TwitterFacebook

 
When everyone has a home

Housing advice for Northern Ireland

Jargon Buster

Letters about your housing problems can be confusing.  This list explains some of the more complicated terms that might be in your letters in simple language.  

Please let us know if there are any other terms you'd like us to include on this page. 

A

Abandonment

Abandonment

Leaving your social or private tenancy without giving your landlord proper notice. Get advice if your landlord suspects that you've abandoned your tenancy.

Adjourned generally

Adjourned generally

A case that still exists in court records but isn't active anymore.  This usually happens if the problem has been sorted out.  Find out more about the decisions a judge can make about your case

Adjournment

Adjournment

Allocation

Allocation

An offer of permanent housing from a social landlord like the Housing Executive.  Find out more about the waiting list and offers. 

Anti social behaviour

Applicable amount

Applicable amount

The amount of money that you the government says you need to live on.  Your applicable amount depends on your age and whether or not you have children.  This figure is used when working out if you're entitled to any housing benefit. 

Arrears

Arrears

Money that you owe.  You will build up arrears if you fall behing on your rent or mortgage payments.  Get advice on dealing with arrears so you don't lose your home.

Assignment

Assignment

When a landlord allows you to transfer your tenancy to another person.  You can only assign a social tenancy in certain circumstances.

Assisted voluntary sale

Assisted voluntary sale

When your mortgage lender gives you time and assistance to sell your home because you have fallen behind on your loan payments and are facing repossession.  Get advice if you're in this position.

Asylum seeker

Asylum seeker

Someone who has left their home country and is seeking asylum in another country.  If this person is granted asylum they become a refugee. 

C

Capital

Capital

Any savings, assets or investments that you own apart from the property that you live in.  You can't receive housing benefit if your capital is above a certain limit. 

Choice Based Lettings

Choice Based Lettings

Advertising vacant NIHE and housing association properties and asking people who are interested in living in these to inform the landlord of their interest.  NIHE, Helm Housing and Clanmil Housing Association all operate Choice Based Lettings systems in Northern Ireland.

Common landlord area

Common landlord area

A small area of social housing where all the housing may be provided by just one social landlord. A General Housing Area is larger and often usually includes several common landlord areas.  Find out more about social housing areas. 

Common selection scheme

Common selection scheme

The list of rules that housing associations and the Housing Executive must use when deciding who to offer a social tenancy to. Find out more about the selection scheme.

Compulsory purchase order

Compulsory purchase order

A legal procedure which allows a government body to purchase land or property belonging to someone else without that person's permission.  This can often happen when a rundown area is being redeveloped. 

Contrived tenancy

Contrived tenancy

A tenancy which is not a genuine business arrangment and has been set up so the tenant and landlord can take advantage of the housing benefit system.  The Housing Executive may suspect a tenancy has been contrived if you are related to your landlord.

Covenant

Covenant

A covenant is an agreement.  You will sometimes see the phrase "restrictive covenant" used in housing information. A restrictive covenant is an agreement which places restrictions on how land can be used. You could, for example, be restricted from redeeming the ground rent on your property if there is a restrictive covenant to this effect in your lease.

The word is sometimes used as a verb in a tenancy agreement.  A tenancy agreement might read "The landlord covenants to pay all rates due on the property".  This simply means that the landlord agrees to pay the rates on the property. 

Curtilage

Curtilage

The enclosed land immediately surrounding a property.  Some tenancy agreements will state that the tenancy is for a certain property and its curtilage.  This usually means a garden or yard.

D

Decant

Decant

Moving a social housing tenant from one property to another.  This normally happens if the property the tenant was originally living in is due to be demolished or sold. When you are decanted your tenancy will be transferred to another property owned by your landlord.

Decision letter (homelessness)

Decision letter (homelessness)

A letter sent after your homeless assessment that explains whether the Housing Executive has any legal responsibility to find you somewhere to live.  If the decision is negative you can ask a more senior member of staff to review this decision. 

Decree

Decree

The technical term for a court order made by a judge.  If you're being evicted or repossessed there are lots of different decisions that the judge can make. 

Deemed homeless

Deemed homeless

You can be homeless even if you have somewhere to stay if your current home is so unsuitable that it is unreasonable to expect you to remain there.  Find out more about the homeless tests in Northern Ireland.

Default tenancy terms

Default tenancy terms

Terms that apply to private tenancies which started after 1 April 2007 where there is no tenancy agreement or the tenancy agreement does not state how long it is for or who is responsible for repairs. The default tenancy term is 6 months.  Find out more about the default repairing obligations. 

