Rising numbers of people in Northern Ireland could be left at risk of homelessness unless the Northern Ireland Assembly takes action, according research published today by homeless charity Crisis and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
The Homelessness Monitor Northern Ireland has warned of mounting pressure on social housing and large scale upheavals to benefits that could see homelessness in Northern Ireland begin to rise.
The study reveals that nearly 6% of adults in Northern Ireland have experienced homelessness at some point in their life, with young people, social renters, single people and lone parent households more likely to have been homeless. In 2012/13, 19,400 households presented as homeless.
The report also said that, while the flow of new homelessness cases has remained steady in recent years, the use of temporary accommodation has been rising, with placements increasing by 11% in the two years to 2012/13.
Rates of official homelessness are higher in Northern Ireland than anywhere else in the UK, at 13.4 statutory acceptances per 1,000 households compared to 2.3 in England. The report said the introduction of a 'Scottish-style' housing-options approach to prevention could dramatically reduce people's risk of becoming homeless in the first place.
Annual new lettings have fallen from more than 10,000 in the 1990s to around 7,700 by 2011/12, with further falls expected.
Leslie Morphy, Chief Executive of Crisis, said: "Northern Ireland faces a period of enormous flux, with upheavals to the welfare system, rising pressure on social housing and sweeping reviews of policy."
"This report is an early warning signal. It is critical that the Northern Ireland Assembly monitors homelessness and safeguards services in this time of radical change. There must be a safety net to protect the most vulnerable. Crisis is concerned that for many people struggling on low incomes, these changes could be the tipping point that places them at risk of homelessness."
Julia Unwin, Chief Executive of JRF, said: "Households in Northern Ireland have already faced a dramatic fall in their income during the downturn. There is now is a real opportunity to provide low-cost, good quality homes to meet the needs of the poorest. Failure to do this risks pushing more people into increasing financial hardship and homelessness."
Ricky Rowledge, CEO of the Council for the Homeless Northern Ireland, said: "The Homelessness Monitor will continue to track developments until 2015, providing a unique insight into the impact of the welfare cuts and other economic developments on homelessness."