Auditor's Findings on Rent Supplement Only Confirm Need for More Social Housing

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Threshold, the national housing organisation, today welcomed the Comptroller and Auditor General’s critical examination of the Government’s rent supplement scheme. Threshold believes the report confirms the need for more social housing and the continued need for an effective programme that helps people on low incomes living in the private rented sector.

Rent supplement payments are made to eligible persons who rent private accommodation but are unable to afford the cost. Expenditure on the scheme increased from €151 million in 2000 to €369 million in 2005. The Comptroller and Auditor General’s value for money examination finds that this was partly due to the growing numbers of people claiming support, which rose from 42,700 people at the end of 2000 to 59,100 in 2005. The other key factor was the rapid rise in market rents at the beginning of this decade.

The Comptroller and Auditor General points out that the Department of Social and Family Affairs was slow to reduce the rent cap, that is the maximum amount a person could claim, when market rents started to go down: ‘Market rents fell about 10% between the start of 2002 and the end of 2004, but the Department did not bring down the limits’. Threshold’s assessment of the operation of the rent cap is different, based on experience of working with people on rent supplement.

Threshold considers that, for single people in particular, the rent cap is too low and does not cover rent costs. For example, single people in Dublin are restricted to accommodation at rents of no more than €120 a week. This forces many people either to ‘top up’ rent supplement from their own resources or to accept poor standard accommodation. A 2004 Threshold survey of 70 rent supplement recipients in Cork found that over a fifth (21%) were paying top-ups on their rent.

The Comptroller and Auditor General recommends ‘further analysis of the relative cost effectiveness of options for social housing’. But this thinking has already been done. The National Economic and Social Council (NESC) concluded in 2004 that an additional 73,000 social housing units need to be provided by Government between 2005 and 2012, representing almost a doubling of existing social housing output. What is needed now is action, not more reports.

Aideen Hayden, Chair of Threshold, said:

“We welcome the understanding in the Comptroller and Auditor General’s report that more must be done for people in need of housing than simply provide rent supplement.

The difficulty with this kind of report is that it doesn’t recognise the plight of a significant number of individuals in receipt of rent supplement. When people are forced to top up their rent, this leaves them with little money for basic necessities like electricity, food and clothing. When people have to find the cheapest accommodation, this often forces them to live in unacceptable conditions.

It is perfectly clear from the report that an increasing number of people are spending a long time on rent supplement. What we need now is a real commitment by Government to deliver on social housing.”


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