Wednesday, 9 April 2014
Homeless Accommodation Provision
I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, for taking this matter. I raise the case of a young family, and this case is relevant to the broader question of housing. The family has been struggling to find suitable rented accommodation in Dundalk where a landlord will accept rent allowance. They have been having this problem for a number of months. I have been in contact with the family daily as they have recorded the difficulty they have experienced in finding accommodation. The family has only been on the housing list in recent months on foot of various factors and therefore cannot be assisted by Louth County Council as the father was in employment until December. The problem has escalated since then.
Currently, the family has €374 coming in. The family knew this was coming up and has been preparing and searching. The mother has put an advertisement on daft.ieseeking a response but has had no success. The family members met the homelessness officer in our area to discuss their situation as they were nearing the time when they knew they would have to move out of their rented accommodation. I was shocked to hear that they were told the mother would be put into one hostel and the father into another while the children would be taken into care. That was confirmed again for me today. This is just pushing a problem from one agency to another. Something must be done to make rent allowance more acceptable to landlords. The only solution that has been presented to the family is clearly a drastic one.
The family has become homeless in recent days and now faces the threat of their children being taken into foster care. That is not the intended use of foster care. These are excellent parents and want to continue to be. It is very sad that a family should have to be split up over something that is out of their control. The mother is recovering from recent and extensive surgery and needs accommodation that is conducive to meeting her medical needs. A hostel would not be appropriate.
While I hate to use the word "crisis", there is a housing crisis, not only in County Louth but nationally. There are people in serious circumstances, both financial and medical, who are waiting year after year for accommodation. The Minister of State is well aware of the housing issues and I commend her on the work she has done. I ask that she look into this sad and unfortunate case as well as the general situation to see if there is something that can be done to help people relying on rent allowance to find accommodation.
I thank the Senator for raising the issue. It is always very difficult when one meets a family in circumstances such as those outlined. There are a variety of complex reasons people become homeless. It is challenging to find solutions to every individual's problems. Certainly, loss of employment, to which the Senator referred, is often the trigger, combined with the current general decline in the supply of available, accessible and affordable rentals.
Increasing both public and private housing supply is a critical issue for the Government. I have published a homelessness policy statement outlining a housing-led approach, which is about avoiding people going to hostels and ensuring they go into homes where they can receive support when that is needed. I have established a homelessness oversight group, which has submitted its first report to me. The report considers the lack of social housing for homeless households and those interested can access it on my Department's website.
We also established a high level homeless policy implementation team and its job is to implement the oversight group's report and to bring forward a structured, practical plan to make the transition from a shelter-led response to a sustainable housing-led response to homelessness and to achieve the 2016 goals for homelessness. The team will report on this plan to the Cabinet Committee on Social Policy later this month and I will report directly to the Cabinet on the issue.
Significant moneys are provided for homelessness services and for the new provision of new homes. I expect that approximately 5,000 social housing units will be provided this year. Large numbers of people are on housing waiting lists and I am committed to developing innovative and sustainable approaches to the provision of social housing. I would like to increase the supply of new social homes and to ensure every available appropriate unit is transformed into a home as quickly as is reasonably possible. We will provide funding for void or empty local authority houses in the next few weeks, which will bring some houses back into use.
The purpose of this Department of Social Protection-led rent supplement scheme is to provide short-term income support to assist with reasonable accommodation costs of eligible people living in private rented accommodation. Currently, there are approximately 78,000 rent supplement recipients for whom the Government will provide more than €344 million in 2014. My Department understands 2,400 rent supplement recipients reside in County Louth with 1,100 in Dundalk. This is what I have been told but I acknowledge the Senator is on the ground. A significant number of landlords, therefore, accommodate applicants on the scheme. The analysis suggests properties are available in County Louth and Dundalk within the current maximum rent supplement limits but I understand that may not be appropriate for the size of family to which the Senator refers and that every case is unique. The Minister for Social Protection and I are moving towards introducing the housing assistance payment, HAP, which will transfer responsibility for long-term rent supplement recipients to local authorities. This will make it easier to find appropriate accommodation for people. I appreciate the Senator has an urgent case on her hands and it is distressing for the family concerned.
Homelessness is a major problem in the Dublin area and a co-operative system has been set up among the local authorities and community welfare officers from the Department of Social Protection to intervene where families, in particular, are in danger of homelessness and to address the issues they face. Louth County Council is the lead authority in the north east homeless region and the Senator said the family approached the homeless unit. However, we have not cut the funding for homelessness this year and we have given the same amount to each region. I appreciate the family is stuck in this position and if there is any way I can provide advice, I will but, in general, we are trying to move towards a system that is more concentrated on ensuring families do not become homeless and to intervene as early as possible.
I thank the Minister of State. I was shocked by the solution offered to the family. I am glad that measures are being taken but, unfortunately, they will do nothing to alleviate the problem faced by this family. I would have hoped this would have been addressed before the problem arose, which is why I encouraged them to speak to the homelessness officer weeks before they knew they would have to leave their house and, therefore, I would appreciate any advice the Minister of State might have on any other avenue or assistance that can be explored. I have spoken to Louth County Council officials who have stated the number of houses and landlords with property available in Dundalk but, unfortunately, the family has had a major problem sourcing accommodation under the rent supplement scheme. This is why they had to leave the house they were in.
I commend the Minister of State's initiative to reduce the number of vacant houses. That will be particularly welcome in Dundalk and other towns in which there are such houses, as they can now be provided for people.
I am determined to make sure there are no vacant houses in areas where people need homes. We need to match people with the houses. There are specific issues relating to the increase in rents which this family has been caught up in. I will be happy to advise the Senator in this regard following the Adjournment.