Joan Burton sends homeless family ‘Marie Antoinette’ reply

The Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton, has been condemned by the Anti-Austerity Alliance for a “Marie Antoinette-style response” to a homeless family.

Cllr Ruth Coppinger, who is trying to assist the family access housing, accused the Minister of  being “completely heartless”  and “either in deliberate denial or else total ignorance of the realities for people renting in Dublin”. (See Minister Burton reply below to Gwen Connell, a mother who is homeless.)

In response, Socialist Party councillor, Ruth Coppinger of the Anti- Austerity Alliance said:

This truly is a new low for Labour. Firstly, Joan Burton suggests the family are only pretending they can’t find rented accommodation in Dublin within the rent allowance maximum of €950 per month. Anyone can look up DAFT.ie or any housing website and see the going rate now is €1,110 to €1,350, none of which accept rent allowance anyway.

I am now calling on Minister Burton to back up her claims and explicitly show the addresses and advertisements for the houses she says are available for rent. Fingal Council are actively looking for private housing for this family for the past two weeks and they cannot find any within the limits.

The final part of Minister Burton’s reply is the most callous. She actually acknowledges that ‘access to affordable housing is a chronic challenge’, but that maybe the family need to make ‘difficult choices’ if they want to ‘live together again’. What is she saying? That families shouldn’t expect to be together? That they should squeeze in with another family? That they should accept living in slums?

This e mail shows the extent to which Labour have become totally removed from the impact of austerity. The right to a home is no longer a cornerstone policy.

The Anti-Austerity Alliance stands for the challenging of landlords with rent controls and for the building of social and affordable homes. It should be illegal to raise rents by 42%, as happened to the Connells.

The AAA will highlight the rents and housing crisis and make this a major issue in the upcoming local and European elections. We will gladly support the Connell family and hundreds of others on the protest at Joan Burton’s office in Store Street, Dublin,  today Wednesday 11am.

…………………………

From: Constituency.Office@welfare.ie
Date: Mon, 24 Feb 2014 16:47:22 +0000
Subject: RE:

Dear Gwen,

Thank you for your email to my office regarding rent supplement. I am most concerned with the substance of your email, and I am very sorry indeed to hear of your difficulties with the rent supplement scheme.

Rent supplement is a means tested payment under section 198 of the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act 2005. It is intended to assist qualified applicants in the private rental market.

Maximum rent levels are set for this scheme. These rent levels are designed to ensure both availability of housing for claimants, and value for money for taxpayers.

My Department and I undertake periodic reviews of the housing market to ensure that existing maximum rent levels are appropriate. The last review was in early 2013, only a year ago. Criteria similar to those used in earlier, successful reviews were used to set new maximum rent levels. These new rent levels were, in some cases, well in excess of the old levels.  As in previous reviews, the results of this exercise were then compared to actual asking prices to ensure availability.

I am concerned that you are finding it difficult to find housing at or below the current maximum rent levels. I asked my office to contact the rents unit in Dublin 15 about this. The feedback from them is that, while some categories of housing are becoming harder to find, there is still availability. Applications for rent supplement are received on a daily basis that are at or below the Department’s maximum levels.

I am not aware of your particular circumstances, and your email does not provide much identifying information. However, I gather that you have three children. In Dublin 15, the maximum rent level for a family of three dependent children is €950.00; in the rest of Dublin, that limit is €1000.00. These are the highest in the country.

While the rent supplement scheme can ensure the general availability of housing for qualified claimants, it is not possible to guarantee housing within any particular locale within the Department’s maximum levels. Generally speaking, I would ask you to consider that access to affordable housing is a chronic challenge for many people, including people who are in work and not eligible for rent supplement. This leads to people having to make some very, very difficult choices.  To ensure that you and your family can live together again in housing that you can afford, you may have to think anew about your family’s many needs, and how those needs can be met within the housing market as it exists at the moment.

If I can be of further assistance to you in this matter, I trust you will not hesitate to contact my office.

Yours faithfully,

Joan Burton, T.D.

Minister for Social Protection