Northern Ireland’s housing response to COVID-19
The Department for Communities has published its housing response to COVID-19. CIH policy and engagement manager Heather Wilson says for the most part, these measures are aimed at two things: avoiding rent arrears and providing security of tenure during this uncertain period.
So, what measures did the department introduce for social tenants?
The Department for Communities has received assurances from the Housing Executive and housing associations that any social tenant struggling to pay their rent as a result of COVID-19 will not be evicted.
"My department will work with housing associations and the Housing Executive to help them keep tenants in their homes and to ensure that the welfare system can provide help to their tenants as quickly as possible. You can be assured your home is secure." - Deirdre Hargey, minister for communities
The minister has also been working with Co-ownership to ensure that any tenant struggling to make payments will not lose their home at this time.
"I have also been assured by Co-ownership for those facing difficulties keeping up with their payments, that their customers' homes are secure."
What measures were introduced for tenants in the private rented sector?
Two main measures were announced for private renters who are in receipt of either the housing element of universal credit or housing benefit to prevent them from falling into arrears:
- An increase in local housing allowance will to be introduced 1 April to provide additional financial support for renters.
- Anyone who faces unemployment during this time can apply for a discretionary housing payment to cover their rent in full for 13 weeks.
For private renters not in receipt of universal credit or housing benefit, the safeguards aren’t quite as substantial as the sector would have hoped for. Nonetheless, the courts in Northern Ireland have essentially prevented any evictions from taking place.
The lord chief justice's office has said that courts will only be listing urgent matters. As a result, a landlord will be unable to legally seek possession of a tenant’s house without a court order, resulting in the delay of evictions at this time.
What measures have been put in place for homeowners?
For homeowners, the chancellor has announced a three-month mortgage holiday to help alleviate financial strain on households during this time. Mortgage holidays also apply to 'buy-to-let' mortgages; this will reduce financial strain on landlords and in turn will alleviate pressure on their tenants who are struggling to meet their rent payments due to a loss of income.
Please be advised that you will have to contact your mortgage lender directly to avail of this.
What additional measures did the minister announce?
Minister Hargey also announced that she is seeking to allocate additional funds to Housing Rights, an independent housing advice service, to help staff to provide as much assistance as possible to tenants across the sector at this time.
"They are experts in their field and I will ensure they have the finance they need to offer the best of their advice to those who need it."
The minister has also said she is working with the Department of Finance to secure additional personal protective equipment for housing professionals working on the frontline.
You can read the minister's statement in full.