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FactCheck: Will the government spend more on HAP than on new social housing this year?

Sinn Féin’s housing spokesman Eoin O Broin made the claim on television this week – but is he right?

Factcheck

GENERAL ELECTION 2020 might be over, but that doesn’t mean talk about one of the biggest issues during this year’s campaign has stopped.

The housing crisis proved to be a significant factor in the rise of Sinn Féin, with the party’s housing policy no doubt proving a draw for many voters.

The outgoing government, however, still sees things differently.

On Tuesday night, O Broin and the junior minister at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Damien English, clashed over Fine Gael’s management of the crisis.

Appearing on Virgin Media’s Tonight Show, O Broin criticised Fine Gael’s over-reliance on the private market to meet the needs of those on the country’s housing waiting lists.

He claimed that the government will spend more money on the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) this year than it will give to local authorities to build new social housing. But is this correct?

The Claim

Speaking on The Tonight Show on Tuesday, Eoin O Broin claimed that more money would be spent on HAP this year than will be given to local authorities to build new social housing.

“Let’s be very clear. The government’s policy is to increase the number of HAP tenancies year-on-year,” he said.

This year, the government will give more money to landlords through HAP, over €800m, than it will give directly to local authorities for new builds.

Evidence

HAP was first brought in on a phased basis by local authorities from 2014, and has formed a central part of the Department of Housing’s Rebuilding Ireland strategy, which was introduced two years later.

The payment is funded annually through the Exchequer, rising from €0.5 million in 2014 to €423 million in 2018.

Last year, the government ringfenced an additional €80m for HAP as part of Budget 2020, bringing the annual budget for the payment to €502.7 million.

But in a revised estimate published in December, this allocation was downgraded to €497.7 million.

The same estimate shows that the government also allocated €789 million to local authorities to build social housing this year – almost €300 million more than its allocation for HAP.

Allocations Source: Government of Ireland

Asked to clarify his claim, O Broin said the €800 million figure actually related to the amount the government would spend this year on rental subsidies, as opposed to HAP alone.

Those subsidies include HAP, and also the Rental Accommodation Scheme (RAS) and the Social Housing Current Expenditure Programme (SHCEP), and rent supplement.

This year the government has allocated €133 million for RAS, a subsidy paid by local authorities to social tenants renting in the private market.

A further €94.6 million has been allocated for rent supplement, a means-tested welfare payment provided by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection for those also living in private rented accommodation.

And €191 million has also been allocated for the SHCEP scheme, which sees local authorities enter into long-term lease agreements with private landlords, Approved Housing Bodies (AHBs) and NAMA.

However, because AHBs and NAMA aren’t technically private landlords, O Broin’s claim doesn’t entirely cover the money given to them.

It’s not known how many houses that will be funded under the SHCEP scheme this year are owned by private landlords, but in response to a Parliamentary Question last year, outgoing housing minister Eoghan Murphy put the figure at 36%.

If we take that figure as guidance, then €69 million of this year’s SHCEP budget will be paid to private landlords.

Added to the €497 million HAP figure, the amount paid for rental subsidies this year, including rent supplement, RAS and estimated SCHEP payments, will total €793 million – marginally more than the €789 million allocated for new social housing.

Verdict

Sinn Féin’s Eoin O Broin claimed that the government would give more money to private landlords this year via the Housing Assistance Payment than it would pay local authorities to build social housing.

Figures contained Budget 2020 show that the government has allocated €497 million for HAP this year, compared with €789 million allocated to local authorities to build new social housing.

However, O Broin later clarified that he meant more money would be paid to private landlords via all rental subsidies, which includes HAP, the Rental Accommodation Scheme, rent supplement, and the Social Housing Current Expenditure Programme.

That figure, which includes an estimate for SHCEP payments that are expected to go to private landlords, adds up to €793 million – €4 million more than the allocation for new social housing.

Therefore, we rate this claim Mostly TRUE

As per our verdict guide, this means: the claim is close to accurate, but is missing significant details or context. Or, the best available evidence weighs in favour of the claim.

TheJournal.ie’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here. 

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