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028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

Should NIHE use the private rented sector to meet its housing duties?

Photo of terraced houses with "to let" signs attached

Housing Rights strongly welcomed Minister Carál Ní Chuilín’s recent announcement regarding her plans to enhance standards and regulation in the private rented sector and to revitalise the Housing Executive.

However, we are concerned about plans to allow the Housing Executive to meet its statutory duty to provide accommodation to homeless households by making an offer of a privately rented tenancy. Our concerns are set out in a newly-published briefing paper. 

In its 2017 Fundamental Review of Social Housing Allocations, the Department for Communities proposed: 

“that the NIHE could, where appropriate, meet its homelessness duty by securing suitable accommodation in the private rented sector, subject to certain safeguards. This means, in line with practice in other areas of the United Kingdom, that reasonable accommodation could include private rented sector accommodation.”

Significant changes needed before the private rented sector can meet the needs of homeless households

Given the lack of available social housing, Housing Rights appreciates the need for urgent action to address the growing waiting list for social housing and, in particular, the needs of people who are experiencing homelessness and waiting for unacceptably long periods for a new home. However, we believe that it would be extremely premature to permit the Housing Executive to discharge its duty by housing homeless household in the private rented sector.

Housing Rights believes the private rented sector in Northern Ireland, as currently regulated, cannot provide a good quality, affordable and sustainable home for homeless families. Therefore, before this proposal is considered, Housing Rights strongly recommends that:

  • The review of the current Housing Fitness Standard should be completed, and the required improvements executed.
  • The Landlord Registration scheme should be further developed into a system of Landlord Licensing. This should include a fit and proper person test, suitable management and financial arrangements and mandatory compliance with all relevant legislation. Before being issued with a license, landlords should be required to bring their properties up to the proper fitness standard.
  • The underlying insecurity of tenure which is associated with the PRS in NI should be addressed in order to prevent a pattern of recurring homelessness.
  • The provision of tailored management services to assist people who have previously been homeless to sustain their tenancy. These should include access to financial support packages offering help with deposits and a range of other practical support initiatives including access to specialist services for those experiencing health and social care issues.

We believe that social security changes are required in order to make the private rented sector a sustainable housing option for homeless households, and believe that the UK Government must:

  • Realign Local Housing Allowance Rates to cover the cheapest 50% of market rents, as was the case until 2011;
  • Remove the Shared Accommodation Rate of Local Housing Allowance; and
  • Abolish the 5 week wait for an applicant's first payment of Universal Credit.

The Department for Communities and the NI Housing Executive can work together to ease some of the affordability issues experienced by households living in the private rented sector, thereby making it more suitable as a long-term housing option by:

Housing Rights further recommends that consideration be given to conversion schemes and long term leasing within a discussion on how to meet the needs of homeless households in a timely and appropriate manner.

Homeless households are in acute housing need and contain some of the most vulnerable applicants on the waiting list for social housing. In our policy paper we outline the problems which continue to exist within the private rented sector with regards to standards, security of tenure and affordability in particular. Housing Rights believes that, without significant intervention, the private rented sector is not fit for the purpose of discharging the statutory duty owed to those people who are homeless within NI.

Tagged In

Policy, Homelessness
This article was written on 10 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.