Housing Assistance Payment risks homelessness - experts

Housing support payment ‘not a long-term guarantee of a secure home’ - Focus manager

“The reality of HAP is that it is an insecure and private contractual arrangement that can be pulled from under the tenant’s feet at the mercy of their landlord.” Photograph: Getty Images

“The reality of HAP is that it is an insecure and private contractual arrangement that can be pulled from under the tenant’s feet at the mercy of their landlord.” Photograph: Getty Images

 

A key aspect of the Government’s strategy to deliver social housing is not working for an increasing number of families, housing experts have warned.

Focus Ireland, the Clúid Housing Association and elected representatives say tenancies supported by the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) are “insecure” “unreliable” and “increasingly churning families back into homelessness”.

HAP, a housing support payment administered by local authorities , will constitute the largest proportion of new social housing stock under the Government’s Rebuilding Ireland plan to tackle the housing crisis.

Introduced on a pilot basis in 2014, HAP is replacing rent supplement allowance – which was provided by the Department of Social Protection – and is now being delivered across the State.

The Government aims to transfer all long-term rent-supplement recipients on to HAP by 2020.

Of the 130,000 new social housing units pledged by 2020 by Minister for Housing Simon Coveney in the Rebuilding Ireland plan, some 83,000 will be HAP tenancies, and 47,000 new social housing units provided through new-build, acquisitions, voids and other schemes.

Employment

HAP’s main advantage for landlords is that they are paid rent directly by the local authority, while for the tenants they can take up employment and keep their HAP. Tenants pay a differential rent to the local authority based on their income.

However, any household transferring from rent supplement to HAP is taken off the social housing waiting list, their housing “need” deemed to have been met. They can apply to go on a “transfer list”.

And although they are deemed “housed” by the local authority, HAP tenants are not tenants of the local authority and it has no responsibility to find them alternative housing should the HAP tenancy end.

While acknowledging its advantages in terms of greater flexibility for tenants, Roughan McNamara, advocacy manager with Focus Ireland, said an emerging trend was families coming into homelessness from HAP tenancies.

Social housing

HAP was “not a long-term guarantee of a secure home”, he said. “This is not just a problem in relation to HAP. It is a problem for the entire private rented sector.”

Simon Brooke, head of policy with Clúid, said while HAP was a “significant improvement on rent supplement” it still related to private rented housing and “should not be equated with social housing”.

People Before Profit councillor in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown Hugh Lewis said the number of families losing their HAP tenancies was increasing.

“The reality of HAP is that it is an insecure and private contractual arrangement that can be pulled from under the tenant’s feet at the mercy of their landlord. The scheme is churning families back into homelessness. ”