When everyone has a home

Housing advice for Northern Ireland

Homelessness test

The Housing Executive is responsible for providing accommodation for anyone who is legally homeless.  To be legally homeless you have to pass 4 tests.  The first of these is homelessness.  The other tests are eligibility, priority need and intentionality.

Definition of homelessness

You don’t have to be on the streets to be homeless. If there is nowhere in the UK or anywhere else in the world that you can reasonably continue to live in as your home you are homeless. It can, however, be difficult to show that you are homeless if you have somewhere to live.  The Housing Executive will investigate whether or not you can reasonably continue to live in your home.  If you have any evidence that can support your case and help the housing officer come to a decision you should share this with the Housing Executive. 

Reasons for homelessness

There are lots of reasons that might mean you can no longer live in your former home.  The Housing Executive has to assess you if you tell them that you’re homeless.  You can’t be turned away because you’ve got somewhere to live at the minute.

Family is unable to live together

The Housing Executive should consider you homeless if you can't reasonably continue to live in your accommodation with your family. This includes anyone who might normally be expected to live with you but who is not able to for some reason, maybe because your accommodation is too small or in poor condition.

The Housing Executive will also consider whether your circumstances are extraordinary when compared with other families and households in Northern Ireland.  This means that you may not be regarded as homeless just because your home is overcrowded because overcrowding is quite common among families here.  However, if the overcrowding is causing serious health or social issues you may pass the homeless test. 

Temporary accommodation

The Housing Executive should consider you homeless if:

  • you are staying in temporary accommodation such as a hostel or a bed and breakfast,
  • you are staying in a women's refuge,
  • you are staying temporarily with friends and family.

Risk of violence

The Housing Executive will consider you homeless if you have suffered, or are at risk of:

  • domestic violence or abuse,
  • terrorist attack,
  • sectarian attack,
  • racist attack. 

You should also be considered homeless if you have been a victim of sectarian or racial threats or intimidation.

No legal right to stay in property

If you have no legal right to stay in the accommodation the Housing Executive should consider you homeless. You have no legal right to stay in your home if:

  • you are squatting,
  • a court has ordered you to leave your accommodation,
  • you are living in the accommodation after the legal tenant has died, or moved away.

You should not leave your home just because your landlord has told you to. Most tenants are entitled to 28 days' notice before they must leave their accommodation.

Locked out of your home

The Housing Executive should consider you homeless if you are unable to get into your accommodation because:

Property is linked to work

You might be homeless if your current home is provided as part of your job and you have lost, or are about to lose your job. The Housing Executive will normally ask for written confirmation of this arrangement from your employer.

Leaving an institution

You could be homeless if you will be leaving hospital or prison in the next 28 days. The Housing Executive will usually ask for confirmation from the institution about your circumstances.

Marriage/relationship has broken down

If your marriage or relationship has broken down and you can no longer live with your partner you could be homeless. The Housing Executive may ask for a copy of a court order if you have one.

Bad housing

If your home is of a very poor standard compared to other housing in Northern Ireland the Housing Executive may consider you homeless. Your property must be in an extremely bad state and the issues must be having a serious impact on your health or safety.

Expensive housing

You could be homeless if you can only afford to pay your housing costs by depriving yourself of essentials such as food or heating. If you can show that you spend over 30% of your gross income on your mortgage, rent or rates the Housing Executive should accept that you can’t afford to live there.

Unsuitable housing

Your current home may be so unsuitable that you can't reasonably be expected to keep living there.  Housing Executive staff may be able to suggest some ways of making your home more suitable that will allow you to stay in your home. 


Serious overcrowding is dangerous and could make you homeless. The decision will depend on your personal circumstances.  There are lots of people living in overcrowded accommodation in Northern Ireland so it can be quite difficult to be classed as homeless solely for this reason.  Make sure that you tell the Housing Executive if the overcrowding is causing serious health or social problems as this may have an impact on the housing officer's decision. 

No mooring for caravan or houseboat

The Housing Executive will consider you homeless if you live in a caravan, houseboat or mobile home and there is no place where you can legally keep it or live in it.

Homeless or threatened with homelessness?

You should pass the homeless test if any of the circumstances mentioned above have happened or are going to happen in the next 28 days.

Leaving your old accommodation

You won’t get help if you chose to leave permanent accommodation that was suitable for your needs.  This is because the law says that the Housing Executive is not required to provide housing to people who made themselves homeless intentionally.

Passing the test

If you pass this test the Housing Executive will have to check that you are also eligible for assistance, in priority need and that you’re not intentionally homeless. If you pass all 4 homeless tests you’ll be a Full Duty Applicant and the Housing Executive will have to make 3 offers of housing to you.

It usually takes just over a month for the Housing Executive to investigate if you pass these 4 tests.  In the meantime you could be entitled to temporary accommodation if you are homeless and you have children, a disability or are in some way vulnerable.

Failing the tests

The Housing Executive will try to send you a decision letter on your homeless application within 33 days. The letter must include reasons why the Housing Executive has decided you are not homeless or threatened with homelessness. You can ask for a review of the Housing Executive's decision but should speak to an adviser about this first.

Prevention of homelessness

As part of its role in dealing with homelessness, the Housing Executive will try to prevent people from becoming homeless.  This means that Housing Executive staff may be able to suggest ways that you can stay in your current home or make your home more suitable for your needs.