Deposit protection

Deposit protection

All tenancy deposits paid after 1 April 2013 must be protected in an approved scheme.  There are only 3 approved schemes operating in Northern Ireland.  The council can issue landlords who haven't protected tenants' deposits with a fixed penalty.

Discretionary Housing Payment

Discretionary Housing Payment

A top-up payment of housing benefit that can be paid to tenants if their housing benefit doesn't cover the full amount of rent they have to pay to the landlord.  You need to apply to the Housing Executive for this payment and it will only be paid for a short amount of time.

Discrimination

Discrimination

Treating one group of people differently to other groups. There is a difference between being treated unfavourably and discrimination.  Only certain groups of people are protected from discrimination by law. 

Dispute resolution mechanism

Dispute resolution mechanism

The process that deposit protection companies will use to decide who is entitled to keep the deposit money if the landlord and the tenant can't agree at the end of the tenancy. The information given to you by your landlord about your deposit should explain how to use this process.

Due process of law

Due process of law

Getting fair and proper treatment according to the legal system.  In housing this normally means that there are certain procedures a landlord must carry out before a tenant can be evicted from a property.  The process is different for social tenants and for private tenants.

E

Ejectment civil bill

Ejectment civil bill

A legal notice to say that your landlord is going to court to try to evict you.  Talk to our advisers immediately if you receive one of these.

Eligibility

Eligibility

One of the tests that you must pass in order to work out whether you are homeless. You may have problems passing this test if you are from certain countries or if you have a history of certain types of antisocial behaviour.

Eligible rent

Eligible rent

The maximum amount of housing benefit that can be paid to tenants.  You may have to pay certain service charges which will not be included in your eligible rent or covered by housing benefit. If you rent privately, your eligible rent is worked out using the Local Housing Allowance rules and depends on how many people live with you and where your rented home is.

Enforcement of judgements office

Enforcement of judgements office

The court that is responsible for making sure that court orders are carried out.  In housing officers of this court are responsible for carrying out repossessions and evictions.  These are the only people who are legally allowed to physically remove you or your possessions from your home.  If anyone else tries to do this, it may be an illegal eviction.

Equity

Equity

The amount of money you would get for your home if you sold it once you have repaid any mortgages or loans secured on it. 

F

Fitness inspection

Fitness inspection

An inspection carried out by an Environmental Health Officer to check that a property meets the minimum fitness standard.  If the property passes the officer will issue a Fitness Certificate. If the property does not pass, the council can serve legal notices on the landlord requiring that certain work is carried out.

Fitness standard

Fitness standard

The minimum standard that a property must meet in order to be rented out to tenants. People are often surprised at how basic the fitness standard is.

Fixed penalty

Fixed penalty

A type of fine.  The council can issue landlord with a fixed penalty if the landlord has not registered, has not protected a tenant's deposit or has not given the tenant specific information about the deposit within 28 days of receiving it. If the landlord doesn't pay the penalty, the council can take the landlord to court. 

Fixed term agreement

Fixed term agreement

A tenancy that has a set start and end date.  Some fixed term agreements may say that the tenancy is for a fixed term and will continue on a monthly basis until the tenant gives written notice to quit.  Check your contract to see if you need to give notice if you intend to move out when your contract ends.

Forbearance

Forbearance

The steps that a lender must take before it can take a homeowner to court for failing to pay the mortgage or secured loan.  If you're having problems paying your mortgage you should speak to our advisers.

Full Duty Applicant (FDA)

Full Duty Applicant (FDA)

A person who has passed all four tests for homelessness and who has not yet been given a permanent social tenancy.  The Housing Executive has certain responsibilities to people with this status, including providing temporary accommodation, storing their furniture in certain cases and making them 3 reasonable offers of a permanent tenancy

Functionality

Functionality

A category of points on the selection scheme.  The functionality points measure how difficult someone with mobility problems finds it to cope in their current home.  Find out more about points for social housing.

G

General housing area

General housing area

A large geographical area containing one or more social housing estates or common landlord areas. 

Guarantor

Guarantor

Someone who promises to pay your rent if you don't pay it or to compensate the landlord for any damage you cause during the tenancy.  Guarantors should always ask for a copy of their guarantor agreement and find out if the guarantee runs indefinitely and if there is any way for them to get out of the arrangement at a later date.

H

Harassment

Harassment

Repeated behaviour which is carried out to annoy someone.  Private landlords cannot harass their tenants. Landlords may be guilty of harassment if they carry out certain actions to try to force a tenant to give up their tenancy. 

