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New Figures show almost no flexibility re Rental cap in Limerick despite Gov promises – O’Dea

New Figures show almost no flexibility re Rental cap in Limerick despite Gov promises – O’Dea

Only 7 applicants shown flexibility in all of 2015 in Limerick

According to new figures obtained by Willie O’Dea TD from the Department of Social Protection, there were only 7 cases in Limerick where flexibility has been shown throughout all of 2015 regarding the rental cap compared to 235 in Cork. This is despite the fact that Community Welfare Officers (CWO’s) in Limerick have supposedly been told to show leniency to people who cannot find rental properties which are below the rental cap. In Dail questions on the matter in December 2014, Deputy O’Dea secured confirmation that the Minister for Social Protection had been in touch with the Regional Manager to stress the need for flexibility in relation to rent caps in Limerick.

Willie O’Dea said, “The rent caps in Limerick are completely unrealistic and I believed that since December 2014 Limerick people would see a change in approach from welfare officers. According to a commitment I received from the Minister, Community Welfare Officers in Limerick were to show flexibility. However, the latest figures I have obtained from the Department reveal that only 7 applicants in Limerick were successful in having the rent cap increased in all of 2015 – a full 12 months after the Ministers commitment - as opposed to 235 in Cork and out of a total of 5781 granted rent cap increases nationally. This puts Limerick in the bottom 5 in the country for rent cap increases, even though we have a housing crisis here.”
Willie O’Dea told the Minister in the Dail in December 2014, Will he confirm that the Department’s directive to community welfare officers in Limerick to allow flexibility represents a change in policy? I represent Limerick city and I am dealing with cases week in and week out. My experience is that no flexibility is being shown in the Limerick area.

At the moment in Limerick, the rent cap for a married couple is €400 per month. There is no place suitable for a married couple in the Limerick city area available for €400 per month. The cap for a married couple with one child is €500 per month. Again, there is nowhere in Limerick city with accommodation suitable for a married couple and a child available for €500 per month. Such accommodation would cost at least €800 per month and if one asks any auctioneer in Limerick, he or she will confirm that. There is a real problem. In some cases, people are paying rent top-ups or under the counter payments which are, strictly speaking, illegal. How far will the flexibility to which the Minister of State referred extend? Will it extend as far as supplementing a married couple with one child who find suitable accommodation costing €800 but for whom the rent cap is €500?


In response Minister of state, Kevin Humphreys said, “We were in contact with the regional managers in July to explain the flexibility that can be exercised and yesterday the Tánaiste spoke to them again about that issue. We have also communicated with them in writing.

Deputy O’Dea concluded, “After the Minister’s intervention I believed that when for example, a married couple went into a Community Welfare Officer (CWO) and said that the only place available to them is above the rent cap of €400, it would have been up to the CWO to investigate the matter and show flexibility if appropriate. It’s extremely disappointing news that virtually nothing has changed in Limerick in the past year despite the Ministers ‘directive’. I am calling on the Tánaiste to directly intervene in the situation here in Limerick which has now reached crisis levels.”

Parliamentary Debate


Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Ceisteanna – Questions

Priority Questions

Rent Supplement Scheme Administration

1. Deputy Willie O’Dea asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection her plans on increasing the threshold for rent supplements in 2015; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [47007/14]


Deputy Willie O’Dea: This question relates to rent caps. I wish to ascertain whether the Government is going to increase those caps in view of the fact that actual rents have outstripped the rent cap levels in various parts of the country.

Minister of State at the Department of Social Protection (Deputy Kevin Humphreys): I thank Deputy O’Dea for his question. He is probably aware that approximately 71,800 people currently receive rent supplement. Of particular interest to Deputy O’Dea is the fact that there are approximately 2,500 rent supplement recipients in Limerick, of whom 860 came into the scheme in the past year. Obviously people are able to access the rent supplement scheme, given that 34% of people in the Limerick area in receipt of thesupplement joined the scheme in the past year.

There is considerable experience within local community welfare offices and we have been in regular contact with them on this issue. As recently as this week, we contacted officers on the ground with front-line experience to tell them that they have flexibility in the context of rent allowance payments. The most important element of this is to make sure that families currently in receipt of rent supplement are able to stay in their rental properties and keep abreast of what is happening in the rental market. The best way for that to happen is to use the local experience and knowledge of community welfare officers to meet the needs of families. I am constantly monitoring the situation and the Department is in constant contact with community welfare officers on the ground. It is our intention to ensure that people will be able to access homes.

