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Threshold response to government plan to tackle homelessness

21 May 2014

Threshold Response to Government Plan to Tackle Homelessness

 – Housing charity welcomes plan, but calls for Rent Supplement reform and introduction of rent control –

 Threshold, the national housing charity, has welcomed the plan to address homelessness published by government today (20.05.14), but said the plan missed a crucial opportunity to reform Rent Supplement and introduce a system of rent control.

 Bob Jordan, Chief Executive of Threshold, said: “We welcome any State measures to address the current crisis in the housing market, including the growing levels of homelessness and the rising numbers of people at risk of losing their homes.  However, we are disappointed that this plan does not provide for an overhaul of the Rent Supplement scheme or the introduction of any form of rent control.

 ““The plan does outline that there will be ring-fenced housing for homeless people and that additional resources will be made available to address homelessness, both of which are welcome measures.  But there is a lack of clarity on the exact amount of new funding available for implementation.  More worryingly, the indications from government are that there will be no increases to Rent Supplement levels in the coming months, and there is nothing substantial in this plan about Rent Supplement reform. 

 “Threshold’s immediate priority is to support the hundreds of people presenting to us each week because their Rent Supplement payments are entirely insufficient to meet the market rates for rent.  There are people falling into homelessness every day now because they can’t find – or can’t afford to keep – homes within existing Rent Supplement limits. 

“Unfortunately, the plan published today contains little to support these people other than an instruction for an inter-departmental circular from last year to be re-issued, stipulating that a flexible approach should be taken by Department of Social Protection representatives (formerly Community Welfare Officers) towards families on Rent Supplement who are at risk of losing their homes.  Frankly, re-issuing a year-old circular that had little impact when it was first issued is not an adequate solution.”

 Rent Control

Mr. Jordan said the Government’s reluctance to raise Rent Supplement levels is due to the rapid rates at which rents are rising in Ireland. 

 “We can understand why the Government would be reluctant to increase Rent Supplement payments in line with the market rates for rent because, at present, rents are escalating out of control in large urban areas,” he said.  “But ignoring this problem won’t make it go away.  Rent Supplement limits need to be realistic, and they need to reflect the rents that people are actually being asked to pay. 

 “Introducing a system of rent control is the only way for the Government to really address this issue and to ensure rents don’t keep continuously rising beyond affordable limits for Rent Supplement recipients.  To stem the current crisis in a sustainable way, this country must develop a system that allows for reasonable and predictable rent increases and provides stability for both tenants and landlords.”    

 Mr. Jordan said the Housing Assistance Payment – which has been earmarked to replace the Rent Supplement scheme and address some of its flaws – is not being introduced quickly enough.  “The Housing Assistance Payment has to be brought forward immediately before the current housing crisis becomes any worse,” he said. “We need the Government to treat it as a major priority in the coming months, so that we can finally resolve the multiple problems that have arisen because of the flawed Rent Supplement system.”

 Threshold’s Role in Preventing Homelessness

Giving her reaction to the plan, Senator Aideen Hayden, Chairperson of Threshold, said the priority for all stakeholders in addressing current housing challenges must be to keep families in their homes. 

 “Threshold’s focus has always been on preventing homelessness and finding housing solutions for vulnerable families before they fall into homelessness,” she said. 

 “In implementing the plan introduced today, we will work with government to provide a dedicated service for people at immediate risk of homelessness and, in particular, we will liaise with the Department of Social Protection in the months to come to highlight serious cases where people in receipt of Rent Supplement may be at risk of losing their homes.

 “At the same time, as a Government Senator and as Chair of Threshold, I think it’s important that the Government understands that current Rent Supplement levels – particularly in Dublin – do not reflect the reality of what people on Rent Supplement are actually paying.  The Government needs to realise that many people in receipt of Rent Supplement are paying rents in excess of the current caps, and they’re doing so by paying ‘top-ups’ out of their social welfare payments, which they can ill afford.  As a consequence, they are putting themselves at risk of losing their homes, as rents become more and more unaffordable.”