Threshold, the national housing charity, has issued a sharp warning to the government against imposing any further cuts to rent supplement payments in the forthcoming budget.
Threshold issued the warning to the Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton TD, at a pre-budget consultation with community and voluntary organisations hosted by her department in Dublin last Friday. Bob Jordan, Threshold’s National Director, said he believed that future cuts could plunge those already struggling to pay rent into homelessness.
“The cuts to rent supplement, imposed last year, have left vulnerable people in very grave situations. Critically, a cohort of people has been completely pushed out of the housing market and is now homeless as a direct consequence. Others have been left at high risk of becoming homeless, and unless they are protected in the forthcoming budget we will see a significant increase in the problem of homelessness,” said Mr Jordan.
Threshold’s pre-budget submission highlighted how the rental market continues to be in strong demand because of a lack of access to mortgages for first-time buyers. According to Mr Jordan: “The crude cuts to rent supplement, coupled with lowering the thresholds at which the payment can be made, have made finding suitable properties impossible for the thousands of citizens who now depend on rent supplement.
“The reality is, in areas of high property demand, the private rented sector is doing well and rents are on the rise. Individuals and couples who would normally graduate to a mortgaged home are staying in the rented sector for longer because of economic uncertainty and poor access to credit. The upshot is that people who are dependent on rent supplement cannot compete fairly for decent quality accommodation,” he said.
The cuts to rent supplement, imposed last year, have left vulnerable people in very grave situations…
—Bob Jordan, Threshold
Budget still open
At the pre-budget forum held last Friday Minister Burton gave over 31 voluntary and community organisations the opportunity to make pre-budget submissions relating to social welfare schemes at a special session in St Andrews Resource Centre in Dublin’s Pearse Street.
In her opening remarks to the groups at the forum, Minister Burton said: “It is important to clearly state that, at this stage, no decisions have been made in relation to measures for Budget 2013. These will be considered by the Government in the coming months and in the context of the overall requirement to reduce public expenditure generally.
“One of my key priorities as Minister for Social Protection – the country’s largest-spending Department – is to balance the books, in particular by starting to put the Social Insurance Fund on a sustainable footing. This is important not only so that we can recover our economic sovereignty, but also to ensure that the social protection system is sustainable into the future,” said the Minister.
According to Ms Burton, this year the Department of Social Protection will spend over 20 billion euro on a wide range of schemes and services – some 39 per cent of all gross current government expenditure. Over 2.2 million people, including 197,700 qualified adults and over 516,300 children, benefit from a weekly payment from the Department, including those getting a jobseekers payment, those on pensions, carers, or those receiving illness or disability-related payments.
Minister Burton said: “Looking ahead to the next Budget, I will do my best to ensure that the burden of resolving the crisis does not fall disproportionately on those who depend on income supports from my Department.
“At the forefront of our consideration is the need to protect, as far as possible, the key income supports and services operated by my Department,” she said.
Threshold has noted particular problems for rent supplement tenants in the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council area. “In this local authority, the rent limits are unrealistic when compared to market rent. For example, market rent for bedsit accommodation is 674 euro compared with a rent limit of 475,” said Mr Jordan.
Threshold has also observed low availability of affordable rental properties in Cork. A survey recently conducted by the organisation found that less than 10 per cent of landlords with rental accommodation were accepting tenants at the lower rent supplement limits.
“The culture of cuts and reducing rent supplement limits over successive budgets is confining people – particularly those who are single – to substandard bedsit-type accommodation. As a proactive step to protect vulnerable groups in the private rented sector, the Department should transfer the administration of rent supplement to local authorities. They should be charged with negotiating rents with landlords and ensuring standards for all those in receipt of rent supplement,” said Mr Jordan.
Threshold identified single people on lower incomes, one-parent families and parents with part-time access to children as being particularly disadvantaged in their housing possibilities.
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