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When everyone has a home

028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

Almost 9 in 10 homes unaffordable for people on housing benefit

New research launched today by advice charity Housing Rights shows that renting privately in Northern Ireland is becoming increasingly unaffordable for people who rely on housing benefit to pay their rent. Almost 9 out of 10 of rental properties are out of reach for people receiving Housing Benefit with the research showing that as little as 12% of properties in the sector would have their rent fully covered by the amount of benefit available.

The research also shows that over a ten year period, whilst the number of households renting from private landlords has increased significantly, the number of properties which are available to rent at a level which is fully covered by housing benefit has reduced by 75%.

The charity has warned that these findings are particularly concerning when read alongside government statistics which show loss of rental accommodation as one of the top reasons for homelessness locally.

Kate McCauley Policy & Practice Manager with Housing Rights commented:

Our research highlights clear and persistent affordability issues for low income private renters who are impacted by a growing gap between the level of benefit help available and their rents.  With benefit support supposed to cover the rent in the bottom third of the market, it is deeply concerning that as little as 1 in 10 properties are actually available at this rate.  We identified that in over half of all properties advertised for rent, the tenants would have to pay a shortfall varying from £45-£134 per month.  We are concerned this places many low income households under serious pressure to keep a roof over their heads.”

The research identifies that whilst on average rents in Northern Ireland have risen roughly in line with inflation; housing benefit for private renters has not. Housing Benefit paid to households who rent their home from a private landlord is paid at the “Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rate”. The formula used to decide how much LHA rate to pay to these households has been impacted by a number of benefit cuts since 2011, including the benefit freeze. It is estimated that 38% of those living in the PRS in NI are in poverty[1] (JRF, 2018)

The research findings come at a time when charities across the UK have been highlighting the impact that cuts to LHA rates has had on low income households who rely on the benefit to stay in their homes. Locally, Housing Rights says that whilst this research shows the local picture of these national concerns, there is also a specific Northern Ireland response that is required.

Ms McCauley continued: “At a national level Housing Rights joins others in calling for Westminster to ensure that Local Housing Allowance payments are adjusted to cover, at minimum, the bottom third of rents in the private rented sector. It is vital that the increasing numbers of families who live in this sector, often because they can’t access a social home, have the government support they need to find and keep their home.

Closer to home, this research should also be reflected on by local policy makers in a number of key areas. Firstly, the extent of the affordability problems facing low income households is further evidence of the unsuitability of the sector for vulnerable homeless households.  Secondly; any additional welfare protections being considered post March 2020 should include some level of additional practical support to assist private tenants who face affordability problems because of the cuts to Local Housing Allowance.”



Notes to editors:

For further information contact Claire at Housing Rights Service on 90 267925/07512 203867

Spokespersons will be available for comment

About Housing Rights;

  • Housing Rights is the leading specialist provider of independent housing advice in Northern Ireland.  Established in 1964 the charity works to improve lives by tackling homelessness and housing problems.  Last year the organisation provided advice and assistance on nearly 47,000 housing issues.

About the research;

  • The extent of the affordability issues facing low income households renting privately had not been fully highlighted. So In late 2018, Housing Rights undertook research to explore the difficulties experienced by Northern Ireland households living in the private rented sector (PRS) who were receiving housing benefit to pay their rent.
  • The research assesses data supplied by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive over a ten year period (2008-2018) as well as looking at enquiries received by the advice charity from low income private renters over a similar period.
  • The research was carried out by Dr Martina McAuley, Research & Evaluation Officer at Housing Rights and was supported by the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence (CaCHE). A Research Advisory Group included representatives from the Department for Communities, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, Ulster University, CaCHE & Housing Rights.
  • The research will be formally launched at a one day conference run by Housing Rights and the Chartered Institute of Housing NI looking at how to deliver affordable housing in Northern Ireland on Monday 14th October 2019.
  • The full research, an Executive Summary and a policy paper which explores the implications on government policy are available.

Key statistics about the Private Rented Sector

  • The proportion of households living in the private rented sector (PRS) in Northern Ireland more than doubled between 1983 and 2016.
  • According to the NIHE House Condition Survey for 2016 18% of households (136,000 households) in NI are living in the PRS.
  • According to the same survey, whilst the PRS was traditionally dominated by single adult households (which still make up around 41% of the PRS), since 2006 the proportion of households with children living in the PRS has increased to 47% and this is now the largest group in the sector (64,000 households or 160,000 people).
  • According to the DfC, the average weekly rent in the private rented sector is £98 compared to £77 in the social rented sector
  • Over 50% of people who rent from private landlords are in receipt of LHA.
  • 9 out of 10 of these tenants experience shortfall

More about Housing Benefit in the Private Rented Sector

  • Housing benefit for low income households renting a home from a private landlord is paid at the “local housing allowance” (LHA) rate. The aim of this rate was that it would fully cover the cost of the rent for at least 30% of the cheapest third of properties (30 out of a 100). A series of cuts to the benefit from 2011 on means this is no longer the case.
  • For the purpose of calculating LHA Northern Ireland is split into 8 “ Broad Market Rental Areas”(BRMA’s) where a person could reasonably be expected to live.  There are five property types within each of the areas: shared accommodation; one bedroom; two bedroom; three bedroom and four bedroom.

About what Housing Rights is calling for;

  1. Housing Rights is calling on the Westminster government to ensure that Local Housing Allowance is sufficient to cover rents at the bottom third of the market, as it should do. In practice, this has not been the case because of a series of cuts to LHA since 2011, most particularly the Benefit Freeze which has been in place since 2015.

A number of other organisations in Great Britain have also called for this. These include, the National Housing Federation and Crisis which has launched a campaign to ‘Cover the Cost’.

  1. Housing Rights has also identified a number of changes which should be made to NI government policy in areas such as homelessness and welfare reform. A policy paper which is published alongside the research explores these more fully. The key areas Housing Rights wants to highlight however are:


  1. In 2017, the Department for Communities proposed that governments could meet their legal duty to provide housing to people who are homeless by allocating a home in the private rented sector. Prior to this, homes were provided in Housing Executive or Housing Association properties where greater regulation exists. Whilst this proposal will need a Minister to progress, Housing Rights views this research as further evidencing the unsuitability of the private rented sector as an option for people who are homeless.
  2. In March 2020, vital welfare mitigations, which provide additional support to households impacted by the latest wave of welfare reforms, are due to expire. Housing Rights is one of over 100 organisations in the Cliffedge Coalition which are campaigning for these protections to be continued and strengthened. Housing Rights is specifically calling for low income private renters, impacted by the cuts to LHA rates which this research evidences, to be included as a group which receives protection in any revised mitigation package.

[1] Defined as households with income after housing costs (and adjusted for household size and type) which are below 60% of the median income.