The purpose of the rent supplement scheme is to provide short-term 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 overall aim is to provide short-term assistance and not to act as an alternative to the other social housing schemes operated by the Exchequer. There are currently more than 95,500 tenants benefiting from a rent supplement payment — an increase of 60% since the end of 2007. More than 37,800 have been in payment for 18 months or more.
The rental accommodation scheme, RAS, which was introduced in 2004, gives local authorities specific responsibility for meeting the longer-term housing needs of people receiving rent supplement for 18 months or more. Details of these cases are notified regularly by the Department to the local authorities. Local authorities 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, the RAS. Latest figures from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government show that a total of 27,240 transfers from rent supplement to local authorities have occurred since 2005 — 14,833 rent supplement recipients transferred to the RAS and a further 12,407 recipients transferred to other social housing options.
It is accepted that progress in regard to the RAS was initially slower than expected. However, the pace of delivery has improved significantly. In total, 14,000 recipients were transferred to RAS and social housing in 2008 and 2009, thus achieving the targets set for the RAS and social housing transfers for these years. The target established for 2010 is for a further 8,000 rent supplement tenants to be provided with a housing solution by local authorities.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
In consultation with the Department, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has approved a number of pilot programmes in different local authorities to increase the flow of transfers. These include allowing applicants for the RAS to seek out their own properties which, subject to compliance with the normal conditions and the agreement of the landlord, may then be taken into the leasing programme. Approved housing bodies under the leasing initiative have also been advised that they can seek applicants for social housing support directly from households in long-term receipt of rent supplement as part of a choice-based lettings approach to allocations.
The Department continues to work closely with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and is represented on a number of the RAS implementation groups. The purpose of these groups is to ensure that the RAS meets its objective of catering for those on long-term rent supplementation while enabling rent supplement to return to its original role of a short-term income support.