Councillors want Carer’s Allowance out of income assessed for rent

Councillors were united in strong criticism of Westmeath County Council on Monday of last week after it emerged the Carer’s Allowance is included as part of income to be assessed to calculate rent for local authority tenants.

The issue arose at a special hybrid meeting in council chambers in Mullingar, and online, to discuss the council’s Social Housing Differential Rent Scheme amid earlier concerns about rising rents for local authority tenants following the latest rent review last year.

After a presentation, questions and a lengthy discussion on a variety of subjects relating to the housing crisis and the council’s scheme for calculating rent for its own housing stock, councillors called on the executive to examine whether the Carer’s Allowance can be taken out or disregarded during the income assessment to calculate the rent of a local authority house in the future.

Rather than wait for the budget, the cathaoirleach, Cllr Frankie Keena, asked that the executive come back within weeks to update members on whether that can be done, as action is needed.

An angry Cllr Ken Glynn (FF) first highlighted the carer issue while talking about some of the cases he has been dealing with in recent times not reflected in council statistics.

“The figures do not tell us who is struggling and I can tell you there are a lot out there,” he said, going on to give an example of a low-income couple, one the main earner working, and the other a carer, for one of their children.

“The earner is basically carpooling because he doesn’t work locally and at times at the end of the week, they have to borrow because they can’t pay the diesel if it’s their turn in the carpooling. They are paying €152 a week.”

That Carer’s Allowance is given to allow a person to look after someone in their home but to have that used in a means test is “beyond me,” he said.

He went on to give an example of another family, one on disability, the other on Job Seeker’s with two or three children who are paying €97 a week, not the €50 mentioned in the presentation. Another family he knows saw their rent go from €55 a week to €164, an increase most people would struggle with.

Carer’s Allowance should be disregarded because the local authority should try to have their scheme in line with the medical card system and the Dept of Social Protection (DSP) and the Carer’s Allowance is not included in the assessment for either of those schemes, was the view of Cllr Mick Dollard.

“It’s an onerous task, firstly to qualify for it, and there is a reason for them getting the Carer’s Allowance. It could be to mind an elderly relative or a young child who needs special care and attention.”

He believes the Carer’s Allowance should be taken out of the assessment, something he said “will not break the bank”.

Cllr Dollard also detailed a case recently where a family in Mullingar, one person in receipt of Invalid Pension, the other a pensioner, husband and wife, got an increase of €5 each in the budget last November, but the rent review “resulted in their rent increasing by €14, which means in effect they are €4 a week worse off”.

Cllr Paul Hogan supported the real-time stories put forward at the meeting of massive rent increases.

He said the council rent system is at “crisis point” because people can’t afford to pay, as rises are 40-50% or doubling in some cases.

Cllr Hogan expressed “huge concerns” that things like the Carer’s Allowance, TUS, Rural Social Scheme or Back to Education allowance are all assessed as part of income to calculate rent, but then on the other side, the Home Care grant for a carer is disregarded, saying there is an “anomaly there”.

He supported his colleagues calling for the Carer’s Allowance to be taken out of the assessment of income, as did Cllr Frank McDermott of Fine Gael, who noted that carers are looking after somebody, often the elderly, and if that was done privately, it would cost the state thousands.

Earlier, director of housing Mark Keaveney went through the workings of the council’s Differential Rent Scheme in a detailed presentation, describing it as “fair and proportionate” given that it is calculated as a percentage of the net household income after PRSI, PAYE, USC and pension deductions are removed.

There are also income disregards that are not included in household income, like child benefit, the fuel scheme, mobility allowance, he said.

The basic principle of the rent scheme is that the rent is calculated at 22% of principal income, he explained – however, when the various disregards and allowances are allowed for, it comes down to about 15% of net income.

In terms of the rent review carried out at the end of last year, and implemented this year, he said of a total of 2,620 who returned the review forms, 14% had reductions in rent, 26% had no change, so about 40% .

A further 14% had a €1 to €5 increase, and 15% a €5-10 increase, Mr Keaveney continued, adding that there was a €10-15 rise for 11% and a €15-20 rise for another 20% of tenants.

As of last week, 50% of all tenants pay €60 or less a week, while 85% of the total pay €100 or less per week, Mr Keaveney said, promising he will look into the anomalies highlighted.