75% satisfied with scheme, but shortcomings are clear, says survey
Tuesday April 10th: Many tenants in receipt of the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) are spending essential household income on rent top-ups because of the gap between the level of HAP and the real market rents the payment is supposed to cover, according to the housing charity Threshold.
A new survey of tenants who used Threshold services in 2018 whose results are published today, shows that almost half of those in receipt of HAP are paying “top-ups” directly to their landlord because HAP does not cover their rent. The amounts payable range from €20 to €575 per month, with the average top-up being €177. Households living in or near urban areas typically paid top-ups of €300 or more per month.
“We found that 20% of those in receipt of HAP were paying more than 30% of their net incomes on rent top ups, despite being in receipt of HAP”, according to Threshold CEO John-Mark McCafferty. “In 10% of cases, households were paying more than 40% of their net income on rent top-ups.
“It’s not surprising that 45% of those paying a top up stated that they struggle to pay utility bills, buy groceries and pay childcare and school costs”, he said.
According to the Chairperson of Threshold Aideen Hayden: “There is an over-reliance on the private rented sector to provide social housing and it clearly isn’t working. However, if we are to continue using the private rented sector to this extent for social housing, the HAP scheme must be reformed to meet the needs of the market. HAP payments must reflect market rents, because they clearly don’t in very many cases today.”
Threshold is also calling for payments to landlords to be made in advance, not in arrears, and to be made from the date of the start of a tenancy, not the date an application is processed. There should also be robust protocols between the relevant statutory agencies to identify and support HAP tenants at risk of falling into arrears.
Prior to 2014, rent supplement was the key financial support available to households renting directly from a private landlord. Families and individuals in receipt of rent supplement were often caught in a poverty trap as a return to work could result in losing the full support of rent supplement regardless of their take home pay. When HAP was introduced it was designed to deal with some of the inadequacies such as this. For example, unemployed HAP recipients who secure employment are allowed to remain on HAP and pay a proportion of their income in rent.
“The way HAP works, the tenant is allowed by the local authority to top up their HAP payment by a certain capped amount. The reality is that this is often inadequate to pay rent for the accommodation required, and so the tenant pays additional top-ups without telling the local authority.”
Adding to the financial hardship, 18% of HAP recipients had their rent increased in the previous year. “However, if they contact HAP to seek support with this increase, many are concerned they will lose their homes because the authorities will deem the rent too high for the HAP limits – and therefore ineligible for HAP. So, they suffer and struggle in silence.”
“Despite the systemic flaws of the current HAP system, three quarters of our survey respondents have indicated that they are happy with the HAP system as any assistance is better than none.”
Details of the Survey are available at: https://www.threshold.ie/assets/files/pdf/toppinup_survey.pdf