I propose to take Questions Nos. 597 to 599, inclusive, together.
The primary responsibility for provision of accommodation for homeless persons, including homeless person’s units, rests with local authorities. My Department’s Community Welfare Service Teams (CWS) in Counties Kildare, Meath and Wicklow work closely with County Council staff to ensure all necessary income support services and entitlements are provided to homeless people or people at risk of homelessness. This ensures that access to services for this group of people is as seamless as possible.
My CWS officials participate on Homeless Action Teams (HATs) and/or local Homeless Forums in these counties to ensure cases where there is a threat of losing a tenancy or potential homelessness are prioritised accordingly. While the membership of these teams may vary from county to county, they comprise of members of the County Council, the HSE, Voluntary Housing Bodies as well as officials from my Department. These teams meet regularly to provide a multidisciplinary response to homeless people and people in emergency accommodation and ensure cooperation among the participating agencies. CWS staff are also actively engaging with the various voluntary organisations involved in homelessness in the region, including Threshold, the Simon Community and the Peter McVerry Trust.
My Department’s role with regard to persons who are homeless is primarily income support. Under the social welfare system, homeless people have entitlements to the full range of social welfare schemes, including supplementary welfare allowance and associated supplements, subject to the normal qualifying conditions.
The main purpose of the supplementary welfare allowance scheme (SWA) is to provide immediate and flexible assistance for those in need who do not qualify for payment under other State schemes.
Under SWA, my Department can make a single exceptional needs payment (ENP) to help meet essential, once-off expenditure, which a person could not reasonably be expected to meet out of their weekly income. There is no automatic entitlement to these payments which are payable at the discretion of the officers administering the scheme, taking into account the requirements of the legislation and all the relevant circumstances of the case, in order to ensure that the payments target those most in need of assistance. The Government has provided €38.8 million for the exceptional and urgent needs schemes in 2019.
The Department provides support to tenants towards rent deposits and rent in advance under the ENP scheme. This form of assistance is very important to those on low incomes and who are at risk of, or who are homeless, or who rely on the private rented market to meet their housing needs.
Where people living in emergency accommodation placements have additional costs, for example travel to school costs for children, and where no there is no alternative support available, additional supports can be provided through an ENP or through a supplement under the SWA scheme which can be paid in addition to the weekly payment.
Rent supplement continues its vital role in supporting families and individuals in private rented accommodation, with the scheme supporting approximately 18,600 recipients for which the Government has provided €132.4 million for 2019.
In recognition of the on-going rental market difficulties, the Department continues to implement a targeted case-by-case policy approach in the administration of rent supplement. This approach addresses the needs of customers who are at risk of losing their tenancy due to their landlord seeking rent in excess of the prevailing rent limit.
In addition, the Protocol arrangement in place with Threshold continues to operate in the areas where supply issues are particularly acute covering Dublin, Cork, Meath, Kildare and Wicklow and Galway City. Approximately 3,000 cases have been referred to DEASP under this Protocol since its inception. People at risk of becoming homeless should make immediate contact with their local CWS Team or with the Threshold Tenancy Sustainment Service.
Homeless people can also continue to avail of Employment Support Services from my Department and can continue to have access to a Case Officer during any period of homelessness as required.
I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.