Limerick is to be the testing ground for a new scheme which is aimed at replacing long term social housing services.
The Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) scheme is designed to bring all long term social housing services provided by the state under one local authority system.
The scheme will be piloted in Limerick in the coming months ahead of formal legislation being put in place in June.
A presentation was made to Limerick County Council this week by director of service for housing Caroline Curley, who outlined how the scheme would work. She pointed out that, while HAP was similar to the current rent supplement scheme administered by the Department of Social Protection, there were a number of key differences.
Similar to the rent supplement scheme, the recipient will source his/her own accommodation in the private rented sector. However, unlike rent supplement, the local authority will make the full rental payment directly to the landlord with the HAP recipient required to make a rent contribution to the local authority.
If HAP recipients gain full time employment, they will still be eligible for the scheme, with the main impact being a change to their differential rent payable.
Ms Curley told the council that the pilot scheme would begin next month. Only those who have been in receipt of rent supplement for at least 18 months will be eligible to take part initially and all applicants must have their social welfare payment paid through the Post Office in order to avail of the Household Budget.
She pointed out that, once someone was accepted on the scheme, they would be removed from the council’s housing waiting list. Asked by Cllr John Sheahan what would happen if a landlord then removed the property from the rental market, she said that the HAP recipient would then be free to go and find another house.
Cllr Liam Galvin welcomed the scheme, pointing out that people who qualify for housing assistance will now have a “one stop shop” in the local authority where they can have all their housing needs dealt with.
However, he said the biggest fear was “the anti-social aspect” and he wanted to find out at what stage landlords would be informed of reports of anti-social behaviour by tenants in their properties.
Cllr James Collins sought more information on the powers to deal with tenants who engaged in anti-social behaviour. “I would argue that as we are paying for the tenants, we should be part of the process of dealing with problem tenants,” he said.
Cllr Damien Riedy said that the council had a duty of care to make sure that any issues raised by residents would be dealt with and suggested that the council would act as liaison between residents associations and the landlords taking part in the HAP scheme.
Cllr David Naughton expressed concern that the scheme would allow the local authority to “get out of building houses” altogether.