On 18 July 2013, the Government approved the introduction of the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP). Approval was also given for the provision of funding to the local authorities to cover the cost of accommodating HAP recipients, and it was agreed that the Department of Social Protection (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 DSP continue to work closely on the legal, policy and operational issues involved in developing and introducing HAP. The completion of the business process design exercise for HAP in 2013 allowed for the General Scheme of a Housing Bill providing for HAP and associated items to be developed. On 17 December 2013, the General Scheme was approved by Government and the Bill is in preparation, as a priority for enactment to facilitate the test phase and implementation of HAP in 2014.
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 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.
My Department is working closely with all the key stakeholders in overseeing plans for the implementation of HAP, but more specifically at this stage in relation to an early pilot phase and phased roll out of the scheme later in 2014, subject to the enactment of the relevant legislation. 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. Limerick City and County Councils have been identified as lead authority to drive implementation in the local government sector including the delivery of the HAP pilot in Quarter 1 2014.
During implementation, it is envisaged that authorities will initially focus on taking across new applicants, before moving on a progressive basis to dealing with 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 sections.