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When everyone has a home

028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

Myths about housing in Northern Ireland

Our housing advisers speak to hundreds of people every week about housing in Northern Ireland.  We’ve found that there are quite a few myths out there about housing in Northern Ireland and we’d like to dispel these.   We’re starting with social housing and how properties are allocated.

Foreign nationals’ rights to access housing

Only 1.6% of people housed in Housing Executive properties in 2012/13 selected their ethnic origin as  African, Bangladeshi, Caribbean, Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, Mixed or Other Ethnic Origin.

Figures from the Housing Executive state that only 234 allocations were made to minority households (including those of white ethnic origin, such as some European migrants) in the 12 months to July 2013. Despite this, a myth persists that people from abroad are getting priority for housing.

Anyone who comes from outside the UK or Ireland faces extra difficulties in getting social housing, because they need to show that they are legally eligible to apply. 

Applicants from countries outside the European Economic Area (EEA) can only get housing in certain limited circumstances e.g. if they have been granted refugee status.  Even at that, eligibility is just one test; the applicant will still be subject to all the same rules and criteria as an applicant from the UK or Ireland. 

An applicant from an EEA country will have to show that they have a right to live and work in Northern Ireland.  They will usually have to show that they (or a family member) is working or has recently worked in Northern Ireland.

If an applicant from an EEA country, e.g. France, has never worked in Northern Ireland, it is highly unlikely that this person will be entitled to apply for social housing.   Any EEA national who is entitled to apply will be assessed in exactly the same way as an applicant from the UK or Ireland. 

Letters of support and selection scheme points

It’s common for people to call us because a doctor or social worker has sent in a letter of support but the applicant hasn’t been given any extra points for this letter.

When an applicant is writing a letter for points, it’s best to explain which points on the selection scheme they’re asking for.  The selection scheme breaks down the list of housing points into specific areas and can award points based on:

  • whether the applicant is homeless or not
  • their current housing conditions
  • any mobility problems the applicant may have
  • their physical ability to manage in the current home and manage their  own personal care
  • any social problems they may have in their current home or location.

A housing officer can only award each point on the selection scheme once to the applicant.  If a client has been given 10 points for being socially isolated, (Other Social Needs Factor 10) but then sends in supporting letters from a social worker and a Community Psychiatric Nurse reaffirming this isolation, the client won’t get any more points for these letters.

The first thing you or your client needs to know is which points they’ve already got.  Then they can focus on asking for any extra points they might be entitled to.  Check out our Adviser column if you want to know more about getting effective letters of support.

Your rights to housing depend on whether you’re employed or not

Although it may seem odd to people who work in housing, there is a belief among certain members of the public that social housing is only for people who are unemployed or on benefits.  This isn’t true.  To apply for social housing you must

A person’s employment status has absolutely nothing to do with their right to access social housing.  There are plenty of employed people living in social housing.

Length of time on the list doesn’t really matter

The waiting list is very long.  Some people have been on the list for 15 years, but will never get an offer because they don’t have enough points.

The maximum number of points a person can get for the length of time they’ve been waiting for an offer is 10.  They can get 2 points once they’ve been on the list for 2 years and a further 2 points for each additional year they’re on the list until they’ve been awarded the full 10.

The total points, rather than the length of time waiting, dictate how likely it is that an applicant will get an offer.  If they’ve been on the list for 10 years, but they’ve only got 10 points, their chances of getting an offer are pretty much non-existent.

Prioritising vulnerable people for social housing

People often assume that housing is only given out to people who have children, suffer from illnesses or disabilities and people with mental health or addiction issues. The reality of this myth is more complex.

When someone applies for housing, a housing officer will assess them to see how many points they’re entitled to. If it appears that someone is homeless and has a priority need, that person may be entitled to extra help from the Housing Executive.  To pass the priority need test, they need to show the Housing Executive that they are vulnerable in some way.  Some people will automatically pass this test, including

  • people who have dependent children
  • pregnant women
  • people who have a disability.

If an applicant doesn’t automatically pass the test, they will need to show compelling evidence to the Housing Executive to convince them

  • that they are vulnerable in some way and
  • this vulnerability means that they would find it more difficult to cope as a homeless person than someone would who does not have this vulnerability. 

For example, someone who is receiving treatment for addiction may find it difficult to continue this treatment if he or she was sleeping on the streets.

The priority need test is only one of four tests for homelessness.  People who pass all four tests are given 70 points and become entitled to temporary housing.  People who don’t pass the priority need test can get a maximum of 50 points if they are homeless.  In areas where housing is in high demand, these 20 points could be the difference between getting and not getting an offer of housing.

A person can apply for housing if they don’t have any children or medical issues, but they just might not get as many points as someone who does.  This might mean they’ll have to think more strategically about the areas they pick.

More information on how social housing is allocated

Check out our housingadviceNI website if you’re confused about the waiting list, the points system or offers of housing.

Tagged In

Social Tenancies, Equality
This article was written on 25 July 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.