COVID-19 (Coronavirus) FAQs

Coronavirus Advice

In line with government advice on the management of the coronavirus outbreak, it has become necessary to make changes in the way we deliver our services. 

These changes are intended to protect you and our staff while ensuring that we continue to provide key essential services.

The Department for Communities (DfC) has produced a guidance document to support tenants and landlords in the social housing rented sector during the COVID-19 outbreak. The guidance includes links to further detailed information and sources of advice and assistance.

Note that this guidance will be kept under review and updated as matters develop.

Please continue to refer to this FAQs page and the latest official advice and guidance from the Public Health Agency (PHA).

Our Services

We are continuing to deliver the majority of our services remotely and encourage you to contact us by phone, online or through our new tenant portal.

You can contact us online or on the following telephone numbers:

Please note that staff will not be carrying out home visits until further notice.

If you are a Housing Executive tenant, you can now access information about your tenancy and to contact us securely 24 hours a day through the new My Housing Executive tenant portal.

Following guidance from the NI Executive we will begin a phased reopening of the public facing areas in our local offices from Monday 20th July.

However in order to keep our tenants and staff safe access to our offices will be by appointment only. To find out more about the phased reopening of our offices and what to do if you would like to make an appointment please read the ‘Will my local office be open?’ FAQ below.

There are a number of services that you can access from your home including paying your bills and reporting repairs. You can find a list of our online services here.

If you are a Housing Executive tenant, you can now access information about your tenancy and to contact us securely 24 hours a day through the new My Housing Executive tenant portal.

Following guidance from the NI Executive we will begin a phased reopening of the public facing areas in our local offices from Monday 20th July.

However in order to keep our tenants and staff safe access to our offices will be by appointment only.

We will only offer appointments for services that we cannot deliver online or over the phone. This means you will only be asked to visit one of our local offices if it is absolutely necessary and we will not be accepting walk ins.

Making an appointment

If you are one of our tenants and would like to make an appointment you should ring our General Enquiries Line on 03448 920 900 and ask to speak to your Patch Manager. If you are not sure who your Patch Manager is please provide us with your name and address details so we can put you in touch with them.

If you are homeless or wish to speak to someone regarding rehousing you should ring our Homelessness Line on 03448 920 908 and ask to speak to a Housing Advisor in your local office.

If your Patch Manager or Housing Advisor is unable to help you over the phone or online they will make an appointment for you to come in to speak to a member of our staff.  Please note only the below offices will be providing limited appointments:

  • Belfast May Street
  • Lisburn
  • Strangford House Newtownards
  • Newry
  • Downpatrick
  • Lurgan
  • Cookstown
  • Omagh
  • Waterloo Derry-Londonderry
  • Coleraine
  • Ballymena
  • Antrim

Steps to take when visiting one of our local offices

If you are asked to attend an appointment in one of our offices, for health and safety reasons, please come to this alone and if possible wear a face mask.

You should not attend your appointment if you or someone in your household has coronavirus symptoms or has displayed symptoms in the last 2 weeks.

We have also made a few changes to ensure that we can abide by social distancing guidelines and help keep you safe.

These include:

  • limiting the number of customers in the local office at any one time;

  • observing a two metre distance to limit personal contact, indicated by floor markings in the office;

  • providing hand sanitiser for customers to use

  • more regular cleaning of all surfaces as well as the installation of plastic screens at our counters and interview rooms

Support from your home

We are continuing to deliver the majority of our services remotely and encourage you to contact us by phone, online or through our new tenant portal.

Visit the Contact Us section of our website to find all our telephone numbers

To find out what services we provide online click here

To register for our tenant portal My Housing Executive go to our home page and click on ‘Register’ in the top right hand corner of your screen.

You can call our general enquiries line on 03448 920 900 and we can put you in touch with your Patch Manager.

Following guidance from the Department of Health, we will be recommencing a phased resumption of our full maintenance service on Wednesday 8th July.

Due to the coronavirus outbreak we will be working through a significant backlog of repair work. This occurred due to measures put in place from the Health and Safety Executive to ensure that our tenants, staff and contractors were kept safe during the pandemic.

Although this was beyond our control, we want to reassure all our tenants that we are doing everything we can to bring back our maintenance service back to normal as soon as possible. This is currently anticipated to take place in the early autumn.

