By Suzanne Pender
“HAP landlords are paying off their tenants’ local authority debt so their own payment under the scheme continues,” claimed a local landlord this week.
Speaking to The Nationalist, Andrew Hickey from Tullow highlighted this extraordinary anomaly and admitted he has in the past paid off a tenant’s arrears to ensure his own monthly HAP payment as a landlord would be reinstated. “Is it any wonder landlords are getting out of the market? The HAP scheme is an absolute joke,” said Mr Hickey.
The Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) is a social housing support provided by the local authority. Local authorities make a monthly rental payment on tenants’ behalf to their landlord, and in return the HAP tenant pays a weekly contribution towards the rent to the local authority. In the vast majority of cases, tenants will also have to make a top-up payment directly to the landlord.
It is understood that if a tenant goes into arrears for three weeks on his local authority payment, the HAP portion paid to the landlord automatically stops. Mr Hickey has several properties rented in the Tullow area, but cites one property in particular where he “hasn’t received a single penny” for almost a year.
“It’s a HAP property where the rent is €850 a month. €720 is given to me through HAP and the tenant was then to pay €130 directly to me each month. He also has a contract with the council to pay them somewhere between €20 and €25 a month,” explained Mr Hickey.
“When Covid kicked in, I didn’t pressure him to pay me the top-up; I just said he could pay whenever he could and when he was better off financially. I didn’t want to be hard on him,” said Mr Hickey.
However, the situation did not improve and the tenant ultimately stopped paying his council contribution, too, and in turn Mr Hickey’s €720 was stopped.
“I cleared the debt for him at one stage so that I’d get paid. I just rang up the HAP, which is based in a centre in Limerick, and paid his council debt. I know of loads of landlords who are doing the same thing, mainly coming up to Christmas or in January,” said Mr Hickey.
“It’s better off paying maybe €200 or €300 in arrears than losing out on two or three months’ rent,” he reasoned.
However, the situation did not improve and for months now Mr Hickey has been left out of pocket. “I had no choice but to start the eviction process, but that is not straightforward either; you have to give proper notice, there’s legal fees and the whole thing can be pushed out and out. I cannot get him out of it,” he said.
Mr Hickey said there have also been reports of anti-social behaviour at his property, but again he feels powerless, while the condition of the property is also deteriorating.
“The neighbours there are very nice, but they are complaining about it, too. I don’t blame them; I don’t blame the council; it’s the system that’s wrong, and then people wonder why landlords are getting out,” he said.
“Landlords haven’t a hope. I have a number of properties but I’m in the process of selling them all,” said Mr Hickey.
Carlow County Council’s director of services for housing Michael Brennan confirmed that if a HAP tenant is three weeks in arrears with their council contribution, the HAP payment to their private landlord is stopped. He confirmed that HAP is administered in a centre based in Limerick, which tenants can contact to make payments.
“Each customer has their own specific ID if they wish to make payments,” said Mr Brennan.
When asked if was aware of landlords paying council arrears on behalf of their tenants, Mr Brennan said this “had never come to my attention”, adding: “I can’t comment any further on that.”