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When everyone has a home

028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

A look behind housing statistics

The Department for Social Development has released the latest housing statistics for Northern Ireland.  Policy Manager Nicola McCrudden looks at the numbers and the people behind them.

Increasing demand for housing and housing advice

Demand for our service has never been greater from people who are homeless or in housing need. Everyday our advisers are dealing with people who have no home of their own or who are at risk of losing their home.

We get enquiries from people who are in overcrowded or unsuitable conditions and from families who are living with disrepair or in properties which are unfit for human habitation.  At Housing Rights Service we see people’s housing problems at first hand.

Recent housing statistics, released by the Department for Social Development, show that demand for social housing is at its highest in 10 years. At 31 March 2013 41,356 households were on the waiting list; 22,414 of these were in “housing stress”.

Reasons for homelessness

In the financial year 2012/2013, 19,354 households presented to the Housing Executive as homeless.  The most common reasons for being homeless were

  • sharing breakdown;
  • accommodation not reasonable; and
  • loss of rented housing (normally private rented).

Notably there was a 20% increase in the number of people presenting as homeless because they had lost privately rented housing.  There were 10% increases in the numbers presenting because they live in unsuitable housing or had no accommodation. Although relatively low numerically, the number of homeless people presenting due to mortgage default increased by 13%.

Supply and demand of housing in Northern Ireland

A simple explanation for these increases is that there are not enough social rented homes to meet demand. The Programme for Government set an annual target of 1,500 new social rented units for the period 2011-15. If we are to be serious about making a difference to the lives of those in most housing need, we need to start building more homes – probably double the current amount.

In our experience, a lot of people in receipt of benefits who can’t access a social rented home find their own accommodation in the private rented sector. However, as the above statistics show, the private rented market is increasingly becoming a cause of homelessness.  Shortfalls in housing benefit are commonplace and recent cuts to housing benefit mean that tenants in receipt of benefit will generally only have access to properties at the lower end of the market. This is where property conditions are usually poorer and management standards can be questionable.

Seeking an alternative to building more homes

If we can’t build more homes then we must make sure that there are good, affordable alternatives in the private rented market. Better enforcement of current standards would assist. However, a more fundamental approach to regulation is required to drive up standards and make it an attractive option for low income households.

Although everyone may not be feeling it we’re in the midst of a housing crisis. To understand how real and urgent this crisis is you only have to listen to the people who come to us every day who are desperate to save their homes or to find somewhere decent, safe and affordable to live. 

Tagged In

Social Tenancies, Private Tenancies, Homelessness, Opinion

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This article was written on 13 February 2014. 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.