Priority Questions.

Education Schemes.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

75 Deputy Olwyn Enright asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if she will change the qualifying criteria for the back to education allowance; if so, when she will implement these changes; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18884/08]

My Department provides a wide range of second chance education opportunities to facilitate people on certain social welfare payments to improve their skills and qualifications and, therefore, their prospects of returning to the active workforce. The back to education allowance is one of these second chance education opportunities schemes. It is paid at a standard weekly rate equivalent to the maximum rate of the relevant social welfare payment that qualifies the applicant for participation in the scheme. It essentially replaces his or her existing social welfare income and in addition an annual €400 cost of education allowance is payable. This will be increased to €500 from the beginning of the academic year 2008-09.

To qualify for participation, an applicant must be in receipt of a relevant social welfare payment and be at least 21 years of age prior to commencing an approved course of study. However, lone parents and persons in receipt of unemployment payments can qualify at 18 years of age provided they are out of formal education for at least two years. In general, an applicant must be in receipt of a relevant social welfare payment for six months if pursuing a second level course or 12 months if pursuing a third level course.

People who are awarded statutory redundancy may access the back to education allowance scheme immediately, provided an entitlement to a relevant social welfare payment is established prior to commencing an approved course of study. In addition, people who are participating in the national employment action plan process may qualify where a FÁS employment services officer recommends that pursuance of a third level course of study is essential to the enhancement of the individual's employment prospects.

The current scheme has been subject to review and modification over the years to ensure it continues to support those people who are most distant from the labour market and whose need is greatest. I will continue to monitor the scheme but I believe that, overall, the back to education allowance scheme continues to meet its objectives and ensures that limited resources are targeted at those who are most in need. Any further changes that may be found to be required would have to be considered in a budgetary context in the light of the total amount of resources available to me for improvements in social welfare generally.

The Minister has always claimed to be an advocate of equity of access to education, including in her last portfolio. Does she intend to change the eligibility criteria to include low paid workers, to whom this question really relates? Does she realise current Government policy is forcing people to seek the jobseeker's allowance for one year in order to qualify for the back to education allowance?

Is the Minister aware of the disparity in regard to payments? If one is on a full grant, one gets approximately €4,100 but if one is in receipt of the back to education allowance, one gets over €25,000 when everything is included. If one is on the minimum wage at €8.65 for 40 hours per week, one gets €346 per week. However, if one is in receipt of a social welfare payment with everything included, one gets €347 per week. In effect, there is €1.21 in the difference. How is that equitable? Why is the Government intent on maintaining a policy that penalises low income earners and prevents them from participation in education?

This is a very positive scheme given that 8,090 people are currently availing of it. Some 3,359 people are participating in second level education while 4,731 are participating in third level education. It is very much targeted at those in receipt of social welfare payments. The scheme is specifically for such people and not for those on low incomes. People on low incomes who qualify for third levels grants would probably qualify for the top-up grant as well. This scheme was designed to get people out of social welfare, with which the Deputy will agree.

It is forcing people back into it.

It is designed to ensure that it gives people the opportunity to go to education which would open the door for them to employment. The fact that more than 8,000 people are benefiting from the scheme means we are definitely targeting those on the live register as more than 5,500 of those people are on the live register. There are no plans to extend the scheme to those on low incomes.

People are on the live register because this policy is forcing them on to it. If they stay on the minimum wage, they cannot get this allowance. The Minister is right that it is targeted at those on the live register. People are coming to my clinic, and I am sure to other people's clinics, and the only advice one can give them is to go on the live register because they will then be able to avail of this payment. They simply cannot afford to go to third level if they are on the minimum wage.

I am disappointed the Minister will not change this scheme. I urge her to reconsider because this policy forces people to seek the jobseeker's benefit in order that they can avail of the scheme. If the Minister really believes in equity of access, she should re-examine this scheme. Many groups, including the Combat Poverty Agency, have called for a change. It seems the Minister does not appreciate the importance of this and the difficulties someone on the minimum wage faces in trying to get back to education.

The commitment to the scheme is shown by the fact that €70.8 million is being spent on it. It is important there are schemes targeted at people on social welfare. That is not to say there should not be other schemes targeted at people on low incomes. Part of the programme for Government seeks to ensure a free fees initiative for part-time courses.

