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Tuesday 21 November 2017

'Welfare tourism' slumps after border area crackdown

Treacy Hogan Environment Correspondent

A CRACKDOWN on "welfare tourism" has helped to slash the number of people ripping off rent allowances in some border counties.

New figures being published today reveal that almost 100,000 households nationally are on council housing lists and getting €500m a year in allowances such as rent supplements.

The 75pc increase in just three years is being directly linked to the number of young people losing their jobs and turning to the State to help keep them in their rented homes. More than half of those on the lists are now aged under 30.

But while housing waiting lists are soaring nationally, they have actually fallen in Donegal, according to the Department of the Environment.

A crackdown by social welfare inspectors has led to a 35pc fall in Donegal in those getting rent supplement, the Irish Independent has learned.

The scam involved Northern residents claiming benefits by giving the address of a friend or relative and getting their hands on a bogus PPS number.

There has been concern about the ease in which cross-border "welfare tourists" living in the North were able to get social welfare payments in border counties in the Republic.

In some cases, the number claiming benefits was higher than the local population.

In Buncrana, Co Donegal, 3,951 were claiming social welfare benefits, although there is a population of just 5,911 in the town and environs.

A major clampdown was launched two years ago after complaints about increased "welfare tourist" traffic across the border.

Today's figures reveal that the number of people on Donegal's waiting list has fallen by 35pc -- down from 1,700 in 2008 to 1,110, bucking the national upward trend.

In Cavan, only a small rise in households joining the list for social housing was recorded -- just 3.8pc compared with 75pc nationally. However, Monaghan saw a 61pc increase and Louth rose by 42pc.

Cheap

There has also been a significant drop in the numbers on council housing lists in Leitrim (down 20pc), Longford (down 17pc), and Roscommon (down 13pc). But this is believed to be due to the profliferation of very cheap rental properties arising from the thousands of houses and apartments built during the property boom with tax breaks in these counties.

In Galway, the housing list has gone up by 145pc.

Rent supplements are given to those who are not working and cannot afford to pay their rent.

They vary from county to county. In Dublin, for example, a couple without any children can get up to €800 a month.

Almost one-third of recipients are foreign nationals, accounting for much of the huge increase in Fingal, where numbers have increased from 2,500 in 2008 to 4,000.

The Irish Independent has also learned that some people are turning down offers of social housing in local authority properties, preferring to remain in the private sector. Theoretically, they can lose their allowance if they refuse to move twice, but in practice this rarely happens.

Almost one-third of applicants for council homes -- and getting the rental allowance -- are from abroad, mainly from the EU. There are now more foreign than Irish people on Fingal's social housing list.

The Government has offered the banks and NAMA, which are in control of thousands of empty houses and apartments, a deal in which local authorities would take out 10-year leases on the properties, with a rent 20pc less than market rates paid to the owners. This has been turned down.

In return for the discount, the councils would maintain the property and ensure tenants refrain from any anti-social behaviour.

The rent supplement would be paid directly to the landlords, and not to the tenant as is currently the case in the rent supplement scheme. The aim is to better regulate the system involving rental supplement.

The financial institutions and NAMA, however, want to sell-off the properties to repay massive debts instead of being tied into 10-year leases.

Irish Independent

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