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Making Social Housing & Accommodation Provision More One-parent Family Friendly Dec 2009

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1. What is a one-parent family? 2.  What are the key issues for a one-parent family? 3. Housing Needs Assessment 4. A Review of the various housing options for one-parent families


Making Social Housing & Accommodation Provision More One-parent Family Friendly Dec 2009

1 1. What is a one-parent family? A one-parent family is defined by the Central Statistics Office as “one-parent together with one or more usually resident never-married children (of any age)�i. There were almost 190,000 one-parent families living in Ireland in 2006. One-parent families make up 18% of all families in Ireland. While one-parent families are generally smaller than other families, 21% of all children in Ireland live in one-parent families. 86% of all one-parent families are headed by a female.

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Making Social Housing & Accommodation Provision More One-parent Family Friendly Dec 2009

2 2.  What are the key issues for a one-parent family? It is estimated that a minimum of 50% of one-parent families are dependent on social welfare transfers. There were over 80,000 recipients (98% of whom were women) of the One-parent Family Payment in 2005ii with almost 130,000 children in the households supported by the One-parent Family Payment. The One-parent Family Payment is the primary social welfare payment for persons who are parenting aloneiii. The high dependency of one-parent families on social welfare transfers has meant that there is a high incidence and risk of poverty for this family type. Research has shown that despite up until relatively recently a general increase in income levels the situation for some one-parent families did not improve. The EU Survey on Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC) for 2006 found that 4 in every 10 (39.6%) one-parent families were ‘at risk of poverty’. This is equivalent to 67,225 one-parent households. Overall, 17% of the population was ‘at risk of poverty’. The issues of income adequacy and housing and accommodation are intimately related – with almost two-thirds of lone parents assessed as being in need of housing because they are “not reasonably able to meet the cost of accommodation”. In addition, securing appropriate, affordable accommodation, with a reasonable degree of security of tenure, can be a critical element of moving out of poverty for lone parents – with a stable base established, lone parents can secure childcare/schools for their children, freeing them to participate in training, education or employment.

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Making Social Housing & Accommodation Provision More One-parent Family Friendly Dec 2009

The preliminary assessment of the 2008 Assessment of Housing Need found a 30% increase in the level of housing need nationally1, with full details of this assessment yet to be published the situation for lone parents is not yet clear, although it is unlikely in the current climate to have improved significantly over the period 2005-2008. The last Housing Assessment in 2005 found that one-parent families made up almost 4 in every 10 households (38%) in need of accommodation and on the waiting list for social housing. The majority of one-parent households on the waiting lists consisted of 1 adult and 1 child. This means that because the ‘points system’ used to allocate accommodation gives priority to larger families, one-parent families because of their smaller size tend to spend longer on the waiting list than other household types2. Where one-parent families live while they wait for local authority housing varies from the private rental sector, to sharing overcrowded and unsuitable housing with family members.

1  Dept of Environment, Heritage and local Government (2009) Local Authority Assessment of Social Housing Needs – 31 March 2008 Preliminary Findings. 2  The Scheme of Lettings Priorities awards points to each member of the household. Smaller family units therefore will have less points and fall further down the list. Page 4


Making Social Housing & Accommodation Provision More One-parent Family Friendly Dec 2009

3 3. Housing Needs Assessment Local Authorities carry out an assessment of housing needs within their area every three years which in turn is used to develop county or city housing action plans. People who wish to become local authority tenants must be on the approved housing waiting list. Local authorities are also responsible for the planning and delivery of emergency and public housing within their area as such local authorities have a critical role to play in the provision and supply of social housing for one-parent families at a local level. Families with children with special needs have recently been identified3 as a group for which local authorities need to significantly improve housing provision for with: (i) Children with special needs central to the process of allocating housing to their family. (ii) Local authorities improving consultation and engagement with children with special needs and their families. (iii) Local authorities adopting a long-term approach to meeting the housing requirements of children with special needs. (iv) Most importantly, that the housing difficulties of children with special needs be resolved by local authorities – in every case – as quickly as possible.

3  Ombudsman calls for consideration of children with special needs in housing policy officer for the Ombudsman for Children. PRESS RELEASE 12th October 2009. Page 5


Making Social Housing & Accommodation Provision More One-parent Family Friendly Dec 2009

4 4. A Review of the various housing options for one-parent families? 4.1 Staying with relatives and or friends Over 10% of all one-parent families, live in multi-family households, for example, they live with their own parents, siblings or other family members. The situation of one-parent families sharing accommodation while trying to access local authority is a form of hidden homelessness.

