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When everyone has a home

028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

Communities Minister announces measures to provide housing support during Covid-19 

On 27th March, Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey outlined the measures her department is taking in order to provide people with housing support during the Covid-19 crisis.

Social tenants 

The Department has agreed with all social housing landlords that any tenants facing difficulties payment rent during Covid-19 will not be evicted. 

Private renters 

From 6th April Local Housing Allowance rates will be revised to ensure that they are set at the 30th percentile of rents in each broad rental market area, a move mirroring that announced by the Chancellor. 

The Department has stated that anyone who could previously afford to pay their rent who has lost their job and who signs on to Universal Credit can apply for a Discretionary Housing Payment to have their rent paid in full for 13 weeks. This mirrors the 13-week protection available under Housing Benefit.

Minister Hargey also highlighted that courts will only be listing urgent matters and that the law requires landlords to obtain a court order before a tenant can be lawfully evicted. This, effectively, limits the ability of landlords to evict tenants until such point as the courts reopen for routine matters. 

Homeowners 

The Chancellor has announced that lenders will offer a three-month mortgage holiday for homeowners, which has been extended to cover Buy to Let mortgages.  

Co-ownership has assured the Department that their customers’ home are secure and that any issues with keeping up payments will be treated with sensitivity and support.  

People experiencing homelessness 

The Housing Executive has sourced additional accommodation and is working with the Department for Communities, Department of Health, the Public Health Agency and Trusts to ensure the safety of people in homeless accommodation settings and to respond to the staffing and capacity pressures they are facing.   

Minister Hargey is working with the Department for Finance to secure additional personal protective equipment (PPE) for this sector.  

The Housing Executive is working to identify temporary accommodation for those who need it, regardless of whether they have recourse to public funds.  

Housing Rights response to emergency measures

We welcome each of these provisions and are grateful for Minister Hargey’s recognition in her statement of the work Housing Rights are doing to support people at this difficult time, and for her support in ensuring we can continue to offer our expert advice.  

The measures announced by the Minister include a number of the recommendations we gave in our Policy Briefing on Initial recommendations in response to Covid-19 to prevent and alleviate homelessness.  However, the briefing outlines further policy and practice interventions which we are calling for decision makers to implement in order to help prevent homelessness at this time, including: 

  • Increasing the budget for Discretionary Housing Payments. 

  • Ending the 5-week wait for payments of Universal Credit, something Iain Duncan Smith has said could be done “almost immediately”.  

  • Ensure that Discretionary Housing Payments are available as soon as a person has claimed Universal Credit, rather than waiting until the award is in payment. 

  • Reducing the waiting period for assistance with mortgage interest to 13 weeks or 3 assessment periods. 

  • Reversing changes to support for mortgage interest so that it is paid in the form of a benefit, rather than as an interest-bearing loan. 

  • Providing comprehensive support, guidance and where appropriate resources to assist temporary accommodation providers to keep residents safe and well. 

  • Reviewing and amending the legislation for rates rebate which currently heavily and artificially restricts the amount of assistance households get with rates if they have a final payment of salary or redundancy monies after claiming Universal Credit. 

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Coronavirus, NI Assembly