I thank the Ceann Comhairle's office for selecting this matter for discussion as a Topical Issue. I thank the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, for coming to the Chamber for this debate. I would like to outline three areas of significance that are contributing to people unnecessarily ending up homeless or being unable to access the services that have been put in place to prevent them from becoming homeless and help them to get into some form of semi-permanent or permanent accommodation. I believe a policy change from the Minister or the Department will be needed to address some of the issues I am raising. Perhaps a letter of approval can be sent to each local authority to clarify the position, provide more flexibility and assist in a positive way. As a representative of the Kildare North constituency, I am speaking about Kildare County Council. Everybody in this House wants to prevent people from becoming homeless and help them to secure a roof over their heads through the social housing allocation of each local authority or through private rental accommodation.
The first area I will touch on is the homeless housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme. The Minister put in place a placefinder service under the homeless HAP scheme to help people to find private homes to rent. When a tenant who has received notice to quit presents himself or herself to Kildare County Council or any other local authority, he or she has to find a home so that he or she does not end up homeless. We are finding that people in such circumstances are unable to access upfront deposits until very close to their eviction or get-out dates. It can be extremely difficult for such people to find homes at short notice. Some people do not get their deposits until three or four weeks before their eviction dates. As it is very difficult to find properties in north Kildare, like everywhere else, through the private rental market, people need to be given as long as possible to try to source private rental accommodation.
Having spoken to various groups about this issue, I am aware that when people present themselves to a local authority after receiving notice to quit - three or four months' notice is normally given, but it might be as little as two months in some cases - they aggressively pursue new properties in order to ensure they and their families do not end up homeless. If people in such circumstances are able to prove that they have found a property, if they have confirmed to the homeless section of the local authority that they are going to be homeless and if the notice to quit is in order with the statutory guidelines, I believe they should be able to access a deposit and one month's rent to assist them in finding alternative accommodation. It does not matter whether this happens a month or three months in advance of the eviction date. As it gets closer to the eviction date, it gets far too tight to try to find a property. That is how people end up in hotels. I know of cases in which people from County Kildare are being accommodated in hotels in Carlow and Portlaoise. This is not very practical for families when children are going to school and people are going to work. People in these circumstances need all the time and all the supports they can get to try to find alternative accommodation.
I can understand where the Department's 30% disposable income calculation comes from. It is acceptable that people must have a disposable income to live on after they have paid their rent and made their top-up payment. As I have said in this House previously, the difficulty is that even with the 20% discretion under the HAP scheme, there is still a gap with current rental market values. I have asked for this discretion to be increased temporarily while we are waiting for supply and stock to come into the market. In the absence of such an increase, the gap between the payment under the HAP scheme and the actual current rental market value needs to be made up so that families in these circumstances can find homes. People are getting letters of support from reliable family members - parents, brothers and sisters - who are in full-time employment and are willing to help with their efforts to get homes and pay the balance. Under Kildare County Council's current policy, unfortunately, it is unable to accept such letters unless it can get bank statements and letters from employers to confirm that the people in question are in permanent employment and can support their family members in making top-up payments. That is adding to the substantial distress and concern of families. It is very difficult to get a property. If one is lucky enough to get a property, one should be allowed to get family support to make a top-up payment as long as one has a strong letter of support. I believe it is unwarranted to require people to undertake needless tasks like getting personal details from those who are providing support to them.