Rent supplement is intended as a short-term income support for eligible tenants whose means are insufficient to meet their accommodation costs. There are currently almost 85,000 people in receipt of rent supplement, an increase of 42% since the end of December 2007. Rent supplements are subject to a limit on the amount of rent an applicant for rent supplement may incur. The objective is to ensure rent supplement is not paid in respect of excessively expensive accommodation, having regard to the size of the household and market conditions.
Rent limits have recently been reviewed. In testing the level at which basic accommodation can be secured, the Department was informed by analysis of a number of data sources. Data published by the Central Statistics Office show rents fell by almost 7% between November 2008 and February 2009. A leading property website reports that rents have fallen by around 12% in the past year. A similar trend is apparent in tenancies registered with the Private Residential Tenancies Board.
The recent supplementary budget provided for reduced maximum rent limits to be prescribed in regulations to take effect from 1 June 2009. Rent limits will be kept under review in light of trends in the private rental market. Payments being made to existing rent supplement tenants are being reduced by 8%. Also, from 1 June 2009 the minimum contributions payable towards rent is being increased from €18 to €24 per week to reflect downward trends in the private rental market and align the minimum weekly contribution individuals make towards their rent under the rent supplement scheme more closely with the rents local authority tenants have to pay.
Rent supplement will also be restricted to individuals who have been an existing tenant for six months. Individuals forming new households must have been placed on a local authority housing list following a full housing needs assessment before they are eligible for rent supplement. Some exemptions will apply and rent supplement will continue to provide support where exceptional circumstances exist in any individual case, for example, where the person is at risk of experiencing homelessness and-or hardship.
One of the measures introduced in recent years to address the issue of long-term rent supplementation is the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, which gives local authorities specific responsibility for meeting the long-term housing needs of people receiving rent supplement for 18 months or more.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House.
Details of the 32,000 people in receipt of rent supplement for 18 months or more are notified regularly to the local authorities. Almost 19,500 tenants have been transferred from the rent supplement scheme to RAS and other social housing options since 2005 and it is expected that 9,000 further rent supplement recipients will be transferred in 2009.
One of the reported impediments to the fluid transfer of rent supplement claimants to RAS is what can be a significant difference between the contribution which is required of the tenant under the rent supplement scheme and the contribution which they are required to pay through the differential rent scheme. The increase in the contribution referred to earlier addresses this issue.
Overall, I am satisfied that the current rent supplement scheme provides an adequate short-term safety net within the overall social welfare system to ensure people do not suffer hardship due to loss of employment. Nonetheless, I intend to keep the scheme under review to ensure it meets the objective of catering for those who require assistance on a short-term basis while long-term housing needs are dealt with in a more appropriate manner. I intend to consult housing officers in local authorities and community welfare officers to determine how the scheme can best meet its intended aims.