I propose to take Questions Nos. 56 and 58 together.
There are approximately 92,000 persons in receipt of rent supplement for which the Government has provided a sum of €436 million for 2012. The aim of rent supplement is to provide short term income assistance, and not to act as an alternative to the other social housing schemes operated by the Exchequer.
New maximum rent limits were introduced from 1 January 2012 to ensure value for money for tenants and taxpayers was achieved whilst ensuring that people on rent supplement are not priced out of the market for private rented accommodation.
I welcome the Government decision to transfer responsibility for the provision of rental assistance to persons with a long term housing need from my Department, currently provided through rent supplement, to housing authorities using a new Housing Assistance Payment (HAP). This will achieve a key Government commitment of removing barriers to employment and at the same time returning rent supplement to its original purpose of a short-term income support.
A commencement date for the new arrangements of 1st January 2013 has been approved subject to further consideration of the matter by Government. Policy in relation to the HAP scheme is a matter for my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government. A multi-agency steering group has been established to develop proposals to give effect to this transfer. The group is chaired by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and consists of representatives from the Departments of Social Protection; Public Expenditure and Reform; Office of the Revenue Commissioners; the County and City Managers Association, and the Housing Agency. Latest figures show that over 39,900 rent supplement tenancies have transferred from rent supplement to the Rental Accommodation Scheme and other social housing options since its inception.