Many people all over the world rely on social housing. But what exactly is it and who provides social housing in Ireland?
Social housing is a kind of housing meant for people who can’t afford their own accommodation for whatever reason. Local authorities are the main provider of social housing in Ireland. Local authority housing is given according to eligibility and need, and rents are based on the household’s ability to pay.
Local authorities, housing associations or housing co-operatives?
Local authorities are not the only places that offer social housing in Ireland. There are also housing associations and housing cooperatives that provide social housing. Housing associations are independent, non-profit charities. In general, they provide affordable rented housing for people who cannot afford to pay the normal rents or buy their own homes. They also provide homes for particular groups like the elderly or the homeless. Housing co-operatives are organisations of tenants or owners where the members share responsibility for the management and upkeep of their homes. Tenant housing co-operatives are very similar to housing associations.
Housing associations and housing co-operatives are known as Approved Housing Bodies (AHBs). They have been approved to provide assistance to local authorities for housing provision. These approved housing bodies must register their tenancies with the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) and their landlords and tenants now have the same rights and obligations as private landlords and tenants, with some exceptions:
- The minimum standards for food preparation, storage and laundry purposes do not apply to housing associations
- Rent reviews will be carried out in accordance with the tenancy agreement (if there is one) or no more than once a year. There is no specific notice period but it should be given as soon as is practicable
- You may not assign or sublet the housing association tenancy
- While the housing association can validly end your tenancy providing all the legal requirements are met, it cannot terminate it for the reason that it requires the accommodation for its own or family members
- While most tenants will get security of tenure, this does not apply after six months if you are living in transitional accommodation and the tenancy is for 18 months or less
There are certain regulations in place for how the local authorities should handle applications for social housing, including that:
- You can only apply to one housing authority
- Generally, you must already be living in the area covered by the housing authority or have a local connection with the area (authorities may agree to ignore this requirement)
- You will only be considered for social housing if your household income is less than the threshold in the local authority’s area
- If your current mortgage is unsustainable, this will be taken into account in assessing your need for social housing
- If you are a foreign national you must have a legal right to remain in the state on a long-term basis.
There are three maximum income thresholds that apply to different housing authorities. The Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government has published a table showing these maximum net income limits on their website.
You will be regarded as having alternative accommodations if a member of the household has property that the household could be expected to live in. This includes property that is rented out, since you are allowed to terminate the tenancy if the household needs the property to live in. A property will not be regarded as alternative accommodation if it:
- Is occupied by someone who is divorced or separated from a member of the household or whose civil partnership with a member has been dissolved
- Would be overcrowded if the household lived in it
- Is unfit to live in
- Would not adequately meet the requirements of a household member with a disability
When deciding whether your household is in need of social housing or not, the local authority must consider the following questions:
- Is your current accommodation an institution, emergency accommodation or hostel?
- Are you homeless?
- Is your current accommodation overcrowded?
- Does it meet the requirements of a household member with a disability?
- Is it fit for human habitation?
- Is it unsuitable for adequate housing on exceptional medical or compassionate grounds?
- Is it shared with another household and do you have a reasonable requirement for separate accommodation?
- has your household’s current mortgage been classified as unsuitable?
- Is your household dependent on rent supplement to meet its housing needs
Areas of choice
When you apply for social housing, you can specify up to three areas where you would like to live. At least one of them must be in the area administered by the local authority that you apply to and the others must be either in that area or within the same county. If you do not live or have a connection with the local authority’s own functional area, but the authority accepted an application from you, then you can only pick areas of choice within that particular authority’s area.
What happens after your application is accepted?
You are then placed on the local authority’s housing list or record of qualified households. If you live in a private rented accommodation while you are on the housing list, you may be eligible for rent supplement. But if you are living under the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP), which is legally defined as a form of social housing support, you will no longer be on the housing list. Normally, local authority housing is unfurnished. If you cannot afford to buy furniture or appliances, you may be eligible for an Exceptional Needs Payment, given under the Supplementary Welfare Allowance scheme.
Getting accepted into an AHB
If you want to be considered for housing provided by an approved housing body, make sure to mark it in the ‘Housing Requirements’ section of the social housing application form. Your local authority will be able to tell you if there are any AHBs in your area. To be considered for housing in an AHB when a vacancy arises, you must already be registered on the local authority housing waiting list in your area.
The rent in local authority accommodations is based on a system of differential rents. This means that the rent is based on your ability to pay – if your income is low, your rent will be low and if your income increases, so will your rent. There will be factors added and deducted from your rent, depending on your circumstances. For example, if other members of your household earn money as well, this will be added to your rent calculation, while having children leads to deductions. Each local authority runs its own rent scheme, but they may have a minimum/maximum rent, which may depend on the size of your home. If your income or the income of one of your household members changes, you must inform the local authority, so that they can recalculate your rent.
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