A NEW housing scheme to replace rent supplement has come under fire from opposition parties for containing measures to “turn social housing on its head”, claims that are being dismissed by the Housing Minister.
According to Minister Jan O’Sullivan, the new Housing Assistance Payment, or HAP, which will transform the rent supplement scheme via the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2014, is the “most radical reform” of social housing support in decades.
She says claims that a new housing scheme will exclude people from moving to other forms of social housing, such as traditional local authority housing or units provided by approved housing bodies, are “misleading and grossly inaccurate”.
Instead, she says: “The new system will specifically provide a route for HAP tenants to apply for other social housing options. HAP tenants will exercise this option through inclusion on a transfer list that allows tenants avail of a range of housing options. In allocation schemes adopted when HAP is in place, local authorities will make provision to allocate available units to people on the transfer list.”
Opposition parties have, however, condemned the scheme for containing measures to “turn social housing on its head” and do “untold damage to the campaign to provide housing”.
Sinn Fein housing spokesperson Dessie Ellis said the new system is “a subtle attack on social housing which will have far-reaching consequences”.
“Tenants under HAP will be deemed to no longer have a housing need. This means they will be confined to a system like rent supplement where their private rents are subsidised. This might on the face of it sound okay but it is a very dangerous policy,” he said.
“If the State can reduce housing waiting lists by putting people in insecure, high-cost private accommodation, which is subsidised by the public purse, then that is exactly what they will do. This will remove any impetus on the Government to deliver real social housing and those in HAP will not be able to move on.
“Rent supplement already costs the State €344m a year. HAP will in the long run also have a very high cost. It will be used to reduce waiting list numbers in order to make it seem like housing need is being dealt with when it has really just been redefined.
“This is bad value for money and it will have a very negative effect on the private rental market, further artificially inflating rents due to scarcity of places available.
“The solution to the crisis in social housing is to provide more housing not to redefine social housing as this Government is trying to do,” Deputy Ellis said.
Under the scheme the local authority will pay the rent directly to the landlord on behalf of the household and the household will pay a rental contribution to the local authority.
According to the Department of Local Government, it will facilitate the removal of existing barriers to employment by allowing HAP recipients to remain in the scheme if they gain full-time employment.
The housing Bill was due to be discussed in the Dail earlier this week but was adjourned, a move that was welcomed by Deputy Ellis who said it would now allow for more time to debate this important issue.