A young Portarlington family is living in poverty and at risk of becoming homeless, after a rent supplement was suddenly stopped.
For the past two months, the family with two children aged 8 and 3, is surviving on a social welfare payment of €372 a week, out of which must come €173 on rent, before food, electricity, clothing and medicine.
“We are left with a fiver every week without our rent supplement. We have to buy medications for our kids and myself as we are asthmatic. We haven’t had oil heating since last Christmas, we can’t afford it,” said unemployed father Kevin Dobson.
The family had been given six months notice by the Department of Social Protection to find a cheaper rental property or negotiate a lower rent with their landlord, because their €750 monthly rent was above their supplement of €610.
“Negotiating doesn’t work with our landlord. Three to four bedroom houses in Port all have rents of €800 to €1,000,” the father said.
Nine weeks ago the supplement was unexpectedly cut off early. He appealed and is still waiting.
“They told us some appeals are dating to last Christmas. I sent in letters but we have to wait for the appeal decision,” he said.
Letters have also been sent on behalf of the family’s case by the tenants agency Threshold, and Sinn Féin TD Brian Stanley.
His biggest fear is the risk of becoming homeless.
“Food and a roof over my kids’ head is my priority. We are so stressed out. All I can do is keep trying to pay the rent, or we will be homeless,” said Mr Dobson.
They are one of several at risk of homelessness in Laois, due to inflexible rules, claims Dep Stanley.
"Another person is only being given Rent Supplement up to the old limit as their rent is above the new limit.
The recent ncrease in supplements is welcome, but the new limits are still way below rents in Laois. The department knows that landlords won’t drop the rents but persist in pressurising tenants to re-negotiate,” he said.
In a recent Dáil question to Minister Leo Varadkar, Dep Stanley asked if rent supplements are withdrawn if tenants are found paying a top-up to their rent, above the permitted ceiling.
Minister Varadkar said the rules have been relaxed “in view of the ongoing difficulties in the rented market”.
“In general, rent supplement should not be paid where the rent to be supported is above the limit. However the Department continues to implement a targeted, flexible, case-by-case approach where rents may exceed the maximum limits,” said the Minister for Social Protection.
“This ensures that people at risk of homelessness through the loss of their tenancy continue to be supported under the rent supplement scheme,” he said.
People seeking extra rent supplement to pay for their previous undeclared top up payments to landlords, may also be considered he said.
“Each case will be considered on an individual basis with the primary focus on the accommodation needs of the person or family,” he said.
Dep Stanley argues that the system is not flexible, and that better rent controls are needed to stop landlords taking advantage and raising rents.
“The Government needs to act now in the interest of the tenant and the taxpayer,” Dep Stanley said.
The rent supplement scheme was increased last July and supports 54,000 recipients, costing €267 million this year.