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2016 Homeless Monitor: Northern Ireland must work together to prevent homelessness

The number of people accepted as homeless in Northern Ireland has increased by 13% since 2012/13.  The key to tackling this is to work to prevent homelessness from happening in the first place, according to research published this week by Crisis and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. 

The 2016 Homelessness Monitor provides a current, independent picture of homelessness in Northern Ireland. It follows on from the 2013 Homelessness Monitor, which was the first report of its kind in Northern Ireland.  The report investigates the impact of government policies and economic factors on homelessness and charts homelessness incidence and trends in Northern Ireland.

Some of the key data from the report tells us:

  • Statutory homelessness rose significantly in Northern Ireland during the early 2000s and has remained at historically high levels since 2005/06.
  • In 2015/16 some 18,600 households presented as homeless in Northern Ireland.  Of these, 60 per cent – some 11,200 – were judged as ‘Full Duty Applicants’ (FDA). This represents a 13% increase in FDA since 2012/13.
  • Rates of official homelessness are higher in Northern Ireland than anywhere else in the UK (13.4 statutory acceptances per 1000 households compared to 2.3 in England)

The report states that housing market trends and policies have the most direct impact on levels of homelessness and highlights critical policy matters currently influencing homelessness in Northern Ireland:

Health and homelessness

The report discusses increases in begging, street drinking and the use of ‘legal-highs’, and their links with homelessness.  Adequate detoxification facilities for those with serious substance misuse problems is identified as a key service gap, with requirements that clients are ‘clean’ and engaged with community support for a specified period before entering the service seen as unhelpful. 

The report reviews the problems with implementation of the current Homelessness Strategy, pointing to a perceived failure to achieve effective interdepartmental buy-in, particularly from the Department of Health.  The report indicated the need for the commitment of stronger interdepartmental working to be embedded within the new Homelessness Strategy due for publication in 2017.

Unreasonable accommodation and homelessness

Trend over time analysis highlights ‘accommodation not reasonable’ as the ‘reason for homelessness’ category exhibiting the largest increase over recent years (34% increase between 2012/13 and 2015/16).  It is understood that this category relates mainly to older people subject to rehousing having been judged no longer able to maintain their home.  If this category were excluded from the FDA total, the recorded increase since 2012/13 would have been 6 per cent.  It is anticipated that this pattern of lettings will change significantly when the much delayed review of social housing allocations is finally implemented.

The report particularly recommends:

  •  A renewed focus on the prevention of youth homelessness (all 18-25 year olds) due to the likely disproportionate impact of welfare reform on young people
  • Putting together a plan to ease concerns about what will happen in 2020 with the mitigation budget provisions for welfare reform comes to an end
  •  The provision of adequate detoxification facilities for those with serious substance misuse problems
  • Members of the Northern Ireland Executive work together to deliver positive policy change, and urges the Department of Communities, Department of Justice and Department of Health to work with the homelessness sector to prevent and reduce homelessness.

Brian Robson from JRF said:

“The Northern Ireland Executive’s Programme for Government pledges to care for others and help those in need. The extent to which homelessness is prevented will be a key test of this commitment."

Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive of Crisis said:

“Northern Ireland has the highest rate of officially recognised homelessness in the UK, yet that could change if incoming measures aimed at preventing people from becoming homeless in the first place are fully implemented. Prevention is better than cure, and we’ve already seen improvements from similar schemes elsewhere in the UK, especially Wales.”

Tagged In

Research, Policy, Homelessness


Lizzie Scott

This article was written on 11 November 2016. 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.