That is not in place.

It is part of the programme for Government. We are only one year into the programme.

The Minister's party has been in government for 11 years.

This is a new initiative, which is also part of social partnership, to try to target those who did not get an opportunity to participate in third level education. It was piloted in Tallaght Institute of Technology last September and it will be extended in the autumn. It will specifically target the people about whom the Deputy spoke, namely, those who did not benefit from higher education, who are on low incomes and who would not be in a position to give up those low incomes but who would be in a position to do part-time courses. That is a separate scheme which would target those people.

We support people on low incomes and try to get them into education. However, the back to education allowance scheme is targeted primarily at those on social welfare and at trying to get them out of the trap which keeps them on social welfare.

It forces them back into it.

Anti-Poverty Strategy.

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

76 Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if her attention has been drawn to the large increase in supports requested of St. Vincent de Paul by members of the public in Dublin in the past 12 months; and the way she will respond to ensure that low income groups and individuals receive adequate welfare and pension support. [18626/08]

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul has a proud tradition of supporting and championing the rights of the poorest members of our society. I am aware it recently expressed concerns about increased demands on its supports and services in the Dublin area.

I draw attention to the fact that people who are experiencing immediate financial emergencies can avail of the community welfare service which operates the exceptional and urgent needs payment schemes on behalf of my Department. Improvements in social welfare supports are normally introduced by way of the annual budget. Following budget 2008, overall social welfare spending in 2008 is projected to be just under €17 billion. This is an increase of €1.5 billion, or more than 10%, over 2007.

Budget 2008 provided for increases in welfare rates of payment which are ahead of the projected increases in prices for 2008. These included: an increase in the maximum personal rates of contributory pension of €14, or 6.7%, per week, bringing them to €223.30, and an increase of €12 per week, or 6.5%, in the lowest personal rates of payment, bringing them to €197.80.

Over the last five budgets, the lowest social welfare rates have increased by 58% compared with cumulative price increases of 17% in the same period. In 2004, the lowest social welfare rate of payment equated to 24% of gross average industrial earnings. In 2008, this rate will equate to 30%.

In addition, a wide range of improvements for families with children were also announced. Following the budget, total child income support for a welfare dependent family with one young child will be €87.77 per week, or an increase of 7% over 2007. The level of increases introduced this year clearly demonstrates the Government's determination to fully protect the most vulnerable in our society and to make real progress towards achieving our commitments for pensioners, carers, people with disabilities and all others relying in whole or in part on a welfare payment.

I look forward to making further progress in this regard in the years ahead and I will certainly take into account the views put forward by the society and other welfare organisations in this regard.

I congratulate the Minister on her appointment. I am filling in for Deputy Shortall. Does the Minister agree the alarm bells are ringing for the most deprived and those on low incomes in our society? The Society of St. Vincent de Paul, which I agree does outstanding work, has had a 70% increase in requests in the Dublin area alone since the beginning of the year. Looking at the consumer price index for April, does the Minister agree a major problem is developing for those on low incomes? According to the Central Statistics Office, the price of milk has risen by 30%, the price of bread by 17%, the price of beef by 9% to 10% and the price of eggs by 14%. Rents have risen approximately 11%, the cost of mortgage interest has risen 16% and liquid fuels are up 31%, with diesel alone accounting for 16%. These are astonishing increases on the costs of essentials for people on low incomes. We know the cost of energy for such people generally accounts for 10% plus of their income and basic foodstuffs account for approximately 30% to 40% of it. Does the Minister not agree a dire situation is developing? We have, perhaps, just entered the Cowen recession where people are desperately trying to make ends meet.

In my constituency, and probably in the Minister's, the Saturdays of May are ones on which young children make their first communion. First communions take place in all parishes and many low-income families must deal with the extra costs involved. As we are now in a recession, does the Minister not agree that she needs to take urgent argent to index link social welfare awards and allowances to what is happening in the real economy?

I urge anybody who requires exceptional or urgent need payments, such as expenses relating to children, to seek the assistance available. Some €76 million has been set aside in this year's budget for that type of hardship payment. I hope people do not feel they have to depend on an organisation like the St. Vincent de Paul for that assistance.

