Most homeless people have a right to claim benefits and to vote. If you’re homeless or about to become homeless you may also be able to return to your home. You may have a right to be rehoused by the Housing Executive. Your rights often depend on your age and what country you are from. Speak to an adviser, if you’re not sure about your rights.
Returning to or remaining in your home
Landlords must follow a certain procedure to evict you whether you’re a private tenant or rent from the Housing Executive or a housing association. If this process hasn’t been followed you may be able to return to your home.
In Northern Ireland, the Housing Executive is responsible for providing advice and assistance to people who may become homeless. The Housing Executive also has a legal responsibility to offer accommodation to someone who passes the 4 legal tests for homelessness and, in some cases, to offer temporary accommodation while you are waiting for a permanent offer.
If you’re not entitled to help from the Housing Executive you can try to find accommodation in the private rented sector.
Social Services may have a responsibility to find you accommodation if you are homeless and
- you are under 18 or
- you are under 21 and have previously been in care
- you have a disability
- you have mental health problems
- you’re an older person.
You can use a "care of" address to claim benefits. This could be the address of a friend, relative or a day centre. Apply for benefits at your local Jobs & Benefits Office. Keep a copy of any forms that you complete and any paperwork you send in with your application. Some benefits are payable to people who are incapable of work. Others will only be paid to people who can show they are trying to find a job.
You will usually need a bank account if you’re receiving benefits. Basic accounts can be set up at your local post office. You’ll get a bank card with your account that you can use to access your money.
Discretionary financial support
If you’re over 16 and have no parental support you may be able to receive some financial support to help with the costs of an emergency or a disaster. This money can help pay for food, clothing, emergency furnishings or rent in advance for a new private tenancy. To be eligible for help you need to earn below a certain amount of money, equal to 40 hours a week at the national minimum wage. You must be resident in Northern Ireland and you need to spend the money in Northern Ireland. You can't, for example, get a loan to deal with an emergency in the Republic of Ireland.
There is a maximum amount that you can receive from the discretionary support fund and you will normally have to pay the money back, although grants can be given in certain circumstances. Grants will normally only be given if
- the money is to help you to settle independently in the community or
- if you've been prevented from living in your home and need emergency support or
- you have already reached the maximum amount that you can borrow and need assistance with living expenses or
- you are eligible for a loan from the finance support fund but can't afford the repayments.
If you get a loan, you will need to repay it within 52 weeks, although this can be extended to 78 weeks in exceptional circumstances. If you’re on benefits the Social Security Agency will automatically deduct money from each of your payments until the loan has been paid back. Apply for financial support at your local Social Security or Jobs & Benefits office.
Homeless people who are over 18 and you’re a UK citizen can register to vote at a temporary address. You can even register your local electoral office as your address and collect your polling card from the office. You need to update this information every year.