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When everyone has a home

Housing advice for Northern Ireland

Fair treatment when applying for housing

Whether you decide to rent privately or to apply for social housing you should be treated fairly regardless of your background. There are certain types of problems that discrimination and equality law may be able to help with. 

Not entitled to social housing because of nationality

The law restricts people from certain people who are not UK nationals from accessing social housing. However, the employees of the Housing Executive or any other statutory body must treat you in the same manner as they would anyone else. 

If you are not eligible for social housing this should be explained to you so that you understand.  If you do not speak English ask for a translator and for the documents you are provided with to be translated for you.

The law in this area is quite complicated.  If you feel that it has been applied incorrectly get advice immediately from Housing Rights or the Migrant Advice Centre run by NICEM.  Housing Rights uses a telephone translation service to provide advice to people who are not confident communicating in English.

Ineligible or intentionally homeless due to mental health problems

When you ask the Housing Executive to investigate to see if you are homeless you must pass 4 tests – homelessness, eligibility, priority need and intentionality.

People with a history of mental ill health can sometimes run into problems with the eligibility and intentionality tests.  If you suffer from a disability, such as a mental health illness, the Housing Executive must have regard to the Disability Discrimination Act when processing your application.

The Disability Discrimination Act requires that service providers make reasonable adjustments to accommodate people who have disabilities.  This could mean, for example, that additional support and assistance should be given to someone who suffers from poor mental health if that person’s disability was causing them to act in a way that might otherwise lead to eviction action.

If you are found to be intentionally homeless or ineligible because of something that can be attributed to your mental ill health, you may be able to get this decision overturned.  Contact Housing Rights as quickly as possible. There are very strict time frames which apply to challenging the Housing Executive’s decision.

Fair treatment

Service providers must treat all applicants fairly.  If you have been treated differently because of your gender, race, ethnicity, community background or sexual orientation, get in touch with an advice agency. 

If you’ve been discriminated against by staff at the Housing Executive or a housing association you may wish to lodge a formal complaint to let senior management know that you feel you have been the victim of discrimination.

Private agencies, such as estate and letting agents, must also treat all applicants for housing fairly.  They can’t, for example, require that someone from Italy pays more money for a property than someone from Northern Ireland.  Similarly they can’t refuse accommodation to you and your partner because, for example, you’re not married.  If you feel you’ve been discriminated against by an agent, contact the company first to find out

  • if they have a complaints procedure and
  • if they are members of The Property Ombudsman

If there is no official complaints process and the agency you’re dealing with is not a member of the Ombudsman scheme, you can contact the Equality Commission or Housing Rights to find out if they can help you with your complaint.

Housing benefit claimants

It’s not unusual for a landlord or agent to refuse to let a property to people who get housing benefit to help with their rent.  

Quite often it is the landlord’s mortgage lender who refuses to allow the landlord to let the property to someone in receipt of benefits.  The landlord could be in breach of his loan agreement if he or she rents out the property to someone who receives benefits.  If this is the case, the landlord can justify his decision to refuse to let the property to someone on benefits.

However, if you were able to afford the tenancy when you moved in and then lose your job or are unable to work, you have a right to claim housing benefit.  You may be entitled to get your full rent paid through housing benefit for a maximum of 13 weeks if you can no longer afford it on your own due to an income shock.