What does it involve • It involves living in shared accommodation with family members or friends.

What are the advantages • • • • •

It is often free or very low financial cost In some cases childcare responsibilities can be shared It can provide a short term solution in a crisis situation There is no paperwork involved The situation might be tolerable for a household anticipating a short stay.

What are the disadvantages • Accommodation can often be overcrowded and unsuitable • It is generally not a ideal long term option • There is a lack of privacy.

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Making Social Housing & Accommodation Provision More One-parent Family Friendly Dec 2009

How could it be improved as an option for one-parent families • S taying with relatives or friends can offer an ideal short term solution to a housing crises, but is not really a satisfactory long term solution in terms of security of tenure or the independence of the one-parent family unit. If the ambiguities in the way in which housing lists are constructed and managed then one-parent families and their relatives/friends would have a greater level of clarity about the length of stay from the outset.

4.2 Renting from the Local Authority Local authority housing provision is aimed primarily at “people living in unfit and overcrowded conditions and to those whose income does not allow them to provide adequate housing for themselves”4.

What does it involve The traditional model of local authority housing provision is to rent accommodation to tenants at affordable rent. In the past a fixed rent system was employed by local authorities, however differential rent schemes have now replaced this. These schemes calculate the rent due based on the income of the household. This makes living in local authority housing more affordable than the private rented sector, in particular for lone parents5.

What are the advantages • Local authority housing is generally more affordable than renting in the private rented sector. • Information in relation to rent is easy to access and payments can be made in a number of ways e.g. direct debit, payment in person, collection • Tenants are not responsible for the upgrading and upkeep of the property • Tenants are covered by the Residential Tenancies Act 2004, and can take disputes to the Private Residential Tenancies Board for resolution • Local authority tenants who hold a tenancy of at least one year may be eligible to apply to buy their property under the Tenant Purchase Scheme.

What are the disadvantages • T he location of local authority housing can be an issue for one-parent families offered accommodation distant from family, family support networks and particularly access to informal childcare. This is particularly an issue in rural areas where there is a general lack of local authority housing stock and an absence of public transport options • There is a reduction of the affordability of renting local authority housing when you take up employment, as when your income increases so too does the cost of rent • Not all local authority officials are easy to deal with and some people can find the paperwork involved challenging.

4  Curry, J. (2003) Irish Social Services Dublin: IPA 5  While a family with one child, whether lone parent or a couple, will both need two-bedroom accommodation, the couple can rely on higher social welfare income; making private rented accommodation costs relatively expensive for one-parent families. The respective social welfare rates in 2007 are €207.80 for the lone parent and €309.10 for a couple without children. Page 7


Making Social Housing & Accommodation Provision More One-parent Family Friendly Dec 2009

• A  mbiguities in the way in which the housing lists are constructed and how people are placed on the list and smaller family size can extent the amount of time a one-parent family spends on the housing list • The application process can be stressful particularly for those lone parents who had to bring their children to the meetings with officials • The conditions of the houses offered can vary • There can be significant variation between different local authorities repairs and maintenance programmes • There can be isolated incidents of anti-social behaviour in and around local authority housing. • There can be limited communication between the local authority and the tenants.

How could it be improved as an option for one-parent families • New local authority housing should be located convenient6 to public transport • Local authority staff need to be trained in equality/family diversity issues • There is a need for the establishment of more active residents association in local authority housing estates • There is a need for the development of joint local authority and resident association initiatives • Rolling programmes of housing stock renewal and refurbishment need to be put in place • clear emergency maintenance schemes need to be put in place • Detailed Housing and Accommodation targets need to be set at local level to accommodate the diversity of family types • Households’ situation and needs should be reviewed regularly, at least every four years with accommodation provided appropriate for the households’ needs; • An independent appeal procedure should be available and advertised to all tenants. Families with young children should be housed in locations with or close to safe play areas.

4.3 Renting from a Private Landlord and in receipt of Rent Supplement Rent supplement was designed as a short term financial support to assist low income households rent private accommodation. It is paid to people living in private rented accommodation who cannot provide for the cost of their accommodation from their own resources. Lone parent households make up approximately 36% of rent supplement claimants.

