable housing.  Mr Andy Allen, UUP AQW 54808/11-16

The Housing Executive is responsible for the identification and calculation of social housing need which is used to formulate the Social Housing Development Programme. The Housing Executive’s annual assessment of housing need across all district councils is used to determine the supply and demand for new social housing across Northern Ireland.

The Housing Executive, through its review of the current arrangements for the delivery of the Social Housing Development Programme, is assessing if there may be alternative mechanisms that will improve the delivery of social housing in Northern Ireland. This review is underway and the findings will be reported to me in due course.

I have recently approved the rolling three year gross Social Housing Development Programme covering the period 2016/17 to 2018/19. However you may wish to note that the Housing Executive has set an indicative target to deliver 8,000 new starts by 2020.

In respect of affordable housing, the Northern Ireland Co-Ownership Housing Association (NICHA) continues to be my Department’s main delivery partner.Over the last year, my Department has secured nearly £95 million in Financial Transactions Capital (FTC) loan funding for the Co-Ownership Scheme for the period 2015/16 to 2018/19. It is anticipated that this funding, in conjunction with its private finance, will permit NICHA to deliver over 2,600 additional affordable homes.

My Department has also secured £31 million in FTC loan monies to pilot the Affordable Home Loans Fund (AHLF) and Co-Ownership’s Rent to Own Initiative (formerly Rent to Purchase). These two programmes are collectively expected to deliver over 700 additional affordable homes over the coming 3 to 4 years.

My Department recognises that there continues to be significant supply barriers hampering the delivery of housing of all tenures in the wake of the economic downturn. To this end, the Department is actively working in conjunction with the NIHE and other Executive Departments to provide surplus public land sites to Housing Associations for the provision of social and affordable housing.
 

Empty Homes

To ask the Minister for Social Development to detail the number of previously empty homes that have been refurbished and sold, under the Affordable Home Loans Fund. Mr Gregory Campbell, DUP AQW 54730/11-16

Apex Housing Association is the only association that has received funding from the Affordable Home Loans Fund for the refurbishment of previously empty homes for sale. To date, they have purchased a total of 17 properties with this funding, 12 of which have been sold on as affordable homes and 5 that are currently in the process of refurbishment.

Landlord Registration

To ask the Minister for Social Development whether any follow up action has been taken as a result of landlords that failed to register under the Landlord Registration Scheme.  Mr Gregory Campbell, DUP AQW 54437/11-16

Since the introduction of the Landlord Registration scheme in 2014, over 46,000 landlords have registered with the scheme providing details of over 97,500 tenancies, which equates to approximately 98% of all private tenancies.

My Department has spoken to Councils, who are responsible for enforcement action against landlords, on follow up action that they have taken. They have advised that the work that they are carrying out with landlords and the threat of prosecution is having an impact on landlords registering with the scheme. There continues to be on average approximately 400 landlords registering per month which indicates that their actions are having an impact.
Landlord Registration and actions taken by local councils is one of number issues that will be considered as part of the current review of the role and regulation of the Private Rented Sector.

House sales

To ask the Minister for Social Development how many Northern Ireland Housing Executive homes were sold to tenants in each of the last three financial years. Mr Alex Easton, DUP AQW 54718/11-16 

The Housing Executive has advised that the number of NIHE homes sold to tenants in each of the last three financial years was as follows:-
2012/13 -290
2013/14 -549
2014/15 - 471

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This article was written on 24 March 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.