Food inflation has been significant over the past year, but in the past month it was significantly less, down to 0.1%. Hopefully, the situation has stabilised. Inflation relating to clothing and footwear has also declined over the past year. We are conscious of the increase in the cost of fuel and as a result the fuel allowance has doubled in the past three-year period. The period covered by the allowance has also been extended by a week in recognition of the difficulties some people have.

Provision is made to support people on low incomes and social welfare through the budget. The budget rates have increased substantially, this year included, to well over the projected rate of inflation. It is a major priority of Government to try to ensure we keep ahead of inflation for our social welfare recipients and the moneys available are well targeted for that reason. We see the results of this in international studies showing the decline of the number of people here in consistent poverty. We must continue to improve in this area. I thank Deputy Broughan for his good wishes.

This is the Minister's first day answering questions on social and family affairs, but like all of us, she is aware of the issues. She mentioned community welfare assistance, which is valuable, but usually, when the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is called upon, this means people have not got the necessary support from community welfare, whatever the reason or their personal circumstances. Given the huge price increases and the rapid increase in unemployment, should the Minister consider a supplementary social welfare budget before the end of this session in July?

There is no need for a supplementary budget at this stage. We encourage people, if necessary, to approach their community welfare officer to ensure they are getting the full benefit of schemes such as the family income supplement. Although there has been an increase in the number of people taking up family income supplement, it has not been adopted to full capacity yet. Perhaps some of the people in difficulty have not applied for it and could benefit from it. The same is true with regard to the opportunity to avail of other schemes, like rent supplement. I will meet members of the St. Vincent de Paul society this week to discuss their concerns.

Community Welfare Service.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

77 Deputy Olwyn Enright asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the direct consultation she has had with the community welfare service in respect of the transfer of its functions to her Department; the work undertaken between herself and the Health Service Executive to define the role of the community welfare officer; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18885/08]

In February 2006, as part of its reform of the health sector, the Government decided that the administration of the supplementary welfare allowance scheme, SWA scheme, as well as certain other functions, would transfer to the Department of Social and Family Affairs.

Provision has been made in the Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2008 for the transfer of the administration of SWA to the Department to take place. This provision is subject to a commencement order. Officials from the Department, the Department of Health and Children and the Health Service Executive have met the superintendent community welfare officers as a group on three occasions to provide information and to discuss issues related to this transfer.

In addition, officials are engaged on an ongoing basis in discussions with unions representing the community welfare service staff with regard to the transfer proposals. These discussions are being facilitated by an independent chairperson. While progress has been made in these discussions in some areas, a number of issues remain to be resolved. The intention is to reach a collective agreement with the unions that will address the concerns of all the staff involved. Discussions are also taking place with the Civil Service unions representing staff in the Department with regard to the transfer proposals.

During the course of the discussions, the unions have sought assurances about the future role of community welfare officers and the discretionary element of the SWA scheme. Assurances have been given that when the service transfers to the Department, the existing flexibilities will be retained and the community welfare officers will continue to make discretionary payments under the SWA scheme. They will remain community based and will continue to provide key information, advice, advocacy and referral links between agencies.

The integration of the community welfare service with the Department will allow for development of the role of community welfare officers. There is already a significant level of liaison between them and locally based staff in the Department. Under an integrated management structure, existing areas of duplication of work can be reduced, which will, ultimately, will lead to an improved and more efficient service for the public.

The Department is moving to provide a more dynamic response to the needs of the unemployed, lone parents and persons with disabilities. This involves a more direct engagement with these groups and the introduction of a case management and activation approach. Community welfare officers have experience and expertise with regard to dealing with people who are disadvantaged. They are well placed to become involved in the development of the case management and activation approach. There will be ongoing consultation with staff on these developments.

In the meantime, the Department's priority is to maintain a high standard of service to the public during the implementation of the transfer of functions from the HSE.

When this change was first mooted and discussed in the Dáil, Fine Gael expressed reservations about it. However, the decision was taken to go ahead with it. What prompted the change of heart with regard to the proportion of community welfare officers to be transferred? Initially, all of the officers were to be transferred, but now it appears 80% of them will be transferred to the Minister's Department and 20% will remain with the Health Service Executive. What difference will there be between the functions of the 80% and those of the 20%?

