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When everyone has a home

028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

Housing Rights priorities for the new Assembly

With Stormont back up and running, our Policy & Practice Manager, Kate McCauley has had a look at the key areas which Housing Rights hopes will be prioritised over the coming months by the new Minister and those MLAs appointed to Stormont’s Communities Committee

Having already written to the new Minister for Communities, Deirdre Hargey MLA to welcome her to post, our policy team is wasting no time in ensuring that the experiences of those who use our advice services help to inform decisions government will make about housing and homelessness.

Welcome housing commitments in New Decade, New Approach

Housing Rights welcomes the significant housing and welfare related developments included in the ‘New Decade, New Approach’ agreement and looks forward to working with the Department to progress these.  We welcome the commitment to increase housing supply and are especially pleased to see a promise to include a housing outcome in the forthcoming Programme for Government. Along with our colleagues in the sector, Housing Rights campaigned for access to a good quality, affordable, sustainable home to be included as a specific outcome in a revised PfG.

As a co-convenor of the Cliffedge Coalition, we are particularly pleased to note a commitment to review and extend the current welfare mitigations. Along with over 100 other organisations in NI who are part of the Coalition, we feel strongly that there is both the opportunity and imperative to extend and strengthen these vital protections post March 2020.

Listen to Kate talking to BBC journalist, Will Leitch on On Your Behalf (18th January) about the housing and welfare commitments in New Deal, New Approach.

5 areas which require urgent Ministerial attention

1.The review of the Private Rented Sector

Prior to the last Assembly’s collapse, a consultation paper was issued in early 2017 with a series of proposals to improve the regulation of the sector.

Housing Rights recommends that the Department reinstate the PRS Stakeholder Group to review the existing proposals and put forward any amendments or additional proposals which may be necessary. This should include;

  • Regulation of the sector so it is fit for purpose
  • Appropriate and sufficient consideration of the well evidenced affordability problems
  • Supporting private tenant involvement

2.Tackling Homelessness

The Department has responsibility for key areas of policy and legislation which impact on homelessness in Northern Ireland.

Social Housing Allocations

Department proposals put forward on social housing allocations, include a proposal to allocate on a ‘tenure neutral basis’; in effect this would mean that the NIHE’s statutory duty to provide accommodation to people experiencing homelessness could be met by providing private rented accommodation.

Loss of rented accommodation continues to be one of the top 3 reasons for homelessness presentations in NI. It is therefore our view that it is premature to consider allocation on a tenure neutral basis at this time and we would urge the removal of such a proposal.

Legislation

It is our view that there is significant and urgent need for the development of a robust legislative framework which should include e.g. the updating of our legislation to reflect developments elsewhere. In Wales for example, since 2015 the statutory timeframe of 28 days under which someone threatened with homelessness is able to access support to sustain their accommodation or be rehoused, has been doubled to 56 days. Since 2017, this has also been the case in England.

Moreover, an improved legislative framework should underwrite cross departmental efforts to address homelessness by including a statutory duty to co-operate on each of the statutory bodies named in section 6A(5) of the Housing (Northern Ireland) Order 1988. The duty would be operationalised by a mechanism to allow the pooling of resources between Departments. Significant work with key stakeholders was undertaken in the last mandate to develop proposals in this area which could be reviewed and progressed quickly.

Enhanced focus on the impact of social security, poverty & homelessness

The co-location of social security, social inclusion and housing functions within the Department for Communities gives unparalleled opportunity for Northern Ireland to advance policy development to assist households at risk of/ experiencing homelessness as a consequence of poverty and welfare reform. Housing Rights would therefore encourage the Minister to;

  • Ensure the impact of housing costs on low-income households, particularly those in the private rented sector, is considered in the forthcoming anti-poverty strategy.
  • Ensure that the revised welfare mitigations package, developed following a review, includes financial provision for a service to support low income private tenants.

3.The definition of affordable housing

In 2019, the Department for Communities brought forward an initial policy paper to inform the development of an affordable housing definition. Such a definition would inform planning policy at a council level and would also underpin further policy proposals in the area. Housing Rights also notes that the ‘New Decade, New Approach’ document includes reference to housing affordability in the context of a housing outcome. It is therefore important that the definition is robust.

  • The proposed definition could be strengthened if it included assessment of housing costs and household income. Work currently being done by the Affordable Housing Commission to define affordability should be viewed as best practice.
  • To support this, a comprehensive assessment of the housing affordability concerns of people in all housing tenures in Northern Ireland, including those private renters impacted by changes to Local Housing Allowance, should be undertaken.

4. The development of ‘indicators’ under the PfG housing outcome

The inclusion of a standalone housing outcome will be best supported by the inclusion of indicators which are able to evidence if government efforts are improving people’s ability to find and keep such a home. Housing Rights recommends that;

  • Stakeholders are involved in the assessment of appropriate indicators under the housing outcome
  • Indicators should be cross-tenure; i.e. they should be able to capture the experiences of people living in social housing, private rented and owner occupied sectors.
  • Indicators should be linked to people and their experiences.

5. The involvement of people with direct experience of poor housing and homelessness in decisions made by government about housing.

Significant decisions which impact on people in Northern Ireland’s ability to find and keep a home will be taken forward in the coming months. For these decisions to be successful in improving people’s lives, those affected should be included in the decision making process. Particular efforts should be made to include low-income households, households which are vulnerable and at risk of homelessness. Housing Rights seeks to ensure that people using our services are involved in policy decisions made by government and would be happy to facilitate such involvement to support the Department in the months ahead.

Contact our Policy Team

Kate McCauley, Policy & Practice Manager
kate@housingrights.org.uk
Twitter: @KateMcC16

Kerry Logan, Welfare Reform Policy Officer
kerry@housingrights.org.uk
Twitter: @K_Logan

Tagged In

Welfare Reform, Policy, Homelessness, NI Assembly

Author

Kate McCauley