In March 2012, the Government approved in principle the transfer of responsibility for recipients of rent supplement with an established housing need from the Department of Social Protection (DSP) to local authorities using a new Housing Assistance Payment (HAP). On 18 July 2013, the Government approved the introduction of HAP including the provision of funding to the local authorities to cover the costs of accommodating HAP claimants. It was also agreed that the DSP would provide for the implementation of the mandatory direct deduction of rental contributions from the welfare payments of HAP recipients and local authority tenants. My Department and the Department of Social Protection continue to work closely on the legal, policy and operational issues involved in developing and introducing HAP.
My Department is also working closely with the County and City Managers Association (CCMA) in overseeing plans for the implementation of HAP, but more specifically at this stage in relation to the test phase, which is planned for 2014 (subject to the enactment of the relevant legislation). A Project Implementation Team is in place and will be responsible for detailed planning and implementation during the testing and roll-out phases.
The CCMA has identified Limerick as the lead authority to drive implementation in the local government sector. The other authorities currently nominated for the test phase are:
- South Dublin County Council
- Louth County Council
- Kilkenny County Council
- Waterford City Council
- Cork County Council
- Monaghan County Council
A detailed business process design exercise for HAP involving input from all the relevant key stakeholders has recently been completed. The Implementation Team will now, in conjunction with my Department, develop a plan for testing the scheme in the selected authorities in 2014 (subject to the required legislation being in place), with full roll out of the scheme to follow once the test phase is complete. Consideration, where possible, will be given to what aspects of the scheme can be progressed under existing mechanisms prior to enactment of the required legislation.
HAP is being designed so as to bring all of the social housing services provided by the State together under the local authority system, with local authorities being responsible for all households with an established housing need and ensuring significant efficiencies in the provision of rental assistance. HAP will provide a new framework for the provision of rental assistance, and will, in as much as it can, facilitate the removal of existing barriers to employment in the rent supplement scheme by allowing HAP recipients to remain in the scheme if they gain full-time employment.
Under the new scheme applicants will source their own accommodation within the private rented market (as currently happens with rent supplement) and the tenancy agreement will be between the HAP recipient and the private landlord. The local authority will pay the new assistance payment on the tenant's behalf directly to the landlord. The tenant will pay a rental contribution to the local authority based on the differential rent scheme for the relevant local authority.
During the test phase, it is envisaged that the authorities will initially focus on new applicants before moving on a progressive basis to those already in receipt of Rent Supplement. It is also intended that the test phase will prioritise, as much as possible, the transfer of long-term unemployed rent supplement recipients to HAP. This is a reasonable approach to implementation, which will allow any issues that arise to be dealt with in a graduated way and give local authorities sufficient time to scale up the operation of HAP within their housing directorates.