Dáil Éireann - Volume 602 - 24 May, 2005

Written Answers - Social Welfare Benefits.

  106. Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he has issued any policy directive with the objective of restricting the availability of the rent allowance; if his attention has been drawn to the consequent hardship caused or likely to be caused; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17130/05]

  262. Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the extent to which rent allowance has been discontinued arising from depart[1843] mental cutbacks in the past 12 months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17434/05]

  263. Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of evictions which have occurred following the reduction or termination of rent allowances arising from cutbacks in his Department in the past 12 months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17435/05]

  Mr. Brennan: I propose to take Questions Nos. 106, 262 and 263 together.

Rent supplements are provided through the supplementary welfare allowance scheme administered on my behalf by the community welfare division of the Health Service Executive. The changes to the rent supplement scheme in January 2004 were made in the context of budget policy at that time and in response to a marked growth in rent supplement numbers in the preceding years. These changes were made on the basis that people on low incomes with longer term housing needs required a housing solution rather than ongoing cash supports and that the scheme should be refocused on its original objective of providing short-term income support to individual tenants in immediate need.

Specific details of applications refused on grounds of failure to meet the conditions for receipt of rent supplement are not maintained in my Department. However, a working group was established under the Sustaining Progress agreement, in co-operation with the social partners, to monitor the impact of the changes made to the scheme. The group concluded that the design of the measures introduced, including the operation of the appropriate levels of discretion by the community welfare officers, was not having any significant adverse impacts.

Surveys carried out on the impact of the changes show that the number of refusals arising from changes in the qualification criteria were negligible in the context of the level of rent supplement awards in 2004, which was some 41,800. On each occasion the majority of refusal decisions were made for reasons such as means, habitual residency or for reasons relating to the accommodation involved. None of the cases identified involved people who were evicted from their rented accommodation.

After extensive consultation, I made changes to the regulations specifying the conditions for receipt of rent supplement, with effect from 31 January 2005, to address specific concerns. These changes removed the six month rule, extended the scheme to provide coverage for bona fide existing tenants who become unable to meet their rent or mortgage interest payments through illness, unemployment and so forth, and extended from two to three the number of refusals of local authority offers of accommodation a person may make before becoming ineligible for rent supplement.

[1844] On each occasion where changes have been made to the rent supplement scheme a formal circular has been issued from my Department to the community welfare officers, who administer the scheme on my behalf, setting out the amended qualification criteria. There is no question of any direction to officers to restrict the availability of, or entitlement to, rent supplement arising from the changes to the scheme. Supplements remain available to all eligible people who are unable to meet their immediate accommodation needs from their own resources and who do not have accommodation available from an alternative source. In addition, the discretionary scope of the scheme remains available to community welfare officers to award rent supplement where there is an individual exceptional or special need, beyond the normal eligibility conditions of the scheme.

Overall, the indications from Health Service Executive staff are that the new arrangements are working well and are sufficiently flexible to meet the genuine accommodation needs of tenant applicants adequately.

Question No. 107 answered with Question No. 55.

Question No. 108 answered with Question No. 82.