House in multiple occupation (HMO)

House in multiple occupation (HMO)

A property where 3 or more people live who are not all members of the same family.  This type of arrangment is popular among students and young people. HMO properties have to comply with certain safety standards.

Hurdles

Hurdles

Another name for the tests that the Housing Executive uses to decide if someone is homeless or not.  There are four of these tests; homelessness, eligibility, intentionality and priority need.

I

Illegal eviction

Illegal eviction

Removing a tenant from a property by force or trying to force a tenant to leave without giving written notice to quit and getting a possession order at court. Contact the environmental health team at your council if you think your landlord is trying to evict you without following the proper legal procedure.

Intentionally homeless

Intentionally homeless

If you deliberately did or failed to do something and that caused your homelessness.  The Housing Executive does not have to help you if you are intentionally homeless.  This is one of the four tests for homelessness that you have to pass.

Interest only mortgage

Interest only mortgage

An Interest only mortgage is one where the borrower only pays back the interest on what he or she has borrowed.  At the end of the term the borrower will still owe the full amount initially borrowed from the bank or building society.  Typically, these mortgage are sold alongside insurance or endowment policies which should mature at the end of the mortgage term and will provide the borrower with a sum which can be used to repay the loan.

Interim accommodation

Interim accommodation

Temporary accommodation provided by the Housing Executive to someone who has passed all 4 tests for homelessness. The person can live in this temporary housing until they accept an offer of permanent housing.  If you're in interim accommodation, provided by NIHE, for 6 months or longer you will be given an extra 20 points.

Intestacy

Intestacy

The process for deciding who inherits someone's possession if that person dies without leaving a will.

Intimidation

Intimidation

A threat to kill or destroy the home of someone. If the police or Base2 confirm that you have been threatened in such was you may be entitled to 200 intimidation points.  These points are not normally given because of neighbourhood disputes, one off attacks or where there is no police or Base 2 confirmation.

J

Joint and several liability

Joint and several liability

A common term in tenancy agreements, this means that all tenants are responsible for their own rent and for the rent of the other tenants.  If one tenant stops paying rent or causes damage the landlord can hold the other tenants' legally responsible for this.  This also extends to the guarantors for the tenancy so get advice before you agree to be someone's guarantor.

Judicial review

Judicial review

A type of court case where the judge can review a decision made by a public body, like the Housing Executive.

L

Landlord registration

Landlord registration

All private landlords in Northern Ireland must register certain details with the official landlord registrar. 

Lease

Lease

Another name for a contract. 

Licensee

Licensee

A licensee has fewer rights than a tenant and can be evicted quite easily.  It can be complicated to work out if you are a tenant or a licensee, so talk to an adviser if you're not sure. 

Local housing allowance

Local housing allowance

The set of rules that is used to decide how much housing benefit can be paid to people who rent their homes from a private landlord or agent.  Find out more about housing benefit if you rent privately.

Lodger

Lodger

Someone who lives with their landlord in the landlord's own home.  Lodgers are usually licensees and don't have as many rights as tenants

M

Mallett letter

Mallett letter

You will need this letter to postpone court proceedings if your home is being repossessed and you would like time to try to sell the property. The letter must be from an estate agent and should explain how much the property is being sold for and whether there have been any offers on it.  Get advice if you're worried that your home could be repossessed. 

Multi offer

Multi offer

A multi or multiple offer is an offer of social housing that has been sent out to more than one person. If you're interested in viewing the property, you should let the landlord know.  You don't need to do anything if you're not interested.  These types of offers don't count as one of your 3 reasonable offers unless you tell the landlord that you'd like to move into the property. 

N

Negative equity

Negative equity

If your home is worth less than the amount of money that you owe on your mortgage and secured loans the property is in negative equity.  Speak to one of our advisers if you're worried about negative equity. 

Nominated occupant

Nominated occupant

You can nominate someone else to live in your home if you are in prison and are unable to live there. This person will be responsible for paying rent and must stick to the terms of your tenancy agreement.  Your landlord needs to agree to this arrangement. Find out more about housing options for prisoners. 

Non dependent

Non dependent

Any adult or grown up child who lives in your home.  The Housing Executive will reduce your housing benefit if you live with other people who are not dependent on you.  The amount of the reduction depends on how much money the non-dependent person earns. 

Notice seeking possession

Notice seeking possession

The letter that the Housing Executive or housing association must send you before it go to court and ask for an order to evict you.  Get advice if you've received one of these. 

