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028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

Accessing and Sustaining Tenancies in the Private Rented Sector: Scoping Report

Illustration of low income households to accompany report

Our latest research looks at the barriers facing low-income households who want to live in the private rented sector (PRS). The research aims to provide a better understanding of the needs of this group and to assess best practice initiatives which work elsewhere.

The research was funded by NIHE under the Homelessness Prevention Fund 2019/20 as a scoping project to inform innovation in future service delivery by understanding the practical support needs of low income private tenants.

Barriers to accessing accommodation

Deposits and rent in advance

The traditional requirement for potential tenants to pay both a deposit and a month’s rent in advance continues to limit access to privately rented housing. In some cases, this requirement led to clients losing an opportunity to move into a PRS property, as they weren’t able to gather the funds to pay these charges quickly enough.

This issue was exacerbated for foreign nationals who are often required to pay several months’ rent in advance and/or required to pay a higher deposit in lieu of providing a guarantor.

Guarantors and references

The requirement to provide a guarantor or reference is likely to cause particular difficulties for young clients and those leaving institutions, such as the criminal justice system.

Other upfront fees and charges

Despite court rulings clarifying that certain requirements to pay fees are void, access fees remain a major hurdle for many, with some exorbitant fees still being requested.

Barriers to sustaining tenancies

Affordability concerns are the major barrier to sustaining tenancy, whether these are directly attributable to rent issues or fuel poverty, as a result of poor housing conditions. Respondents reported

  • prioritising rent over other expenditure, often leading to increased borrowing
  • fuel poverty caused by poor conditions impacting on household resources
  • concerns around arrears, often caused by unclear rent statements.

Recommendations

The report examines interventions in Northern Ireland and other jurisdictions and recommends initiatives that could make renting privately a more attractive and viable prospect for low-income families, including

  • Providing financial assistance with deposits and rent in advance.
  • Developing standardised tenancy agreements and starter packs to include information on debt advice and how to access to fair / low cost credit.
  • A dedicated property search website and vetting for low cost PRS properties and a housing hub for low income tenants..
  • Improving standards in PRS properties e.g. a mandatory ‘MOT’ type inspection for PRS properties on an annual or biannual basis and the introduction of landlord licensing in order to deter ‘rogue’ landlords alongside regulation of PRS rental costs and security of tenure.

The research was carried out before the Covid-19 pandemic hit Northern Ireland and was completed at the end of March 2020. Publication was stalled as a result of the subsequent lockdown. Whilst there have been changes in the PRS in response to the health and economic impacts of the pandemic, the issues relating to accessing and sustaining tenancies, particularly for low income households, remain largely unchanged.

Tagged In

Research, Private Tenancies
This article was written on 23 September 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.