One Family’s Reaction to Rental Assistance Reforms

It has been confirmed by the Minister of State for Housing and Planning, Jan O’Sullivan TD, that the responsibility for the payment of rent allowance is to be handed over to local authorities as a pilot in seven areas around the country including Limerick Joint Authority (previously Limerick City and County Councils) and one in Dublin from January 2014.

One Family has reacted today to how the Department of Social Protection (DSP) and local authorities are placed to tackle the significant challenge of implementing the reforms to rental assistance and these changes transferring both the assessment and payments to local authorities.

Stuart Duffin, our Director of Policy & Programmes, commented:  “Working to manage the introduction of the rental assistance reforms will be the challenge, not the change in who pays. Their full impact is currently uncertain and depends on how households and the housing market react, locally as well as nationally. DSP and all local authorities have a crucial role to play in anticipating and addressing adverse consequences for claimants and the administration. Some challenges cannot perhaps be planned for: where the interaction of local authority funding constraints, the social housing stock, rental market conditions and the local economy produces extreme impacts. As issues emerge, the Department will need to be capable of a flexible response, well-coordinated with other sources of support for families.”

The Department is actively preparing for the implementation of these housing supports reforms and One Family calls on it to use available data to assess the impact of the reforms on current entitlements. We ask if these reforms will result in households receiving lower assistance, particularly in areas of high rent such as Dublin, and how will this impact on an already landlord-driven rental market?

Ten questions to be resolved are:

  1. What are the new local housing allowance restrictions and guidelines?
  2. Will this impact on all claimants immediately?
  3. Is there any additional help to support those who are hardest hit and is there a discretionary payments fund?
  4. Is this intended to help all  those who may  lose out  financially?
  5. What happens to existing  customers?
  6.  Are there changes planned  for direct payments of local rental allowance to  landlords?
  7. What is the financial impact  of this change?
  8.  How will local housing  allowances be  implemented in the future?
  9. Will direct payments to landlords be allowed in the social rented sector?
  10. How will housing costs be calculated ?

The Government must intend the reforms to improve the system. However, reforms could also lead to hardship or an increased risk of homelessness. How tenants and landlords will respond is highly uncertain at the moment and the Department must commission independent research to evaluate the impact of the reforms during and after implementation.

The Department needs to be actively working with all local authorities to identify the extent to which the reforms will increase the administrative burden on the authorities. It clearly has further ground to cover. Many people know very little about the changes, and the extent to which those affected have been informed varies according to where they live.

Private rented sector households know little or nothing about the changes that would affect them.

The Department has put in place transitional support through increased funding for discretionary housing payments. It needs to work with other departments and local authorities to monitor emerging issues and manage risks for both private and social tenants.