Total Reform of Rent Supplement Scheme Needed to End Discrimination Against Low-Income Tenants

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Total Reform of Rent Supplement Scheme Needed to End Discrimination Against Low-Income Tenants

Total reform of the rent supplement scheme is needed to end discrimination against low-income tenants. That’s according to Threshold, the national housing charity, which was responding to comments made today (19.02.15) by Minister of State for Equality, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin TD.

“We welcome Minister Ó Ríordáin’s efforts to end discrimination against tenants in receipt of rent supplement by amending existing equality legislation” said Bob Jordan, Chief Executive of Threshold. “However, this legislative change needs to be part of a much wider package of reforms. By itself, it will have little impact.

“The rent supplement scheme as it currently exists is seriously flawed: the administrative failings and delays associated with the scheme also serve as a deterrent to landlords. Rent supplement tenants are not pre-approved, and payments are made in arrears not in advance. This means landlords can be left waiting for their rent payments.

“Added to this, even when a lease is in place, the amount of rent paid by the tenant is subject to fluctuation. For example, in recent years, the Department of Social Protection reduced rent supplement limits and told those availing of the scheme to simply go to their landlords requesting cheaper rent. Again, this sort of behaviour is a serious deterrent for landlords.

“In order to provide a lasting solution for rent supplement tenants – and ensure landlords are comfortable and feel secure in accepting rent supplement – the scheme needs to be completely overhauled.

“Yes, it should be illegal to discriminate against tenants on the basis of them being in receipt of rent supplement. But, in addition, the Government must remove the administrative flaws and payment delays inherent in the scheme, and increase rent supplement limits to bring them into line with market rents. A system should be developed that is completely responsive to market fluctuations, so that families do not risk losing their homes when rents suddenly rise.”

Rent Supplement Flaws Leading to Homelessness

Senator Aideen Hayden, Chairperson of Threshold, said the current flaws in the rent supplement scheme are contributing to rising levels of homelessness.

“Market rents now far surpass the maximum limits for rent supplement set by the Department of Social Protection in many parts of the country,” she said. “This makes it extremely difficult for rent supplement tenants to secure adequate accommodation and to remain in areas where they have settled. It has also resulted in increased levels of homelessness. It would be wonderful if a change to the equality legislation would improve the situation for Rent Supplement tenants but unless they are placed on a level playing field with other tenants trying to get rental properties the situation won’t improve. There is no point pretending that landlords will take less than market rent because someone is on Rent Supplement “

“It is hugely important that we act now to end the discriminatory practices of some landlords against rent supplement tenants, and Minister Ó Ríordáin’s comments today are to be very much welcomed in that regard. However, we also need to amend the Residential Tenancies Act of 2004 to remove loopholes in the law that allow landlords to remove tenants from their homes and then re-advertise the same properties at substantially higher rents.

“To tackle the current housing crisis, the Housing Assistance Payment should also be mainstreamed and rolled out nationwide as a priority. This would go a long way towards addressing some of the administrative and bureaucratic flaws associated with rent supplement.”

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