6  Convenience to public transport is understood as being a maximum 200m from the nearest public transport infrastructure. Page 8


Making Social Housing & Accommodation Provision More One-parent Family Friendly Dec 2009

What does it involve To qualify for the rent supplement scheme you must meet a number of qualifying conditions with new conditions introduced in the 2009 Supplementary Budget. The qualifying conditions now include: • Assessment by a local authority as eligible and in need of social housing • Residence in private rented accommodation and/or accommodation for homeless persons for a least 6 months within the preceding 12 months of the date of claim for Rent Supplement, • From June 2009 rent supplement payments were reduced by 8%, while the maximum amount of rent for which a supplement can be paid has been reduced and the minimum contribution which a person pays towards rent increased by €6 to €24 a week. • In 2006, 56% of all claimants had been in receipt of the payment for 18 consecutive months or more7.

What are the advantages • It provides families with limited incomes with access to private rented accommodation in the short term, when working effectively recipients should be able to move in and move out of the system within a 12 month period.

What are the disadvantages • R  eliance on the rent supplement scheme can trap lone parents in unemployment, since moving into employment can result in them losing their rent supplement payments • Private landlords are not always willing to rent to those in receipt of rent supplement • While minimum dwelling standards apply to all rented accommodation in Ireland the standards do not necessarily reflect the norms of modern Irish society often failing to take account of the needs of families or best practice in relation to building standards • There is non-compliance and limited enforcement of both dwelling standards and fire regulations in the private rented sector, which means that one-parent families and others can find themselves living in unsuitable, unsafe and sub-standard housing • All tenants are vulnerable to 28 day notice to quit without cause during the first six months of their tenancy, limiting the likelihood of complaints being made • Rent supplement can in some cases used as a long term solution to housing need for oneparent families. Part of the reason for the lack of movement of one-parent families off the rent supplement can be attributed to the length of time these households tend to spend on the housing lists • Rent supplement upper limits can be set below prevailing market rents in some areas, forcing those in receipt of the Supplement into poorer quality accommodation.

7 Coates, D. & M. Norris (2006) Supplementary Welfare Allowance, Rent Supplement: Implications for the Implementation of the Rental Accommodation Scheme, Centre for Housing Research, Dublin, Ireland. Page 9


Making Social Housing & Accommodation Provision More One-parent Family Friendly Dec 2009

How could it be improved as an option for one-parent families Inspections should focus on accommodation at lower rent levels, where deficiencies are most likely; • Local authorities should ensure that there is sufficient, trained, staff, with access to all relevant information, to ensure compliance with appropriate standards • Local authorities should increase inspections of properties to establish compliance with both fire and dwelling standard regulation standards with inspections carried out by trained staff, and particular attention focused on properties suspected of failure to comply • National rental dwelling standards should be updated and tenant groups consulted as part of this process • Accommodation approved for inclusion in the scheme should be appropriate for the households’ needs; households’ situation and needs should be reviewed regularly, at least every four years. An independent appeal procedure should be available and advertised to tenants • Parents should not have to share bedrooms with their children • Families with young children should be housed in locations with or close to safe play areas. • Given the severity of the Rent Supplement unemployment trap, and the slow pace of RAS implementation, a transitional arrangement could afford the (approximately 9,000) lone parents caught in this unemployment trap the opportunity to secure paid employment • The differential rent assessment used by the RAS should be used by the Dept of Social & Family Affairs for those who are eligible for RAS but awaiting transfer to the scheme8. As part of this change, households where an individual is working more than 30 hours a week should be eligible for a rent subsidy, where they meet the income criteria.

4.4 Rental Accommodation Scheme The Rental Accommodation Scheme (RAS)9 has been operated by local authorities since mid 2004.

What does it involve • U  nder the scheme, local authorities’ source and rent accommodation from the private rented sector and social housing associations. These are rented for a social rent (which is calculated on the basis of their household income) under a long-term lease to eligible tenants. Tenants pay their rent to the local authority, while the authority pays close to market rents to the private or housing association landlord. To be eligible for the RAS, a person must be unable to provide for their own housing needs on a long-term housing basis; in practice, this means any household that has been in receipt of Rent Supplement for 18 months or longer.

