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Rented Dwellings Register (Continued)

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 800 No. 4

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Deputy Alan Farrell: Information on Alan Farrell Zoom on Alan Farrell I echo the sentiments of Deputy Durkan about the requirement to review this issue on an ongoing basis and welcome the Minister's commitment to have an announcement in May. I assure the Minister that south Dublin is not the only area seeing rent increases, particularly for three-bedroom homes. It is happening across the major urban areas in Dublin, although it is confined to individual towns in Fingal as opposed to south Dublin, where it extends to substantial parts of the county. I will give the Minister an example.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt Could the Deputy ask a question? It is Question Time.

Deputy Alan Farrell: Information on Alan Farrell Zoom on Alan Farrell I will be quick. The point I wanted to make and about which I put a question to the Minister some weeks ago concerns the disparity between areas in Fingal - for example, Balbriggan in the north, and an area 26 km from the boundary in the south. There should be a vast difference in the cap between those two areas, because the rents are vastly different. The review should be ongoing for areas such as these.

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall I also wish to focus on Fingal, which is an area close to home for the Minister and me. The issue in question is the rent cap for accommodation for lone parents with one child, which is currently €775 per month. I am aware of the case of a person who has been in accommodation for the past seven years. The rent was reduced previously, she negotiated it down to €950 and it has now been reduced to €775. There is no way that person can stay in her home with her child unless she gets help from her family and lies on her application and her landlord is prepared to lie as well. That is the position the Minister has forced people into by having rent limits that are completely out of line with market rents. Her officials have admitted that. I welcome her statement today that a revision of rents will be announced next month, but will she give an instruction to her officials between now and the introduction of the new levels not to move against any existing tenants who are in the process of having their rent supplement applications reviewed or are appealing an earlier decision to refuse it on the basis of the level of the rent? Will she give a very clear instruction to officials to hold off and not make people homeless because of delays in the Department in coming up with the new levels?

Deputy Mick Wallace: Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace I still rent properties in the countryside and the city. Since last September, there has been a dramatic change in rents in Dublin city, mainly due to the fact that banks have not been making money available for people to get on the property ladder. Far more people are renting than had planned on doing so, which has had a dramatic effect on rents. I can see that rents have gone up considerably since last September.

I know that new regulations with regard to bedsits were introduced and I welcome them. However, I am conscious of the point made by Focus Ireland that many people on low incomes were dependent on those cheap bedsits. The Minister is dead right to sort out the landlords and those who do not provide proper accommodation but, at the same time, we must be really careful to ensure these people do not end up homeless and that they are taken care of. I very much welcome the Minister's point that social housing is the way forward.

Deputy Willie O'Dea: Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea In respect of the question of transferring rent supplement to the local authorities, the Minister may or may not be aware that her own Department supplied a document to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection late last year to say that this would happen on 1 January 2013. Now we are told that extensive and intensive negotiations are taking place. Is this another example of what Fionnan Sheahan recently described in the Irish Independent as the Minister's habit of flying kites and pulling them down just as fast? She is constantly talking about reform, just not implementing it.

Deputy Patrick Nulty: Information on Patrick Nulty Zoom on Patrick Nulty There is a commitment in the programme for Government to reduce eligibility for the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, from 18 to six months for people receiving rent supplement. However, in reply to a parliamentary question I tabled, the Minister said she was not going to proceed with that. The measure would address the problem she raised regarding people moving from welfare to work because, as she knows, if one is eligible for RAS, one can work more than 30 hours per week. Why is she not proceeding with that very simple change?

I have spoken to community welfare officers in her Department off the record who I am sure have told the Minister that the leases coming before them are a fiction. In order to keep children in the place where they are settled and in the same schools, landlords and tenants are agreeing leases that meet the caps but are in fact going back to the old practice of topping up payments. This is a cut in social welfare by default because the money is coming straight out of those families' incomes. That needs to be addressed.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus Ó Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus Ó Snodaigh I concur with Deputy Nulty's comments about top-up payments. I have raised this issue with the Minister on a number of occasions and she has denied that her Department has any information that this is happening. If she talked to the groups she mentioned earlier, such as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Focus Ireland or Threshold, they would attest to a widespread practice of top-up payments that has been there for years and is getting worse. What steps will be taken to address that?

The bedsit issue is key, and I concur with Deputy Wallace's comments. When will the transfer from the Department of Social Protection to the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government happen? Then we will then be dealing with a different Department. Some people are saying that RAS is becoming an unmitigated disaster in the Dublin City Council area because landlords are withdrawing from it and the local authority cannot find enough properties to facilitate it. There is a crisis not just in social housing but for those renting privately who avail of rent supplement. I hope the Minister will be able to address those issues which need to be addressed urgently before she ends up with far more people living on the streets, and, if there is another winter similar to the previous one, dying on the streets.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt Does Deputy Durkan have a brief question? He had tabled a question.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan I acknowledge the Minister's efforts to deal with a very difficult situation. I also acknowledge the fact that a previous Minister for Social and Family Affairs indicated about seven years ago an intention to transfer responsibility for that particular area to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, but it did not happen in that length of time.

Notwithstanding all of this, is it possible in the interim at least to address the most sensitive issues that have been brought to our attention, including particular pockets where the competition for accommodation is so great that people in difficult circumstances have no option but to live in a caravan or become homeless? I, and I am sure everyone else, have seen situations in recent weeks involving people who were homeless and had nowhere to go. It is an awful, tragic situation that the Minister inherited from her predecessor. I do not wish to blame her predecessors but they should not take the opportunity to crow too much about it either.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton I thank all the Deputies who raised the issue. We are ready to transfer to the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government as soon as that Department has the necessary legislative arrangements in place. Deputy Durkan spoke about the long gestation period. A previous Minister spoke about this for nearly a decade. All I can say is that the first trial scheme in respect of the housing assistance payment should commence very shortly. One of the difficulties is that the local authorities, particularly during the boom, built up 88 different accounting and IT systems to calculate differential rents and so on.

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