Written answers

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Department of Housing, Planning, and Local Government

Housing Assistance Payment

Sorca Clarke (Longford-Westmeath, Sinn Fein)
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1383. To ask the Minister for Housing, Planning, and Local Government the additional resources or leeway being given to private renters who are in receipt of HAP but who temporally do not meet the criteria for same in regard to the percentage of their total income paid on rental costs. [6894/20]

Photo of Eoghan MurphyEoghan Murphy (Dublin Bay South, Fine Gael)
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To qualify for HAP, a household must be qualified for social housing support by their local authority, which means the household must qualify to go on the local authority housing waiting list. HAP tenants find their own accommodation in the private rented market and are advised that this accommodation should be within the HAP rent limits provided to them by the local authority. The limits applicable are related to the specific household and the rental market in the area. As HAP also allows for tenants to work full-time and retain their housing support, in many cases people may make choices about affordability taking this into consideration.

My Department is aware that some HAP recipients are making payments directly to their landlords, beyond the amount of HAP being paid on their behalf. There is no legislative provision precluding HAP supported households contributing towards the monthly rent to their landlord beyond that of their HAP payment. However, decisions in relation to HAP, including the suitability of HAP accommodation, is solely a matter for the local authority concerned and local authorities have a responsibility to ensure that tenancies are sustainable and are advised not to provide HAP support to tenancies where the household would not be in a position to meet the rental costs being sought.

 Local authorities have discretion, because of local rental market conditions, to exceed the maximum rent limit by up to 20%, or up to 50% in the Dublin region for those households either in, or at immediate risk of, homelessness. The additional discretion available to homeless households recognises the difficulty this cohort of households faces in sourcing and securing properties in a highly competitive rental market. It should be noted that it is a matter for the local authority to determine if the application of the flexibility is warranted on a case by case basis and also the level of additional discretion applied in each case. 

HAP tenants are required to sign a rent contribution agreement to pay a weekly rental contribution to the relevant local authority, in line with the local authority’s differential rent scheme. As set out in the rent contribution agreement, this weekly rental contribution must be paid by them so that they remain eligible for the HAP scheme.

Under the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (COVID-19) Act 2020, the Government introduced additional supports and protections for renters, beyond the income supports already agreed with the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. The Act provides for amendments to the Residential Tenancies Acts 2004 to 2019, which will operate for a period of 3 months from 27 March 2020. Provision has also been made for this period to be extended, if the Government considers it appropriate to do so. 

 A notice of termination cannot be served during the COVID–19 emergency period.  All notices of termination which were served before the emergency period are paused and tenants, in general, cannot be obliged to leave their rented accommodation during this time.  Similarly, all notices of rent increase which were served before the emergency period and were due to take effect during this period, are paused. While tenants are obliged to pay rent during the COVID–19 emergency period, landlords are not permitted to increase the amount of rent payable during this period.

Where HAP tenants are not financially impacted by the COVID-19 measures, they are expected to continue to pay their HAP differential rent.  However, if tenants’ circumstances change, the local authority should reassess those tenants and adjust their differential rent accordingly.

Local authorities have been requested to ensure that HAP tenants newly in receipt of Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection (DEASP) supports be facilitated in remaining in their HAP tenancies. If amendments cannot be made immediately to a tenant’s differential rent amount, any arrears accumulating from the date of approval of the new DEASP support should be rectified at a later date.   This will not affect the HAP payment to the landlord.

My Department continues to keep the operation of the HAP scheme under review and it is considered to be a key vehicle in meeting housing need and fulfilling the ambitious programme outlined under Rebuilding Ireland.


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