Local authority housing lists lack transparency, report states

Absence of consistency leading tenants to believe system subject to ‘political patronage’

The report carried out by the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government found the social housing waiting list lacked transparency and consistency.  Photograph: David Ryder

The report carried out by the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government found the social housing waiting list lacked transparency and consistency. Photograph: David Ryder

 

The definition of homelessness needs to be expanded to include those who are “sofa-surfing” and those who are engaged in “involuntary sharing”, an Oireachtas report on local authority waiting lists has said.

Currently, 71,858 qualified households are registered for social housing in the State. Social housing lists have expanded as the housing crisis has got worse.

The report carried out by the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government found the social housing waiting list lacked transparency and consistency.

The report made 13 recommendations to simplify housing waiting lists and to have a consistent nationwide policy.

The lack of consistency across the spectrum had given the impression that politicians could influence the housing waiting list, the report concluded.

It had given rise to the erroneous impression that “assumptions of political patronage have led to misunderstandings about how the system actually operates”.

Many local authority tenants do not understand where they are placed on the housing authority waiting list and one Oireachtas member said tenants were told “something different three times in one week”.

Emergency homelessness

Local authorities apply different income thresholds in different areas. They also operate different systems for emergency homelessness with some local authorities putting those who present as homeless ahead of applicants who are already on the housing list.

The definition of emergency homelessness also varies from one local authority to another. “What constitutes an emergency in one local authority might not be acknowledged as one elsewhere,” the report stated.

Others source temporary accommodation for the household and then place them on a second, emergency housing list.

The report highlighted the situation whereby a family facing repossession cannot apply for the housing waiting list until their home is actually repossessed.

Committee chair Maria Bailey said the report identified that there was “no mechanism in place to support families who will be in need of social housing supports in the near future, because only after their home is repossessed, can they apply for housing supports”.

Income thresholds

The report also criticised the housing assistance payments (HAP) system whereby local authority tenants have their rents paid to private landlords subsidised by local authorities. The report pointed out that the HAP system created an anomaly where tenants were regarded as both housed and in need of housing. It described the “inflexible nature of income thresholds” as a real issue and said income thresholds needed to be reviewed across the spectrum.

The report raised the issue that some people on local authority housing lists would refuse overtime at work just to stay on the list.

“Marginal increases can result in households being removed from the list. This means that people can fall between the cracks of being eligible for local authority housing and being able to afford rent in the private market.

“This poses the risk of creating a new group of people who are not able to access housing in either the private or social housing sectors.”

The report highlighted the mismatch between the housing stock available and the housing waiting lists. Almost half (46.7 per cent) of people on the housing waiting list are single, yet 55 per cent of local authority housing stock is comprised of three-bedroom houses.

It highlighted that nearly one in five of those on the local authority housing lists (19.1 per cent) are single people living at home with their parents, but there is an inconsistent approach to dealing with such people.