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When everyone has a home

028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

Housing Rights responds to “Breathing Space” consultation

Housing Rights has responded to the Government’s consultation on a 6-week “breathing space” for people in serious problem debt.

Accessing a breathing space

Housing Rights feels that individuals seeking a breathing space should be required to engage with a regulated debt adviser. This advice should be rigorously regulated and quality assured, and advisers should be explicitly required to act solely in the best interests of the client. Housing Rights would also recommend that such advice is free to the client – or at minimum, the client is clearly signposted to free advice by lenders and the Government.

Finally, given the importance and distinctive nature of housing debt, Housing Rights recommends that the regulation and quality assurance of advice include specific requirements on standards of housing debt advice.

Priority of debts for a breathing space

Housing Rights feels that all debts should be eligible for “breathing space” protection. Additionally, Housing Rights believes that mortgage, tenancy and other housing debts should be prioritised by any breathing space scheme. As the ultimate sanction of these forms of debt is eviction or possession of the client’s home, these debts should be prioritised in any breathing space and consequent debt repayment plan.

Interaction of breathing space with pre-action protocols

Similarly to the rest of the UK, Northern Ireland has specific pre-action protocols for lenders seeking to possess a home for mortgage arrears, and social landlords seeking possession for rent arrears.

These are vital protections for individuals seeking to sustain their tenancies and homes, and ensure that lenders and landlords follow due process of law when seeking possession of a property. The Government should ensure that any breathing space scheme is explicitly additional to existing pre-action protocols, and does not compromise or diminish these in any way.

Benefits of a breathing space scheme in Northern Ireland

Housing Rights would welcome further detailed consideration from the Government on the creation of a breathing space scheme in Northern Ireland. This could have the potential to offer clients valuable time and space to establish a sustainable debt repayment plan, whilst the proposed consequent protections from further fees or interest during a repayment plan would make repayment more sustainable.

Housing Rights would welcome further engagement from the Government with Housing Rights, and other relevant Northern Irish stakeholders, in advance of any specific introduction of a breathing space scheme to Northern Ireland.

Read the full response.

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Policy, Affordability

This article was written on 2 January 2018. 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.