HAP tenants struggle to buy food after rent top-ups, say charities

HAP tenants struggle to buy food after rent top-ups, say charities
John-Mark McCafferty said that tenants do not have the ‘basics’ (Oireachtas TV)

Tenants receiving rent supplement payments are struggling to pay bills and buy food because they have to pay top-ups to landlords, a committee has heard.

People in receipt of the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) are having to fork out between €100 to €500 each month to landlords as State payments fall short of rental costs.

Charities Threshold and St Vincent de Paul told the Oireachtas Housing Committee that almost half of tenants spoke of struggling to pay the bills, buy groceries or cover childcare and school costs.

HAP is a form of social housing support available to people living in the private rented sector and is one of four rental supplements.

There are currently 100,000 tenancies subsidised by the State, which is a third of all tenancies in the rental market.

John-Mark McCafferty, chief executive of Threshold, said that the maximum monthly rent limits payable for a household under HAP have remained largely unchanged since July 2016.

“As such, they fall far short of market rent,” he told the committee.

He said that while local authorities can approve a 20% uplift in the HAP payment to help meet the rent, it is not guaranteed.

“It is not surprising then that almost half of the HAP recipients we interviewed were paying a top-up to the landlord,” Mr McCafferty added.

'A home, heat and food are the basics we all require'

“What was common across the board was these tenants were struggling with the day-to-day expenses as a result of the top-up. This is because tenants will prioritise rent over everything else.

“Rent arrears can accrue quickly resulting in a notice of termination.

“Almost half of those we spoke to said they struggled to pay the electricity or heating bill, buy groceries or cover childcare and school costs.

“A home, heat and food are the basics we all require to live and have a chance to achieve our potential. These tenants do not have these.”

The committee was also told of how HAP recipients struggle to find landlords that accept them as tenants.

Mr McCafferty said that interaction with “officialdom”, having their properties inspected and the administrative burden of filling out paperwork will put landlords off.

He also told the committee that while there has been a “softening” in the number of available rental properties in Dublin, it falls short of what is needed.

It is understood the number of rental properties available in the capital has increased since the outbreak of Covid-19, as many workers opted to move out of the city because they were working from home.

“In some ways we are surprised there is less of an increase in (rental properties) than had been anticipated,” he added.

“In the short-lets there are some but it’s very modest, and because there had been such a demand that was unmet in the market, there is a long way to go and there is a need for a lot of capacity.

“In Cork city, the situation is really as challenging as it ever was.”

Marcella Stakem, research and policy officer at St Vincent de Paul, called for a complete root and branch review of HAP.

She added: “For HAP to work in practice and to work effectively for the next number of years, we really need to look at it in its entirety and to look at its connection to the private rental sector.”

Sinn Féin’s Eoin O Broin said many local authorities take up to ten weeks to process HAP applications.

“Very few private sector landlords can wait ten weeks before they get a payment,” he added.

“It’s causing a real difficulty and neither the Department (of Housing) nor HAP will give us a straight answer as to why that is the case.”

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