Government spending on a social housing support scheme for people in the rental sector has increased by 45 per cent since 2019, with a record more than half a billion euro being paid to private landlords last year, new figures show.
The rising expenditure highlights the pressure the increasing cost of private rents is placing on tenants and the reliance on the private sector for social housing, representatives have said.
Under the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) scheme, tenants who qualify for social housing source their own private rental accommodation, but have most of their rent paid directly to their landlord by their local authority.
Figures from the Department of Housing show that last year a total of €515.2 million was paid to landlords by the State through the scheme, a 45 per cent increase on the €354.6 million spent four years earlier in 2019. The figures do not include administrative costs associated with running the scheme.
At the end of last year, there were 59,258 active HAP tenancies, which was a decrease on the 61,907 tenancies in 2021, although still higher than the 52,529 in 2019.
Under the scheme, there are official maximum rent limits, which vary across the State, but in almost two-thirds of cases last year the local authority had to break these limits using “discretionary additional payments” to secure tenancies due to the high cost of rent in the State.
These discretionary payments can be up to 35 per cent more than the rental limits for general HAP since July 2022, and 50 per cent more for HAP tenancies for homeless people in the Dublin local authority areas. The average rate of discretion was 25.5 per cent above the limit last year.
Wayne Stanley, executive director of the Simon Communities of Ireland, said while HAP can have a positive impact in a housing system, the problem is the “massive over-reliance on it” in Ireland.
“What you want it for is to bridge gaps and to create flexibility. Any public housing system requires HAP to be an element of it but the problem is the scale of our reliance on it,” he said.
Mr Stanley said the increased demand and expenditure on the scheme since its inception in 2014 shows the cost of rent is “absolutely” out of reach for many people.
“What’s interesting is local authorities were reporting that they had people coming from the private rental market who were no longer able to afford their rent and were seeking HAP,” he said.
“Before that, people would have been renting in the private rental market while on the housing list and waiting for their social home to come on stream.”
A report from the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), published last year, found that more than half of renting households receive support for housing costs.
Rachel Slaymaker, one of the authors of the report, said their research highlighted the “chronic undersupply of affordable rental accommodation in many areas, particularly for low-income single adults”.
A spokesman for the Department of Housing said it continues to keep the operation of the scheme under review and is “committed to decreasing our reliance on the HAP scheme”.
“Central to that is significantly scaling up our social housing supply. As new-build supply of social and affordable housing ramps up, there will be reducing reliance on the HAP scheme,” the spokesman said.
“The number of new HAP tenancies being created each year is declining. At end of 2022, 16,401 households had moved from HAP to other forms of local authority social housing since the HAP scheme commenced in 2014. Four thousand and fifty-eight of these households moved from HAP to social housing in 2022.”