Where will the Department's community welfare officers, who are currently based in health centres around the country, be based? When will the groups concerned receive the promised document from the Department outlining their terms and conditions and, more importantly, their role? I make this inquiry not just on their behalf, but on behalf of the public, who are the ultimate consumers.

The Minister mentioned in her response that the CWOs will retain their current flexibility and discretion and outlined in her response to Deputy Broughan earlier that people, rather than approaching the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, should be able to go to community welfare officers. However, there is genuine concern that they will no longer have the same discretion they have had to date.

In response to the first question, in addition to dealing with the administration of social welfare schemes, community welfare officers are also engaged in health and personal social services work, which includes means assessment for medical cards and nursing home subventions. These latter functions will remain with the HSE when the community welfare service transfers. It was on the basis of the work needing to be done in that regard that the division of staff resources between the Department of Social and Family Affairs and the HSE was agreed. That was agreed in consultation between the two Departments and under examination by an independent consultant as to the staff breakdown.

With regard to where the community welfare officers will be based, I think that is part of the ongoing discussions and negotiations. However, if there is an answer, I will ensure the information is forwarded to the Deputy. On flexibility and discretion, community welfare officers will continue to have flexibility. It is important they are able to respond to local needs. This is part of ensuring we have an improved service delivery, because the change is all about providing a better service. It is particularly important to have an integrated service so all the income needs can be met by the one organisation, rather than as currently where community welfare officers are paid by funds provided by the Department of Social and Family Affairs to the HSE and dispense moneys provided by the Department, yet work under the ambit of the HSE.

In doing that they are to some extent providing a one-stop-shop because the 80% of people have to go to the community welfare officer and for their health needs they have to go to the very small number of people who will provide that part of the function. That will cause a difficulty. The Minister said the location is part of the discussion——

I do not know. If there is an answer I will get it for Deputy Enright.

I appreciate that but I ask the Minister to take on board the extra cost that could be involved in this. It is not just part of a discussion from the CWO's perspective but from that of the Minister's Department if it has to provide facilities around the country for almost 700 CWOs. Has the Minister budgeted for that? Who will make the ultimate call on the discretionary payment? Under the new system will there be a person who will be considered to be at a higher level in the Department of Social and Family Affairs who will check on these types of payments? I fear that would increase rigidity in the system and make it almost like the full application process for social and family affairs payments.

The Deputy will be aware that these discussions are sensitive and the National Implementation Body arranged the establishment of the group of SIPTU, IMPACT, the HSE and the Departments of Health and Children and Social and Family Affairs, which had intensive discussions, culminating last month. It is anticipated that the group will reconvene very shortly. It is waiting for the management to summarise its proposals on this and I would welcome any collective agreement that could be reached on it. All the issues raised here today are part of that.

Social Welfare Appeals.

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

78 Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs how she proposes to address the high number of claims involving a medical decision that are initially refused but then allowed on appeal. [18604/08]

My Department processes almost 2 million applications for benefit, pension or allowance each year, only a small percentage of which result in an appeal to the social welfare appeals office. A claimant who is dissatisfied with the decision of a deciding officer of the Department, including a decision based on medical criteria, may appeal it to the social welfare appeals office. In addition to affording customers the right of appeal, all customers who receive an adverse decision are advised of their right to have their claim reviewed by a deciding officer where new facts or fresh evidence come to light. These procedures can enable a speedy resolution of the appeal as the deciding officer may make a revised decision on foot of the new evidence received without the necessity to go through the appeals mechanism.

Confirmation of medical eligibility is critical in processing and maintaining illness benefit, invalidity pension, disability allowance, occupational injuries benefit and carers schemes. Figures for 2007, the latest year for which appeals statistics are available, show that 7,400 appeals were lodged regarding these schemes, although some of these may have related to non-medical conditions. It should be noted that this represents only a proportion of cases disallowed as many people do not appeal adverse decisions. Of the 7,400 appeals, almost 2,400 were revised by a deciding officer before proceeding to appeal. In many of these cases, the claimant had obtained additional medical evidence from his or her GP or consultant which formed the basis for a revised decision. In the balance of cases, almost 5,000, appeals were allowed in 1,767 cases, 147 appeals were partially allowed, 1,907 appeals were disallowed and 1,222 were withdrawn.

