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Covid brings little let-up in high rents for low-income households

No ‘embarrassment of riches’ for families seeking homes to rent, charities reveal as they seek review of State’s rental support scheme HAP

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Covid has hit people's earnings, leaving many renters on the Housing Assistance Payment struggling to pay their contribution to the council and top-ups demanded by landlords

Covid has hit people's earnings, leaving many renters on the Housing Assistance Payment struggling to pay their contribution to the council and top-ups demanded by landlords

Covid has hit people's earnings, leaving many renters on the Housing Assistance Payment struggling to pay their contribution to the council and top-ups demanded by landlords

Covid-19 has brought 'no embarrassment of riches' to low-income renters seeking affordable accommodation.

While the supply of properties has increased and rents have moderated in Dublin, the effect is not being seen in other towns and cities.

Covid has also hit earnings, leaving many renters on the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) struggling to pay their contribution to the local authorities and top-ups demanded by landlords.

The situation was outlined by housing charity Threshold and the St Vincent de Paul as they asked for a review of HAP, the main rental support scheme, and other schemes relied on by 100,000 households.

Tenants receiving HAP must pay a contribution to their local authority which then pays what is meant to be the full market rent to the landlord.

But Threshold told the Oireachtas Housing Committee that many landlords charged rent higher than the HAP with tenants having to make up the shortfall

A discretionary HAP uplift payment was available where no property could be found at a rent the standard HAP would cover, and 36pc of HAP recipients were getting this.

It only increased the HAP by 20pc, however, and 28pc of tenants getting the uplift still had to pay a top-up. The average top-up was €177 but it ran to more than €500.

Threshold CEO John Mark McCafferty said while Covid meant properties normally rented by students, tourists and workers had become free, the impact on availability and affordability was limited.

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“There is less availability than anticipated because there had been such an unmet demand and such a long way to go,” he said.

“In Cork city for example, the situation is really as difficult as it ever was. In Dublin, there has definitely been a softening but not necessarily the embarrassment of riches that one might assume.”

Marcella Stakem, research officer with St Vincent de Paul, said loss of earnings during Covid was exacerbating the situation.

“People might contact us about groceries or a utility bill but when you talk to them, you find at the root of the problem is rent arrears or they’re struggling to pay the rent,” she said.

She said the charity received 160,000 calls for assistance last year and the number would be higher this year.

Sinn Féin housing spokesman Eoin Ó Broin said the problem from a policy perspective was that HAP and the other schemes were meant to provide short-term assistance but were being used as a form of social housing.

When HAP limits were raised, landlords increased rents, he said. The 50pc higher ‘homeless HAP’ available in emergency cases to prevent households facing notice to quit becoming homeless also had the effect of raising rents overall.

Ann Marie O’Reily, policy officer with Threshold, said as an immediate help for tenants, local authorities should be made begin payment of HAP as soon as a tenancy was secured.

She said payments only began when the landlord had returned all paperwork which could take weeks, by which time the tenant was already in arrears with no back payment due to clear the debt.

The committee agreed to write to Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien asking for a full review to be carried out.


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