Homeless demand end to unnecessary homelessness

Homeless Not Voiceless, a group of people experiencing homelessness across the north of Ireland delivered letters to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive in both Derry and Armagh calling on them to speedily and accurately assess the needs of people living in homeless hostels. Such a move would ensure that individuals are provided with appropriate support and do not spend unnecessarily long periods in hostel accommodation awaiting assessments.

The ‘F.D.A. No Delay’ petition calls on the Housing Executive to recognise homeless hostel residents as ‘Full Duty Applicants’ to whom the state has particular responsibilities towards under homelessness legislation.

While it may seem evident that someone forced by their circumstances to take shelter in a homeless hostel would automatically be given all the assistance due by law to a homeless person, the reality for many of Northern Ireland’s hostel residents is far different.

Gaps in provision of homelessness support

Under Housing (NI) Order (1988), the Northern Ireland Housing Executive must, through a range of means, do its utmost to ensure that accommodation becomes available for people who are either homeless or threatened with homelessness.   

Some homeless people may be able to stay in the short term with family or friends; others may be paying for a hotel or private rented accommodation. Those without strong social networks or financial means, however, find themselves in temporary accommodation in homeless hostels, alongside other people in the same situation.

 ‘Full Duty Applicant’, or ‘FDA’, status matters to people. It is official recognition of the duty owed to them by the state. In addition, under the Housing Executive’s system for the allocation of social housing, those with the highest number of points are offered accommodation first. FDA status automatically gives someone on the waiting list 70 points – a fair boost up the waiting list towards allocation of a home and out of temporary homeless accommodation.

Numbers that don’t add up ...

A closer look at the situation of ‘people living in homeless hostels but not recognised as homeless’ has revealed cases of many individuals who have not been recognised as ‘Full Duty Applicants’ by the Housing Executive, despite the fact that they were patently homeless with nowhere else to go.  

A Freedom of Information request from human rights organisation Participation and the Practice of Rights (PPR) to the Housing Executive revealed that on 25 June 2018 the Housing Executive had a record of just 19 such cases in its Housing Management System [1].

However on one day, 25th July 2018, the number of homeless residents in Simon Community hostels without F.D.A. points was over four times the official figure – 78.

In other words, the Simon Community alone was providing shelter to four times the number of unrecognised homeless people the Housing Executive had on its books -- a highly significant gap which raises deep questions about the accuracy of the systems for recording homelessness, and the adequacy of measures to alleviate it.

What needs to change?

Homeless Action believe that someone in the  position of having to seek shelter in a homeless hostel, whether through ‘self-referral’ or any other means, should not have to wait protracted periods of time before undergoing an administrative assessment which almost, without exception, confirms what everyone knows – that they are homeless and in priority need.  

Homeless Action are calling on the Housing Executive to:

  • provide an assessment for Full Duty Applicant status, within one week of an individual arriving at the hostel
  • if such an assessment is not available within this time period, the individual will receive full F.D.A. points pending assessment

As one a hostel resident from Derry has stated:

“I can’t fathom as to why as a homeless person living in a homeless hostel I am not considered homeless enough to qualify for FDA points by the Housing Executive- how much more homeless do I have to be?”

The proposals by campaigners would promote a system where there are no unnecessary administrative delays causing unacceptable stress and anxiety and potentially creating the further health problems associated with long periods of homelessness [2].

Since the action, the Homeless Not Voiceless Campaigners have recieved no response from the NIHE and have been forced to submit a formal request for response under the Freedom of Information Act. We are calling on all politicians and supporters to put pressure on the Housing Executive to respond and meet with the residents of hostels in both Armagh and Derry. 

Background information

During 2016-2017 there were 2,777 placements in temporary accommodation.

 

Following Housing (NI) order 2003, the Housing Executive applies four ‘tests’ to determine the assistance due to people ‘presenting’ as homeless. The person must first be homeless or threatened with homelessness. They must be a ‘priority need’, for instance through vulnerability, the risk of violence or an emergency like a fire or flood. They must be homeless ‘unintentionally’ rather than deliberately. Finally, they must be eligible for assistance.

 

The Housing Executive has historically recorded more people ‘presenting’ as homeless than are actually ‘accepted’ as Full Duty Applicants. In 2013-14, just over half of ‘presenters’ were given FDA status, while in 2017-18 this had risen to 65 per cent [3]. According to the Housing Executive, “this increase in acceptances is reflective of the increasing complexity and vulnerability associated with homeless households” [4]. Survey findings – which will be released in full shortly -- show that there is further progress required before the Housing Executive is fully carrying out its duties under homelessness legislation and under international law around the right to adequate housing.

 

Notes

[1] According to the Housing Executive, these 19 cases involved people living in homeless hostels whose FDA decisions were still pending; who had been refused FDA status and had either appealed or been given notice to vacate; or to whom the Housing Executive judged it had already fully discharged its duty[1]. It pointed out that it would not necessarily have a record of additional people who had ‘self-referred’ to a homeless hostel but who had not, or had not yet, applied for FDA status.

 

[2] According to the charity CRISIS: “the prevalence of common mental health problems is over twice as high and of psychosis 4-15 times as high amongst the homeless population compared to the general population.” (Mental Ill Health in the Adult Single Homeless Population’ (2009))

 

[3] Housing Executive, Homelessness strategy 2017-22: annual progress report 2017-18 at https://touch.nihe.gov.uk/homelessness_annual_progress_report_2017-18.pdf, appendix one, tables 1 and 4. Also Housing Executive, Ending Homelessness Together: Homelessness Strategy 2017-22 at https://touch.nihe.gov.uk/northern_ireland_homelessness_strategy.pdf (appendix one, tables 1 and 4).

 

[4] Progress Report, p. 5.