The head of the Department of Housing has admitted that there has been a “reliance” on the housing assistance payment (HAP) in recent years but that it is expected to bring expenditure on the system down “over time”.
Speaking at the Public Accounts Committee yesterday evening Graham Doyle, secretary-general of the Department, said that HAP, though not perfect “is a way of meeting a housing need”.
“There has been a reliance on these expenditure methods in order to put a roof over people’s heads,” he said. “Over time as we put in place more and more social housing we would look to see the numbers on HAP reduce.”
Nevertheless, department officials said there were 15,000 applications for HAP last year. That figure is expected to be 15,700 in 2020, before falling to 15,000 next year.
Mr Doyle was presented with an example by Sinn Féin TD Matt Carthy of a house built by a local authority in the early 2000s, bought and rented by a private landlord, with many multiples of the original purchase price paid out since by the State in terms of housing assistance payments after it had declined to buy the property in the first place.
“Are we ready to go back to basics of recognising a need and having local authorities buying houses?” Mr Carthy asked.
“There are 79,000 people on HAP programmes — you’re not going to deliver that many houses overnight,” Mr Doyle said. “It’s about setting your targets around putting a roof over people’s heads.”
“In my constituency I see HAP and I see long leases. I’m not convinced of where the housing stock is supposed to come from,” Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy said.
HAP is a form of social housing support for people with a long-term housing need, with many tenants emerging from homelessness via the scheme.
The scheme, which has been available countrywide since 2016, has come in for intense criticism due to a perceived over-reliance on it in order to reduce social housing statistics.