Inspections of privately owned homes rented under the State’s Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) programme fell by more than two-thirds last year, raising fears that many vulnerable families are living in unsafe, unhygienic and overcrowded conditions.
Figures from the main urban local authorities show that inspections of Hap-funded homes declined by as much as 70 per cent in some areas, and by at least half everywhere.
The fall in inspections is blamed on Covid-19 restrictions which prevented inspectors from making visits to privately owned tenancies, The Irish Times was told.
Under 2019 regulations a Hap dwelling must be inspected within eight months of a tenancy starting to ensure the property is not damp, has hot and cold running water, adequate heating and a safe electricity and gas supply.
In the four Dublin local authorities, with more than 17,000 Hap households, inspections fell by 63 per cent – from 7,892 in 2019 to 2,905 last year. Just 688 were completed in the first three months of this year, figures indicate.
In South Dublin County Council, which has 4,660 Hap tenancies, inspections collapsed from 1,147 in 2019, to 353 last year. So far this year just 48 virtual inspections have been conducted.
The figures for Dublin City Council, with 8,623 Hap households, were 4,409 inspections in 2019, down 63 per cent to 1,620 last year; Dún Laoghaire Rathdown with 1,361 Hap tenancies had 185 inspections in 2019 – a fall of 52 per cent to 88 last year; and in Fingal, with 2,441 Hap tenancies, some 2,151 were inspected in in 2019 and 844 last year – a 61 per cent drop.
Improvement notices – whereby a council issues statutory enforcement proceedings to a landlord failing to comply with an improvement letter – are also down in Dublin, from 1,135 in 2019 to 476 last year.
The Dublin councils say 1,657 inspections are outstanding, with almost half these (817) in Fingal.
Under Hap a household qualifying for council housing is accommodated in the private rented sector and removed from the main housing list. They pay a “differential rent” based on income with the rent balance paid to the landlord by the council.
Hap tenancies: By the numbers
Last year €464.4 million was spent on Hap and €558 million was provided for the scheme this year, accommodating 61,312 households.
In Cork city, with 3,202 Hap tenancies, there were 441 inspections in 2019, falling 60 per cent to 178 last year. Just seven have taken place this year.
In Limerick city and county, with 2,495 Hap tenancies, there were 1,002 inspections in 2019, falling 51 per cent to 486 last year and to just three this year.
Galway city, with 1,983 Hap households, is the only centre where inspections increased – by 12 per cent – from 269 in 2019 to 303 last year. Seven have been done this year.
Housing charity Threshold said tenants in Hap properties were already vulnerable to bad-quality housing as "they have to accept the properties no one else wants".
Sinn Féin housing spokesman Eoin Ó Broin said: “Whatever local authorities need to accelerate the rate of inspections to clear the backlog, they should now get from the Department of Housing, both to protect vulnerable tenants and also the interests of the taxpayer.”