Notice to quit

Notice to quit

Private landlords and private tenants need to send written notice if they want to end a tenancy.  They must give at least 28 days' notice, but may have to give more depending on how long the tenant has lived in the property.

Notional capital

Notional capital

If the Housing Executive believes that you recently had money or assets and you got rid of this just so you could apply for benefits, it will treat this money as notional capital.  This means you will be treated as though you still have this money or asset so you may not get any benefits.  Get advice if you think your housing benefit decision is wrong. 

O

Ombudsman

Ombudsman

An organisation that can investigate complaints against certain other organisations. You can use the Ombudsman if you've already complained directly to the organisation but the problem still hasn't been resolved.  Find out more about making a complaint. 

Originating summons

Originating summons

A legal document that must be used to start a case in the High Court.  Get advice if you've received a summons.

Overcrowding

Overcrowding

You may get points on the social housing waiting list if there are more people living in your home than there should be.  The Housing Executive can also investigate if you live in an overcrowded House of Multiple Occupation. 

P

Periodic tenancy

Periodic tenancy

If a tenant stays on in a property once the initial term of a tenancy agreement ends the tenancy becomes periodic. The tenancy is usually a monthly periodic tenancy, but the "period" of the tenancy depends on how often you pay rent.  Neither the landlord nor the tenant needs a reason to end a periodic tenancy but they must give written notice

Possession order

Possession order

A possession order ends your right to live in your home and gives possession back to your landlord or your mortgage lender.  There are different types of possession order.  Get advice if you're worried that you could lose your home.

Prescribed information

Prescribed information

Since 1 April 2013 landlords must give their tenants a list of required information within 28 days of receiving a deposit from the tenant.  Find out what information is required and what you can do if you didn't get this information. 

Priority need test

Priority need test

One of the four homelessness tests.  You will pass this test if you are pregnant, have dependent children, have a disability or you are vulnerable in some way and this vulnerability means that you will find it more difficult to be homeless than someone who does not have this vulnerability would.  Find out more about the four homelessness tests. 

Protected tenancy

Protected tenancy

A rare type of tenancy, these are usually older buildings and the rent for these tenancies is controlled by the rent officer. To be a protected tenancy, the tenancy must have started before 1 April 2007 and has to meet certain other conditions

R

Ratepayer

Ratepayer

The person who is legally responsible for paying rates on a property.  This could be the owner of the property or the tenant.  Find out more about who is responsible for rates on rented properties. 

Rates

Rates

The NI equivalent of council tax.  Every household must pay this charge, if you don't pay your rates you could end up in court.  Find out more about rates and the financial help you can apply for if you're on a low income.

Reasonable offers

Reasonable offers

You are entitled to three reasonable offers of permanent housing if you're on the waiting list for social housing.  The property should be of a reasonable size for your household, reasonably close to the areas you put on your form, in a reasonable condition and suitable for your needs.  Find out more about reasonable offers. 

Rent assessment committee

Rent assessment committee

An independent body that can review decisions made by the Rent Officer if either the landlord or tenant appeals.  Find out more about rent control in Northern Ireland. 

Rent control

Rent control

A rent controlled tenancy is one where the Rent Officer, rather than the landlord, decides what the rent for the property should be.  Tenancies will only be rent controlled if the property has failed to gain a fitness certificate or if the tenancy is a protected tenancy.  Find out more about rent control in Northern Ireland. 

Rent in advance

Rent in advance

You will normally have to pay your landlord a month's rent before you move into the property.  This is called rent in advance.  You don't get this money back when you move out of the property.  If you receive housing benefit, you should get advice before you move out of the property to make sure you don't end up paying your last month's rent twice. 

Rent officer

Rent officer

A government official who is responsible for setting the rent for rent-controlled and protected tenancies in Northern Ireland.  Find out more about rent control in Northern Ireland. 

Review of homelessness decision

Review of homelessness decision

You can ask for a review of the Housing Executive's decision if you get a letter saying that you have not passed any of the four homelessness tests.  You need to ask for the review within 40 days of receiving this letter.  Speak to our advisers if you'd like to review a negative homeless decision. 

S

Sale and rent back

Sale and rent back

Some companies will offer to buy your home and rent it back to you.  There is no government approved sale and rent back scheme so you should definitely speak to an adviser before agreeing to this type of arrangment. 

Security of tenure

Security of tenure

Your right to remain in your home.  Private tenants who don't have a tenancy agreement have very little security of tenure, since the landlord doesn't need a reason to evict them.  NIHE and housing association tenants have more security of tenure since their landlords can only evict them if they have seriously broken their tenancy agreements and the court agrees that eviction is a reasonable action to take. 

