Meath Co Council assess the full amount of Carer’s Allowance when calculating rent. Photo: Gerry Shanahan.

Navan mum with two autistic kids saw rent rise 75 per cent because she is in receipt of Carer’s Allowance

A MOTHER of two children with special needs whose rent rocketed by 75 per cent due to her receiving carer's allowance says carers are being penalised and discriminated against in a “grossly unfair system.”

The local authority tenant who asked not to be named says she was “shocked to the core” when a rent review that she requested resulted in her rent increasing from €63 per week to €111.70 after the review, an increase of €48.70 per week.

Currently, local authority rents are based on a system called differential rents. This means that the amount of rent you pay depends on the amount of your total household income. Each local authority operates its own scheme.

The assessment and calculation of rent is at each respective local authority's discretion. Some assess the full amount of carer's allowance, others base it on a percentage, while some eliminate it all together.

Meath Co Council assesses the full amount of Carer's Allowance when calculating rent.

There had been plans for the Dept of Housing, Local Government and Heritage to review the Differential Rent Scheme and develop a standardised model however these plans were shelved one year after the Housing For All plan was launched, citing the “ongoing cost of living crisis” for the decision.

Full-time carer to two children with autism, Navan woman Ann (not her real name), became a tenant of Meath Co Council having had to agree to a Mortgage to Rent process in 2021 after losing her home.

The mother-of-four is a carer for her two sons aged 17 and nine. Her eldest son was diagnosed in 2017 aged 10 while her youngest received his diagnosis in 2020 aged five. The Navan woman began receiving Carer’s Allowance in September 2021 saying she did not realise she was entitled to it prior to this.

Ann also receives Domiciliary Care Allowance for her youngest son but her eldest son's payment ceased when he turned 16 in 2022.

“When I became a tenant of Meath Co Council, I was not receiving Carer's Allowance,” she said.

“A rent review in October of 2023 saw my rent skyrocket by 75 per cent based on the fact that I was receiving Carer's Allowance. I receive €174 per week which is half-rate because I also receive One Parent Family Allowance.

“I have provided proof to the housing section of Meath Co Council that I have less income now than when I signed the lease in January 2021 as one of my children is no longer a dependent child and I receive less maintenance from my ex-husband as a result.

“I am also no longer receiving Domiciliary Care Allowance for my eldest since November 2022. My real income has diminished by €160 per week, and yet the council believes I can pay an extra €47 per week, which would mean that I would be paying 22 per cent of assessable income on rent, albeit with two children with special needs!”

After supplying the housing department with information regarding her son's medical conditions, diagnosis and financial requirements, Ann received notification that a temporary 'hardship' rent rate of €83.78 per week would be applied to her case rather than the proposed €111.70 per week. This is in effect until April when it is to reviewed again. However, it has been of little consolation as she explains:

“Navan is a Rent Pressure Zone since 2021. Rents in the private sector are capped at two per cent per annum pro rata so how can Meath Co Council ask me to pay a 75 per cent increase? I have a fixed income receiving One Parent Family Allowance and Half Rate Carer's Allowance which has been eroded by inflation.

“It is a disgraceful act of government to punish carers who save them millions every year,” says Ann.

The frustrated mum is calling on the government to reform how rents are calculated for local authority tenants and to end the post code discrimination.

“In Cavan, the local authority only assesses half rate Carer's Allowance,” she said. “Dun Laoghaire does not assess Carer's Allowance at all and this is the pattern across the country. So, a carer in Dun Laoghaire is far better off than me, and we receive the same amount of Carer's Allowance which is a uniform payment across the 26 counties.

“Under the recent rent review which I requested it would seem that the Housing Section has calculated a 75 per cent increase in my rent under a 35 per cent increase in my income. My weekly income is €504 per week. 75 per cent equals to €47 per week proposed rent increase. 35 per cent equals to half rate Carer's Allowance of €177 per week.

“I have asked the council to furnish me with the actual calculations of rent calculated in January 2021 and the recent rent review in October 2023, and to date I have not received that.”

The frustrated carer explains some of the financial burdens of having children with additional needs.

“Both of my sons are school refusals,” she said. “This means they have difficulty dealing with the school environment from a sensory point of view. My eldest son has missed huge swathes of school throughout his life. He therefore is at home for large amounts of time. He needs an electric heater in his room to ease joint pain due to a medical diagnosis and for sensory comfort to lessen his anxiety.

“I have had to once again submit SWA1 forms several times to the Dept of Social Protection to help with the purchase of home heating oil.”

Sinn Fein Cllr Eddie Fennessy submitted a motion to the December council meeting in relation to this issue with local authority officials committing to returning to the matter during the Budget negotiations in the Autumn of this year.

“Carers perform a huge service in households the length and breadth of this island. They are the unsung heroes of our communities. They deserve a break.

“They save the State hundreds of millions of euros every year by providing care in the home to some of the most vulnerable members of society.

“What little financial allowance they receive, is used, in most cases, to improve the quality of life of those they care for. The assessment system in Meath smacks of giving with one hand whilst taking with the other. It is cynical and punitive and it affects those most in need.

“I welcome the Executive's commitment to include this as part of the budget negotiations later this year. The council took in €18 million in rental payments last year. We were informed that they hope to increase that by a further €2 million in 2024.”

“€20million is 10 per cent of the overall council budget. Making an adjustment to benefit carers is the right thing to do and I believe there is scope to do so.

“If I am privileged enough to be re-elected by the people in June, I will leave no stone unturned in my efforts to have this issue righted for the carers of Meath and the vulnerable people they look after.”

Clare Duffy, Policy and Public Affairs Manager with Family Carers Ireland said:

“The discretion of local authorities to apply different approaches to the setting of rents under the Differential Rent Scheme has led to significant geographic variations and inequality in the rents charged to households where a person receives Carer’s Allowance.

“We welcome the Programme for Government commitment to review and standardise the Differential Rent Scheme, however, this must not be done at the cost of caring households. Family Carers Ireland has made a submission to the Department of Housing regarding the operation of the Differential Rent Scheme and the need to protect family carers. Specifically, we have called on the Department to disregard Carer’s Allowance at the basic social welfare rate and disregard the Half Rate Carer’s Allowance in full across all local authorities.

“We have also called for any Disability Allowance received by children aged between 16 and 18 years to be disregarded in full, in line with the existing uniform disregard of Domiciliary Care Allowance.”

Meath Co Council has been approached for comment.