I propose to take Questions Nos. 737 and 738 together.
Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) plays a vital role in housing eligible families and individuals. At the end of Q3 2019, nearly 67,000 HAP tenancies had been set-up since the scheme commenced, of which there were more than 50,000 households actively in receipt of HAP support and over 29,000 separate landlords and agents providing accommodation to households supported by the scheme.
The tenancy agreement is between the tenant and the landlord and is governed by the Residential Tenancies Act 2004, (as amended); the local authority has no role in this agreement. The Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) was established as an independent statutory body under the Act to operate a national tenancy registration system and to facilitate the resolution of disputes between landlords and tenants. HAP supported tenancies are afforded the same protections available to all private rented tenancies.
HAP tenants are required to sign a rent contribution agreement to pay a weekly rental contribution to the relevant local authority, in line with the local authority’s differential rent scheme. As set out in the rent contribution agreement, this weekly rental contribution must be paid by them so that they remain eligible for the HAP scheme.
The HAP Shared Services Centre (SSC) manages the collection of all HAP tenants’ differential rents, on behalf of the relevant local authority, and the payment of all HAP rents to landlords on behalf of tenants supported by the HAP scheme. The HAP SSC applies a very clear communication policy if rental arrears issues arise. This policy includes regular and early written communication with tenants, landlords and the relevant local authority.
Apart from issuing the formal notification letters, there would always be attempts to contact the tenants by phone and by email to settle accounts and avoid escalation of the debt process. Depending on the particular arrears in question, both the relevant local authority and the landlord are informed when an account has not been cleared and of possible suspension and/ or cessation of the HAP payment.
To date, the approach taken by the HAP SSC has been very effective with minimal levels of rent arrears arising for HAP tenants. At the end of Q3 2019, the scheme has a 97% differential rent collection rate, with minimal arrears arising for tenants or local authorities. Therefore, only a very small number of tenants have fallen into difficulty with their differential rent. Since HAP was rolled out in 2014, HAP support has been ceased for 1,065 tenancies due to tenant differential rent non-payment. This represents less than 2% of all tenancies set up during that period.
Tenancy sustainment is a very important factor in relation to keeping households in their homes. There are a number of avenues for a tenant experiencing financial difficulty including early engagement with the relevant local authority or the Community Welfare Officer.
Notwithstanding the assistance available to tenants, there is a fundamental need for a tenant to acknowledge and make the maximum effort to fulfil their personal responsibilities and requirements in relation to contributing to their accommodation costs and to engage early when difficulties arise. The rent contribution that a household is asked to pay is calculated by the local authority having regard to the financial circumstances of the household and affordability. The HAP scheme is funded through a combination of the contributions from households and exchequer funding, so it is absolutely critical that additional unnecessary burden is not placed on the exchequer to offset non-payment of differential rent.
As the HAP scheme grows, the SSC are continuously working to improve systems and processes, including debt management processes. My Department, with the assistance of stakeholders, including the Housing Agency, HAP Practitioners from local authorities and also the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, will continue to work with the SSC to ensure that the debt management process is reasonable and effective and that the appropriate tenancy sustainment options are in place.