The purpose of the rent supplement scheme is to provide short-term support to eligible people living in private rented accommodation whose means are insufficient to meet their accommodation costs and who do not have accommodation available to them from any other source. 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 90,000 rent supplement recipients for which the Government has provided €436 million for 2012.
As the Department currently funds approximately 30% of the private rented sector it is essential that State support for rents are kept under review and reflect current market conditions. New maximum rent limits came into force on 1 January 2012 and are in place until June 2013. These new limits were set after an analysis of the most up to date market data available. The emphasis of the rent limit review was to ensure that maximum value for money for tenants and the taxpayer was achieved whilst at the same time ensuring that people on rent supplement are not priced out of the market for private rented accommodation.
Approximately 45,000 rent supplement claims have been awarded in 2012, representing 50% of total claims in payment, indicating that accommodation can be secured within the existing rent limits. Department officials dealing with rent supplement tenants will continue to ensure that their accommodation needs are met; there will no incidence of homelessness due to these changes.
It is my intention 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). A multi-agency steering group has been established to develop proposals to give effect to this transfer, on which my Department is represented. This will help achieve a key Government commitment of removing barriers to employment at the same time returning rent supplement to its original purpose, that of a short term income support payment for those temporarily unemployed.
The Department will continue to monitor rent levels throughout the country but at this point I have no plans to revise the existing rent limits. Any changes to the rent supplement scheme will be considered in a budgetary context.