8 The rent paid by tenants housed under the Rental Accommodation Scheme is usually determined using the same (or similar) assessment to that used for local authority tenants. These generally have a much lower assessment rate of earnings (e.g. 15% in Dublin City Council) than applies under SWA Rent Supplement (where a rate of 75% currently applies). While tenants can be deemed eligible for RAS by their local authority, they may have to wait some time for accommodation to become available. Therefore it is recommended that the more ‘employment friendly’ means assessment available under the RAS be applied during this waiting period. 9 The RAS is a collaborative project between the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, local authorities, the Department of Social and Family Affairs and the community welfare service. The scheme is intended to provide an additional source of good quality rented accommodation for eligible persons in need of long term housing by sourcing accommodation from the private rented market. Page 10


Making Social Housing & Accommodation Provision More One-parent Family Friendly Dec 2009

What are the advantages • Longer term leases can be provided giving more security to the tenant • Accommodation must comply with local authority standards • The standards expected of dwellings contracted for RAS can at the behest of the particular local authority be higher than the statutory requirements • It is a more affordable option given that differential rents are charged by the local authority, • Tenants and landlords are covered by the Residential Tenancies Act 2004, and can take disputes to the Private Residential Tenancies Board for resolution • Minimum dwelling standards can be set for accommodation under the scheme, thereby improving the quality, suitability and usage of the accommodation • The RAS can involve a simple transfer of tenancy, without a tenant having to move • Where long-term contracts can be agreed with private and non-profit landlords local authorities can obtain new accommodation which meets more exacting standards in turn making it more suitable for occupation by one-parent families as long-term home • The scheme enables the tenant to return to work without losing all their benefits

What are the disadvantages • Implementation of the scheme has been slow to date • There are deficiencies in the enforcement of fire and rental dwelling standards • Contracts of four years or less don’t provide adequate security to plan and make provision for a family’s needs e.g. in relation to schooling. Social housing still offers tenants greater security of tenure and in many cases an existing social support infrastructure of extended family and friends that is rarely available in the private rented sector • There is no right to buy.

How could it be improved as an option for one-parent families • A  ccommodation offered under the RAS should be located close to safe outdoor play areas for children • Local authorities should ensure that there is sufficient, trained, staff, with access to all relevant information, to ensure compliance with appropriate standards • Minimum standards regulations for participation in the RAS should be updated to reflect modern expectations in relation to residential accommodation, and to include, at a minimum, critical fire safety features to protect tenants • Local authorities should increase inspection of properties to establish compliance with both fire and dwelling standard regulation standards with inspections carried out by trained staff, and particular attention focused on properties suspected of failure to comply • National rental dwelling standards should be updated and tenant groups consulted as part of this process • Landlords entering RAS contracts should be required to effect and maintain an insurance policy in respect of the building’s structure10

10 This would nullify the escape offered under Section 12 (3) of the Residential Tenancies Act 2004. Page 11


Making Social Housing & Accommodation Provision More One-parent Family Friendly Dec 2009

• A  ccommodation approved for inclusion in the scheme should be appropriate for the households’ needs; households’ situation and needs should be reviewed regularly, at least every four years. An independent appeal procedure should be available and advertised to tenants • For families accommodated under the RAS, parents should not be required to share bedrooms with their children • RAS contracts should require landlords to undertake annual inspections of appliances, security and safety devices, and to maintain them in good working order • Landlords with five or more units in the RAS should be required to have a nominated contact point for tenants regarding repairs with appropriate maintenance personnel on retainer • Local authorities should ensure that tenants transferring to the RAS are fully advised of their rights and their obligations to the landlord and to the local authority. At a minimum this should be provided in a booklet; this could also usefully include simply explained maintenance advice and the guides for the heating, cooking and other appliances • Family accommodation under the RAS should have to comply with a number of minimum requirements including the provision of white good.

4.5 Voluntary/Housing Association Housing Housing associations provide general needs housing for families. Some of the larger housing association provide a large amount of general need housing which is very similar to standard local authority housing. Voluntary housing associations are generally formed to relieve a local housing need. A marked feature of the voluntary housing sector is that many associations offer non-housing and related services such as group meals, social activities and welfare advice.

What does it involve • H  ousing associations rent accommodation to tenants using both fixed and differential rent schemes depending on the housing association. This type of housing is more affordable than the private rented sector, in particular for lone parents.

What are the advantages • This type of housing is generally more affordable than renting in the private sector • Tenants are not responsible for the upgrading and upkeep of the property • The small and local nature of most voluntary housing associations means that they are in a position to respond quickly to the service needs of their tenants as they arise.

What are the disadvantages • There is no right to buy • The number and location of these housing schemes are limited.

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Making Social Housing & Accommodation Provision More One-parent Family Friendly Dec 2009

How could it be improved as an option for one-parent families • H  ousing Associations are in a strong position to develop programmes for low income families, and some do • As well as meeting the specific needs of one-parent families, programmes can also be provided which help tenants to develop skills to participate in committees and make a contribution to the development of the Associations.

4.6 Local Authority Housing Loans There are several different types of housing loans. Applicants must meet a series of defined criteria including an income limit, to qualify for a loan. The criteria and the amount of the loan available can vary from local authority to local authority. To be eligible for a local authority housing loan the applicant must have been refused by a commercial bank or building society.

What does it involves • A  shared ownership loan enable the applicant to acquire a percentage (minimum 40%) share of a local authority property and pay rent on the remaining, with the local authorities share to be purchased by the tenant at a later stage by them. Purchase or construction loans in contrast enable eligible applicants to obtain a loan up to a maximum ceiling for the construction or a house of their choice.

What are the advantages • Schemes make house/apartment purchase more accessible and affordable • The shared ownership option facilitates the purchase of a property in two or more stages to person(s) who could not afford full ownership immediately.

What are the disadvantages • Variable interest rates can apply making it difficult to work out the exact cost of the loan • Mortgage protection payments are necessary • Applicant(s) are generally responsible for the maintenance, insurance and other ongoing costs related to the property.

How can it be improved as an option for one-parent families? • A  s with other potential purchasers, lone parents can be required to be in ‘permanent’ employment – this is not a realistic option in the 21st century for most workers.

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Making Social Housing & Accommodation Provision More One-parent Family Friendly Dec 2009

4.7 The Affordable Housing Scheme • T he Affordable Housing scheme allows first time buyers to purchase a property through their local authority for a significantly lower cost than buying privately. An affordable home is sold at cost price rather than market value. These properties can be either purpose built by the local authority or they can be acquired under Part V of the Planning and Development Acts 2000-2002.

What does it involve • A  pplicants under the scheme obtain a mortgage from a one of a number of name financial Institutions or if they are unable to do this they may be eligible to apply for a House Purchase Loan from the local authority subject to the Council’s lending terms and conditions.

What are the advantages • Homes purchased from the Council under the Affordable Housing Scheme may be sold.

What are the disadvantages • In the event of re-sale the seller must pay back to the Council the clawback percentage of the actual amount the property is sold for. (The clawback percentages vary from property to property and no longer applies after year 20.

How can it be improved as an option for one-parent families? • A  s with other potential purchasers, lone parents can be required to be in ‘permanent’ employment – this is not a realistic option in the 21st century for most workers.

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Making Social Housing & Accommodation Provision More One-parent Family Friendly Dec 2009

4.8 Tenant Purchase Scheme Tenants who hold a tenancy from their local authority Council of at least one year may apply to buy their house under this scheme.

What does it involve • S uccessful applicants are eligible to buy their property through the provision of a small grant and a percentage reduction of the market value of the property for each year of their tenancy subject to a defined maximum deduction.

What are the advantages • Security and the ability to plan a future in a location.

What are the disadvantages • T he affordability of local authority housing decreases when the tenant enters into a purchase scheme. “You work more to save to buy the house but then if you work more you pay more in rent but you are still not earning enough to buy the house”.

How could it be improved as an option for one-parent families • F urther work needs to be done on making the Tenant Purchase scheme more attractive to one-parent families • Research to demonstrate the affordability of this scheme would provide a constructive contribution to this.

i ii iii iv

Central Statistics Office (2002) Table E Private households by composition, 1996 and 2002. CSO: Dublin Department of Social and Family Affairs (2005) Statistical Information on Social Welfare Services Dublin: Stationery Office www.welfare.ie Comhairle & Threshold (2002) Rent Supplement: A Social Policy Report Dublin: Comhairle

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Making Room for Lone Parents  

The factors that make accommodation suitable for one-parent families

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