Wednesday, 22 October 2003
Dáil Eireann Debate
286. Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if her attention has been drawn to the policy of the South-Western Area Health Board to cap the rent allowance at a figure substantially below the average rents in the Dublin area; if her attention has been further been drawn to the fact that this policy is forcing people to become homeless, as in the case of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 12; if steps can be taken to remedy this in the case of this person; and if this policy can be changed. [24579/03]
Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mary Coughlan): The supplementary welfare allowance scheme provides for the payment of a weekly or monthly supplement in respect of rent to eligible people in the State whose means are insufficient to meet their accommodation needs. The scheme is administered on behalf of my Department by the health board and neither I nor my Department has any function in deciding entitlement in individual cases.
One of the conditions for receipt of rent supplement is based on the amount of rent a person may incur. Each health board sets a limit on the amount of rent that an applicant for rent supplement may incur, taking the household size and other relevant circumstances into account. This is to ensure that the rent is reasonable and that the health board is not subsidising the cost of overly large or overly expensive accommodation. On 22 November 2002, I introduced regulations which provided for holding the maximum rent levels until the end of December 2003 at the values that had been set by the health boards at that time.
The legislation governing rent supplements allows health boards to exceed their maximum reasonable rent limits in cases where, in the opinion of the board, exceptional circumstances exist. I am not aware of any case in which action by the health board has resulted in any individual being made homeless. The South-Western Area Health Board was contacted on behalf of the individual in question and has advised that on receipt of a recent rent supplement review form it came to the board's attention that the rent being charged in this case had increased to €1,250 per month. The maximum reasonable rent limit appropriate to the individual's circumstances is €950.
The health board is satisfied that accommodation is available at the maximum rent levels it has set. This is borne out by the numbers of  people receiving rent allowance who are paying rent at or below that level. In the opinion of the board no exceptional circumstances exist which would warrant exceeding the appropriate rent limit. In accordance with standard practice in such instances, the individual in question was advised by the community welfare officer that her new rent was in excess of the appropriate limit and that payment of her current rent supplement would continue for a period of six to eight weeks in order to provide her with an opportunity to secure more reasonably priced accommodation or  seek a reduction in the rent being charged by the landlord.
On the matter of changing the current policy, I consider that setting higher maximum rent limits than are justified by the open market would distort the rental market, leading to a general rise in rent levels that would disadvantage people on low incomes. A decision will be taken in the near future on the levels that will apply in 2004, following consideration of the exceptional cases as notified by the health boards, updated information from the Central Statistics Office and submissions which have been sought from the health boards.
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