Written Answers. - Social Welfare Benefits.

Tuesday, 2 December 2003

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 576 No. 1

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  74.  Mr. Kehoe  Information on Paul Kehoe  Zoom on Paul Kehoe   asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs  Information on Mary Coughlan  Zoom on Mary Coughlan   the reasons behind her decision to change the SWA rent supplement allowance which now requires an applicant to be renting for a period of six months before he or she can be considered for this emergency payment; if she now expects people to become homeless in order to be eligible for the SWA rent supplement; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29031/03]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mary Coughlan): Information on Mary Coughlan  Zoom on Mary Coughlan  Under the terms of the supplementary welfare allowance scheme, which is administered on behalf of my Department by the health boards, payment of a weekly or monthly supplement may be made in respect of rent to eligible people in the State whose means are insufficient to meet their needs after they pay their rent. The purpose of the supplementary welfare allowance scheme is to deal with emergencies and short-term needs that arise when a person suffers a change in circumstances, for example when a tenant becomes unemployed and can no longer afford their rent.

Rent supplements were never intended to meet a persons long-term housing needs. The scheme is not a housing programme but, in practice, has become such over the years. It does not make sense to have two parallel but entirely separate programmes one operated by the housing authorities and the other by the health boards. Furthermore, the rent supplement scheme does not give a good long-term outcome to the individual. They have limited security of tenure, accommodation standards can sometimes be poor and they must remain on social welfare in order to retain their accommodation. Neither does the scheme give a good outcome to the State, as it provides poor long-term value for money and, in effect, bypasses the priorities set by the local authorities in their housing programmes.

This is the reason I have taken a number of initiatives in this area. First, rent supplement will be payable only where, at the time of application for a rent supplement, the person has been in rented accommodation for a period of six months. Provision will, however, be made for cases where a housing authority designates that a person is homeless or a person has been identified by a housing authority as having a housing need which cannot be met by the housing authority or by a voluntary housing organisation or by the person [169]concerned. This will help re-focus the rent supplement scheme on its original objective of short-term support. Second, rent supplement claimants will be referred to a housing authority for an assessment of their housing need in a more systematic manner. This will provide the housing authority with a more accurate picture of the long-term housing needs of those living in its area.

I should also mention that, following a meeting which I had with the chief executive officers of the health boards earlier this year four pilot projects were set up in Donegal, Fingal, Cork and Offaly to address this issue. The relevant officials from the health board, the local authority and my own Department's local office meet to make practical progress in meeting the needs of people relying on rent supplement on a long-term basis.

Discussions between my Department and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on the future of rent assistance are well advanced and I expect that concrete, positive proposals will be agreed shortly which will determine the appropriate roles of local authorities and my Department in respect of people on rent supplement with long-term housing needs. In the meantime, I recognise that there will be situations where rent supplement is the only viable solution available to meet the needs of some people who have not been renting for six months. Rent supplement will continue to be available to people with housing needs whose safety or well-being is at risk, such as people with disabilities, the elderly or those experiencing severe social problems. Full and sympathetic consideration will be given to the needs of these people in implementing the new rent arrangements, with the involvement of the housing authorities.

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