Stephen Donnelly, Independent TD for Wicklow and East Carlow, has called on the Department of Social Protection to allow rent supplement recipients in Kilcoole, Newtownmountkennedy and Newcastle stay in their homes, and to ensure that recipients of rent supplement are treated fairly, efficiently and respectfully.

“Rents in Kilcoole, Newtownmountkennedy and Newcastle are amongst the highest in the county, but the Department of Social Protection has slashed the rent supplement level for them,” Stephen Donnelly said. (See table below for current rents in Wicklow.)

“This means that families living in these towns who have been hit by unemployment or business failure, and have had to seek welfare support, are being forced to move home.

“When the Department reduced rent supplement levels across the country at the end of last year, Wicklow suffered the biggest reductions, with rent supplement falling by up to 26%. However, the Department recognised that rents in Bray were closer to Dublin rents than Wicklow rents, and set new rent supplement levels for Bray.

“I pointed out that rents in a number of towns in North Wicklow were similarly high, and the Minister accordingly raised the rent supplement level for Greystones and Delgany to the same level as Bray. But she refused to raise the rent supplement level for Kilcoole, Newtownmountkennedy or Newcastle. This makes no sense, and is grievously unfair on those in those areas who rely on rent supplement.

“As anybody living locally knows, Kilcoole, Newtownmountkennedy and Newcastle are effectively part of the same commuter belt area as Greystones and Delgany. I went to school in St David’s in Greystones, and my classmates were drawn from this area. Kilcoole, Newtownmountkennedy and Newcastle rely on Greystones for many services and amenities, and rents there are more or less identical with those in Greystones and Delgany, and far higher than those rents further south in the county.

“The number of rent supplement cases in these areas is tiny, but the inconvenience being caused to the families concerned is enormous. The Minister assured me that the rent review she initiated would ensure “that people on rent supplement are not priced out of the market for private rented accommodation.” But this is precisely what’s happening now in these areas: rent supplement has been slashed and as a result families there are being priced out of the rental market, and forced to move to elsewhere in Wicklow, irrespective of whether they’ve children in schools there.

“There are further problems with the rent supplement system as a whole. A pilot scheme operating in Wicklow whereby rent supplement is being administered by a unit in the Department of Social Protection, instead of by individual, locally-based Community Welfare Officers, has made the system more inflexible and remote from the citizens. Decisions are being made to cut people’s rent, effectively forcing them out of their homes, without accountability or transparency. The appeals system is so slow as to be practically pointless.

“The Minister has talked the talk in terms of reform and improved procedures. It’s now time for her to confront the reality on the ground in Wicklow, and to realise that the system that she oversees is failing to treat people with respect or fairness. Kilcoole, Newtownmountkennedy and Newcastle should be included within the Bray-Greystones-Delgany area for rent supplement levels. Where the new levels are causing particular difficulty for families or individuals, her officials should be hand-on, pro-actively managing those cases to ensure the outcome is fair and reasonable.”