Richie MacRitchie is an information officer with Welfare Appeals, who provide information and representation on social welfare, housing, employment and other issues. They hold a weekly clinic with a Russian interpreter every Wednesday morning (currently by zoom). For details, visit http://www.welfareappeals.ie/index.php/en/russian-info
This week Richie will talk about Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) and some of the issues which commonly arise. If anyone would like further information or help with their circumstances please email email@example.com
The idea of HAP is very simple. Council housing lists are long, and it may take 15 years or more for the local council to offer you accommodation. While you wait to get to the top of the list, the council will pay your rent. In return, you pay a percentage of your income to the council each week.
But for something so simple, there are a lot of issues which arise.
Before you can get HAP, you must first be on the council housing list. You should apply to the local council where you live, work, or have some other strong connection. There are income limits, depending on where you live, and what your family size is. The income of all household members on your application is taken into consideration, which means you must be careful about deciding who you put on your application. If your family income goes above the income limit, you may be removed from the housing list and will not be able to receive HAP.
For the different income limits click here https://assets.gov.ie/117877/1d2cad0e-4c47-4a5c-b8ef-38401fc8fc4a.pdf . You should note that it is your income AFTER tax that is used.
It is not always easy to calculate your total income. For example, if your income has been temporarily reduced, some councils may not accept your reduced income.
If you own property, you may still be able to get on the housing list and get HAP. However, it will depend on the value of the property, and whether you can provide housing yourself with the amount you would receive if you were to sell it. If you previously lived in another country, you may be asked to provide a certificate to confirm that you do not own property there.
If you are separated and still own property jointly with your former spouse or partner, you can still access HAP as long as you can show that you can no longer reasonably stay in the property that you own.
You can include any children who live with you on your housing and HAP application. If your children live partly with you and partly with another parent, the council must consider the housing needs of the child, and if required, may include the children on the housing applications of both parents.
Rents have increased, but the rent limits have not. It can now be difficult to find a property that is below the rent limit that applies to your family size. Click here to see the limits that apply Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) (citizensinformation.ie)
However, councils can pay up to 20% higher than the limit in most circumstances. You may also be allowed to make a top-up payment directly to your landlord if your rent is above the amount HAP will pay. However, you should check to see how much you are allowed to pay to the landlord, as this will depend on what your income is. If you do not check this with the council before you move in your application could be refused.
Another big problem is the delay in processing applications. Some councils are taking 2 months or longer to process applications just to get on the council list, and applications for HAP can take another 2 months. The council will not always backdate your application, so you may have to fund the rent yourself while you wait. In some circumstances you can apply to the Social Welfare for Rent Supplement while you wait.
If you live in Dublin you may be able to access Homeless HAP. These applications are processed much more quickly (within a few days), they will pay up to 50% more than the rent limit, and they will pay a deposit. The council have a strict policy about who they will allow to access these extra supports, and usually you have to either be in emergency accommodation or have an eviction notice from your landlord before they will provide this. However, if you have other exceptional circumstances and are at risk of becoming homeless you can apply for this support.
If you are not happy with a decision of the council in relation to your HAP you can appeal. You can also appeal a refusal of Rent Supplement.
HAP and your landlord
It is illegal for a landlord to discriminate on grounds of social housing. Your landlord should therefore not refuse you a tenancy because you need HAP or refuse to sign any forms. However, your landlord does not have to wait if there is a delay in processing your HAP forms and you must continue to pay your rent in the meantime.
If anyone needs any further information or assistance with their application for the council list or HAP, please do not hesitate to contact us.
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