One of my favourite political footballs over the last few years has been the widespread abuse of the Supplementary Welfare Benefit rent supplement system. Basically this is the Irish government's half hearted version of Housing Benefit (for those, like myself, conversant with the UK benefits system). However, it does not have a statutory basis, which means it is up to the chaos and whimsy of the Health Boards, who seem to vacillate between giving out housing benefits to those who have quite reasonable housing alternatives and so don't need it at all, or else refuse quite reasonable cases on the most ludicrous of grounds.
Let me tell you my tale of the SWA private renter. These scumbags make up 1/3 of the private rental population in Ireland, and they - ironically - not the landlords, have singlehandedly managed to ruin the system for the rest of us, who remember, are paying out of our own pocket (as well as subsidising them). You think this sounds miserable? Let me tell you my tale.
It starts in Dublin, in 1999, when myself and a friend rented the ground floor two bedroom flat in Ranelagh. It was cheap, cheery, grotty, but pleasant enough to enjoy for the 8 months or so I lived there. The problem was, as we rapidly discovered, the neighbours.
Most of the house had quite nice working people there. I was good friends with the couple upstairs and they had tipped me off about the flat. Overhead however, was a different story altogether.
A young man in his twenties lived there, seemingly alone. He was supposedly a saxophone player, but as we subsequently discovered, he didn't actually work (apparently he was officially on the dole, and so he was receiving a rent supplement which, as I later discovered is the NORM, enabled him to live in the fanciest flat in the house.) The rest of us at that time could not have afforded the rent he was paying. Due to poltics etc, the rent supplement system, contrary to the namby-pamby propoganda put out by some organisations, actually is willing to pay more in rent than many working people on average wages will pay. In today's Independent (26th November 2003) it was pointed out that some recipients get so much in benefits they would need to earn €35,000-40,000 to get the same! SO WHY ARE THEY GIVEN THIS MUCH?
Of course, this was of no relevance to us at the time. What was of relevance was that he was basically antisocial. He had a particular habit, common to many non-working/studying people, of staying in bed until the early afternoon, of playing loud music all the time, and especially late into the night. I recollection music being played at 4am on a weekend night. Not REALLY loud, just loud enough to be annoying.
Anyway, it got worse. His estranged girlfriend moved in and the real hell began as they argued constantly and almost once a week he beat the living daylights out of her. On one night it was so bad that 5 neighbouring flats called the police. We had to endure the sounds of the girl being flung across the rooms, screaming, etc. We complained eventually but had already decided to move. The landlord assured us that he was evicting him, but sadly, I heard much later on, he was still there, and still beating his partner senseless.
After a couple of weeks of subletting from a friend in Fairview, I moved back into Dublin 6, this time into a large bedsit off Palmerstown Rd in Rathmines, just a few streets away. The rent was good value, the neighbours really lovely. It was, until the tenant from hell moved downstairs.
This young lady was on dole (though sporadically worked on the black economy) and received enough rent allowance to enable her to live in a place costing more than double what I paid. And to make other tenants lives hell. The first weekend there was, we presumed, a "house warming party." This was accompanied by loud people, music so loud it was like being upstairs in a nightclub, painful for me who at the time was working a 2nd job and a 7 day week.
It got worse. The parties got more frequent, and complaints to the landlord were only temporary fixes. Eventually the landlord asked her to apologise to me. Her response was to give me a mouthful of abuse, that somehow, I was the problem (for wanting a quiet night's sleep?) After nearly a year of hell, she was evicted. (Not only was she throwing more parties to beat the band, she had run up enormous electricity and gas bills and didn't pay them. After missing 5 interviews arranged for her by FAS, her dole was cut off and the landlord threw her out.) I noticed that this young lady was managing to drive a 1 year old car with no tax or insurance. I hope she has been caught and suitably punished.
But its not all. When I moved into Cork, there were several SWA recipients living downstairs. One night I had a friend visiting and came home to find a party happening, and the two doors of the ground floor flat (a SWA tenant) extremely violents kicked into splinters. As I live on the top floor, the noise wasn't really bad, but something very disturbing was that some of this person's "friends" tried to get into my flat. At the time I didn't have a mortice lock and heavy door, and I had an ordinary door which I had to lock. Fortunately I had locked the door but we heard the sound of somebody trying to open the door and went around and saw the handle moving. Two people were outside my flat trying to get in. I shouted at them to get lost and eventually they did. The following day my landlord asked this guy to leave. It turned out that his siter (who lives next door) was woken up by the racket of the doors being kicked to bits. Kevin told the tenant to vacate the flat by 6pm or he would call the police. The tenant fled. (And my landlord replaced my door with a fire door and mortice lock).
Recently, a good friend, who gets RA herself, told me she thought it was unfair that RA tenants are excluded. However, I have found a disproportionate number of RA tenants to be antisocial, noisy, obnoxious, mean and always ready to take anything they can get. I agree that paying tenants can be terrible too, but I have rarely found any as bad as those who don't work, and won't work to pay their way.
Earlier this year, a cap was put on rent allowances nationally. Within months, rents were falling nationwide. Now it has finally been decided to stop the fundamental abuse of the system by only granting rent allowance to people who are habitual renters. You must be renting for at least 6 months in order to get rent allowance. This will prevent pretentious little bitches like miss-no-insurance (otherwise known as Sandra the Slapper) from getting the dole and then using the system to go and rent for the first time. I know many people on a median wage living at home who cannot afford to leave home. All of these people pay tax.
Why should we be subsidising people who do not need to rent? I know of many people who rent because they can, some of whom have never worked and who have no need for housing. Their parents have beautiful homes they could be living in and they are just taking accomodation away from those who really need it. So three cheers for the government who finally have had the balls to stand up to these people on behalf of the rest of us. There is a lot of propoganda circulating about homeless people but the reality is that somebody who has genuinely nowhere to go WILL be given the subsidy.
See an interesting article at http://archives.tcm.ie/irishexaminer/1999/11/04/ipage_11.htm
Also look at the huge numbers of people getting the allowance at http://www.irlgov.ie/debates-03/20Feb/Sect6.htm
Interesting, there are no statistics on the relative "needs" of RA tenants - do they live within a distance of family? (I know of people who got RA for living around the corner from their parents). Have they a real housing "need"? Age groups also - their seems to be strong evidence that the allowance is used by people to move out for the first time.
Another interesting set of facts http://www.daft.ie/services.daft?service=tenantscreening