From the 8th July you can report all repairs by phone, text or online. However we will be responding to tenants who have been waiting the longest and have the most urgent repair first. This means that there may be delays from our usual response times so we thank you for your patience while we get our services back up and running.

Our planned maintenance schemes are currently suspended but we hope to recommence these later in the summer.

We also provide a 24/7 emergency repair service. The following are examples of emergency repairs:

  • Heating systems that have failed or if a household cannot heat water
  • Unsafe gas supplies/installation
  • Burst water pipes
  • Lack of electrical supply or unsafe electrics
  • People who have become stuck in an elevator
  • Blocked drains
  • Shower or bath not working (if it is the only one in the property)

All repairs can be reported:

  • Online
  • By calling us on 03448 920 901.
  • By text to 66644 starting your message with the word “Repair” and remembering to include your address.
  • On the new My Housing Executive tenant portal.

As we bring our services back to normal we will update tenants on our website and social media accounts.

We are required to carry out an annual service and safety check of all gas appliances that we have installed  in your home. This is a legal obligation, that must be completed by all landlords in the UK, to help keep tenants safe as well as to ensure that the gas appliances are working efficiently.

We understand that due to the coronavirus outbreak many of our tenants, especially those who have been shielding, are concerned about allowing people access to their home.

Your safety is our top priority, this is why our contractor’s Gas Safe Engineers will follow the guidance recommended by the Health and Safety Executive when carrying out the work. This includes:

  • Sanitising their hands before, during and after carrying out their work
  • Wearing suitable Personal Protection Equipment (PPE)
  • Ensuring they stay at least 2 metres apart from anyone in the property

Before our contractors visit your home to complete the gas safety check they will send you a letter offering you an appointment. If this is not suitable you must contact the contractor on the telephone number provided on the letter to make alternative arrangements.

If you have any issues regarding your boiler or heating system you should ring our 24 hour Repair Line on 03448 920 901.

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic we have followed advice from the Health and Safety Executive to ensure we keep our tenants safe. This was why we previously only accessed your home to complete legally required work or to carry out emergency repairs.

Following guidance from the Department of Health, we will be recommencing a phased resumption of our full maintenance service on Wednesday 8th July. This means our staff and contractors will be able to visit your home to complete routine repairs and respond to queries you have about your tenancy with us.

We will be working through a significant backlog of repair work. This occurred due to measures put in place from the Health and Safety Executive to ensure that our tenants, staff and contractors were kept safe during the pandemic.

Although this was beyond our control, we want to reassure all our tenants that we are doing everything we can to bring back our maintenance service back to normal as soon as possible. This is currently anticipated to take place in the early autumn.

Please be assured that your safety is our top priority and this is why before we visit your home, we will contact you to:

  • Arrange a suitable time and date for the work to be carried out
  • Check that no one in your home is self-isolating or has coronavirus symptoms
  • Explain what you need to do to protect yourself while the contractor is completing the work

If a contractor is in your home they will:

  • Wash their hands before, during and after carrying out their work
  • Wear suitable Personal Protection Equipment (PPE)
  • Ensure they stay at least 2 metres apart from anyone in the property

Before the contractor leaves your home they will sanitise the area they have been working at.

You should also take the following steps to protect yourself while the contractor or a member of our staff visits your home:

  • Open your front door and stand well back
  • Ensure everyone in your home stays at least 2 metres apart from the contractor or our member of staff
  • Open the window, if possible, in the room the contractor or our staff member is working in

If you do not wish to have our staff or contractors attend your home at this time, please call us on 03348 920 901.

We are keeping a record of those who do not wish to be visited at present.

We will be in regular contact with you in order to assess whether your decision has changed, and to ensure your safety in your home.

By taking these steps we all can continue to stay safe during the coronavirus outbreak.

For the latest information on our various grants, visit our COVID-19 Private Sector Grant updates.

Like many other organisations, the coronavirus outbreak is impacting on our ability to provide our full normal service.

We therefore may not be able to fully investigate your complaint at this time and may have to hold it until normal service resumes.

