The Government should develop an anti-fraud policy for the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP), according to a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG).

The scheme which cost €465 million last year, supports households who have a long-term housing need that they are unable to meet without assistance.

The report states that just under 60,000 households were receiving support under the HAP scheme at end 2020.

It recommends the Department of Housing implement a process to identify the incidence of error and suspected fraud in payments relating to the scheme.

The C&AG examination of the scheme also recommends the Department should review the current oversight and management arrangements in place to ensure they are "fit for purpose and reflect good practice".

The report reveals that while the HAP Oversight Group met six times in 2015, meetings have been considerably less frequent in recent years, with the group meeting "only once or twice" a year between 2018 and 2020.

Concern over the attendance at the Oversight Group meetings was also noted.

On average, half of all members attended the meetings held between 2018 and 2020.

However, the report states that neither of the two co-chairs - the Secretaries General of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, and the Department of Social Protection - have attended a meeting of the Group since October 2018.

The Department stated that while neither Secretary General attended subsequent meetings, both Departments were represented.

The report notes that there is a "well-established" control framework in place in relation to risk management, the collection of tenants' rent contributions and data management.

However, it states that there is scope for the administration of the scheme to be improved.

Given the cost of the HAP scheme, the C&AG report notes that the effectiveness of the scheme controls is important.

While tenants are obliged to inform their local authority of any change in circumstances, such as an increase in income, the report states that no key controls are in place to ensure this happening.

"Tenants are not reassessed for eligibility for social housing support if their income increases. Instead, their differential rent will be increased in line with the local authority's differential rent scheme. If there is a break in support they may then be reassessed for social housing," the report states.

The overall cost of the HAP scheme depends on the number of households supported and the average rent support paid by the Exchequer.

The C&G report shows that the cost increased from €276.6 million in 2018, when it was supporting 43,443 households, to €464.6 million last year, when it supported 59,821 households.

It reveals that the average monthly HAP payment increased from €801 per month in 2018 to €880 per month in 2020 - an increase of 9.9%.

This was similar to the average rental price increase in the private rental market.

The largest increases over the period occurred in the local authority areas of Galway, Monaghan and Clare County Councils.

The net cost of HAP to the State is affected by the value of contributions from the tenants - termed differential rents.

The report shows that the tenants' contribution to the cost of the scheme has fallen slightly from 25% in 2018 to 24% in 2020.

A review by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform found that around 28% of HAP tenants were making 'top up’ payments to landlords in the first half of 2019.

However, the C&AG report states that there is no up to date data available on the extent of these payments, and they are not routinely tracked by the Department.