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Threshold calls for reform of the rent supplement scheme

21 July 2016

Threshold calls for reform of the rent supplement scheme

 

The national housing charity Threshold, has today called for serious reform of the administration of rent supplement in its pre-budget submission to the Department of Social Protection. This call comes in advance of Threshold’s attendance at a pre-budget forum to be held on Friday, 22nd July, by the Minister for Social Protection, Leo Varadkar TD.

 

Aideen Hayden, Chairperson of Threshold commented: “Threshold welcomes the recent increases in rent supplement limits. These substantial increases will work towards alleviating the issues faced by families and households that Threshold works with, helping them access and remain in rented homes and preventing vulnerable tenants from entering homelessness. However, it is important that regular reviews of rent supplement limits are undertaken to ensure that they don’t again fall significantly below market rents.

“Indeed, adjusting rent supplement limits is only half the battle. Threshold works with thousands of tenants in receipt of rent supplement every year, many of whom face severe financial stress and even homelessness due to how the scheme is administered.

 

“Even though it is now illegal to discriminate against tenants receiving rent supplement, Threshold’s experience on the ground is that this is having little impact. The scheme is unattractive to landlords in the current rental market, while tenants applying for rent supplement are not on an equal footing with other tenants. This scheme is totally out of kilter with how the rental market operates, with cumbersome bureaucracy and delayed and unpredictable payments leading to unnecessary problems.”

 

Threshold contends that introducing a range of administrative reform measures that, in most cases, would cost little to implement, would increase the confidence of landlords in the scheme and lead to better outcomes for tenants.

These reforms include:

  • Rent Supplement (RS) limits should be targeted, related to submarkets and more linked to individual circumstances. The level of support available to tenants should be less visible to the market;
  • Automatic payment of RS directly to landlords;
  • Ensuring that RS is paid in advance, rather than in arrears;
  • Introduction of a pre-approval mechanism for RS claimants;
  • Providing for direct submission of confidential documents by landlords to Department of Social Protection(DSP) Representatives;
  • Restoring the face-to-face applications facility in local social welfare offices;
  • Ensuring that all eligible RS recipients are afforded an exceptional needs payment where they require a sum of money for a security deposit;
  • Introduction of clear  guidance for DSP representatives to deal with circumstances where receivers are appointed to properties with RS tenants.

 

Aideen Hayden continued: “These are common sense proposals. Even with the increase in rent supplement limits many low income tenants will continue to struggle to secure rented accommodation, especially in high demand urban areas. These tenants need to be able to give firm commitments to landlords that they can cover the rent when they are looking for a rented home. At the moment they can’t do this until their application for rent supplement is processed. For example, a simple pre-approval system, similar to mortgage pre-approval, would re-balance the scales in this regard.

 

“From Threshold’s experience of running the Tenancy Protection Service (TPS),  having a streamlined system of processing rent supplement payments is hugely effective in preventing homelessness. As of May 2016, this service had helped 5,845 households at risk of homelessness and prevented 3,655 households (including 5,579 children) from becoming homeless. There is no reason why we can’t similarly improve the administration of the rent supplement scheme as a whole.”

 

Threshold operates the Tenancy Protection Service in Dublin, Cork, Galway and the commuter counties outside Dublin on behalf of the local authorities and in partnership with the Department of Social Protection (DSP), and provides a targeted response that prevents families from becoming homeless. The effectiveness of this approach has been recognised in the Government’s recently announced Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness which includes a commitment to extend the service nationwide by the end of the year.

 

For more information about Threshold, visit www.threshold.ie

 

Threshold wishes to acknowledge funding received from the Scheme to Support National Organisations 2016-2019 and the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government.