By Eoin Reynolds A GOVERNMENT decision not to pay rent allowance for people living in expensive accommodation has sparked outrage among some community groups and politicians in Fingal.
Legislation introduced in November by the Coalition Government stated that people paying above the rent limit for their region would not be able to benefit from any rent allowance.
The Government have also said that they would not increase the rent supplement until 2004.
For Fingal residents, this means that a single person living alone on social welfare in 2003, would not be allowed live in accommodation that costs more than ?107 per week.
If they choose to live in such accommodation, they will receive no rent allowance from the health board.
According to Andrew McCann of the Citizens Information Centre in Swords, the consequences of this would be devastating.
‘This new act does not work in conjunction with Social Housing Policy or local authorities,’ he said.
‘In the light of newly released Budget cutbacks in this sector, this forces more and more people and families into sheltered housing, substandard housing or sharing with friends and family, thus causing an unstable environment, or an endless housing list crisis.’
However, a spokesperson for the Department of Health said it would be up to the health boards to use their discretion.
In exceptional cases, where rent is ‘nominally’ above the amount normally payable, health boards will be allowed to provide the benefit.
He also defended the capping of the supplement saying the evidence provided by health boards across the country suggested that rent prices were not increasing.
However, Fingal County Councillor Ciaran Byrne (LAB) also lashed out at the news this week dubbing the legislation a ‘disgrace’.
He said it was ‘unacceptable’ that people who were on the lengthening waiting lists in Fingal would not be allowed to avail of accommodation because the ‘rent exceeds permitted levels’.
However, Michael Culloty of the Money Advice Bureau in Swords said people should not be too quick to judge the decision.
Minister for Social and Family Affairs Mary Coughlan pointed out that landlords were raising rent because the health boards were willing to pay for it.
Mr Culloty said if the Government refused to raise the level any further, landlords may be deterred from raising rent prices any further.
However, he said he would be concerned if people on social welfare try to live in accommodation without being allowed to avail of rent allowance.
If this happens, he said he would expect the Government to rethink the issue.