Number on social housing waiting lists in North rises by 10%

Figure increased three times more quickly than in preceding year, data shows

The deadline for returning updated Local Property Tax valuations to the Revenue Commissioners on November 7th. Photograph: iStock

The deadline for returning updated Local Property Tax valuations to the Revenue Commissioners on November 7th. Photograph: iStock

 

The number of people on social-housing waiting lists in Northern Ireland has risen by a tenth during the pandemic – over three times more quickly than in the preceding 12 months, according to new figures.

By December 31st, 2020, the social-housing waiting list stood at 42,665, data released by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) following a freedom-of-information request shows.

The waiting list on March 31st, 2020, before the full effects of the Covid-19 pandemic were known, was 38,745 – up 2.3 per cent from March 2019 and the highest number Northern Ireland had seen for years.

The numbers on the waiting list in Belfast stood at 11,675 by the end of last year, with 2,835 people waiting in north Belfast, 4,140 in west Belfast and 4,700 in south and east Belfast.

Some 70 per cent are “priority” applicants, according to figures on the economic and social impact of the pandemic released to Belfast-based website the Detail, aided by the European Journalism Covid-19 Support Fund.

Fewer social houses were allocated to new tenants during the last year, which is partly as a result of a fall-off in the number of tenancy terminations, a smaller number of new builds and restrictions on non-emergency repairs.

Growing concern

Concerns about homelessness and housing needs had grown in Northern Ireland before the pandemic, with the then acting minister of communities, Sinn Féin’s Carál Ní Chuilín, saying in November that “our current system is broken”.

Raising a question over the latest figures, the NIHE said the list may be inflated because it includes the names of people who have not replied to annual renewal reminders.

However, Kelan McClelland, head of homeless-prevention services at Simon Community, said the figures “show the pressure” facing the housing executive, with demand exceeding availability at each of Simon’s 25 projects across the North.

Welcoming Ms Hargey’s pledges to build more homes, Mr McClelland said “the right kind of homes” in places “where people want to live” will be “the ultimate solution” for homelessness.

More than 11,600 households presented as homeless to the NIHE between April and December last year, including more than 3,000 families, 1,200 pensioners and 6,548 single people.

The full effects of the pandemic are yet to be seen, since the numbers have been suppressed by lockdowns and protective measures that are in place, such as the treasury-funded furlough scheme and restrictions on evictions.

Steady increase

Once these end, it is expected that the number of homeless presenters could steadily increase to levels equal or greater than pre-Covid-19, according to a “homeless reset plan” released by the NIHE in November.

Young people, aged between 16 and 25, have been “significantly impacted” by Covid-19 so far and are likely to be “disproportionately affected” in the future, with numbers applying for help up by 110 per cent on the 12 months before.

Housing Rights, a leading housing charity in the North, said the pandemic has caused a “perfect storm” for private renters fearful of losing jobs, but also having little security of tenure.

“People are starting to find the private rented sector increasingly unaffordable,” said Housing Rights adviser Sarah Creighton. While many of the issues predate the pandemic, they have been worsened by the virus.

The number of people in the North claiming the universal credit welfare payment has almost doubled since the pandemic and, according to the Housing Executive, they are “four times more likely” to be in rent arrears compared with those who pay rent themselves.

Figures released by the housing executive to the Detail showed that total rent arrears in NIHE tenancies increased by £2.12 million since February 2020. This was four times the previous yearly increase of £0.5 million.