Housing charity calls for radical reform of rent supplement

Ireland’s leading housing charity is calling for radical changes to be made to rent supplement as the cost of the scheme has increased dramatically in the past number of years. Respond Housing Association contends that rent supplement is an inefficient use of state resources with private landlords benefitting most from the payment. In their pre-budget submission released today, the charity is calling for rent supplement recipients to be transferred to more secure, longer term accommodation after a period of 6 months.
According to Respond Housing Association spokesperson Aoife Walsh, the current rent supplement system is poorly designed and urgent changes are needed.

“When rent supplement was first introduced in 1999, it was only intended as a short-term income support for those who suffered a sudden drop in income. However, it is now an acknowldeged housing benefit and the cost of it has increased dramatically in recent years. In 2010, more than €500 million was spent on rent supplement for more than 97,000 households. There are changes that could be made in the short-term to make the scheme more efficient and more cost effective. These include Local Authorities negotiating directly with landlords and payment being made directly to landlords, as is the case with the Rental Accommodation Scheme (RAS). Minimum rental limits set for each area should also be re-examined, as should the standard of accommodation being provided by private landlords.”

Respond welcomes the announcement by Minister Penrose in June of this year that responsibility for rent supplement will be transferred from the Department of Social Protection to the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. According to the housing charity this is a logical step that should lead to savings. However, the housing charity has cautioned that rent supplement is not a substitute for the long term provision of social housing.

“In recent years more funding has been allocated to rent supplement than the provision of new social housing and this cannot be allowed to continue. Respond believes that social housing provides better savings for the State in the longer term, as well as better managed and more secure accomodation for tenants” said Walsh. “Respond is calling for a reduction in the time a household must be on rent supplement for eligibility for the Rental Accommodation Scheme from 18 months to 6 months. Ultimately, those with a housing need should be transferred to longer term, more secure accommodation as quickly as possible” concluded Walsh.

Respond is also calling for assistance for those in mortgage distress, including the introduction of personal insolvency legislation and a Debt Resolution Agency. The housing charity believes the response of Government to date to deal with the mortgage crisis has been inadequate. Lack of consultation with consumer advocates by the Interdepartmental Mortgage Arrears Working Group was a missed opportunity for genuine engagement with those helping those in mortgage distress said the housing charity.

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