By Noel Baker
Almost half of Rent Supplement clients are paying 'top up' money to landlords to retain their tenancy, according to a new survey by housing rights group Threshold.
The survey of 125 people carried out in Dublin, Cork and Galway last January found that 47% were making top up payments, while a similar survey of 133 Rent Supplement recipients carried out in June found that 44% were making top up payments.
Of those questioned for the June survey, all said paying the extra money was impacting on their spending in other areas, including food and heating. In one-third of cases, they said the top up money actually resulted in rent arrears.
In 74% of cases those making the additional payments, above the officially declared rent, were lone parents with children, or couples. In 94% of cases a social welfare payment was the main source of income.
Threshold released the results of the survey as part of an Advisory Report on Rent Supplement and alongside its pre-Budget submission, in which it called on the Government to take steps to protect vulnerable and low income people from the effects of a squeezed rental market.
The advisory report found: "A shortage of affordable rented accommodation is having a disproportionate effect on Rent Supplement recipients. For example, recent data collected to June 2014 show that rents in Dublin are 26% higher now than they were in mid-2011 and are now just 9% below peak 2007 values.
"There were only 2,000 properties available to rent in Dublin city in mid-2014."
It also suggests Rent Supplement limits are "out of line" with market rental levels and that the administration of the means-tested payment is "not fit for purpose".
It highlights a "dramatic increase in the numbers of people living in private rented accommodation" at a time of "underdevelopment of social housing".
The report makes a number of recommendations, including an increase in Rent Supplement limits in a targeted way to take account of the difficulties for Rent Supplement recipients in high demand areas.
Senator Aideen Hayden, Chairperson of Threshold, said: "We knew this practice had become increasingly widespread over the past 18 months. However, rents have now risen to such an extent that – for some people – even with top-up payments, their Rent Supplement payments are simply not high enough to allow them to remain in their homes."