New payment must be accompanied by more social housing, say charities

Housing Bill has met with opposition from range of left-wing groups

Catherine Murphy TD (Independent) says that people needing housing assistance will have been “abandoned to the private sector”

Catherine Murphy TD (Independent) says that people needing housing assistance will have been “abandoned to the private sector”

 

The controversial new Housing Assistance Payment (HAP), which is to replace rent allowance from next year, will not work as promised without a major social housing building programme, housing charities have warned.

The Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2014, which will introduce HAP, is expected to complete its passage through the Dáil at about lunchtime today. It has met with opposition from a range of left-wing groups.

Its most important provision is to move responsibility for rent supplement from the Department of Social Protection to the Department of the Environment, via the local authorities, and to rename it the HAP.

Some 78,000 households are currently in receipt of rent allowance and there are 89,000 on the social housing waiting lists.

Other changes include making the HAP payable directly to the landlord, whereas the rent supplement is payable to the tenant. Recipients will also be able to take up work, whereas currently rent supplement recipients cannot work.

The strongest criticism focuses on Section 37, which states that “the provision of housing assistance ... shall be deemed to be an appropriate form of social housing support for a household”. Critics say once a household is moved from rent supplement to HAP, they will be deemed housed and therefore the State will no longer need to find them housing.

They will, says Catherine Murphy TD (Independent) have been “abandoned to the private sector”, where there is currently little security of tenure and where rents are not controlled.

Minister for Housing Jan O’Sullivan has described this claim as “misleading and grossly inaccurate”, saying anyone who is moved to HAP will be able to apply for a place on their local authority’s transfer list, for access to social or voluntary housing as it becomes available. Critics say the only households currently qualifying for transfers are either seriously overcrowded or their safety is at risk.

Housing charities point to the positives, but stress that HAP is only part of the solution.

Bob Jordan, chief executive of Threshold, welcomes the fact people with an assessed housing need will be moved within the ambit of their local authority.

A spokesman for Focus Ireland echoed his views. “But the whole thing will only work, particularly the continued eligibility for social housing the Minister has promised, if we start building more social housing”.