Thursday, 7 October 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
13. To ask the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the measures taken to assist domestic violence victims to access rent supplement; the number of persons accessing the payment, by county; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [48639/21]
I am standing in for Deputy Niamh Smyth. A protocol to assist victims of domestic violence has been established between the Department of Social Protection and Tusla. Under the protocol, victims of domestic violence will be able to apply for rent supplement or referral by Tusla or Tusla-funded service providers. What measures have been taken to assist victims of domestic violence access rent supplement? How many people are accessing this payment, particularly in my area of Carlow-Kilkenny?
I thank Deputy Murnane O'Connor for raising this issue. In August 2020, I agreed a protocol with Tusla on a pilot basis to make rent supplement more easily accessible to victims of domestic violence. This seeks to ensure that victims of domestic violence are not prevented from leaving their home because of financial or accommodation difficulties. The arrangements in the protocol are additional and complementary to, and not a substitution for, the range of other supports already in place for victims of domestic violence.
Currently, 52 victims of domestic violence are being supported with rent supplement under these arrangements. Under the protocol, after six months of support, it is expected that the customer will, if eligible, be able to migrate to housing assistance payment, HAP, or other social housing supports supported by their local authority. In line with the national economic recovery plan, these special arrangements for victims of domestic abuse will remain in place at least until the end of 2021. A review of the pilot is currently under way, involving key stakeholders, to determine whether the provision of rent supplement to victims of domestic violence should be extended and to take on board any lessons learned. The service has been successfully delivered and is available nationally with active tenancies using the protocol in nearly all counties.
I thank the Minister. Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, we have all seen that there were - and continue to be - issues for those experiencing domestic violence. Indeed, in counties Carlow and Kilkenny, there has been an increase in the number of reported incidents of domestic violence. I have worked with victims in my clinic. I have seen their eyes. The increase in the number of reported incidents of domestic violence is not exclusive to my area. More than 3,000 extra incidents were reported during the pandemic. It is important, therefore, that supports are made available across the board. Having access to cash is an essential lifeline for victims of domestic violence, as well as having a place where they feel safe. They must be provided with the means to afford the essentials. We must ensure that support is there for families. I have found that sometimes there are barriers to accessing this vital support. Some of the barriers are administrative in nature. I would appreciate it if the Minister could look into the matter.
Another concern I have relates to accommodation services for victims. Increasing numbers of women who are looking for accommodation are coming to my clinics. I have raised the issue with the Minister previously, but there is no emergency accommodation for victims in County Carlow. I acknowledge the work done by Carlow's local authorities, the local Women's Aid and all the different services in helping victims of domestic violence. However, this is an issue that needs to be looked at.
Many of the matters raised by the Deputy fall within the remit of the Department of Justice. The Department is leading the development across Government of the third national strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. That strategy will place a priority on the prevention and reduction of such violence and will include a national preventative strategy. The new strategy is being co-designed in partnership with the sector. The Department is working with NGOs on that. It will be the most ambitious strategy to date and will radically improve services and supports for victims. In terms of the supports available, the Department of Justice will continue to have lead policy responsibility for domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. However, there is an onus on other Departments to step up to the plate.
As far as the Department of Social Protection is concerned, we have made rent supplement more easily accessible to victims. That is only right and proper. The issue around accommodation likely falls within the remit of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. This is about joined-up thinking. The Government is taking this matter very seriously.
I firmly believe it is about housing, justice and health. We need to focus on those areas. A cross-departmental approach needs to be taken. We must work together to support the strategy.
I also wish to ask the Minister about victims of domestic violence who are seeking support. Perhaps funding could be provided for training through Tusla or Tusla-funded services. I have worked with victims. Sometimes there are language barriers. I have also worked with people who have, for example, an intellectual disability, a hearing problem or literacy issues. Are Tusla courses available or is training provided for these victims? It is important that we can deliver for whoever comes to our door looking for help regarding domestic violence. I stress again that it is important that the different Departments - namely, the Departments of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Justice and Health - work together. As the Minister said, the issue falls under the remits of a number of Departments. If we all work together and on a cross-departmental basis, our response will be stronger.
The Minister stated that 52 victims of domestic violence are being supported with rent supplement. In the grand scheme of things, is that a low figure? Are we doing enough to get information out there? Perhaps we need to look at providing more information through local authorities.
The Department of Justice is working on the issue in conjunction with the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. As the Deputy will be aware, the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth funds Tusla. A number of recommendations in the O'Malley report have also been introduced as part of the Department of Justice strategy entitled Supporting A Victim’s Journey: A Plan to Help Victims and Vulnerable Witnesses in Sexual Violence Cases. There has been an increase in funding for NGOs providing court accompaniment services, related information and support services. As part of the implementation of Supporting a Victim's Journey, the Department of Justice reviewed the supports and funding it provides to civil society organisations providing front-line services. This was done to map the journey that victims face in order to identify the gaps in supports available. Work is now under way with NGO partners to fill the gaps identified, which mainly relate to training and supervision issues. A lot of work is being done, and rightly so.