22 June, 2023
Providing housing solutions in Northern Ireland
Housing and Homelessness Programme / Partner story
Photo provided by Housing Rights
A home is critical for people to feel safe and secure. A sudden change in circumstances instigated by structural causes, such as economic inequality, can make people vulnerable to losing their homes. What should be a place of stability, sanctuary, social connection, and personal growth, can become an overwhelming source of worry.
Clare and her children were facing eviction when she contacted Housing Rights – Northern Ireland. Her husband had died, and her son had recently taken his own life. These tragedies had left Clare so emotionally distraught that she was unable to work, and she couldn’t pay her mortgage.
Her home was no longer affordable and, with over GBP 10,000 of mortgage arrears, was weeks away from being repossessed. Clare explained to Housing Rights that she had agreed to a private sale, but there was no chance it would be completed before the eviction date.
On Clare’s behalf, Housing Rights negotiated with the lender’s solicitor to reach an agreement that allowed Clare the time to complete the sale. With the threat of eviction removed, Clare could find a new home that better met the needs of her family.
Housing Rights is a not-for-profit organisation based in Belfast that works to improve lives by tackling homelessness and housing problems in Northern Ireland. It provides housing advice to thousands of people like Clare every year, plus information and training for landlords and housing professionals. It also works to raise awareness around people who are struggling to keep their homes, in order to improve the provision of housing and increase support for people at risk of homelessness.
“We believe a good quality affordable home can be a building block to a stable life. Our work shows us the intrinsic link between housing circumstance and opportunities to access employment, education as well as to fundamental wellbeing. says Housing Rights Chief Executive, Kate McCauley. “All our work helps us to achieve our vision, ‘where everyone has a home’.”
Since its foundation in 1964, Housing Rights has prevented thousands of people in Northern Ireland from losing their homes. In 2021–22 alone, it protected 1,027 households from becoming homeless, and supported a further 12,852 with advice and mediation services. Among helpline users, 9 out of 10 people said that their housing circumstances had improved since they used the Housing Rights helpline, and the same proportion reported an improved sense of well-being.
Housing Rights also works to: represent people going to court for repossession; provide advice to help landlords understand their legal responsibilities; help resolve problems by mediating between landlords and their tenants; help people in or leaving custody keep their homes or find a home on release from prison; and prevent young people from becoming homeless.
This practical support is a lifeline to people facing potential homelessness – but just as important is the need to give a voice to renters’ experiences, so that housing conditions and tenants’ protections improve in future. This is why Housing Rights carried out research into barriers to private sector housing for vulnerable people in Northern Ireland. The research findings identified key barriers to accessing accommodation: deposits and rent in advance, guarantors and references, upfront fees and other access charges, and availability of affordable accommodation.
Housing Rights has also created the Renters’ Forum, a group of tenants who work together to make private renting better for everyone. In addition, it works to raise awareness of the difficulties that some communities in Northern Ireland are facing in regard to housing, and seeks to encourage the change needed so that their lives are improved.
This work has contributed to positive changes in the private rental sector, the key milestone being the Private Tenancies Act (Northern Ireland) 2022. Its reforms will include more secure tenancies, restrictions on frequency of rent increases and improved standards so that homes are safer and more energy efficient.
Oak Foundation has been supporting the work of Housing Rights – Northern Ireland since 2006. We know that homelessness is preventable, yet far too many people are under constant pressure of losing their homes. The structural causes of homelessness include economic inequality and unemployment, discrimination and racism, and the lack of affordable housing. Oak supports partners that address these causes, informed by people with lived experience. If you would like to find out more about Housing Rights Northern Ireland, check out its website here.
This grant falls under the Housing and Homelessness Programme, which believes in a society where more people live in decent homes and fewer people experience homelessness and housing insecurity. You can find out more about our programme here.