I recently asked the Minister for Social Protection a number of questions relating to the treatment of social welfare recipients in this state at a time when many are undergoing severe hardship in relation to housing and limited family finances.
To ask the Minister for Social Protection the criteria for the conducting of interviews with unemployed persons to assist them in their job seeking activities; and the safeguards in place to ensure that social welfare recipients are not unduly pressurised or feel intimidated.
R E P L Y
My Department is committed to providing a professional, inclusive and timely service that is responsive to the needs of its clients, including comprehensive employment support and income support services. It is also committed to conducting its business in an impartial, open and transparent manner and seeks to treat people fairly, with dignity and respect. A customer charter setting out the standards of service that people can expect in their dealings with the Department is displayed in the Department’s public offices and on its website www.welfare.ie
Training programmes are provided for relevant Departmental staff in the areas of claims decision making, customer service, non-violent crisis intervention, change management, communications skills, community welfare service, jobseeking supports, employer engagement, adult guidance and IT systems. Training materials are continuously updated to reflect new programmes and changes to existing initiatives. To this end, the Department, in conjunction with an external partner, is currently undertaking a review and redesign of its functional training programmes, focusing on the skills required for key frontline roles in the organisation.
To monitor its services, the Department operates a well-established formal comment and complaint system which allows clients to provide feedback on the quality of services they receive. The Department values the views of all those accessing their service and will continue to monitor and improve on the quality of service it provides as opportunities to do so arise.
To ask the Minister for Social Protection in view of the severe crisis in securing rental accommodation in the greater Dublin area if a person is in receipt of rent supplement to immediately review the amount and method of paying this allowance.
R E P L Y
There are currently approximately 78,000 rent supplement recipients for which the Government has provided over €344 million for 2014.
The supplementary welfare allowance scheme was introduced in 1977 which provided for the payment of additional supplements, including rent supplement. The purpose of the rent supplement scheme is to provide short-term income support to assist with reasonable accommodation costs of eligible people living in private rented accommodation who are unable to provide for their accommodation costs from their own resources. The overall aim is to provide short term assistance, and not to act as an alternative to the other social housing schemes operated by the Exchequer.
The Department continues to monitor trends in the private rental market to determine the impact on rent supplement recipients and the maximum rent limits are comprehensively reviewed every 18 months. Following the most recent review of the private rental market revised maximum rent limits were introduced from Monday 17 June 2013 until 31 December 2014. The purpose of the review is to ensure availability of accommodation for rent supplement tenancies and not to provide access to all housing in all areas while ensuring maximum value for money is achieved. Despite the overall pressures on the social protection budget, there have been increases in the rent limits in Dublin, Galway, North Kildare and Bray areas.
I am aware of the difficulties facing people in sourcing accommodation and the latest Daft.ie rental report indicates that the number of advertised rental units in Dublin has declined from 6,700 in 2009 to under 1,500 at the end of 2013. This report also states that rent levels are static in areas outside Dublin, including Cork, Galway and Limerick cities. All prospective tenants, including those seeking to access rent supplement, are now finding it increasingly difficult to secure appropriate accommodation due to the reduced availability of rental properties, particularly in Dublin, which impacts across a number of State services. Increasing the maximum rent limits for rent supplement will not resolve this difficulty, due to the reduced level of supply, and would result in further increases in rental costs for all persons renting including those on reduced incomes and students. I have no plans to change the revise the maximum rent limits at this time.
Department officials administering rent supplement have considerable experience in dealing with customers of the scheme and will continue to make every effort to ensure that their accommodation needs are met and that the residence is reasonably suited to their residential needs. The fact that approximately 78,000 people are currently in receipt of rent supplement, of which almost 29,000 are in the Dublin area, 1,908 in Meath and 3,996 in Kildare of which 914 are in North Kildare, shows that a significant number of landlords are accommodating applicants of the scheme in these areas.
The provision of homeless accommodation services and associated costs is a matter for the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government. Officials in the Department’s community welfare service, including through its work in the Homeless Persons Unit (HPU) and the Asylum Seekers & New Communities Unit, work closely with local authorities and other stakeholders to facilitate homeless persons to access private rented accommodation. This ensures that where possible, people are diverted away from homeless services and towards community-based supports. Officials in the Dublin local authorities are currently engaging with the Department to develop an inter-agency intervention system to identify vulnerable households who are in receipt of rent supplement and at risk of becoming homeless due to the imminent loss of their tenancy. I am satisfied with the level of engagement in place between officials from the Department and the local authorities.
The Department’s strategic policy direction is to return rent supplement to its original purpose of a short term income support. In July 2013 the Government approved the introduction of the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP). Under HAP, responsibility for recipients of rent supplement with a long-term housing need will transfer from the Department of Social Protection to local authorities. Officials in the Department are working closely with those in the lead Department of Environment, Community and Local Government, in piloting HAP in Limerick City and County Council with further roll out to selected local authorities during the year.