I propose to take Questions Nos. 341 and 347 together.
A landlord or an agent acting on behalf of a landlord is not legally obliged to enter into a tenancy agreement with a Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) recipient. However, since 1 January 2016, a person cannot be discriminated against when renting because they are in receipt of certain housing related payments, including HAP. If a person feels that they have been discriminated against by a landlord or their agent, they can make a complaint under the Equal Status Acts to the Workplace Relations Commission.
Misunderstanding of the scheme is often to blame for discrimination and it highlights the need for the State to continue to explain and outline the many benefits of HAP to landlords. My Department and local authorities have been involved in a range of national and local actions to clarify the operational benefits of HAP to landlords and agents.
In order to highlight the benefits of HAP and to provide information on the scheme to interested parties, my Department has taken a number of targeted communications actions during 2017, including the provision of a dedicated HAP website which provides prospective HAP landlords and tenants with the information they need to understand how the HAP scheme works. Local authorities are promoting the scheme locally, and engaging with letting agents and landlords who might be interested in entering into a HAP tenancy, while my Department is promoting the scheme by engaging directly with landlord representative bodies and fora.
The Homeless HAP Place Finder Service operating in the Dublin local authorities, and in Cork City Council, is a targeted support for homeless households who are finding it difficult to secure HAP tenancies. The Place Finder Service has been successfully utilised by the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive (DRHE) across the Dublin local authorities since February 2015, with more than 2,000 households currently being supported by the Homeless HAP scheme. A similar service began operating in Cork City in 2017.
In order to further assist homeless households in exiting emergency accommodation the Homeless HAP Place Finder Service, with effect from 19 January 2018, can now be made available in each of the 31 local authorities. All local authorities are now being provided with the options to pay deposits and advance rental payments for any households in emergency homeless accommodation, in order to secure accommodation via the HAP Scheme.
The day-to-day operation of the HAP scheme is a matter for individual Local Authorities. My Department does not hold details on the processing times for HAP applications or payments. The earliest date a HAP payment will issue to a landlord is the date a complete and valid HAP application has been received by the local authority.
Limerick City and County Council provide a highly effective transactional shared service on behalf of all HAP local authorities. This HAP Shared Services Centre (SSC) manages all HAP related rental transactions for the tenant, local authority and landlord. Once a HAP application has been received and confirmed as valid by the relevant local authority, it is then processed by the HAP SSC. On average, HAP applications are processed by the HAP Shared Service Centre within 1 working day of receipt. Any rental payment arising for a given month will then be made to a landlord on the last Wednesday of that month.
Over 32,000 eligible households are currently being supported through HAP, with over 20,000 individual landlords and agents providing accommodation via the scheme and receiving housing assistance payments. HAP will continue to be a flexible support available to assist people with their long term housing needs immediately their need arises. My Department continues to keep the operation of the HAP scheme under review. In general, I am satisfied with the operation of the HAP and I consider it to be a key vehicle for meeting housing need and fulfilling the ambitious programme outlined under the Rebuilding Ireland Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness.