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When everyone has a home

028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

Successful homelessness challenges

In the first of a new series our solicitor, Carmel Ferguson, gives an overview of some recent successful challenges that we have made against negative homelessness decisions. 

This first case concerns a client who was a young single mother with two children. She had been renting privately. She had fallen into rent arrears as a result of changes to the amount of benefits she received after her hours of work increased. A friend lent her some money to clear the arrears and at the relevant time when she became homeless the arrears had been cleared. Her landlord, however, changed the locks on the house while she was out collecting her child from school. He refused to allow her to return to the property. He had carried out an illegal eviction as he had not followed due process in giving her the necessary written notice to quit or applying to the court for a court order to remove her.

The applicant went to the Housing Executive for help and was placed in temporary accommodation whilst her homelessness application was processed.

Her application was refused on the grounds that she had made herself intentionally homeless by falling into rent arrears

Whilst the client accepted that she was in breach of the tenancy agreement by falling in to arrears, the arrears had been cleared at the time of being made homeless.

When carrying out a homelessness assessment, the Housing Executive has a duty to look at the reasons for rent arrears in deciding whether an applicant has made herself intentionally homeless. However, the Housing Executive failed to make proper enquiries into the reasons for the rent arrears; namely that the applicant, although initially able to afford the rent, fell into arrears due to her commendable efforts to increase her work hours and her income which adversely left her worse off financially as she lost access to Housing Benefit.

The Housing Executive failed to consider whether it was reasonable for the applicant to continue to occupy the property once it had become unaffordable. The tenancy agreement was due to come to an end and it was clearly not reasonable for the applicant to remain in the property because the tenancy had ended, it was not affordable and the landlord had made it clear that he wanted her to leave.

The Housing Executive failed to take into account that the landlord had other motives for wanting the applicant out of the property; namely that he wanted to move a family member into the house.

They also failed to take into account the fact that the landlord acted illegally in evicting the applicant without following due process of the law. The client and her two small children were put out onto the street by the landlord with a total disregard for the legal process.

Legal aid was applied for and approved to challenge the homelessness decision by way of appeal to the county court. On receipt of the Notice of Appeal the Housing Executive legal department advised that the decision would be withdrawn and looked at afresh. We are still awaiting a new decision.

Tagged In

Homelessness, Legal

This article was written on 30 July 2014. 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.