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Numbers on Rent Supplement payment up 20% since beginning of Covid-19 pandemic

Housing groups have warned that Ireland could see a rise in evictions as a result of the crisis.

Image: Shutterstock/N K

SIGNIFICANT CHANGES TO the eligibility for the Rent Supplement payment have not been published by the government despite growing concerns of a possible spike in evictions in coming months. 

A government circular seen by TheJournal.ie shows how the government has expanded the criteria under which individuals can apply for the payment due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Earlier this month, housing groups warned that Ireland could see a rise in evictions as a result of the crisis, owing to a build up of rent arrears while people are out of work.

A ban on evictions is currently in place until the end of June, although housing minister Eoghan Murphy is expected to extend the moratorium beyond that date.

One industry source told TheJournal.ie that a combination of high rents and wide-scale unemployment among those in precarious work presented a “perfect storm” for rent arrears.

And new figures obtained by Sinn Féin housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin via a Parliamentary Question show there are now 19,200 people in receipt of the payment, a rise of 3,500 households since mid-March.

The scheme is a means-tested welfare subsidy for those living in private rented accommodation, who cannot afford to pay their rent because of a substantial change in their circumstances.

It differs from the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP), which is the payment made to those qualified for social housing support and on the local authority’s housing list.

The latest figures follows a significant increase in the number of people on the scheme during the first weeks of the Covid-19 pandemic.

They also show that as of 6 May, a further 1,400 applications for Rent Supplement were under consideration by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection (DEASP).

Government circular

However, Ó Broin told TheJournal.ie that although there is growing demand for the payment, the government has not done enough to promote it or raise awareness of new eligibility criteria for it.

He pointed to a circular sent to DEASP staff which expanded the eligibility for the scheme to those affected by the Covid-19 crisis, which he received under the Freedom of Information Act.

“The fact that the department would only release the eligibility criteria under Freedom of Information speaks volumes,” he said.

Despite the alterations, no eligibility changes have been outlined on the DEASP’s website or social media channels, nor were they issued in a press release to the media.

The circular, which has been seen by TheJournal.ie and can be read here, highlights a number of changes to the eligibility for the payment.

They include the suspension of the ’30-hour rule’, which formerly prevented those in employment for 30 hours or more per week from receiving Rent Supplement.

Instead, applicants who can demonstrate that they have incurred a reduction in their normal income due to the pandemic will now be considered eligible.

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Changes to means calculation

Another rule, which previously disqualified those whose tenancy was shorter than six months, has also been suspended.

Those with a tenancy of more than four weeks can now receive Rent Supplement if they have been made unemployed due to Covid-19.

There have also been changes to the rate at which individuals’ and couples’ means are calculated, as well as to the flexibility around how much Rent Supplement can be paid to an individual household.

When asked to comment about the changes previously, a DEASP spokesperson told TheJournal.ie that internal circulars are used as guides to provide clarity to welfare officers and are not intended for publication.

Ó Broin called on the government to promote the scheme so that renters do not build up large levels of debt during the Covid-19 crisis.

He also said the government should implement a mechanism to deal with debts incurred by renters when the crisis was over, such as possible debt reductions and write downs.

“Renters can not be left carrying this burden on their own,” he added.

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