Kerry and Limerick families can earn €5k more and access housing assistance
THE plight of working families who are unable to access housing support because of “bizarre geographical discrimination” was highlighted in a joint motion from seven councillors at the May local authority meeting.
The matter was raised by Councillors Cillian Murphy, Gerry Flynn, Tony O’Brien, Johnny Flynn, Shane Talty, Pat O’Gorman and Pat Hayes who called on the housing minister to review the maximum household income thresholds as a matter of urgency.
Councillor Murphy outlined his concerns by describing a hypothetical case of a young woman, with three small children.
“She works part time in a local business and earns €180 per week,” he said. “She gets income support of €152 and one parent allowance of €226 per week.
“She is separated and doesn’t receive any maintenance, so her grand total income is €558 per week. Her rent is €165 per week and she pays out €240 every week so she can go out to work.
“In her own hypothetical words, she gets up in the morning and contributes to society and her own sense of self worth.
“For those of you, like myself, who mightn’t be too good at the sums, her annual income is €29,000, and between rent and childcare alone she spends €21,000.
“So she has €8,000 per annum, or €153 per week to light, heat, feed, clothe, transport and school herself and her family. A tough ask, for someone who is doing her very best to be a positive, productive member of our community.
“And the point of this story, she has also been turned down for housing support, so she doesn’t qualify for a council house or for HAP (Housing Assistance Payment) as she is deemed to be over the very non-hypothetical income threshold of €26,875 per annum here in Clare for her particular situation.”
The West Clare councillor criticised the department for failing to adjust income thresholds in line with the cost of living and rising rents. The member also noted the difference in income thresholds in different parts of the country.
“My hypothetical friend is also the victim of what can only be called a bizarre geographical discrimination,” he said, “because she happens to live in Kilkee. A town according to POBAL that is officially defined as disadvantaged, and with a female unemployment rate of 26%, which this woman doesn’t contribute to it must be noted.
“If she lived across the river Shannon in Kerry, in an electoral district called Ardagh, near Ballybunion, or in Rathkeale in County Limerick, two other areas, officially classified as disadvantaged by POBAL both with high female unemployment rates of 19%, and 42% respectively, well she could earn income up to €32,250 per annum, and qualify for housing support.
“This discrimination – for that is what it is – arises because Clare is in Band 3 of the table of maximum net income limits in the Social Housing Regulations of 2011, and amended in 2016, while Limerick and Kerry are both in Band 2 of those same income thresholds.”
Councillor Flynn, Chairperson of the Housing Committee, noted that the income bands have not been reviewed since 2011.
“Minister Darragh O’Brien must urgently examine these,” he said. “Our near neighbours can take home €5,000 more and still qualify because of different bands. This policy discriminates and is in need of urgent reform.”
Councillor Talty described it as “a matter of common sense” that thresholds should increase, while Councillor O’Gorman said that the situation is putting people off taking up certain jobs.
Councillor Donna McGettigan said people are “facing tough decisions between food or rent” and said all members were “hearing terrible stories”.
“Housing is by far the biggest issue for all councillors,” she said.
Councillor Clare Colleran-Molloy complimented the manner in which the motion was presented saying it “would pull the strings of your heart”.
Councillor PJ McMahon said the situation reflects badly on Clare and that the department had given a “very glib answer” when asked previously about the issue.
Councillor Ann Norton argued that the Council needs to increase its stock of social housing. She flagged the situation of separated fathers who are unable to see their children unless they have accommodation.
“There are so many different situations that policy must address,” she said.
Cathaoirleach, Councillor Mary Howard also gave her support to the motion and Councillor Murphy said he hoped the minster would have his “ears pinned back” to listen to human stories.