An additional 16,000 households will be eligible for social housing support from the start of January, including Housing Assistance Payment (HAP), as a result of changes to the qualifying income thresholds, according to the Department of Housing.
The upper-income threshold to qualify for social housing in the Republic will be increased by €5,000 from the start of next year in a bid to cushion the impact of rising housing costs.
Figures provided by Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien, in response to a parliamentary question from Sinn Féin’s Eoin Ó Broin, suggest the Department of Housing estimates the new threshold will make an additional 16,000 households eligible for social housing support.
It estimates that about 25 per cent or up to 4,000 of the newly qualifying households may apply for HAP, the Government’s main rent support scheme, at an additional cost to the exchequer of about €38 million a year.
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There are currently three income eligibility bands depending on the local authority area and the average rents in that area. The increased threshold means that a single person in Dublin earning under €40,000 a year will be entitled to apply for social housing, rising to €47,000 for a family with three children in 2023. Elsewhere in the State, the baseline will rise to €30,000-€35,000.
A review of the current system, published by the department in recent days, recommended that the “current three-band structure is no longer internally logical given the movement in rents over time”.
It noted that in 17 local authority areas, people earning just above the income threshold to qualify for social housing would have to pay more than 40 per cent of their income to secure accommodation while those earning just above the threshold in the four Dublin local authorities would have to pay more than 60 per cent of their income to secure accommodation.
Mr O’Brien said in the Dáil recently that the new thresholds would “broaden the base of households eligible for social housing supports and ensure those in most acute need are prioritised”.
He said the current system represented “a more equitable approach to assessing eligibility than previous approaches”.
“Importantly, the current model reserves housing support for households that cannot support themselves and have a continuing long-term need, while at the same time ensuring constrained public resources are provided to those who need them most,” he said.
While welcoming the increased eligibility thresholds, Mr Ó Broin queried the rationale for the €5,000 increase. “There is a need for a better understanding of why he [the Minister] has taken these decisions at this point,” he said.
He also noted that the three-band system had not been changed since 2011 despite the fact that real incomes had not increased significantly since then.
According to a recent study by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), almost 300,000 or 54 per cent of renting households in the Republic received some kind of State support to help with the cost of housing in 2020. This was more than double the number in receipt of equivalent housing supports in 1994.
The shift away from building social homes directly to providing rent supports – the so-called bricks to benefits switch – has been one of the defining trends in housing over the past 30 years.