Tuesday, 16 January 2018
Department of Housing, Planning, and Local Government
Housing Assistance Payment Administration
1832. To ask the Minister for Housing, Planning, and Local Government his views on a recently published report (details supplied); his plans to make changes to the HAP scheme; the categories that will be changed; the way in which they will be changed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1915/18]
The Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) is a flexible and immediate housing support that is now available to all eligible households throughout the State. HAP plays a vital role in housing eligible families and individuals. There are currently more than 31,000 households having their housing needs met via HAP including over 8,500 households that were previously supported by Rent Supplement and over 20,000 landlords and agents in receipt of HAP payments.
Budget 2018 has increased the Exchequer funding for the HAP scheme by €149m to €301 million in order to meet the continuing costs of existing households and the costs of meeting the additional 17,000 households, targeted under Rebuilding Ireland, to be supported by HAP in 2018.
The increased rent limits introduced by this Government in 2016, together with the additional discretion available to local authorities to exceed the maximum rent limit where necessary, are allowing HAP households to find suitable accommodation and willing landlords.
From available data, at the end of Q3 2017, approximately 20% of the total number of households being supported by HAP were benefitting from the additional flexibility that was provided to local authorities to exceed the maximum rent limits. When the additional discretion available to homeless households in the Dublin Region is removed, 14.4% of households nationally were benefitting from the additional flexibility. In those cases, the average rate of discretionary payment being used was 14.9% above rent limits provided.
My Department monitors HAP data on an ongoing basis, as well as other key information relating to the private rental market. Indications are that the current HAP rent limits and the flexibility to exceed those rent limits provide local authorities with sufficient capacity to assist households in securing rented accommodation that meets their needs. Increasing the HAP rent limits in particular local authority areas could have further inflationary effects on the private rented sector, which could have a detrimental impact on the wider rental market, including for those households who are not receiving HAP support. Based on the data outlined above, I am currently satisfied that the maximum rent limits, together with the additional flexibility available to local authorities, are generally sufficient to meet the demand of the rental market in these areas.
The Strategy for the Rental Sector, published in December 2016, recommended the introduction of a Rent Predictability Measure to moderate rent increases in those parts of the country where rents are highest and rising - where households have greatest difficulties in finding accommodation they can afford. The Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Act 2016 provided for the Rent Predictability Measure and for areas, called Rent Pressure Zones (RPZs), where rents can now only rise by a maximum of 4% annually for a period of three years.
This measure was implemented immediately in the four Dublin local authority areas and in Cork City as these areas already met the criteria for a Rent Pressure Zone in December 2016. A further 12 Local Electoral Areas (LEAs) were designated in January 2017, with the measure further extended to Maynooth and Cobh LEAs in March 2017 and to Drogheda and Greystones LEAs in September 2017.
On 19 September 2017, I announced a number of improvements to the rental market as part of the rolling review of Rebuilding Ireland. One such change is that the RTB will be given additional powers and resources to take on a regulatory responsibility in the rental sector over the next two years. The changes needed in legislation and in the Board’s financing arrangements will be explored and a two-year change management plan will be prepared that will see the RTB become the sector’s regulator in that period. It will be an offence to implement rent increases that contravene the law and the RTB will be given the powers to investigate and prosecute landlords who implement such increases. The onus will no longer be exclusively on the tenant.
HAP is one of a suite of Social Housing Supports available to Local Authorities and is also an essential component of our suite of homelessness prevention and supports. The Homeless HAP scheme has been operational since February 2015 across the four housing authorities in the Dublin Region, and is being implemented through the Dublin Region Homeless Executive (DRHE). The focus of this scheme is to transition qualified households from emergency accommodation, including hotels, into private rented tenancies. A Place Finder service, similar to the service available in Dublin, became operational in Cork City Council in 2017 and provides a dedicated resource that operates together with the established HAP delivery team in the local authority.
I announced recently that the Place Finder support is to be rolled out nationally providing homeless support staff in each of the 31 local authorities with the tools to target HAP supported rental properties for homeless households, with a particular focus of moving families out of emergency accommodation. This means that every local authority will be able to pay deposits and advance rental payment on behalf of homeless households in order to secure accommodation. The existing Place Finder service in Dublin is also being enhanced, with additional staff being assigned to provide on the ground support in each of the relevant local authority areas. Arrangements for the provision of these supports are currently being progressed by my Department together with the local authorities.
The flexibility of HAP as a social housing support is one of the scheme's key characteristics and was one of the primary benefits envisaged at the outset of the scheme. With this in mind, early last year direction and guidance was provided to all local authorities related to the operation of HAP cases whereby a tenant, currently on a local authority waiting list, wishes to access rented accommodation with HAP support in another local authority area.
I have directed local authorities to provide that HAP tenants continue to be dealt with by their originating local authority. However, the rent limits will be those that apply in the local authority where the property is situated. The originating local authority will engage with the relevant new local authority to facilitate eligible requests for inter-authority movement. Where homeless households have sourced or been assisted by the Place Finder Service in sourcing accommodation outside the Dublin area, the relevant rate of support is based on the rent limits that apply in the local authority where the property is situated. The DRHE have been advised to consult with the new local authority in relation to the appropriate level of support that should be provided. However, the Place Finder Service can still pay a deposit and rent in advance on behalf of the tenant.
In order to maintain the equitable treatment of all housing applicants, inter-authority movement for HAP applicants is based on the current Social Housing Eligibility Income Bands, i.e. movement will only be facilitated across local authorities with Income Bands that are equal or higher; or where shared areas of choice are already operated.
The following table provides details of the inter-authority movement since April, when the option was made available:
|Summer of Inter-LA Movement (as at 19 Jul 2017)|
|Dublin to other LA's||55|
|All other inter-LA movement||322|
I am satisfied with how the HAP scheme is currently operating and I consider it to be a key vehicle for meeting housing need and fulfilling the ambitious programme under Rebuilding Ireland. My Department will, of course, continue to keep the operation of the HAP scheme under review.
Rent Supplement is a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection.