The Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) scheme is a flexible and immediate housing support that is available to all eligible households throughout the State.
All households in receipt of HAP pay a differential rent based on the rent scheme set by the relevant local authority. The right of local authorities to set and collect rents on their dwellings is laid down in section 58 of the Housing Act 1966. The making or amending of such schemes is an executive function and is subject to broad principles laid down by my Department including that –
- the rent payable should be related to income and a smaller proportion of income should be required from low income households;
- provision should be included for the acceptance of a lower rent than that required under the terms of the scheme in exceptional cases where payment of the normal rent would give rise to hardship; and
- appropriate local factors should be taken into account including the costs of the maintenance and management of the stock of rented dwellings and the adequacy of the rental income to meet such costs.
Each local authority has its own separate differential rent scheme or schemes in operation. As rent is calculated using each local authority’s own formula, the schemes do vary in a number of ways from each other. This is particularly the case when it comes to what may or may not be considered as reckonable/assessable income for rent purposes e.g., disability allowance and carer's allowance. However, all local authority rent schemes would include the employment income of the tenant and most would do so based on net income, that is income net of income tax, Universal Social Charge and PRSI.
Section 31 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 provides for the Minister to introduce a national rents framework for social housing tenants. Considerable work has been carried out by my Department in developing a draft of such a framework, which has as its main aim the harmonisation of local authority rents, including a set of standardised income disregards, whilst retaining the general principle of rents related to household income.
This work is now being examined further in the light of the broader commitment given in the Rebuilding Ireland Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness, to review the disparate systems of differential rent for social housing in place across local authorities. The overall objective is to ensure that housing supports are fair and sustainable and prioritise those on lowest incomes. I expect that the review will be completed in the near future.