Protect HAP households from risks of poverty and homelessness

Everyday Focus Ireland services see more and more people who are struggling to pay their rent – and are at risk of losing their homes as a result. Our skilled front-line staff can give them some support, but we keep coming up against policies that just do not work.

Recent figures released by the CSO show that 19% of the general population are ‘at risk of poverty’ after paying housing costs, however, 59.1% of households in receipt of housing support payments are ‘at risk of poverty’ after paying housing costs. This is more shocking as only 10.9% were ‘at risk of poverty’ before paying their housing costs.

Family receiving keys to new home

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Affordable housing is key to reducing poverty

Affordable housing is key to reducing poverty and many households in Ireland, are currently at risk of poverty because of high housing costs.

The recently published survey from the CSO EU SILC 2021 (Survey On Income and Living Conditions) showed that 11.6% of the population were at risk of poverty before housing costs, but that rose to 19% after housing costs were paid. The situation is even more critical as Ireland faces into a Cost of Living crisis with inflation at a 22 year high of 6.7%.

Social housing is available for any household that is not able to meet the cost of their housing needs and it is an important tool in reducing homelessness and poverty. Tenants pays a differential rate based on their income, In the aftermath of the financial crash in 2008, there was a fall in the new social housing units. In 2007, the combined provision by Local Authorities and Approved Housing Bodies was 8,673. However, this fell dramatically, to less than 760 units in 2013 and 2014.

There are now over 120,000 households in need of social housing.

There are now over 120,000 households in need of social housing. There are currently 61,880 households on the social housing waiting lists, as of November 2020 and also a further 59,821 households are in private rented tenancies supported by HAP as at Q4 2020 .

Focus Ireland believes that the private rental sector is not suitable for social housing, however we recognise that in the medium term, it is needed until the social housing stock is replenished. The Government’s  ‘Housing for All’ strategy commits to providing an additional 90,000 social housing units by the end of 2030, so it is clear that the private rental sector will still be essential to meet the needs of households over the coming decade. It is therefore essential that (i) social households are supported while they are waiting in the private rental sector and (ii) that landlords are incentivised to remain in the rental market, as we are already seeing a reduction in the number of properties available to rent.

Households in receipt of HAP had an ‘at risk of poverty rate’ of 10.9% before housing costs but this increased by more than 4 fold to 59.1% after they paid their housing costs

HAP (Housing Assistance Payment) has replaced rent supplement as the main financial support for people on the social housing waiting list to access financial support for their housing needs.

HAP is an effective homeless prevention measure and housing financial support that is helping people exit homelessness. A study from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) shows that one fifth (21.1%) of all HAP Households in 2019 were referred from homeless accommodation.

The December 2021 quarterly Homeless Progress Report from the Department of Housing, showed that HAP was the main exit from homelessness in 2021, with an average of 69% of homeless exits each quarter occurring due to HAP tenancies in the private market. However, HAP limits and landlord top-ups are pushing households into poverty. HAP households pay the local authority a differential rent similar to all social housing tenants, but in many instances, they must also pay a top-up to the landlord.

The recent EU SILC 2021 provided indisputable proof that housing support payments are placing households at a greater risk of poverty. Households in receipt of HAP had an ‘at risk of poverty rate’ of 10.9% before housing costs but this increased by more than 4 fold to 59.1% after they paid their housing costs.

Why this campaign matters

All HAP recipients should be treated fairly and subject to the same rules as other social housing tenants. They should have a secure home and have an adequate income after they pay their housing costs. To achieve this, Focus Ireland has made five clear, practical proposal, which I hope you can support:

  • The maximum rent limit on HAP properties should be urgently increased to realistically reflect increases in market rents over the last 6 years.
  • The arrangement in which tenants make rent payments to their local authority and to their landlord should be ended. The state should protect tenants by the local authority collecting all the rent due (both the differential rent and any agreed top-up) and then the local passing on the ‘top-up’ to the landlord along with the HAP payment.
  • HAP tenants who fall behind with their differential rent should be treated in the same way as other social housing tenants, and not subjected to unfeasible repayment plans.
  • Local authorities should ensure that the principle that no households should fall below an absolute minimum level of income after paying for their accommodation (as set out in Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005) is applied to HAP households. In addition, no household should pay more than 30% of their net income on housing costs. Where legally allowable rent increases cause these safeguards to be breached, HAP subsidies should be increased.
  • Local authorities should establish clear, accessible and transparent process to review HAP payments, in line with the 2021 Report from the Ombudsman.

These new arrangements would provide greater security for landlords and should be one of a range of measures, along with support for retrofitting and less red tape, designed to reduce the number of landlords which are currently deciding to sell up.

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What you can do

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