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When everyone has a home

028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

New private rented access scheme for homeless people from NIHE and Smartmove Housing

The Housing Executive has started writing to certain people on the social housing waiting list to tell them about privately rented housing that is available in their areas.

Smartmove Housing will manage these private tenancies.  Smartmove will provide initial support to new tenants and will make referrals to other agencies for tenants who need additional support to help manage and sustain their tenancy.

The Housing Executive will remove any homeless applicant who accepts a tenancy through this scheme from the waiting list. This is because they will have discharged their legal duties to any homeless applicants who have accepted a Smartmove tenancy.

Reasons behind the new scheme

Demand for social housing far outstrips its supply. Applicants need upwards of 170 points in certain areas of Northern Ireland to be in with a chance of getting an offer.  Yet, there are people with Full Duty Applicant status whose points don’t come anywhere close to this level.  This scheme hopes to reduce the number on the waiting list by promoting privately rented housing as an option to people who:

  • have passed all 4 homelessness tests and
  • have been on the waiting list for more than 6 months and
  • have asked to be rehoused in any of the 12 high demand areas listed below and
  • are entitled to housing benefit or can afford to pay the rent on the property. 

12 high demand areas selected for the scheme

There are 12 areas in this scheme:

  • West Belfast
  • South Belfast
  • North Belfast
  • Ballymena
  • Collon Terrace
  • Waterloo
  • Waterside
  • Newry
  • Lisburn Antrim Street
  • Downpatrick
  • Antrim
  • Castlereagh

Information for clients interested in the scheme

Clients who receive a letter are under no obligation to take part in this scheme.  However, it may be a more viable option for some clients who don’t have a realistic chance of an offer of social housing in the area they wish to live in.

Before an applicant signs up for a private tenancy, Smartmove Housing will check that there are no offers of a social tenancy pending or due to the applicant.  During the interview, officers from Smartmove will check that the applicant is able to afford the tenancy and work out whether referrals need to be made to support services to help address any particular issues that the applicant might have.

Advantages of using the scheme

Many clients will access a tenancy much more quickly using this scheme than by waiting for an offer from the Housing Executive or a housing association.

Smartmove will manage the tenancy for the first 6 months and will help to mediate if there’s a dispute between the tenant and the landlord.

Applicants should get adequate support to make sure that they are able to sustain a private rented tenancy.  The management services and mediation provided by Smartmove during the first 6 months should make it easier for tenants with no experience of the private sector to manage their tenancies.

Tenants will not have to pay a full deposit before moving into the property but they will have to start saving in Smartmove’s deposit scheme to build up a deposit for the tenancy. 

All landlords have to sign up to the scheme for 3 years at a time so tenants should be able to stay in their new home for that period as long as they stick to the terms of the tenancy agreement.

Disadvantages of using the scheme

Clients who accept a tenancy through this scheme will lose their place on the waiting list and all their points.  It’s essential that any clients you advise understand that accepting a tenancy through this scheme means they will not be offered a social tenancy.

Privately rented properties are usually more expensive than properties owned by the Housing Executive or a housing association.  Housing benefit won’t always cover the full cost of renting privately and tenants may have to give their landlord a top-up payment every month.

It is often much easier for a private landlord to evict a tenant than it is for the Housing Executive or a housing association to do this.

Tenants will need to save towards their deposit each month and may find this difficult.  Saving a deposit could also be advantageous to tenants as they will be able to keep this money when they leave the tenancy as long as the landlord isn’t owed any rent and no damage has been caused to the tenancy.

Private landlords are under no obligation to renew a tenancy when it expires.  Although Smartmove’s landlords commit to remaining in the scheme for 3 years, circumstances may arise which make the landlord decide to sell the property. 

Independent advice for tenants interested in the scheme

Clients who are interested in the scheme but haven’t rented privately before should read our top tips for renting .  Before accepting a tenancy through this scheme, encourage your clients to get independent advice or speak to an adviser at Housing Rights Service.  Make sure they know that they will be removed from the waiting list and understand what this means.

Tagged In

Private Tenancies, Homelessness