by Alan Jacques
NEW figures from the Department of Social Protection reveal that there were only seven cases in Limerick where flexibility was shown on the rental cap last year compared to 235 in Cork.
This was despite the fact that Community Welfare Officers (CWOs) in Limerick have been told to show leniency to people who cannot find rental properties that are below the rental cap.
Fianna Fáil spokesperson on Social Protection, Willie O’Dea told the Limerick Post that he secured confirmation in December 2014 that the Minister for Social Protection had been in touch with the regional manager to stress the need for flexibility in relation to rent caps in Limerick.
“The rent caps in Limerick are completely unrealistic and I believed that since December 2014, Limerick people would see a change in approach from welfare officers. According to a commitment I received from the Minister, CWOs in Limerick were to show flexibility,” he explained.
However, the latest figures obtained by Deputy O’Dea from the Department reveal that only seven applicants in Limerick were successful in having the rent cap increased in all of 2015. This is in contrast with the 5,781 increases nationally and 235 in Cork.
“This puts Limerick in the bottom five in the country for rent cap increases, even though we have a housing crisis here.
“After the Minister’s intervention, I believed that when a married couple went into a CWO and said that the only place available to them was above the rent cap of €400, it would have been up to the CWO to investigate the matter and show flexibility if appropriate.
“It’s extremely disappointing news that virtually nothing has changed in Limerick in the past year despite the Ministers directive. I am calling on the Tánaiste to directly intervene in the situation here in Limerick which has now reached crisis levels.”
A spokeswoman for the Department of Social Protection said the rent supplementscheme supported about 61,000 people, with almost 1,400 recipients in County Limerick.
“Government has provided approximately €267 million for the scheme in 2016 and the Department has implemented an approach that allows for flexibility where landlords seek rents in excess of the limits for both existing customers and new applicants to the rent supplement scheme,” she stated.
“There are not the same accommodation supply pressures in Limerick as in other large urban areas and individual cases are dealt with on a case by case basis. Staff in the Department’s Community Welfare Service in the Limerick area continue to work closely with the Limerick Homeless Action Team, the Mid-West Homeless Forum and other interest groups to provide a consistent and speedy service for people who are in danger of losing their tenancy.”
She added that it was not appropriate to compare the position regarding rent supplement in Limerick with other areas as the new Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) is in place Limerick since March 2014.
There are currently some 1,060 HAP tenancies in place in Limerick. In local authority areas where HAP is in place, including Limerick, new applicants assessed as requiring social housing support are considered for HAP rather than rent supplement.
“Any person in receipt of rent supplement and at risk of losing their tenancy in the Limerick area should contact the Community Welfare Service without delay”, she said.