Under the Housing Assistant Payment (HAP) scheme, eligible households source their own accommodation in the private rented sector. It should be noted that a landlord or an agent acting on behalf of a landlord is not legally obliged to enter into a tenancy agreement with a HAP recipient. However, on 1 January 2016, the Equality (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2015 introduced “housing assistance” as a new discriminatory ground. This means that discrimination in the provision of accommodation or related service and amenities against people in receipt of rent supplement, HAP or other social welfare payments is prohibited. 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.
The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) 2018 Annual Report states that it dealt with 1,711 queries from the public last year relating to the Equal Status Acts. 22% of these related to “housing assistance”, which equates to approximately 376 complaints.
Misunderstanding of the scheme is often to blame for such 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 communications actions to clarify the operational benefits of HAP to landlords and agents.
At the end of Quarter 1 2019, over 45,900 eligible households were being supported through HAP, with over 27,100 individual landlords and agents providing accommodation via the scheme. The number of complaints referred to above equates to less than 1% of the total households being supported.
My Department continues to keep the operation of the HAP scheme under review. In general, I am satisfied with the operation of HAP and consider it to be a key vehicle for meeting housing need and fulfilling the ambitious programme outlined under Rebuilding Ireland.