New research from the housing advice group Housing Rights shows that renting privately in Northern Ireland is becoming increasingly unaffordable for people who rely on housing benefit to pay their rent.
Almost nine out of 10 of rental properties are out of reach for people receiving Housing Benefit with the research showing that as little as 12% of properties in the sector would have their rent fully covered by the amount of benefit available.
The report focuses on the provision of housing benefit in the private rented sector, which is paid at ‘Local Housing Allowance’ (LHA) rates.
The research used rental data for around 10,000 private rented sector properties per year and LHA rates going back to 2008. It showed that there has been a significant decrease in the proportion of properties with rents which would be covered by the LHA rates. From 2009 to 2018, there were 75% fewer properties available to rent for households who rely on Housing Benefit to cover the cost of their rent.
The research also shows that, although rents in NI have risen roughly in line with inflation, those rents at the cheaper end of the market have increased more than those at the more expensive end. This means that low income households which have to rely on Housing Benefit have been squeezed between rising rents and reducing Housing Benefit.
By 2018, there were only one in 10 properties available at or below the LHA rate in NI (LHA rates are supposed to mean that households in receipt of Housing Benefit in the private rented sector would be able to access the cheapest 30% of properties – or 3 in 10). There was a particular lack of one and two bedroom properties overall and certain parts of Belfast had no shared accommodation or one bedroom properties at all available at the LHA rate.
A full report and Executive Summary is available from Housing Rights. The policy implications arising from this research are also given a full consideration in a separate policy briefing produced by Housing Rights.