Carthy again calls on government to address ‘cruel’ Social housing income limits
Sinn Féin TD Matt Carthy has again told the Dáil that government action is urgently needed ‘to address the income limits in place for social housing applicants’.
Speaking during a Topical Issues debate with the Junior Housing Minister on the matter, Carthy outlined the hardship caused by the removal of families from Council Housing Lists because their income was above the very low limits.
Deputy Matt Carthy said:
“Many people are surprised to learn that social housing income limits are a relatively new concept. They were introduced, to its shame, by a Labour Party Minister after the financial crash. In my view they were introduced with a single purpose, namely, to reduce the number of people on local authority housing lists without having to go to the bother of actually providing them with homes.
“Previously, in order to be allocated a council house, applicants were awarded points that considered pertinent facts, such as the length of time waiting and current living conditions, taking into account issues such as overcrowding or medical needs. Income was also a factor in determining how high on the list an applicant would be.
“Since the introduction of the limits, however, income has become not a consideration but a mechanism to prevent people from getting on the housing list at all. The limits have become symbolic of a cruel housing policy enthusiastically embraced by this Government. The fact that the limits have not been amended, apart from some minor exceptions, for more than a decade tells its own story.
“I have previously told the House of some of the outworkings of this policy – such as the young single parent working in a low-paid job. She is currently living in her parents’ home sharing a boxroom with her child and was provisionally offered a house last month. Her joy can be imagined but after she completed the paperwork she was informed that she exceeded the income limit by €1,500 a year or €28 a week. The offer of housing was withdrawn and, worse than that, she has now been removed from the housing list entirely meaning that should she reapply if her income reduces, she will go to the back of the queue.
“I have also told of numerous couples who have been removed from the housing list because one of them got a job. It is essentially that. In County Monaghan, a couple with two children cannot apply for social housing support if their earnings are more than €27,500 per annum.
“Not satisfied with this cruel policy, the Department has changed its position and now dictates that it has to be implemented as harshly as possible. Income is considered across a 12-month period meaning a little summer overtime can result in removal from the housing list.
“The Minister committed to a review last autumn. He has received that review but rather than proceeding to change the income limits the issue has been kicked off to the Housing Agency, which has been asked to scope and develop options for a revised or new housing income eligibility model. It stands in stark contrast to the actions of the Government if it was told of a particular issue that was affecting an industry or a valued vested interest in the eyes of the Government. As this is affecting people at the coalface who are bearing the brunt of the Government’s housing failures, it is delay after delay.
“I do not yet have any sense that anyone in the Government realises the absolute devastation these income limits are causing countless thousands of individuals and families. I hope the Minister of State can tell me that this scandal is about to end.”
Later in the debate, Deputy Carthy continued:
“We need to set some things out in order to avoid any confusion. Social housing tenants pay rent in direct proportion to their income. Despite the impression that is sometimes given of free houses, there is no incentive for wealthy people to apply for a council house because they will probably pay more rent than they would in the private sector and certainly more than they would for a mortgage.
“As they currently stand, income limits are simply preventing people who will never qualify for a mortgage from accessing the alternative means of securing a permanent home.
“The Minister talked about the cost to the State of providing social housing. Therein lies a cultural issue that goes to the very heart of the Custom House, which is this notion that people are getting charity when they are allocated a council house.
“They pay rent in direct proportion to their income. When done right there is no cost to the State. There is a substantial saving to the State because this year the geniuses who wrote this reply for the Minister are standing over the expenditure of more than €1 billion in private subsidies to landlords in order to cover up the debacle that has led to the overall housing crisis we have.
“The income limits are a small part but they are a cruel, harsh aspect of this policy in action. They are part of an overall policy that has led to the ghettoisation and demonisation of those who find themselves in need of housing support. The Minister of State referred to a scoping exercise which is to be completed by the end of this year. Will he give a commitment that action will be taken on that this year and there will be no further delays?”
Junior Housing Minister Malcolm Noonan concluded the debate. In response to Matt Carthy he said:
“I agree wholeheartedly with Deputy Carthy in the sense that there is not a cost to the Exchequer. It is an outlay and an investment by the Exchequer in the provision of social housing. The Government has committed to and is front-loading record investment in social, affordable and cost-rental housing, more than any Government has provided in the history of the State. The Minister is deeply committed to that through Housing for All.
“I fully agree that social housing is not charity. Families pay rent. It has been a very good model. The provision of social housing certainly declined in previous years and the State is playing catch-up and doing so at scale. It is critically important that this Government and Governments in the coming decades continue to invest in social and affordable housing.
“The Minister has stated several times previously that he is committed to implementing these changes once the Housing Agency’s scoping report and review have been completed. We recognise that the current models do not work and are not reflective of modern incomes and the modern needs of families. There is a commitment by the Minister and we will continue with the investment in social housing in particular. The State has done this very well through the decades. The phase we are implementing through Housing for All is a new one comparable with what happened in the 1940s and 1950s. We can do this at scale and it is critically important that we do. I give the Deputy a commitment, on behalf of the Minister, that this will be implemented.”