Selection scheme

Selection scheme

The list of rules that housing associations and the Housing Executive must use when deciding who to offer a social tenancy to. Find out more about the selection scheme.

Severe disability premium

Severe disability premium

An extra payment that is given to someone who receives the care element of Disability Living Allowance if noone receives a Carer's Allowance for them and they don't have any non-dependent adults living in their home.  

Shared accommodation rate

Shared accommodation rate

The maximum amount of housing benefit that can be paid to a single person aged under 35 who rents privately or to anyone who privately rents and shares facilities like a bathroom or living room with someone who is not part of their household. 

Shortfall

Shortfall

The difference between the money that you are required to pay towards your rent or mortgage each month and what you actually pay.  If you're a private tenant on housing benefit, you should apply for a Discretionary Housing Payment to help you with this shortfall.  Get advice if you're in debt and worried about paying your mortgage or rent.

Small claims court

Small claims court

A court which handles court cases where the amount being claimed is less than £3000.  Tenants and landlords will sometimes use this court to settle disputes over deposits, unpaid rent or damages.  Find out more about small claims court

Staircasing

Staircasing

Increasing the shares that you own in a property that you bought using the co-ownership housing scheme.  Find out more about co-ownership.

Statutory tenancy

Statutory tenancy

A type of protected tenancy.  Find out more about protected tenancies in Northern Ireland. 

Subtenant

Subtenant

A person whose tenancy agreement is with the original tenant of a property, rather than the landlord.  Many tenancy agreements forbid tenants from subletting.  If you are a subtenant you have the same rights as your "parent" tenant, but your rights only apply while that tenant remains in the property.  Find out more about subtenants and licensees. 

Succession

Succession

When a NIHE or housing association tenant dies another adult who was living with them at the time of their death may be able to succeed to, or inherit, their tenacy.  Find out more about passing your tenancy to someone else. 

Summons

Summons

A call to appear before a court.  Speak to our advisers if you've been called to court about a housing issue. 

Support for mortgage interest

Support for mortgage interest

A payment that can be given to homeowners who receive certain benefits to help with the cost of the mortgage interest on their home.  Find out more about this payment. 

Suspended possession order

Suspended possession order

The judge may issue this order at a repossession hearing if he believes you could stay in your home as long as you stick to certain conditions.  If you don’t stick to these conditions your landlord can ask the court to lift the suspended possession order and grant an outright possession order. Get advice if you're worried that you could lose your home.

T

Tenant

Tenant

A person who rents their home and has certain legal rights.  You can be a private tenant or a social tenant.  Tenants pay rent in exchange for the right to sole access to a room or property.  If you live with your landlord, you may be a licensee rather than a tenant.  Find out more about the difference between tenants and licensees.

Threatened with homelessness

Threatened with homelessness

You are threatened with homelessness if you have to leave the place you're currently living in the next 28 days.  Speak to an adviser if you've been asked to leave your current home. 

U

Underoccupation

Underoccupation

When your home has more bedrooms in your home than you are seen to need.  When welfare reform comes into Northern Ireland social tenants who live in properties that are too big for them will be encouraged to move to smaller homes. 

V

Vesting

Vesting

A legal procedure which allows a government body to purchase land or property belonging to someone else without that person's permission.  This can often happen when a rundown area is being redeveloped. 

Vitiate

Vitiate

An old-fashioned verb, which can still be found in some tenancy agreements.  It means to destroy or impair the legal validity of something.  A term in a tenancy agreement might say that the tenant must not engage in behaviour likely to "vitiate" the insurance policy of the landlord. 

Tenancy agreements should be written in clear language that you can understand.  Any agreement signed before 1 October 2015 must comply with the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contract Regulations 1999 and an agreement signed after this date must comply with the Consumer Rights Act 2015. Find out more about tenancy agreements.

Voluntary surrender

Voluntary surrender

When you agree to return the keys of your home to your lender because you can't afford to pay your mortgage.  Speak to one of our specialist advisers before you take this drastic action. 

W

Wilful deprivation of capital

Wilful deprivation of capital

This is when the Housing Executive suspects that you have deliberately spent or given away money or assets in order to qualify for benefits.  Speak to an adviser if you're having problems with your housing benefit claim. 

Without prejudice

Without prejudice

People will sometimes use this phrase to protect their interests if they are trying to settle a legal dispute.  If someone makes an offer to settle a dispute "without prejudice" the details of this offer can't be revealed to the judge if the matter ends up in court