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Ending intimidation points - is there another way?

Housing Rights policy officer Kerry Logan looks at how we can address issues surrounding intimidation points. 

In the Department for Communities’ 2017 Fundamental Review of Allocations, the DfC proposed the removal of intimidation points from the Housing Selection Scheme and that people who have been made homeless through intimidation would instead only receive 20 Primary Social Needs points (which recognise the trauma associated with violence or the fear of violence the applicant has experienced) and 70 points for Full Duty Applicant Status.

However in a recent statement in the NI Assembly, Communities Minister Carál Ní Chuilín expressed her commitment, not to ending intimidation points, but to looking at it another way. Housing Rights welcomes this commitment and shares the Minister’s reservations regarding the proposal to completely remove this award without alternative necessary safeguards; we also believe a blanket removal would be too simple a solution for such a complex issue; and would not provide adequate protection to those in crisis whose lives are under threat.

While Housing Rights does not support the blanket removal of intimidation points, we understand that there are issues with the current system. Notably the intimidation points test does not account for victims of intimidation in all areas of life e.g. domestic violence victims or victims of sex trafficking.

Intimidation Points – the current system

Under the current system an applicant will receive 200 intimidation points if:

  • The Applicant’s home has been destroyed or seriously damaged (by explosion, fire or other means) OR The Applicant cannot reasonably be expected to live, or to resume living in his/ her home because, if he or she were to do so, there would, in the opinion of the Designated Officer, be a serious and imminent risk that the Applicant, or one or more of the Applicant’s household, would be killed or seriously injured.

It must then be established that the above is

  • as a result of a terrorist, racial or sectarian attack, or because of an attack motivated by hostility because of an individual’s disability or sexual orientation, or as a result of an attack by a person who falls within the scope of the NIHE’s statutory powers to address neighbourhood nuisance or other similar forms of anti-social behaviour

Housing Rights’ position on intimidation points

Housing Rights acknowledges that the award or withholding of an award of intimidation points is one of the most contentious decisions that can be made under the current Housing Selection Scheme. The is due to the fact that the decision to grant an applicant “intimidation points”, results in an applicant receiving 200 points for intimidation, 70 points for FDA status and 20 points for Fear of violence. This can often lead to individuals moving to the top of the waiting list, to detriment of others who may have already been waiting for some considerable time.

Although Housing Rights has experienced some difficulties in the application of intimidation points and recognises that the system can be open to abuse, we have also seen the award of these points act as a necessary safeguard to clients who are in a critical situation; as a lifeline to protect them and their families.

The award of intimidation points acknowledges an escalated harm or crisis. It is our view that the proposed award of Primary Social Need (PSN) points only does not alone acknowledge the level of crisis experienced. In fact, the Housing Selection Scheme Guidance Manual already states that PSN points will be automatically awarded to someone with intimidation points, therefore, the proposal being made by the Department is a straightforward deduction of 200 points.

In light of the above, Housing Rights recommends that it would be appropriate to consider replacing intimidation points as currently awarded with a new award for applicants experiencing a “life threatening trauma,” to encompass both a wider range of specified groups and acknowledge the critical nature of their situation e.g. domestic violence victims or victims of sex trafficking. In any situation of life threatening trauma the need to safeguard lives must remain the priority, with Housing Selection Scheme points allocated accordingly.

This could be at a lower level of points than 200 but should still be sufficient to reflect the urgency and importance of rehousing the members of the household into a safe and secure environment. We recommend the use of modelling to assist the Department in identifying the appropriate level of points for this situation. Furthermore, we continue to recommend urgent attention to be given to addressing the underlying problem of lack of supply - increasing the supply of social housing in Northern Ireland is crucial in order to meet the needs of all those on the waiting list.

This article was written on 20 October 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.