Housing Assistance Payment needs to be reformed to address homelessness – Threshold

General News

The national housing charity Threshold has said that February’s homeless figures, which reveal 6,052 adults and 3,755 dependents are homeless, are a direct effect of the increasing pressures in the private rented sector. It is calling on the Government to reform the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) system in an effort to address the issue of rental affordability, which continues to be a key concern, causing financial stress for people, placing tenancies at risk and acting as a barrier to renting.

Commenting, chief executive of Threshold, John-Mark McCafferty said: “We firmly believe that the Housing Assistance Payments (HAP) limits need to reflect market rents. New limits should be more targeted, related to local submarkets and tailored to individual circumstances. The Social Welfare increase of €5 this week will not ease the burden on over 34,000 households in receipt of HAP payments, both within and outside Rent Pressure Zones, struggling to meet rising rents and cutting back on essentials such as food in order to pay their bills.”

“Today’s figures show that 1,739 families presented as homeless in February – an increase of 222 on the previous month. Given the continuing rise among families, it is clear that shortage of supply, rising rents and insecure tenancies mean that the Private Rented Sector is as much a cause of as a solution to the current family homelessness crisis. Renting in the private sector is increasingly the tenure of choice, as well as being the only option for those excluded from social housing and owner occupation and we need strong measures more than ever to protect tenants.

He added: “It is now a year since the designation of towns such as Maynooth and Cobh within the Rent Pressure Zones. A search on Daft.ie shows 10 properties available to rent in Maynooth, with rents ranging from €1,350pm for a 2-bed to €2,500pm for a 4-bed. In Cobh, there are five properties to rent, according to Daft.ie, with rents ranging from €1,090pm for a 2-bed apartment, to €1,150pm for a 3-bed. Unfortunately, all of these properties exceed the supports provided through rent supplement or HAP.”

Last month, Threshold received 6,447 calls from people renting and worried about losing their homes. These include:

  • A working family based in the west of Ireland in receipt of HAP, where the HAP limit is €1,020 and the market rent €1,200. Despite the efforts of the client, it proved impossible to find a rental property that came under the HAP limits. The client was forced to rent a property at a higher rate with a greater amount of their take home pay going on rent.
  • A single person in Limerick, which is not within the Rent Pressure Zones, was paying a rent of €550, but the Rental Accommodation Scheme (RAS) limit is €420, which is well below the market rent levels in Limerick. The landlord wants to increase rent to €800. Threshold is making representations to statutory authorities on behalf of the client.
  • A single person in Cork, who relies on social welfare benefits as their main source of income, has a monthly rent payment of €850 but the HAP limit is €550. Our client received a 20 per cent discretionary payment to bring the cap limit to €660. However, since then our client has been struggling to meet their HAP contribution since becoming unemployed.

Commenting, chair of Threshold, Dr Aideen Hayden said: “While a slight decrease in the number of single people presenting as homeless is to be welcomed, the increasing numbers of families in emergency accommodation is a worrying trend, which will need additional policy responses and a better co-ordination of Government resources if it is to be tackled successfully.

“Threshold has a vital role to play in ensuring that individuals and families at risk of homelessness throughout Ireland stand a better chance of staying in their home. Through our Tenancy Protection Service we can provide information, advice and support and we are urging any tenants who fear losing their home to call the TPS on Freephone 1800 454 454.

“Queries regarding tenancy termination account for more than a third (38%) of correspondence to the TPS, followed by rent reviews / increases (15%). Threshold is the only organisation in the country that provides free, confidential and expert housing advice to families and individuals at risk of homelessness, that challenges unreasonable rent increases and illegal evictions, and that negotiates additional rent supplement payments with the Department of Social Protection, where needed, to keep people in their homes.”

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