herald

Sunday 20 August 2017

a UNIVERSITY graduate has brought a legal challenge over a decision refusing a supplement towards his monthly rent of €450.

a UNIVERSITY graduate has brought a legal challenge over a decision refusing a supplement towards his monthly rent of €450.

Liam Ward, who earns €208 weekly on a community employment (CE) scheme, says it is "near impossible" to get accommodation in Dublin city below the €350 monthly limit for rent allowance payments

He sought the €350 rent allowance payment towards his €450 monthly rent for his shared two bed flat in Summerhill in Dublin's north inner city.

He says the supplement refusal breaches ministerial guidelines aimed at helping tenants hold onto their accommodation. This is at this time of high rents and when demand for rental properties in Dublin, especially for those on rent allowance, greatly exceeds the supply, he says.

Without the supplement, he will be unable to pay his rent, faces eviction and fears he will be rendered homeless.

The market rent means there are no other properties available below the €450 sum and he had tried and failed to renegotiate a smaller rent with his landlord, he said.

He told the Department of Social Protection he would pay the €100 shortfall from his earnings and, in his application, also provided a printout of rental rates for two bed properties within the Dublin inner city area, all of which were above the €350 limit.

His application was refused last November and again January.

In light of ministerial guidelines giving officials a discretion to, in exceptional circumstances, pay rent allowance for rents above €350, Mr Ward argues he should have been granted the allowance.

The guidelines stipulate there should be no threat of homelessness or losing a tenancy to a person as a result of termination of rent supplement due to rent above the maximum limit if such rent was in line with rents in the local market.

In High Court judicial review proceedings against the Minister for Social Protection, Mr Ward contends, before he can be lawfully refused rent supplement, he is entitled to have his application decided in line with the guidelines.

He also argues the measures set out in the relevant 2007 regulations governing rent allowance payments are in excess of the provisions of the 2005 Social Welfare Consolidation Act and is claiming damages for alleged breach of his constitutional rights.

After his initial application was refused, Mr Ward sought a re-examination of it in accordance with the guidelines.

The deciding officer who re-examined the application noted Mr Ward's weekly €208 payment under the CE scheme was €20 higher than the €188 weekly Jobseeker's Allowance available to him if he was not employed on the scheme, it is claimed.

Eileen McCabe, solicitor for Mr Ward, outlined in court documents that he graduated with a Master's degree in 2009 and was unable to find employment for some four years until, after moving to Dublin, he took up employment in June 2014 with a CE scheme.

There is far greater demand for rental properties in Dublin than are available for supply and many properties explicitly state tenants in receipt of rent allowance need not apply, it is claimed.

Market forces also made it "near impossible" to maintain existing tenancies within the prescribed rent limits.

There is a "common and well-known practise" whereby landlords and tenant collude so as to qualify for rent supplement, it is also argued.

This involved the tenant submitting a lease agreement below the market rent so as to qualify for rent supplement and the tenant making up the difference with a cash payment, it was also claimed.

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