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Rent Supplement Scheme Administration

Dáil Éireann Debate, Wednesday - 10 December 2014

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Ceisteanna (8)

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

8. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection the reforms she will introduce to the rent supplement scheme in response to the recent High Court ruling that the Department was wrong to discount the accommodation needs of a separated father's children when assessing his housing need; her views that the scheme as operated served to deny children their right to the care of both their parents; and the estimated number of persons for whom the ruling could potentially have implications. [47084/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (7 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Social)

This question relates to the recent High Court ruling that the Department of Social Protection was wrong to discount or ignore the accommodation needs of a separated father's children when assessing his housing need for the purpose of rent supplement. Does the Minister agree that the scheme as operated served to deny children their right to care from both of their parents and will she take action to remedy this denial of children's rights?

The High Court judgment did not find that the scheme as operated denies children their right to care of both their parents. As acknowledged in the judgment, the legislation provides that decision makers must have due regard to the circumstances of an individual and the relationship with his/her children in terms of financial and material support and dependency. In this particular case, however, the judge considered that the decision makers did not have regard to certain specified matters relating to financial and material support in deciding the case and remitted the matter to be reconsidered in the light of those issues.

The Department is reviewing the implications of the case and, if appropriate, revised guidelines will issue to staff. There are many criteria applying to rent supplement. Where there is a need, that is assessed and dealt with. It is not the Department's policy unilaterally to refuse rent supplement to fathers who have shared custody for anything other than a one-bedroom unit. Every claim for rent supplement is determined having regard to the particular circumstances of the applicant. We are currently reviewing the implications of the case and we will revisit the guidelines and re-issue them to staff where necessary.

According to the most recent Central Statistics Office, CSO, census figures there are 88,918 separated men in this country. That is an increase of almost 16,000 on the figure for the census taken prior to that. Not all of these have part custody of children or are in need of rent supplement, although obviously a portion of them are. Has the Department estimated the number of separated parents in housing need with partial custody or joint custody of their children to assess fully the implications of the judgment? Is the Minister aware that there was a linked ruling by the Equality Tribunal about a year ago? The Equality Tribunal found that the Department's community welfare service had discriminated against an unmarried separated father of two who had moved from Britain to Ireland to be near his children. His rent supplement payment for a one-parent family with two children was rejected as his ex-partner was receiving it. If the Department is aware of that, why did it force the other man who took the most recent case to the High Court to fight his battle all the way through the courts?

I do not know whether the Department has the statistics the Deputy requested. If we have them, I will forward them to him. The Deputy is correct about the figure of more than 88,000. As the Deputy correctly said, a proportion of those might not have custody. The Department is commencing a technical review of rent supplement legislation and procedures to ensure they are compliant with the Equal Status Act, with particular reference to how separated or unmarried parents are treated. The High Court ruling will inform the review. We will examine the judgment closely. I do not have the statistics the Deputy requires but if they are available in the Department, I will ensure they are sent to him.

Has a timeframe been set for the review to ensure that within a number of months or perhaps a year the implications of the outcomes of the High Court case and the Equality Tribunal case from October 2013 are fully worked out and also to implement whatever changes are required to bring the rent supplement scheme into line with those judgments?

The Department is reviewing the implications of the case and that should be carried out within a reasonable amount of time. With regard to the Equal Status Act and the technical review being undertaken, I am not sure of the length of time involved but I will make inquiries.

Question No. 9 is in the name of Deputy Creighton. She is not present so it cannot be taken.

Question No. 9 replied to with Written Answers.
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