We must be extremely careful, however, not to give landlords a charter to increase rents. There are many low-income families and individuals in the private rental market and there is a significant supply problem. In that context, we must be very careful to ensure that we strike the right balance in order that people in receipt of rentsupplement are able to access homes in the private rental market as well as those on low incomes. While the majority of landlords would not do so, there are some who would take advantage of the current situation and increase rents further. We are using local expertise and knowledge and giving flexibility to local officers to ensure that people are able to stay in the private rental market. In the longer term, we must develop mechanisms to assist people in receipt of rent supplement back into employment.

Deputy Willie O’Dea: I thank the Minister of State for his response. Will he confirm that the Department’s directive to community welfare officers in Limerick to allow flexibility represents a change in policy? I represent Limerick city and I am dealing with cases week in and week out. My experience is that no flexibility is being shown in the Limerick area.

At the moment in Limerick, the rent cap for a married couple is €400 per month. There is no place suitable for a married couple in the Limerick city area available for €400 per month. The cap for a married couple with one child is €500 per month. Again, there is nowhere in Limerick city with accommodation suitable for a married couple and a child available for €500 per month. Such accommodation would cost at least €800 per month and if one asks any auctioneer in Limerick, he or she will confirm that. There is a real problem. In some cases, people are paying rent top-ups or under the counter payments which are, strictly speaking, illegal. How far will the flexibility to which the Minister of State referred extend? Will it extend as far as supplementing a married couple with one child who find suitable accommodation costing €800 but for whom the rent cap is €500?


Deputy Kevin Humphreys: I am aware of the difficulties which exist throughout the country because of the lack of supply. Having said that, families and single people are still moving into the rent supplement scheme. As I pointed out earlier, 860 people in Limerick joined the rent supplement scheme in the past year and moved into accommodation in the Limerick area.

We were in contact with the regional managers in July to explain the flexibility that can be exercised and yesterday the Tánaiste spoke to them again about that issue. We have also communicated with them in writing. We want the people with experience on the ground to use that flexibility but we also want consistency throughout the country. We have written to the local officers to outline the powers of discretion they have under article 38 of the relevant statutory instrument. I will be monitoring the situation on an ongoing basis to ensure that flexibility is being exercised and that there is a continuity of service throughout the country. I assure the Deputy that I will follow up on this issue regularly.

Deputy Willie O’Dea: I am glad that the Minister spoke to the district managers again yesterday because the directive issued in July had no impact in Limerick and I can state that quite categorically.

The Minister of State referred to the fact that approximately 860 people in Limerick have moved onto the rent allowance scheme recently. However, if one studied that group, one would find that a great number of them are paying under the counter payments because rents are way in excess of the rent caps. One will also find that many of them are moving into accommodation that is totally unsuitable. I will monitor progress on the most recent directive issued.

Regarding the housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme, Limerick was used as a pilot for the roll-out of that scheme. The Government committed to the HAP in its programme for Government four years ago. A recent reply to a parliamentary questions indicated that out of approximately 72,000 people in receipt of rent allowance, fewer than 200 have moved to the HAP scheme in the past four years. Will the Minister of State confirm that these figures are correct?

Deputy Kevin Humphreys: The majority of those in receipt of rent supplement are single parents with one child or single people. On the issue of flexibility, I will ensure that it is being exercised. However, if the Deputy is aware of specific cases in Limerick which indicate that it is not being exercised, I would be happy to look into that and talk to regional managers again, if necessary.

The priority is to ensure we keep people in their homes. There is a very useful and worthwhile protocol operating successfully within the Dublin area. I intend to look at where that could be extended to other parts of the country.

What I am saying to the Deputy is that I will look at that element of it and ensure there is flexibility, but I also want to ensure there is continuity nationally and that it is operated on the same basis. Other Deputies have brought to my attention instances where there was no continuity or flexibility and I have endeavoured to ensure that has been addressed in the relevant areas. I do not have the HAP figure in front of me, but I will get the figures for the Deputy and revert to him.

Deputy Willie O’Dea: I think it is approximately 200.