I propose to take Questions Nos. 326, 328 and 347 together.
The purpose of the rent supplement scheme is to provide short-term income support to assist with reasonable accommodation costs of eligible people living in private rented accommodation who are unable to provide for their accommodation costs from their own resources. 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 approximately 76,000 rent supplement recipients for which the Government has provided over €344 million for 2014.
It is a condition of rent supplement that a person must have been residing in private rented accommodation, or accommodation for homeless persons or an institution (or any combination of these) for a period of 183 days within the preceding 12 months of the date of claim for rent supplement. A person may also qualify for rent supplement where an assessment of housing need has been carried out and the person is deemed by a housing authority to be eligible for and in need of social housing support.
In all other cases, a person who wishes to apply for rent supplement is referred, in the first instance, for an assessment of eligibility for social housing support by the housing authority. Only when the person has been assessed as being eligible for and in need of social housing support, does the person become eligible for consideration for rent supplement. The scheme also provides for an existing rent supplement recipient to make an application for an assessment of a housing need on being required by the officer administering the scheme.
The assessment of housing need is a matter for the housing authority and any concerns the Deputy may have regarding the timeliness of these assessments should be referred to the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government.
There is no evaluation underway of discretionary rent supplement decisions made in respect of disabled persons as referred to by the Deputy. Department officials operating the rent supplement scheme have discretionary powers to award a supplement at a higher level in exceptional cases where it appears that the circumstances of the case so warrant. Each case is examined individually and is decided on the basis of the situation presented.
Once approved, rent supplement is payable in arrears. However, under the supplementary welfare allowance (SWA) scheme, a payment for rent in advance can be made as a once off exceptional needs payment. There is no automatic entitlement to this payment and each application is determined by the officer administering the SWA scheme based on the particular circumstances of the case taking account of the nature and extent of the need. Such payments are confined to occurrences which are considered to be unexpected, unforeseen or exceptional. The detail of the specific case referred to by the Deputy should be forwarded to the Department for review.