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028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

The ‘Perfect Storm’: The impact of Covid-19 on private renters in Northern Ireland

A new report on the impact of Covid-19 on private renters in Northern Ireland is launched today. The research uses evidence from case records relating to clients who contacted Housing Rights during the period March-June 2020 and shows that those living in the private rented sector have been disproportionately affected, caught in the ‘perfect storm’ of low incomes (often as a result of job losses, furlough or reduced hours), job insecurity and tenure insecurity.

The economic context

The experiences of private renters are set against the economic context arising from the pandemic and the policy interventions brought about in order to manage the spread of the virus. The research highlights in particular that:

  • Those in lower paid work (including accommodation and food) were more likely to be furloughed – 240,000 workers in NI were on furlough in June 2020 out of a workforce of 790,000.
  • There was a 60% reduction in the number of job vacancies in June 2020 compared to the same period in the previous year.
  • The claimant count in NI almost doubled in just 3 months between February and May and the rate of new claims from private tenants was more than double that of social tenants.

We know that more lower paid and casual workers live in the private rented sector, including students who rely on their earnings from part time work to pay for their accommodation. All of this suggests that people living in the private rented sector were more likely to be adversely affected by the pandemic.

Our clients’ experiences

Looking at Housing Rights case records, the report shows that the majority of clients who were calling regarding issues arising as a result of the pandemic and lockdown were living in the private rented sector. The report looks in detail at a selection of case studies and finds the following:

  • Almost half of those who had affordability issues were fearful of being evicted as a result of the arrears which they were accruing. A high proportion of those affected worked in hospitality or were self-employed.
  • Many people were applying for benefits for the first time in their lives and clients reported finding the system difficult to navigate. Particular elements of the system (such as the five week wait for first UC payment) were difficult to cope with.
  • Students who contacted Housing Rights were particularly affected by lay-offs and reduced hours (and income) at work, many of whom relied on their income from part-time work to pay for their rent, with little or no alternative support available to them.
  • The support provided for many employees and the self-employed was indeed a lifeline, but it is important to remember that it did not reach everyone affected.

The way forward

The pandemic and the economic shock which has followed has served to expose fault lines in the housing system. However, there is perhaps the potential to use the experience and knowledge gained to aim to address those issues, which have come into sharp focus as a result of the turmoil caused by the pandemic.

More than anything, this research has shown that the pandemic and subsequent lockdown has affected households in all manner of ways, but that those living in the private rented sector have been disproportionately affected. In part this may be due to the increasing proportion of low income households in the private rented sector and as such a policy change in favour of social and affordable housing will be key to a post Covid-19 recovery. The research has also shown that the support that many households received has been immensely helpful, but it has also shown us that it is important to remember that we may all be in the same storm, but we are definitely not in the same boat.

Read the Executive Summary here

Read the full research here

 

Tagged In

Coronavirus, Legislation, Regulation, Research, Private Tenancies, Affordability
This article was written on 24 November 2020. 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.