The Galway City Council has unanimously passed a motion calling on the Government to rethink the new Housing Assistance Payment scheme, amid fears the scheme will cause chaos for the local authority due to a lack of funding to staff it.
The HAP scheme, piloted in Limerick last year, is now being rolled out nationally and is due to begin in Galway next month. It is intended to replace the Rental Accommodation Scheme and will be administered by local authorities. However city councillors expressed concerns about the scheme, which they said will put a strain on the council’s resources and artificially lower the council’s housing list.
Cllr Catherine Connolly said the HAP scheme would be “the only game in town”, as applicants approved under the scheme would be considered to have had their housing need met, and would no longer be entitled to social housing. Cllr Connolly pointed out that the council had not constructed a single house since 2009, with just 14 houses planned to go to construction next year.
In response to a question from Cllr Declan McDonnell on how the scheme would be staffed, director of services Tom Connell said the council had approval to hire four new staff members to administer the scheme, but had not received any funding to pay these new staff. An additional staff member from the council’s housing department would also be assigned to administer the scheme, bringing the total number of staff to five.
“The whole concept of one housing body where you come in to get your services is welcome, but for the housing department this is a significant amount of work,” he said, adding some 2,000 people currently receiving rental assistance would come under the scheme, and these would be a priority for the council.
Cllr Mairead Farrell warned that the scheme sounded “completely unrealistic” given the uncertainty over how the scheme would be staffed.
The city council’s chief executive, Brendan McGrath, said that one-off funding would be made available to the council for the scheme, but this did not address the additional staffing costs.
“The funding for HAP is based on €150 per new case that transfers to Galway City Council,” he explained. “The city council will get a one-off injection of funds that will not cover the staff cost. There is a Government embargo on the recruitment of additional staff. After you receive approval for staff you then have to address how you pay them.”
The councillors unanimously passed a motion, proposed by Cllr Catherine Connolly and seconded by Cllr Cathal Ó Chonchúir, that the local authority ask the Government to review the scheme.