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Murphy highlights inaccessible rent supplement limits in North Kildare

In the Dáil | 7th March 2012

Deputy Catherine Murphy has raised the issue of rent assistance limits with Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton. In a debate on the matter requested by the Deputy, it was highlighted how the extremely low rent limits applied to the Leixlip, Celbridge and Maynooth area are having a huge detrimental effect on families in the area.
“At present, the limit for a family of two adults and two children living in Celbridge, Maynooth and Leixlip is €725 per month, yet just down the road in Lucan for the same sized family, the limit is €925 per month. This seems extraordinary, considering that the demographic profile of both areas is broadly similar, and rent prices available at market rates are virtually the same.
“We now have a situation where families are being forced to move to other towns just so they can qualify for assistance. I’m seeing people in difficulty almost every week.”
Responding to Deputy Murphy, Minister Joan Burton stated that the rent allowance cut-off limits had only been in place for two months, and that current trends “would suggest that the market is adjusting and the level of availability at the new limits is increasing”. Deputy Murphy responded by stating that her own search of available properties in north-east Kildare returned no matches at the rent-limits set.
Minister Burton pledged that her Department would monitor the problem.


Full transript of the debate of March 1st, 2012.

Deputy Catherine Murphy: I thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this topic and the Minister for being here to listen and respond. The State should not pay more than market rents and rents should not be kept artificially high. I agree that affects all renters, including those not in receipt of rent assistance. We are on the same page on that.

Renting private property is not a long-term solution. There was a major missed opportunity over the past 15 years to deal with the supply side. I accept we are in a country which does not have the money to put ideal solutions in place. The situation must be managed. I know there will be a one-stop shop which should help matters. I see people in difficulty every single week. I have a couple of boxes of tissues on the counter of my office because people come to see me in a terribly distressed state over what has happened. There is no nuanced approach to some parts of the country in regard to the limits on rent assistance.

For two adults and two children living in Lucan or south Dublin the allowance is €925 a month. In Leixlip, Celbridge and Maynooth, an area which has a population equivalent to that of Waterford City and which is very much a suburb of Dublin, the allowance is €725 a month. No properties are available for that kind of money. I looked at www.daft.ieearlier and noted there were 62 three-bedroom properties available in Kildare, but not one in the three towns to which I referred.

There is also the issue of landlords not accepting rent assistance. There is no overhang of properties in those towns because most were sold off the plans. No NAMA-based solutions are in the offing. People have to look much further afield which means they may have to move their children to other towns. This creates a series of problems. Many schools are oversubscribed and it is very difficult to set up a child with special needs with additional resources in a new place. They are also being taken away from their friends.

There are quite a lot of properties advertised on in south Kildare which one could rent for €725 a month but one cannot get them in north Kildare. The changes will be counter-productive in terms of the savings to the State if children require supports to be moved from schools. I understand the Department made a decision on a county by county basis but there can be variations within counties.

Some 43% of the housing waiting list is concentrated in six regions, Dublin City, south Dublin, Cork City, Cork county, Kildare and Fingal. The bottom 3% accounts for only 3% of the list. Some counties are affected more than others. There must be a more nuanced approach. I ask the Minister to consider the issue seriously. The whole country will not need to be reviewed, but the Department can be made aware of people who have been told to vacate properties within eight weeks. In many cases there is nowhere for them to vacate to.

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): I thank the Deputy for raising this very important issue. The new maximum rent limits were set after an analysis of the most up to date market data available. The emphasis of the rent limit review was to ensure that maximum value for money for tenants and the taxpayer was achieved while at the same time ensuring that people on rent supplement were not priced out of the market for good quality private rented accommodation.

As the Department currently funds approximately 40% of the private rented sector – about 95,000 people are in receipt of rent supplement and we will spend over €0.5 billion on it this year – it is essential that State support for rents are kept under review, reflect current market conditions and do not distort the market in way that could increase rent prices for others such as low paid workers and students.

Where a claim is under review and the rent is above the new maximum limit, the customer is being asked to contact the landlord to renegotiate the rent. Where a landlord does not agree to reduce the rent to the new rates, I have specifically asked that departmental officials discuss the options open to the tenant, up to and including seeking alternative accommodation.

The Department is monitoring the impact of the implementation of the new limits. If Deputy Murphy has examples of children having to change school as a result of the change to the limits, she should pass the information on to the Department as soon as possible. I recognise what she is saying about differences from area to area. This was built into the study and we will take this into account.

Although the new limits have only been in place for two months, the current trends would suggest that the market is adjusting and the level of availability at the new limits is increasing.

The purpose of rent supplement is to provide short-term income support to eligible tenants living in private rented accommodation whose means are insufficient to meet their accommodation costs and who do not have accommodation available to them from any other source. Since 2005, rent supplement expenditure has increased from €369 million to a provisional outturn of €503 million in 2011. The number of persons claiming the allowance increased from 60,200 in 2005 to over 96,800 at the end of 2011, representing a 61% increase. The Deputy has acknowledged how difficult the economic circumstances are.

On the question of the clustering of rented properties, I am sure the Deputy will agree that rent supplement is not a long-term solution for those with a housing need. The Government has effectively two initiatives to deal with long-term reliance on rent supplement: the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, which has been in operation since 2004; and the new housing policy initiative, as announced by my colleagues, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government and the Minister of State responsible for housing and planning, on 16 June 2011. The full implementation of these initiatives will address concerns about social mix and the clustering of social accommodation, allowing rent supplement to return to being a short-term income support payment.

Deputy Catherine Murphy:  Websites such as show that people are being priced out of the market. There are no alternatives. I will certainly send the Minister a note on some of the cases related to children. From my experience, the tenant must always relocate; there has been no realistic alternative to date, although I accept we are in the early days.

I have carried out an analysis of the RAS properties. Kildare County Council was struggling to obtain RAS houses in the part of County Kildare to which I refer. There were other parts in which it was able to get them. There are only 1,100 RAS houses but there is a housing waiting list of 6,047. Circumstances are worse than those in Fingal.

The problem is that there is no RAS option in the part of the county in question because the turnover of houses is minuscule. Where there is a turnover of RAS houses, because people get a job or decide to rent privately, there is some freedom. I ask the Minister to examine the problem in the part of the county to which I refer. If the Department considers the market information that is available to me, I am 100% certain it will find the information I find. I check it regularly. The problem must be managed while we are in a position in which there is no better option. There is a problem; it is not a national problem but there are problems in small parts of the country. The area to which I refer has a serious one.

Deputy Joan Burton: I would be very grateful if the Deputy forwarded me details of the cases about which she is most concerned. The study carried out by the Department was carried out very much in conjunction with community welfare officers, who are now officers of the Department of Social Protection. The information used was check-marked against all the county information available on rates of rent and appropriate rates.

Our housing comprises 40% of that in the housing market. There has been an extraordinary collapse in house values. Evidence from the private market shows that good tenants get reductions in rent. I appreciate it is difficult for somebody on rent supplement to face negotiating a deal with his landlord. Ultimately, however, if we overpay, we drive up rents for individuals such as workers and students, who are paying rent from their wages or parents’ incomes. If the Deputy supplies me with the relevant information, my Department will certainly monitor the problem. I am determined to obtain more value for taxpayers’ money with regard to rents. Given the extraordinary fall in house values, it would be quite extraordinary not to have better value available and affordability in respect of rent supplement. The evidence is that landlords are responding by giving better rental value to taxpayers.

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Posted by on March 7, 2012. Filed under Celbridge,Dáil Debates,Housing,In the Dáil,Kildare,Latest News,Leixlip,Maynooth,Social Protection,Your Home & You. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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