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Dáil Question on the payment of Rent Supplement directly to landlords

Question No: 443 Ref No: 47267-12

To the Minister for Social Protection

To ask the Minister for Social Protection if she has considered the payment of rent supplement directly to the landlord as opposed to the tenant bearing in mind the increasing reluctance of landlords to accommodate rent supplement applicants due to problems within the current system and the added pressure this is placing on the demand for public housing; and if she will make a statement on the matter. – Anthony Lawlor.

* For WRITTEN answer on Tuesday, 6th November, 2012.

R E P L Y

Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton T.D):

The purpose of the rent supplement scheme is to provide short-term support to eligible people living in private rented accommodation whose means are insufficient to meet their accommodation costs and who do not have accommodation available to them from any other source. The overall aim is to provide short term assistance, and not to act as an alternative to the other social housing schemes operated by the Exchequer. The Government has provided €436 million for the scheme in 2012

There are currently approximately 90,000 rent supplement recipients proving that landlords are accommodating applicants of the scheme.

Under the legislative provisions governing rent supplement, the Department’s relationship is with the tenant. Rent supplement is specifically for the benefit of tenants to assist them with their accommodation needs. There is no direct relationship between the landlord and the Department in the administration of the scheme.

However, rent supplement payments can, at the request of the tenant and with the agreement of the Department, be paid directly to the landlord. If the Department were to introduce a system whereby all rent supplement payments were to be made directly to landlords the efficiency of the scheme would be significantly affected. For example, the Department would potentially have to create a formal relationship with some 90,000 additional clients, the landlords. This would involve greater complexity and significant resources to deal with a new set of third parties. It would not be an effective use of resources to have departmental staff negotiating rental agreements for those with a short term need.

The Government has effectively two initiatives to deal with long term reliance on rent supplement. The Rental Accommodation Scheme (RAS) is in operation since 2004 and the new Housing Policy Initiative as announced by my colleagues the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government and the Minister for Housing & Planning on 16th June 2011.

In March 2012, the Government approved in principle to transfer responsibility for the provision of rental assistance to persons with a long term housing need from my Department, currently provided through rent supplement, to housing authorities using a new Housing Assistance Payment (HAP). Among the main features of HAP is that landlords will be paid directly by the local authority.

A multi-agency steering group has been established to develop proposals to give effect to this transfer. The group is chaired by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and consists of representatives from the Departments of Social Protection; Public Expenditure and Reform; Office of the Revenue Commissioners; the County and City Managers Association, and the Housing Agency. It is planned that pilot testing of HAP arrangements will commence during the second half of 2013 with general roll out and commencement of transfers from January 2014.

The new arrangements will achieve a key Government commitment of removing barriers to employment and at the same time returning rent supplement to its original purpose of a short-term income support.

ENDS