Homeless services '˜abused'

The number of homeless people in Northern Ireland has spiralled up 32 per cent in the past five years, potentially due to people exploiting the system to move house for their own personal desires, it is claimed.

Tuesday, 21st November 2017, 12:01 am
Updated Tuesday, 12th December 2017, 11:57 am
Housing Executive headquarters in Belfast. Pic: Paul Faith/PA

The Homelessness in Northern Ireland report by Office (NIAO) found that nearly 12,000 households were accepted as homeless in 2016-17 in Northern Ireland. Over the past five years the cost to the public purse of dealing with the issue was around £300 million.

NIAO chief Kieran Donnelly said the practice of allocating a high proportion of available social homes to those considered homeless under the wide range of current definitions “carries risks” and can create “an incentive for households who desire, rather than need to move from one house to another”.

It is “widely accepted” that the current system “could be open to abuse” and a fundamental review of policy is “long overdue” he added.

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The Department of Communities (DfC) and Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) put forward a number of reasons for homeless figures being around seven times higher here than those in England “but they are not supported by evidence” he found.

NIAO found that NIHE was slow to adopt the ‘Housing Options1’ preventative approach used across England since the mid 2000’s, which led to a significant decrease in statutory homeless numbers there.

The most common reasons for homelessness in Northern Ireland were accommodation being not reasonable, 31%; family disputes, 18%; or loss of rented accommodation, 18%.

People may declare their current accommodation ‘not reasonable’ on health grounds, if the property is unfit or due to overcrowding or unsuitable location. People in this category are then considered ‘homeless at home’.

The majority of people classed homeless are living with friends or relatives, in temporary accommodation or in properties which are not deemed suitable for their needs.

A DfC spokeswoman said it works with partners to prevent homelessness but cannot comment in detail as the matters could be heard by the Public Accounts Committee.