Rent Supplement Scheme: Discussion with Department of Social Protection (Continued)

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection Debate

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Brendan Ryan: Information on Deputy Brendan Ryan Zoom on Deputy Brendan Ryan]  The other factor in relation to Fingal is that caps are €100 lower than in other parts of Dublin city. The idea that one can find rental accommodation in places such as Swords, Malahide, Dunabate, and Skerries for €100 less than in other parts of Dublin city is erroneous. That should be factored in in the departmental review. The cap reduction was well intentioned at the time, but the lowering has not resulted in a reduction of rents in recent years. In 2012 rents were up 5% in the Dublin area and are projected to rise further this year. They have remained high owing to demand among a particular demographic, young working couples and families who traditionally would have been buying their homes but are not doing so in the current economic climate.

A serious issue arises from the high demand for the limited supply of rental properties. It is a landlord's market. Given the demand for rental properties among working families, landlords are in a position to decide not to rent their properties to rent supplement recipients. That is a serious issue and it is becoming increasingly common to see "no rent supplement" attached to many advertisements for rental properties. I have tested this by visiting letting agents in Swords and elsewhere in my constituency. Landlords are specifying that they want to rent their properties but not to persons in receipt of rent supplement. People who, through no fault of their own, are in receipt of rent supplement are being pushed into areas in which they may not like to live as their children are in schools in other areas. They may be forced to live in another part of the constituency in which they do not have supports and must then look for school places for children who are already attending school.

Rent supplement recipients get very little support from the Department and are left to their own devices in negotiations with landlords. I do not know whether anything can be done about this, but I ask the officials to factor this in to the review. Very often families such as single parent families, those without too many supports around them or other vulnerable families must negotiate individually with landlords. Negotiating with landlords is a major issue for them and it leaves them open to being pressurised by landlords to make off-the-book payments. Others have mentioned such payments and I believe a significant percentage of people in receipt of rent supplement make top-up payments. Being vulnerable they are forced to do so because they believe they have no option but to pay. At one level - I hope this is not the case - the Department could be happy that if rents are higher than the cap, other family members are forced to support them, which should not be the case.

Deputy Patrick Nulty: Information on Patrick Nulty Zoom on Patrick Nulty I thank the Chairman for allowing me to contribute to this discussion. I also thank the officials from the Department, Ms Helen Faughnan and her team, for their input. Everybody present would probably agree that the long-term solution to this problem is the provision of social housing, but, unfortunately, the State has failed to provide it. While rent allowance may, in theory, be a short-term support, in practice it is an integral part of housing policy.

I, too, will comment on top-up payments. I have spoken to community welfare officers who tell me that they know when signing off on rent forms, the rent is a fiction. They are trying to keep families in their homes. Tenants must renegotiate their rents each year, year in year out, and if they do not succeed in negotiating downwards and remaining in their homes, they must take their children out of school and uproot themselves from the neighbourhood and neighbours with whom they have built links. It is Orwellian to suggest there is no evidence of top-up payments being made; no one can accept this. I am sure members recognise that top-up payments are rife in the system.

I will comment on rent caps. My colleague, Deputy Brendan Ryan, mentioned Fingal. I am using it as an example because I know it and the Dublin 15 area best. This morning I looked at the properties available for the different categories under the caps. For a family with two children, I found three properties; for a single adult, I found one property; and for a family with three children, I found two properties. There is a disconnect between the prevailing market rate for houses and the rate at which the cap is set. The availability of properties for renting in Dublin is at its lowest level since 2007 according to daft.ie. There is no relationship between demand and supply. In addition, recent legislation was introduced to govern bedsits and the quality of private rented accommodation. In the Dublin area the differential for a single person in contrast to a couple, both with no children, ranges from €175 to €225, yet these two household units are competing for the same properties. The only rationale for the differential is that it was assumed that single people would move into bedsits, but that is no longer the case. Have the departmental officials recognised that the cap for a single person in the Dublin area must be increased significantly if he or she is to access housing?

The take-up of the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, has been moderate at best and poor in practice. One of the commitments in the programme for Government was to reduce the criterion in respect of eligibility to six months to move to the RAS. I have tabled parliamentary questions on this issue and the response from the Department is that this will not be done. Will the officials confirm that one will be able to move to the RAS after six months and, if not, why not? Is the programme for Government wrong or is the response from the Department wrong? A very clear commitment was made in the programme for Government that the criterion in respect of eligibility would be reduced to six months. NGOs have been campaigning on the issue for three or four years.

Senator Marie Moloney raised the question of the exceptional needs payment. I have come across cases - I do not like to use individual cases, but they illustrate the point - of women who experience domestic violence and have had property damaged in incredibly difficult circumstances. The landlord refuses to return the deposit and they must go through the ordeal of going to the PRTB and a very long process to get the deposit back. They have encountered major difficulties in getting the money for another deposit together. That is what is happening in practice.

While I appreciate the report, it is Orwellian when compared with the experiences of individuals, often on very low incomes, who are seeking or are in receipt of rent supplement and trying to access supports.

Senator Aideen Hayden: Information on Aideen Hayden Zoom on Aideen Hayden I thank the delegation for its presentation. We are all aware of current financial circumstances and all Departments have attempted to make savings. I note the following: "The Department currently funds almost 30% of the private rented sector..."; however, three years ago the Department funded 40% of the private rented sector. Therefore, the proportion of the sector being funded by the Department has fallen very significantly. I also note that the budget for 2013 is €403 million and we know that it has been reduced from a figure of €500 million a number of years ago. This is in the face of 250,000 people having become unemployed. It is inexplicable that the proportion of the rental sector being funded by the Department has fallen so substantially in the face of such increased demand.


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