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NIFHA | About | Housing Associations FAQs
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Frequently Asked Questions

What is a housing association?
A housing association is an independent, not-for-profit social business that provides both homes and support for people in housing need, as well as key community services. In Northern Ireland, housing associations vary in size from those with fewer than 100 homes to those providing more than 5,000.

They are major providers of social and affordable housing in, providing 38,000 homes for around 80,000 people.

Housing associations build virtually all Northern Ireland’s new social homes.  Since the economic downturn began, housing associations have delivered an increasing share of all new homes built here – 40% of the total in 2011 (Source: DSD Housing Statistics 2010-11).

Housing associations also work to build strong communities, investing significantly in neighbourhood services, ranging from anti-social behaviour initiatives to supported employment programmes and IT classes. Ultimately, housing associations make communities better places to live and are important partners for public sector and community organisations.

Who do associations house?
Housing associations provide homes to a wide range of people including families and single people.

For social housing, our members work with the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) to allocate homes to households from a shared waiting list managed by the NIHE.  All households in need of a home must complete a common housing application form which is returned to the NIHE for assessment according to the housing selection scheme’s criteria.

For co-ownership housing, potential first-time buyers apply directly to Co-Ownership Housing©. Applicants must not be able to afford to purchase the property concerned without the scheme’s help and must be able to keep up the payments. It is possible to buy a share of 50% or more in a home worth up to £175,000 and then ‘staircase’ in to full ownership as circumstances allow.

What is the scale of the sector?
Housing associations vary greatly in their size and scope of operation. Some are small community-based organisations operating in a particular locality. Others operate across Northern Ireland and in some cases throughout Ireland.  Overall, they provide over a third of Northern Ireland’s social housing.

The stock size of the individual associations varies greatly from the larger organisations managing over 5,000 properties to those with fewer than 100 homes.  Housing associations employ almost 3,000 people – many in care and support roles.  Paid staff are complemented by around 400 people serving voluntarily on housing association boards of management.

Performance relative to rest of UK

What services do housing associations offer?
Collectively, housing associations in Northern Ireland provide over 38,000 good quality social and affordable homes for rent or equity sharing.  Housing, care and support provided includes:

  • Mainstream family housing
  • Co-ownership – shared ownership homes
  • Sheltered housing and other accommodation for older people
  • Supported accommodation people with specific needs e.g. learning disabilities, mental health issues, dementia
  • Residential care homes
  • Day care provision

Many also offer a variety of community services ranging from anti-social behaviour initiatives to supported employment programmes, youth clubs and IT classes.

How are housing associations funded?
The majority of housing association income is derived from rents and the ability to borrow against property holdings on the private market (eg through banks). Housing associations receive some funding from Government to help support the building of new homes, provide specialist housing or regenerating neighbourhoods.

Through the NI Housing Executive (NIHE) Government pays what’s known as a Housing Association Grant (HAG) currently approximately 50% of the estimated capital cost of the project to the housing association. The housing association then has to draw down the remaining capital from a private loan (eg a bank) or reinvestment of own funds. The grant does not have to be paid back, however, the private loan does. By operating this system the government, through housing associations is able to offer a larger volume of social housing to those in need.

What do housing associations contribute to Northern Ireland’s economy?
As well as their major role in meeting housing and other social needs, Northern Ireland’s associations make a major contribution to the local economy. Housing associations match and multiply public investment through private borrowing to build new social homes. No investor has ever lost money lending to a UK housing association which is why this is widely considered to be the most successful public private partnership.  In addition construction’s multiplier effect on the economy cannot be underestimated.  Research suggests that for every £1 spent in construction some £2.84 is invested elsewhere in the economy (Figures from a study commissioned by the UK Contractors’ Group – L.E.K Consulting’s ‘Construction in the UK Economy.  The benefits of investment’).

NIFHA’s members are committed to delivering 8,000 new social and affordable homes between 2011-15 in partnership with NIHE and DSD.  In 2010-11 registered housing associations developed a record number of houses with 2,418 starts.  Most recently, 2,336 new starts were delivered in 2012-13, keeping the Programme for Government target firmly on track and realising an overall investment of £197 million across Northern Ireland. Some 957 households were also able to take their first step on the housing ladder thanks to Co-ownership.

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What is the status of housing associations?
Many housing associations are registered charities and / or Industrial and Provident societies.  All invest any surpluses back in to pursuing their social purpose.  In Northern Ireland housing associations are regulated by the Department for Social Development (DSD).

Housing associations work closely with DSD and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) to deliver housing and related services.  Many also provide care and support services for vulnerable people including older people with dementia and people with learning disabilities.  These services are provided in partnership with a wide range of statutory and charitable partners in the health and care fields.

How does the Department for Social Development (DSD) fit in?
The department is responsible for funding, monitoring, regulation and issue of guidance and policy directives to registered housing associations. It has a statutory duty to consult with representatives of housing associations. DSD liaises regularly with NIFHA on policy and legislation issues.

What is the relationship with the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE)?
There is a deeply rooted, positive working relationship between the NIHE and all registered housing associations.

The NIHE supports associations’ work in a number of practical ways:

  • their research helps identify the need for housing development to satisfy housing stress
  • the Development Programme Group (DPG) manages the Social Housing Development Programme and administers the grant
  • they manage the ‘Common Selection Scheme’ (waiting list), assessing the housing need of applicants, awarding points and allocating homes.
What is a registered housing association?
The term registered housing association refers to those housing associations operating under Department for Social Development DSD regulation. Only they are eligible to receive Housing Association Grant (HAG).

What is the Social Housing Development Programme (SHDP)?
The SHDP provides social housing in Northern Ireland. It is managed by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive’s (NIHE) Development Programme Group and provides grant funding to housing associations so that they can build or acquire new social housing. The SHDP is currently managed on a 3 year rolling basis.

You can search the Social Housing Development Programme and Unmet Need Prospectus on NIHE’s website for further information.

Which housing associations are members of NIFHA?
NIFHA counts amongst its membership both registered and non-registered housing associations. Click on housing association directory for a list of our members and links to information about them.

How do I apply for a house or transfer?
Click on ‘Finding a Home‘ to find out more.

Would an association purchase my home / land?
An association may purchase your home / land but this would depend on many factors including funds available for the association to purchase, also if the association has a need for your particular type of house or your land in your particular area. Housing associations will look at estate agent listings when looking to purchase so the best advice is to make sure you have your property registered with your local estate agents.

How do I make a complaint about a housing association?
All housing associations have complaints procedures which need to be followed. These can usually be found on the specific associations website or you can contact them directly to request these. In extreme circumstances where you have already followed ALL of the associations procedures and you are still not happy you can take your complaint to the ombudsman.

Please note the ombudsman will only deal with your complaint if you have exhausted all of the association’s complaints procedures.

Northern Ireland Ombudsman
33 Wellington Place
BELFAST
BT1 6HN

T: 028 9023 3821
or
The Ombudsman
Freepost
BELFAST
BT1 6BR

Freephone number:- 0800 34 34 24
E: ombudsman@ni-ombudsman.org.uk
W: www.ni-ombudsman.org.uk


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