In cases which proceed to the social welfare appeals office where medical issues are involved, appeals officers, as well as taking account of reports from medical assessors of the Department, must also take account of medical reports furnished by the appellant and any other evidence, including evidence adduced at an oral hearing where appellants have the opportunity to explain how they are affected by their condition.

Is it not astonishing that almost half of the social welfare appeals were allowed in the system the Minister outlined? Up to 56% of invalidity pension appeals were fully allowed, 53% of occupational injury appeals were fully or partially allowed and 33% of respite care grants were allowed. Are these not very significant figures? Do they not put the spotlight on the frontline deciding officers? Is the Minister happy there is adequate training and guidelines for deciding officers? The Minister said that a deciding officer can do a review at the point of appeal but how often does that happen? Are there many more cases in addition to the 14,000 cases the Minister read out where an appeal is already operating?

Is it not true that many appeals relate to what one might call borderline injury benefit disability allowance type claims? There were 19,989 applications for disability allowance in 2007 and 2,754 appeals. That is a very significant and striking number. In these borderline cases, particularly where there is a medical element, do we need a new system? Anybody who has had long experience of this area, such as the four Deputies present, probably decided long ago that we should have an independent appeals system. Has the Minister thought about that? Does she believe there should be a statutory independent appeals system and will she take that initiative in her administration?

I am interested in the figures Deputy Broughan cited on disability allowance. Although he is correct in saying that 2,754 cases were appealed, of that number, 700 were not allowed and 568 were withdrawn.

However, 530 were approved so those people would have got no benefit.

That is the advantage of having an appeals process and it is an important part of the process. Given that 2 million applications are made every year, I thought the number of appeals was small. The major difference in making the appeal is that one is allowed to enclose additional medical information with the appeal. Sometimes that makes the difference. Often people do not supply sufficient medical information in the first part of their application and when invited to send more it seems to make the difference. I cannot comment on putting social welfare appeals on a statutory basis.

Perhaps the Minister will review and look into it. Will she come back on the two points I raised, namely, whether she thinks we need better guidelines and more training for frontline officers, the people who make that decision, given that sometimes Deputies hear complaints that people were not listened to? For example, in the recent huge increase in the number of people seeking jobseeker's benefit, I received those kinds of complaints. What is the total cost to the Exchequer of the appeals system?

Ongoing professional training is an important part of the work of the frontline people, particularly medical assessors. Medical assessors are full time, fully qualified and registered people. Medical education is carried out by national and international experts to ensure they are on top of their jobs. That is important, particularly in the area of disability. Some decisions on whether a person qualifies can be made as a desk examination based on the information supplied. Other applications require further information because of an examination. That is a central part of it. I have a figure of €539,500 for the cost of the appeals system.

I am not sure I am referring to the correct figure.

Perhaps the Minister will come back to us on that.

I will check the budget for the whole appeals process.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

79 Deputy Olwyn Enright asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of persons who benefited from rent supplement for each of the past three years; the annual cost of rent supplement for same; the number of people in receipt of the rent supplement for more than 18 months; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18886/08]

Rent supplement is administered on behalf of the Department by the Health Service Executive, HSE, as part of the supplementary welfare allowance scheme. The purpose of the rent supplement scheme is to provide short-term income support to eligible people living in private rented accommodation, whose means are insufficient to meet their accommodation costs and who do not have accommodation available to them from any other source. The numbers claiming rent supplement have remained fairly constant in the past three years. At the end of 2005, these were 60,200 rent supplements in payment. At the end of 2006 there were 59,900 and at the end of 2007 there were 59,700. At the end of April 2008 numbers had increased to 62,000.

Expenditure on the rent supplement scheme has increased in the past three years from €368 million in 2005, to €388 million in 2006 and €391 million in 2007. Some €392 million has been provided for the scheme in 2008. The rent scheme has also witnessed an increase in the duration of entitlement with almost 32,000 recipients now getting a supplement for 18 months or more. For this reason, the scheme has to be viewed in the context of overall housing policy, particularly in the case of long-term claimants.

In response to this situation, in July 2004 the Government introduced new rental assistance arrangements which include the rental accommodation scheme, RAS. This gives local authorities specific responsibility for meeting the longer-term housing needs of people receiving rent supplement for 18 months or more, on a phased implementation basis. Housing authorities can meet the housing needs of these individuals through a range of approaches including the traditional range of social housing options, the voluntary housing sector and, in particular, a public private partnership type rental accommodation scheme.