If you do need to make a complaint, you can do so here

 

Rent and Housing Support

If you are suffering from a loss of income and are worried about paying your rent during this worrying time, please be reassured that we will not be taking legal action to evict tenants where financial hardship is suffered as a result of coronavirus.

We are here to support you. If you have any concerns about your ability to pay your rent, please contact us as soon as possible.

Our staff can talk you through your situation and the options available to you, including benefits, and other help and support you can access.

The planned rent increase for our tenants which was due to take place on 6th April 2020 has now been postponed until 5th October 2020.  

The postponement of the rent increase applies only to Housing Executive tenants and those renting garages.

In February 2020, leasehold customers were issued with their yearly estimated charges for 2020/21. These charges will remain as stated in the statement issued in February.

You can call our General Enquiries Line 03448 920 900 to chat to someone about your financial situation.

We also work with a wide range of organisations who offer:

  • free and independent money and debt advice provided by Advice NI

  • free Benefit Entitlement Checks, through the Make the Call service

The Consumer Council has also produced advice and information for Northern Ireland consumers who may be affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

If you are a tenant of one of our commercial properties, you can visit here for further information on advice and assistance.

If you are a tenant who has been affected by coronavirus, you can call us on 03448 920 900 to speak to your Patch Manager, who can provide you with relevant information and advice.

If you are currently receiving Housing Benefit, payments will continue as normal.

If you wish to inform us of a change in circumstances please contact us via one of the following methods:

  • Email your local Housing Benefit Unit using the contact details below OR
  • Call the Housing Benefit Unit on 03448 920 902

We would prefer that you do not post any documentation to us at this time, but you can:

  • Scan any documentation and email it to your local Housing Benefit Unit OR
  • Photograph your document on a mobile phone or tablet device and email it through to your local Housing Benefit Unit.

Housing Benefit offices

South HB

Armagh, Banbridge, Craigavon, Newry and Mourne

southarea.hb@nihe.gov.uk

Omagh

Cookstown, Dungannon, Fermanagh, Omagh

omagh.housingbenefit@nihe.gov.uk

Belfast

Belfast

belfasthb@nihe.gov.uk

South East

Ards, Bangor, Castlereagh, Downpatrick, Lisburn

southeast.housingbenefit@nihe.gov.uk

North East

Antrim, Ballymena, Ballymoney, Carrickfergus, Coleraine, Larne, Newtownabbey, Moyle

northeast.housingbenefit@nihe.gov.uk

West

Derry, Limavady, Magherafelt, Strabane

westarea.housingbenefit@nihe.gov.uk

Universal Credit

If you need assistance with paying rent and are of working age you must make an application for Universal Credit.

You can apply for Universal Credit here.

Please do not delay making an application for Universal Credit.

Housing Benefit

You can only make a new claim for Housing Benefit if:

  • You have been placed in temporary accommodation by the Housing Executive
  • You live in supported accommodation (including sheltered housing for older people)
  • You are getting Severe Disability Premium as part of a benefit you are claiming
  • You are of pensionable age (if you have a partner you both need to be of pensionable age to apply)

If you want to make a new claim or report a change in circumstances you can do this online or call our Housing Benefit number on 03448 920 902

If you’re living in privately rented accommodation you could be entitled to additional help to pay your rent during the coronavirus outbreak in the form of a Discretionary Housing Payment. This is an extra payment that helps cover your rent, on top of the housing costs element of Universal Credit or Housing Benefit.

Applying for Discretionary Housing Payment can be done by filling out a simple form on our website for both Universal Credit and Housing Benefit claimants.  

If you are eligible for Discretionary Housing Payment this will be paid to your landlord, usually 4 weeks in arrears.

13 week protection

If you are a new claimant of Universal Credit you may also be entitled to a 13 week protection. This had previously only been available to Housing Benefit claimants.

You can be considered for the new 13 week protection rule if you meet the following criteria:

  1. There is a shortfall between the actual rent charged by your landlord and the rent (eligible rent / Local Housing Allowance) used to calculate the housing cost of your Universal Credit award; and
  2. You have recently lost your job or have been made temporarily redundant, or your income has significantly reduced; and
  3. You have not received Housing Benefit or housing costs element of Universal Credit in the last 12 months.

If you meet the criteria for the 13 week protection rule the shortfall between the rent charged by your landlord and the Local Housing Allowance for the area you live in will be paid in full for the next 13 weeks.

