Cutting the Housing Waiting List

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Without lifting a brick.

The housing assistance payment (HAP) scheme is aimed at people currently on the rent supplement scheme. The scheme was previously managed by the HSE and is now run by the Department of Social Protection.

During a debate on Joint Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht Debate on Tuesday. Richard Boyd Barratt questioned Michael Layde of the  Department of Environment, Community and Local Government about a worrying anomaly.

Richard Boyd Barrett: “Is Mr. Layde aware of the shock people who have been on a housing waiting list for 12 or 15 years will feel when they discover that because they have been included in the HAP scheme they have been removed from the list? People have a right to feel very angry and cheated when they are removed from a housing list on which they have been for 12 years and have no chance of getting a council house, although they believed for ten to 15 years that they would in the end. Mr. Layde has countered, as has the Minister, by saying they can transfer. Is it not correct that they can transfer but only on medical or overcrowding grounds and that if they do not qualify on these grounds, they will not be able to transfer? They will be in private accommodation in a private landlord’s private property, the Department will deem them to be housed and they will be off the list, unless they can qualify on medical or overcrowding grounds. Is that not true?”

Michael Layde: “I do not know if the word “shock” is relevant. People will be communicated with and told. The initial phase will predominantly affect people in receipt of rent supplement who will transfer to the HAP in the same way as people in receipt of rent supplement have been transferring to the rental accommodation scheme for the past decade or so.”

Richard Boyd Barrett: “The difference is that they will be off the housing waiting list. A person on the list in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown has a number and knows where he or she is on the list. Although a person with a number between 300 and 500 is consigned to ten years of waiting, he or she knows that at the end of it he or she will rise up the list and receive a council house. If a person is included in the HAP scheme, without being given any choice, he or she will be removed from the list and the ten years wait will be for nothing. Is that not true?”

Michael Layde: “People who move to the RAS are considered to have had their housing needs met. The same principle will apply under the HAP. Regarding movement thereafter within social housing, the principle is that they should be treated no less favourably than those on the main housing waiting lists. They will have the same option of moving within social housing as others. People’s situations will be improved immediately in that those in receipt of rent supplement will move from an income support to a social housing support, with the responsibility of the local authority for meeting their needs being clear. This represents a significant improvement in their position, reinforced by the fact that they, like any other social tenant, can move to a different form of social housing. If their needs prove to be continuous, bearing in mind that one of the objectives of the HAP is to facilitate people’s return to work as the economy improves and, perhaps, being able to meet their own housing needs.”

Boyd Barrett: “I do not mean to be confrontational, but I have very little time. I understand all of the points Mr. Layde has made. I accept that the council having some obligation to tenants is better. Let us call a spade a spade. People who have been on the housing waiting list for years and who previously had an entitlement to a council house will be removed from the list and no longer have that entitlement. Is that not a fact? When will people be told this? Will they be told when they are forced onto the HAP scheme? Although Mr. Layde has said people will not be treated any less favourably than if they were on the list, the only grounds on which one can secure a transfer are medical and overcrowding. Tens of thousands of families who previously had an expectation of being given a council house but who do not fit these criteria will not get a council house.”

Chairman [Michael McCarthy]: “Will Mr. Layde clarify the position? Is it a fact that a person who moves to the HAP will be removed from the housing waiting list?

Michael Layde: “Yes, as happens under the RAS. A person’s housing needs are met and he or she moves to being the responsibility of the relevant housing authority. There is a requirement on the local authority to continue to meet his or her needs into the future in whatever form of housing is appropriate and available, as applies to other social housing tenants. A person’s place on a housing waiting list does nothing to alter his or her position, for example, regarding rent supplement. By moving to the new HAP scheme a person’s position is altered because he or she becomes the responsibility of the local housing authority. Such a person can then be on whatever list is appropriate in terms of a transfer within the local authority to other forms of social housing.”

Boyd Barrett: “In a situation where rents are going through the roof and landlords are pulling out of RAS arrangements when the terms are up or even before, what on earth makes Mr. Layde think thousands of them will sign up to permanent or semi-permanent arrangements with local authorities at the lower rents the HAP will require? Is that not a cloud cuckoo land fantasy?”

Layde: “Significant numbers of landlords continue to provide properties under the RAS, although there have been some instances of landlords withdrawing from the scheme. We are piloting the HAP in Limerick city and county and landlords are co-operating with their tenants entering the scheme. Later this year we will roll out the HAP across six other local authorities and be able to test the degree to which there may be a concern about landlords’ willingness to participate in the scheme. There is a housing supply issue, which is recognised by the Government in Construction 2020. The social housing strategy, on which we are working, will, in that context, attempt to bring forward creative solutions to ensure the supply of social housing, whether directly by housing authorities, approved housing bodies or the private sector, is maximised and that problem issues are addressed quickly and comprehensively.”

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