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Focus Ireland concerned over rent supplement cap

By Ann Marie Foley - 29 March, 2015

Need for legislation to create ‘rent certainty’ in the private rented sector which would counter rent inflation.

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Focus Ireland has accused the Government of “effectively signing the eviction notice” for hundreds of families over the coming months.

On Friday, the Tánaiste announced there will be no increase in the allowed maximum rents that families can pay under the Rent Supplement scheme.

The Tánaiste’s department in a statement said that increasing rent limits could add to rental inflation in an already distressed market, affecting Rent Supplement recipients and lower-income workers and students.

Focus Ireland intends to seek legal advice on the matter and whether the Department of Social Protection is acting outside its legal remit in failing to prioritise the objectives of the (Rent Allowance) scheme as set down in legislation.

“Focus Ireland fully supports the objective of ‘cooling’ rents in the private rented sector and protecting low earning households; however, a range of other measures are available to Government to achieve this goal and it should not be achieved by rendering destitute most of our vulnerable households,” stated Focus Ireland.

The decision to cap Rent Supplement comes with the publication of a review titled ‘Maximum Rent Limit Analysis and Findings’.

“This report has no credibility as an objective review of the income levels which households which rely on social welfare need to hold onto their homes. It is essentially a statement of how the destitution of households dependent on Rent Supplement is to be used as a crude measure to moderate rents in the private rented sector”, said Mike Allen, Director of Advocacy, Focus Ireland.

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For over a year, Focus Ireland has been highlighting that Rent Supplement has fallen well behind the actual rents sought by landlords.

This has resulted in increases in general homelessness and unprecedented homelessness among families.

Over 100 families have lost their homes and been forced to live in emergency B&Bs or hotel rooms in the first two months of this year alone.

Virtually all of these families have become homeless due to rising rents in the private rented sector.

Focus Ireland stated that the Department’s own report gives detailed evidence that rents have escalated all over the country since the last review more than 20 months ago.

The average increase was over 14% and higher in locations where people on Rent supplement live.

The charity claims that this report, on the foot of the Tánaiste’s promised review of the impact of rising rents, “draws to an end the pretense that she is going to make an effective policy response to this crisis.”

Focus Ireland says families will not now receive the resources to pay the market rents asked by landlords.

A scheme set up to support people who cannot afford rent, now appears to be using the Rent Supplement scheme to regulate rents

Focus also pointed out that the Review fails to make any mention key factors:
– proposed legislation to create ‘rent certainty’ in the private rented sector which would counter rent inflation.
– that the majority of the 71,500 households relying on Rent Supplement are now making illicit ‘top-up’ payments to their landlords in an attempt to keep their home.
-that the new Housing Assistance Scheme (HAP) has the same maximum rents payable as the Rent Supplement scheme.

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