On this page
- Responsibility for homelessness
- Applying for help as a homeless person
- Threatened with homelessness
- Eligibility test
- Habitual residence
- Eligibility of British and Irish citizens
- Eligibility of European Economic Area nationals
- Review of a homeless decision
- Temporary accommodation
- Additional duties to homeless persons
- Eligibility of other nationalities
- Eligibility on grounds of behaviour
- Priority need
- Restricted cases
- Intentionally homeless
- Helping a destitute person with homelessness
- Homelessness help for young people
- Emergency help for homelessness
- Discharging the full duty to accommodate
This information is for professionals working in housing and homelessness.
Responsibility for homelessness
In Northern Ireland, the government department responsible for housing and homelessness is the Department for Communities.
The Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) is the statutory body responsible for homelessness in Northern Ireland. The Housing Executive is subject to section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. Social Services may have a duty to provide housing to someone aged 16-21 if they consider that this would help their welfare.
Local councils in Northern Ireland do not provide accommodation or homelessness services.
The Housing (Northern Ireland) Order 1988 is the primary piece of legislation that deals with homelessness in Northern Ireland.
The 1988 order sets out the:
- four tests a person must pass before they are legally homeless
- duties the Housing Executive has towards a person who asks for help with homelessness
- process for reviewing or appealing certain Housing Executive decisions about homelessness
NIHE legal duties under the 1988 order
The 1988 order established certain Housing Executive duties.
Duty to provide advice and assistance
The Housing Executive must ensure people have access to help and advice about homelessness and the prevention of homelessness. This advice must:
- be free of charge, and
- have regard to guidance issued by the department
The Housing Executive has a further duty to provide help and advice to help someone find accommodation if they have either:
- no priority need, or
- priority need but are intentionally homeless
Duty to make inquiries
The Housing Executive must make inquiries into a person’s circumstances if there is reason to believe the person is homeless or threatened with homelessness.
The duties to make inquiries and to provide accommodation are not triggered if it is immediately clear that a person is ineligible for assistance.
The Housing Executive can ask for information or advice to help them make a decision on a homelessness application from:
- a health and social services board
- the Probation Board for Northern Ireland
- a registered housing association
These bodies must cooperate with the Housing Executive.
Interim duty to accommodate
The Housing Executive must provide interim or temporary accommodation to a person who appears to be homeless and in priority need while they carry out their enquiries.
Full duty applicants
The Housing Executive must provide accommodation to a person who is:
- Eligible for assistance
- Homeless or threatened with homelessness
- In priority need, and
- Unintentionally homeless
A person who passes all four homelessness tests is a ‘full duty applicant’. They are entitled to:
- Suitable accommodation
- Storage of their furniture
- Assistance with travel to temporary accommodation, if needed
The Housing Executive meets this duty by providing suitable accommodation. This can mean continuing to provide temporary accommodation until the applicant receives a suitable offer of social housing.
The full accommodation duty is discharged if the applicant:
- Accepts an offer of social housing made under the selection scheme
- Refuses two reasonable offers of accommodation made under the selection scheme
- Finds their own permanent home
- Asks to be removed from the waiting list
- Is a restricted case and accepts an offer of private or social housing
- Is a restricted case and refuses a reasonable offer of private accommodation
The duty can be withdrawn if a person is no longer eligible for assistance.
Duty to notify applicants of the outcome of the assessment
The Housing Executive must notify any applicant of:
- The outcome of their homelessness application, and
- Reasons for a decision that the person is not a full duty applicant
The applicant must be notified in writing.
The Housing Executive must publish a homelessness strategy for Northern Ireland. The current strategy covers the period 2022-2027. Its objectives are to:
- Prioritise homelessness prevention
- Address homelessness by providing secure, appropriate accommodation and support
- support customers exiting homelessness into settled accommodation.
The Housing Executive publishes the Homelessness Guidance Manual for its staff. This sets out the process staff should follow when dealing with people who are homeless or threatened with homelessness.
Copies of this manual can be requested under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.
-  Northern Ireland Act 1998, Section 75
-  The Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995, Article 21 (4)
-  Housing (Northern Ireland) Order 1988, Part II, Article 6 (D)
-  Housing (NI) Order 1988 Part II, 10(3), 10(4), 11(3), 11(4)
-  Housing (Northern Ireland) Order 1988, Article 14
-  Housing (Northern Ireland) Order 1988, Article 9
-  Housing (Northern Ireland) Order 1988, Article 6A