Housing Agency had warned about homeless ‘incentive’
Report to government predates Conor Skehan’s ‘gaming the system’ comments by two years
The agency recommended that interventions to prevent people “presenting as homeless” would be beneficial “where there is a potential for a perverse incentive for households to present as homeless in order to secure social housing”. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times
Conor Skehan, chair of the Housing Agency. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
The Housing Agency warned the government almost two years ago that it was in danger of incentivising people to declare themselves homeless if it continued to prioritise homeless households for housing.
The agency recommended that interventions to prevent people “presenting as homeless” would be beneficial “where there is a potential for a perverse incentive for households to present as homeless in order to secure social housing”.
In an interview published in The Irish Times earlier this month the chairman of the agency Conor Skehan said the Government may have “unwittingly” encouraged people to exploit the housing allocations system by prioritising homelessness in the allocation of social housing. This may have led to families “gaming the system” by declaring themselves homeless to jump up the housing waiting list, he said.
Mr Skehan also said the problem could be addressed by prioritising people for assistance if they declared themselves to be at risk of homelessness, instead of after they had become homeless.
The agency’s report was commissioned by the government in March 2016, just over a year after the then minister for the environment Alan Kelly ordered that 50 per cent of all social housing available in Dublin was to be allocated to homeless people.
The agency issued its report in April 2016 and the priority allocation for homeless households was subsequently dropped by the government.
In the agency’s 2016 report it said there was “emerging evidence that the extent to which homeless households have been prioritised on the waiting list for housing has contributed to the expectation that a household presenting as homeless will receive secure tenure housing from the State after a very short period of waiting”.
This expectation was “inconsistent” with the limited supply of new social housing, the agency said.
The 50 per cent allocation had succeeded in providing housing for significantly more homeless households than in the year immediately preceding its introduction, the agency said, “but it came at a cost to households in other categories on the waiting list and could create a potential incentive for households in other categories of the system to present as homeless”.
The agency noted that the government had tried to avoid creating this “perverse incentive” by stipulating that only households who had been on the social housing waiting list for a year could benefit from the homeless priority direction.
“However it seems likely that the incentive for these households to willingly seek to be reclassified as homeless will increase if the targets mandated in the direction become more deeply embedded in the system of allocation. Households could actively seek to be reclassified in anticipation of the direction being rolled over.”
Research suggested there “may be merit in examining ways of enhancing supports where intervention occurs at the point where housing tenure is highly precarious but the household has yet to present as homeless,” it said.
The agency also said there was evidence that the established allocation procedures operated by local authorities were capable of responding to a change in the types of households seeking housing.
While the ministerial order was lifted in 2016, Dublin City Council continues to prioritise homeless applicants. Up to October of last year, 43 per cent of new tenancies in the city went to homeless people.
The council last week reported that it had prevented 1,194 households from becoming homeless, up to the end of November last year, by working with families and individuals who initially presented themselves to homeless services to remain in their current tenancies or family homes.