Council Defends its HAP Handling

Eoghan Dalton Reports
Waterford City & County Council has defended itself against claims it’s been cutting off payments to landlords involved in the Housing Assistance Payment scheme.
A number of landlords using the scheme in recent weeks found the Council’s payment withheld after the tenants had stopped paying their contribution to the Council.
Under the taxpayer-backed programme, also known as HAP, the local authority makes payments on behalf of the HAP tenant direct to the landlord. In turn the tenant pays a smaller contribution to the Council. Over €11 million has been paid out to Waterford landlords under the scheme to date. Under the terms of the scheme payment can be withheld from landlords if tenants do not make their Council contribution.

Cllr Eamon Quinlan (FF) has said the scheme is in danger of being destabilised due to this. “If a direct Council tenant falls into arrears we don’t just turf them out on the street. We work to resolve the issue while maintaining residency. (Withholding payments to landlords) appears to be completely against our principles and actions in other areas of housing,” said Cllr Quinlan.
He added that a rare benefit of the scheme is how it usually eliminates risk for the landlord in getting paid, while the decision to withhold payments is a “mortal wound to an already unpopular scheme”. However the Council’s Director of Housing, Ivan Grimes, told this newspaper that the decision to stop paying isn’t made in Waterford – instead it comes from Limerick Council.
Limerick City and County Council run the HAP scheme on behalf of local authorities throughout the rest of the country. However, Mr Grimes said, the number of tenants that withdraw from it are “very small” although precise figures were not available.

Cllr Quinlan said “poor word-of-mouth” has led to a decreasing number of landlords signing up to partake in the scheme, while conceding that the controversial scheme provides little help overall to dealing with the housing crisis. “To be blunt, no one wants it. The HAP scheme leaves people with the idea they are receiving help but they are still left out on their own. There is no obligation on landlords to accept it. There is no security of tenancy to the tenant as if the landlord is forced to sell then the tenant must vacate the property and has to start all over again,” he said.
“The HAP almost never covers the total cost of renting so families have to make up the rest out of pocket, and this is a scheme supposedly for those the State accepts are not financially able to rent in the current market.” He added that the HAP scheme is a “band-aid for the gaping wound that is the country’s housing crisis… but its continuation is a must for now”.

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