Housing payment recipients forced to top up rent by unsustainable sums to avoid homelessness, charity says

Simon Communities of Ireland report reveals just 3 per cent of rental properties available are affordable within HAP scheme

Individuals or families relying on housing assistance payments (HAP) to pay rent are being forced to top up the amount they receive by unsustainable sums in order to avoid homelessness, according to a Simon Communities of Ireland director.

The organisation’s latest Locked Out report, its quarterly look at the accessibility of the private rented market to those dependent on HAP payments, found that of a sample 1,149 properties available over a three-day period last month, just 3 per cent could have been available at rents covered by the HAP scheme.

The total number of properties available was up 28 per cent on the September study but rent would be covered by HAP payments in just 33 of them.

Of those 33, the rents on just two came within the standard HAP rates. In every other instance, discretionary add-on payments would be required to make the property attainable for the individuals or families receiving the assistance.


Three-quarters of the 33 properties were in Dublin, where the discretionary top-up is 50 per cent of the standard HAP rate. Elsewhere, it is 35 per cent. In a majority of these areas, including parts of Cork, Limerick and Galway surveyed, there were no properties available at all that the scheme would cover.

“The figures show a very slight increase on the number of properties available in September but that study had produced a record low and in reality we have been operating at a level of functional zero for more than a year now,” said Wayne Stanley, executive director at the Simon Communities of Ireland.

“That’s not to say nobody’s getting a HAP tenancy but what is happening is people are topping up the amount they receive. People are adding perhaps €200, €300, €500 a month to the HAP payments they are getting in order to avoid becoming homeless and obviously at the income levels we are talking about that just isn’t sustainable.”

Asked what the Government could do to ease the scale of the problem, Mr Stanley said it needed to “insert affordability into the system”.

This, he said, was a matter of building more affordable and social housing.

“The Government is doing things like cost-rental, and that’s very welcome but the numbers are very low. It’s building more social housing but again, we’re not building at the rates that we need to be yet.

“The long-term solution, though, is more social housing and more cost-rental housing. We need more housing solutions provided by local authorities and approved housing bodies.”

In the meantime, he suggested, an increase to HAP rates would have the immediate effect of allowing more recipients compete in the private rental sector but “We’ve consistently said the State can’t continue to chase unaffordable rents. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

As it is, he said, “crossing the threshold of a homeless service or having an experience of homelessness is a trauma, and we need to end that trauma as quickly as possible”.

Helping people in the short term sometimes allowed them the time they needed to find longer-term solutions, he suggested, “but a lot of the people who are having to look at their options and looking at the private rented market are losing hope, and we need the Government to do more so as to restore some of that hope and alleviate some of the trauma”.

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Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Work Correspondent at The Irish Times