Rent supplement is a housing support available to many people on low incomes. It helps many vulnerable people in private rented accommodation who face difficulties in accessing local authority housing, especially single people who are homeless. It is also an useful scheme supporting people to move out of homelessness into independent living. More than 100,000 households in the private rented sector depend on rent supplement. The rent supplement scheme needs a thorough review, but in the short-term action should be taken to help people at risk of or experiencing homelessness.
It is often hard to find good rented accommodation at or below the cap imposed by Government on rent supplement. In Dublin, for example, finding a place for a single person for €122 a week is very difficult. The rules governing the rent caps allow exceptions to be made for people who are homeless, but in practice this happens rarely. As a result, people who could live independently remain homeless for the sake of a small amount of money.
The way rent supplement scheme is currently paid also creates problems for people who are homeless. Many find it hard to access accommodation because landlords do not accept rent supplement. Rent supplement can be unappealing to landlords because it is paid in arrears rather than in advance - which is the norm for the rented sector. People on rent supplement therefore cannot compete on an equal footing with people who can pay cash in advance.
Under the new Rental Accommodation Scheme (RAS), local authorities are assuming responsibility for the long-term housing needs of people who have been on rent supplement for 18 months or longer. Housing is to be provided through transfers of existing private rented accommodation, social housing provided by local authorities and voluntary housing associations, and new-build Public-Private Partnership (PPPs) projects. RAS can provide one route out of homelessness for people who can live independently.
Many people are ineligible for rent supplement despite being on very low incomes, because they work more than 30 hours per week. Yet more and more people in Ireland who experience housing affordability problems are 'the working poor': employees on or near the minimum wage who cannot buy a home.
There have been significant reductions in rent supplement levels in the 2009 and 2010 budgets. This has placed additional financial burdens on many of the countries poorest households.
The MakeRoom campaign believe the following actions should be considered: