The waiting list in Kilkenny has 2,852 people on it, and the vast majority of these are in the ‘financial’ category when grouped into areas of need.
While 5% are in ‘homeless’ and 6% in ‘medical’, some 85% are in ‘financial’.
Most of these are in the city, but there are still significant numbers on the housing list in Callan (130), Castlecomer (110), Ferrybank (107) and Thomastown (97).
Director of housing services John McCormack last week told members of Kilkenny County Council that the list was swollen because being on it is a necessary condition to be in receipt of rent supplement.
“It is our experience that the bulk of people are on the list simply to get rent supplement,” he said.
“Many are content with it. The need is minimal; we are dealing with demand rather than need.
“The bulk of people on the list are living in comfortable, private accomodation.”
Kilkenny was recently chosen as a pilot county for a new programme, as the Government explores transferring the management of rent allowance from the Department of Social Protection to the local authorities.
Mr McCormack, who is actively engaged with the process, revealed that ‘rent supplement’ is likely to be replaced by some sort of ‘housing assistance payment’, when the transfer is complete.
He also said that the new system would likely involve a new mechanism to deal with the large number of housing accounts in arrears.
“One of the areas being looked at is rent being deducted at source – from social welfare – to deal with arrears,” he said.
“We are still awaiting the details on a lot of this.”
One of the ways through which the local authorities provide public housing is the Rental Accommodation Scheme (RAS). Last year, the allocation for RAS was €2 million.
Since the inception of the scheme in 2005, over 670 applicants have been accomodated in both private and voluntary units.
But several councillors have expressed concern that the number of landlords willing to take part in RAS is in decline.
“There is a fear among property owners about RAS,” said Cllr Malcolm Noonan (Green Party).
“We should make more of an effort to promote the benefits of RAS to them.”
Cllr Michael O’ Brien (Labour) said the problem was turning into a crisis.
“We were reliant on RAS but it is drying up – there are now nearly 100 people on the list in Thomastown, and there were only two RAS last year,” he said.
“Not one of the 97 people on that list now has a very good outlook. RAS is drying up and we need to do something.
“There are a lot of private houses currently vacant.”
Cllr David Fitzgerald (FG) said the scheme had changed in its principles since its inception.
“I understand the RAS was intended to be a long-term scenario – five to 10 years – but in order to encourage landlords, the time has been reduced significantly,” he said.
Mr McCormack agreed that the scheme had evolved over time.
“When RAS came in, it was intended to be for five years, ten years or longer,” he told the members.
“But there was reluctance on the part of property owners to sign up for that long. So we offer more short term.”