To date just under 6,500 rent supplement cases have been transferred to RAS units. Almost 3,000 of these are in the voluntary and co-operative housing sector and 3,500 are in private rented accommodation. Housing authorities have also transferred more than 6,400 recipients to other social housing options. When the new rental assistance arrangements have been fully implemented it is expected that in excess of 30,000 individuals will have transferred from the rent supplement scheme to the local authorities under the rental accommodation scheme or other social housing schemes.

The Department is working closely with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to ensure that RAS meets its objective of catering for those on long-term rent supplement.

First, is the Department of Social and Family Affairs moving into providing for long-term housing needs? Is this now becoming a core function of the Department?

Second, the Minister, a little like her predecessor, has waxed lyrical on the benefits of RAS. In the areas where it is working it is quite positive and I recognise it is in its infancy. Despite that, 6,500 persons have transferred onto RAS, yet the numbers taking rent supplement have grown in the same period. The Minister stated that the numbers claiming rent supplement have remained fairly constant in the past three years, but there has still been a sizeable increase — up to 62,000 this year. How does the Government intend to address that?

Despite spending the vast sums that the Minister has mentioned in rent supplement, why does her Department continue to ignore the issue of quality and standards? If there was an example of anything showing a lack of joined-up thinking in Government, it is this. The Minister spoke of rent supplement being part of the overall housing policy. Who in the Government is in charge of the overall housing policy and what level of co-ordination exists? It seems there is little co-ordination. It seems the supplement is paid regardless of the quality or standard of the accommodation and that is quite unacceptable.

Will the rent supplement be used to fill this housing need indefinitely or does the Minister intend to tackle the fact that so many people are on it for more than 18 months? Is RAS the only solution the Minister has in mind?

The rent supplement was always intended to be a short-term scheme.

It is long-term now.

The fact that it then grew and there were so many people on it for 18 months or more was the reason for developing the RAS. People were becoming dependent on the rent supplement for their housing needs which was never the intention behind it.

The intention is to ensure that these people can be facilitated through the local authorities' various schemes, whether through RAS units or social housing, and that co-ordination is now taking place. Every local authority in the country now has staff designated to deal with this. RAS is still in its infancy and it is more successful in some local authorities than others.

It is not fair to say that the Department of Social and Family Affairs is involved in long-term housing provision. It is not. The idea is to ensure that rather than being ignored by their local authorities on their housing lists, these people would now become a central part of it. The success of RAS to date, even though the numbers overall could be considered to be fairly low, shows its potential.

It is the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the local authorities which are responsible for housing — it is not the responsibility of the Department of Social and Family Affairs — and they can determine whether a rent supplement can be given depending on the conditions of the housing.

If the Minister thinks that RAS and social housing will solve all the rent supplement problems, she has much to consider. She has not mentioned the commitment in the programme for Government to examine the reforming of rent supplement. When will that happen? Will it be a priority for her?

In examining that reform — whenever this one of the many programme for Government commitments is met — will she confirm that her Department and other relevant Departments will look at the issues of quality, the lack of responsiveness to market change and the fact, as has been discussed in the Chamber with her predecessor, that when a person's landlord gets the rent supplement there is no check as to whether he or she is paying tax on it? The latter is a valuable source of revenue the Government cannot afford to turn its back on at this time.

Last year the system was reviewed and as a result the rent supplement was increased in 14 local authority areas. It is the intention that it will be reviewed over the next few weeks with a view to it coming into effect on 1 July 2008. That review will be taking place——

What about an overall reform review?

——between the HSE, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, the CSO, the Private Rented Tenancies Board and interested voluntary organisations. It is one of those schemes that needs to be kept constantly under review, particularly to see how it is working in getting people into appropriate housing.

The big difference between the RAS and the rent supplement is that the RAS is available to people who can engage in full-time employment, and that must be one of its key successes. Transferring people from rent supplement, which brings with it a dependency on social welfare, to the RAS would allow people to work as well. Obviously, it is means tested but it would target those on low incomes who up until now would not be able to benefit from employment.