Thursday, 17 October 2019
Housing (Homeless Housing Assistance Payment) (Amendment) Bill 2019: First Stage
That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2014 to introduce a new statutory obligation on local authorities to assist eligible households directly after a notice of tenancy termination has been issued.
I acknowledge the work done on this Bill by my colleague, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, the staff in the Library and Research Service and my own staff in my office. The focus of this Bill is to assist people who have received termination or eviction notices to find alternative property in the private rental market until they are allocated a social house, avoiding them going homeless or into emergency accommodation. This Bill proposes that if a family gets an eviction notice which has been validated by the local authority, whether in Kildare or another local authority, the family will then be able to access the homeless housing assistance payment, HAP, which comprises two months' rent and a month's deposit. There is no cost to the State in this Bill. There is a saving to the State because if a family eventually goes homeless because they cannot find alternative accommodation, when they then go into hotel accommodation, it can cost the State between €60,000 and €70,000 per annum.
The way the homeless HAP and placefinder payment currently operates is that when the family is given their termination or eviction notice, validated by the local authority, they have to seek alternative accommodation privately. When they go out into the marketplace, they are competing with others who can access this money more quickly if they are not depending on the State to support them with rental supports. At present, HAP through the traditional method and application takes between seven and nine weeks to resolve. Some 80% of landlords are accidental landlords. The banks will not wait for seven to nine weeks for that payment to come through. These people facing homelessness with valid eviction and termination notices are being put under pressure and are at a severe disadvantage. The current timeframe for when the homeless HAP payment kicks in is in the last month before termination. People can only access that funding with four weeks before their eviction date, which gives them very little time to be competitive in the current climate and to find a property, which we know are very scarce.
This Bill proposes changes when a person's eviction notice is being validated by the local authority, the independent body which does so. Normally, an eviction notice has to be for a month for every year that the family has been in the home. Traditionally, the eviction notice is for approximately three to five months. When the notice is being validated, that would automatically allow a person to access to the homeless HAP and placefinder payment from that time. That gives people a longer time to access private rental accommodation and gives them a fair advantage in the rental market when competing with others.
It is important that the Government accepts this Bill. It may not be perfect and it could be tweaked as it goes through the legislative process. It gives a family a longer time to avail of private rental accommodation in the current market and to be able to access the placefinder and homeless HAP from the date that the eviction notice is deemed valid. We need to focus on that to assist people. In the month in which people can currently get that payment, they are not able to find accommodation, especially in Kildare, and I know from talking to colleagues in Dublin, Wicklow and Meath that it is a problem. These families are put into shelters or hotels at enormous cost to the State.
I hope the Bill gets cross-party support when it progresses through the House. It is about assisting the most vulnerable and helping the families who are most at need to be able to access private rental accommodation and a home so that they are not homeless, and to give them every possible opportunity to provide for their family while waiting for that allocation of a social house from the local authority.