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When everyone has a home

028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

Almost 9 out of 10 of rental properties are out of reach for people receiving Housing Benefit

New research from Housing Rights,  Falling Behind: Exploring the gap between Local Housing Allowance and the availability of affordable private rented accommodation in Northern Ireland, 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.

Significant decrease in the proportion of properties covered by Local Housing Allowance

The report focuses on the provision of housing benefit in the private rented sector, which is paid at ‘Local Housing Allowance’ (LHA) rates.
The research used rental data for around 10,000 private rented sector properties per year and LHA rates going back to 2008. It showed that there has been a significant decrease in the proportion of properties with rents which would be covered by the LHA rates. From 2009 to 2018, there were 75% fewer properties available to rent for households who rely on Housing Benefit to cover the cost of their rent.

The research also shows that, although rents in NI have risen roughly in line with inflation, those rents at the cheaper end of the market have increased more than those at the more expensive end. This means that low income households which have to rely on Housing Benefit have been squeezed between rising rents and reducing Housing Benefit.

By 2018, there were only 1 in 10 properties available at or below the LHA rate in NI (LHA rates are supposed to mean that households in receipt of Housing Benefit in the private rented sector would be able to access the cheapest 30% of properties – or 3 in 10). There was a particular lack of one and two bedroom properties overall and certain parts of Belfast had no shared accommodation or one bedroom properties at all available at the LHA rate.

Housing Rights experience of rent shortfalls

Using data from Housing Rights’ clients, the research also showed that there was a marked increase in the number of calls to Housing Rights’ helpline which were about a shortfall between rent and Housing Benefit since the introduction of LHA rates. Clients reported significant shortfalls even after getting additional help in the form of Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs).

Other problems reported by clients included work-related issues (e.g. temporary work, reduced hours at work or zero-hours contracts) which meant that paying their rent with the help of Housing Benefit was increasingly difficult, given the reduction in the LHA rates. Many younger clients reported difficulties finding affordable accommodation which would be covered by LHA rates. Older clients reported finding it difficult to maintain their tenancies in what was their family home after their children grew up and moved out, resulting in their LHA rate being reduced as it is based on the number of bedrooms which are needed. Many Housing Rights’ clients reported that they had prioritised their rent over other demands on their resources (including cutting back on food and other essentials) so as to avoid the possibility of eviction due to arrears.

A full report and Executive Summary is available from Housing Rights. The policy implications arising from this research are also given a full consideration in a separate policy briefing produced by Housing Rights.


Tagged In

Benefits, Private Tenancies, Welfare Reform, Affordability