Rise in subsidies ‘creeping privatisation’ of social housing

Sinn Féin makes claim as South Dublin and Dublin City top housing assistance payments

South Dublin and Dublin City Councils paid out the most under housing assistance payments (HAP) in 2017, a county-by-county breakdown of payments under the State-subsidised social housing scheme shows.

The taxpayer-backed scheme, the Government’s primary means of providing social housing, cost €142 million in public money last year, the figures released by the Department of Housing show.

South Dublin County Council accounted for the highest pay-outs of any local authority, as HAP tenancies in the county cost €22.1 million in 2017.

Total landlord payments amounted to almost €26 million, while just €3.5 million was collected from HAP tenants by the local authority.


The net cost of the scheme was next highest in Dublin City Council at €21.8 million, rising from €3.8 million in 2016, as the local authority was one of the last local authorities to introduce the scheme.

Cork County Council was the third highest at a cost of €12.5 million, followed by Louth County Council at €9.7 million and Kildare County Council with €9.2 million.

Introduced on a pilot basis in Limerick in 2014, the scheme has since been rolled out nationwide. The scheme, designed to replace the long-term rent supplement allowance administered through the Department of Social Protection, pays rent directly to private landlords on behalf of social housing tenants.

The local authorities then charge the tenant a differential rent based on income and ability to pay.

32,000 active HAP tenancies

The public bill from the scheme amounted to an average 73 per cent State subsidy on the overall cost of housing social housing applicants in properties owned by private landlords – up two percentage points on 2016.

The total sum paid out under HAP last year was almost three times higher than the 2016 figure as the number of people switching from rent supplements increased in 2017. Any tenants transferring from rent supplement to HAP are taking off social waiting lists as their housing “need’ is considered met.

There were just more than 32,000 active HAP tenancies as of January 22nd, Department of Housing statistics show. This includes 2,475 households accommodated under a HAP pilot for the homeless in Dublin.

Cork County Council accounted for the highest number of HAP tenancies, with 2,711.

The number of people on rent supplement has fallen from 71,533 in 2014 to 36,238 in 2017, as tenants make the switch to HAP under the Government’s plan to move all long-term social housing tenants by 2020.

Sinn Féin TD Eoin Ó Broin, the party’s spokesman on housing, said that the Government’s increasing reliance on the HAP scheme and other subsidised social housing tenancies – heading for as many as 130,000 by 2021 – amounted to the “creeping privatisation of a large segment of social housing”.

“We could be looking at a situation in 2021 where a third of all social housing tenancies are permanently in subsidised rental accommodation,” said the Dublin Mid-West TD.

“That is a very, very big policy shift and it is a very expensive long-term commitment.”

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is News Editor of The Irish Times