If you have any queries about Discretionary Housing Payment contact our Housing Benefit Team on 03448 920 902. We are currently dealing with a high volume of queries so please bear with us and we will come back to you as soon as possible.

Homelessness

Due to the current COVID19 pandemic the Housing Executive is operating emergency contingency arrangements. 

We are focused on trying to ensure resources are targeted to those in greatest need and are working closely with the Department for Communities, Public Health Agency, Department for Health and local homeless providers to ensure the protection of the most vulnerable.

You should seek, where it is possible and safe to do so, to continue to reside in your current accommodation, even in the short term. 

If this is not possible and you are already homeless or worried about becoming homeless, please ring our dedicated Homelessness line on 03448 920 908 as soon as possible. 

During normal working hours you will be referred to one of our Housing Advisors and we also provide an emergency out-of-hours service after 5pm, at the weekend and on bank holidays, for those who have nowhere safe to stay and require emergency accommodation. 

We continue to meet our statutory duties in the delivery of homelessness services while implementing the latest government guidance on social distancing.

We are doing all that we can to ensure you can access the necessary advice and support and to ensure temporary accommodation is made available if required.

In these very challenging circumstances, we  only have access to a limited supply of temporary accommodation and this may not be in your current area.

We will continue to explore a number of potential alternatives for temporary accommodation.

We have been working alongside homeless charities and organisations to support anyone who finds themselves homeless in the current pandemic and, particularly, to assist people sleeping on the streets to avail of the temporary accommodation available.

Plans are also being put in place to support those experiencing homelessness to self-isolate, if necessary.

Other Support

Having to stay at home can be very stressful especially if you are older or have an underlying health condition and are worried about getting essentials like food and medicine.  This is why the Department for Communities has set up the COVID-19 Community Helpline to help you access services such as:

  • Food delivery

  • Prescription medication delivery

  • Advice on claiming benefits

  • Dog walking

  • Mental health support

The helpline is operated by Advice NI staff and can be accessed free of charge by ringing 0808 802 0020. You can also email covid19@adviceni.net or text ‘ACTION’ 81025.

If you are vulnerable or require additional support you can call your Patch Manager or local office on 03448 920 900, and you can be signposted to local services that can provide assistance.

We understand that this is a worrying time especially if you are suffering from a loss of income or are unable to leave your home. This section provides information on how to access advice and support during the coronavirus outbreak.

Support for those in financial crisis

Please ring the Finance Support Service on 0800 5872 750 if you are in financial crisis as soon as possible. This Freephone number is operated by staff from the Department for Communities who can offer you guidance on applying for Discretionary Support or a Short Term Benefit Advance.

More info can be found on nidirect

Accessing financial support if you’re self-employed

If you are self-employed you could be entitled to financial support through the government’s Self-Employed Income Support Scheme.

Please note HMRC will contact you directly with guidance on how to apply if you are eligible for this scheme.

You may also be able to access the Business Interruption Loan Scheme from your bank or building society.

Advice for tenants who have lost your job

If you have been told you will be laid off or have already been laid off as a result of the coronavirus outbreak you should ask your employer if you can be reemployed and furloughed. 

This is where the government will continue paying part of your salary as part of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. There is a cut-off to apply, so don’t delay in contacting your employer as soon as possible about this scheme.

How your bank or building society can help

Many banks and building societies are also offering extra support to their customers at this time such as:‚Äč

  • Increased credit card banking limits
  • Increased cash withdrawal limits
  • Refunds on credit card cash advance fees
  • No additional fees on missed loans and credit card payments
  • Emergency access to fixed term accounts

It’s important to consider the affordability of any extra borrowing. Support can vary so please speak to your creditor for further information on any of the above.

We set up a £290,000 COVID-19 Response Fund to help community groups provide support and assistance to vulnerable people living in Housing Executive neighbourhoods.

Constituted community groups, including Housing Community Network groups, organisations and enterprises received grants of up to £1500 to provide services such as food/medicine delivery or to help people stay connected with their local community.

Find out more about how the COVID-19 Response Fund has been supporting your local community groups in our News section.

 

For the latest information on coronavirus you should refer to the advice published by the Public Health Agency.


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