Threshold calls for reform of rent supplement
Bedsit-style accommodation which – almost without exception is of poor quality – should be eliminated from the Irish housing landscape, according to Threshold, the national housing organisation.
Addressing a major conference on the future of the private rented sector in Dublin Castle, today (23.03.07), Threshold’s Chairperson, Aideen Hayden, said “bedsits offer unacceptable accommodation to some of the poorest and most disadvantaged members of our society. Often because these people are reliant on rent supplement, they have no other choice but to live in such sub-standard accommodation. Most landlords simply don’t accept tenants on rent supplement.
“The old-style bedsit generally comprises a small space in an old building where the tenant is expected to cook, sleep and wash. Much of this type of accommodation is sub-standard and is a potential firetrap.
“Out of the 4,500 estimated bedsits in Ireland, the vast majority of them are located within the Canals in Dublin City Centre. Tenants are generally single men who are experiencing social or economic problems. In Threshold’s view, the conditions they are expected to live in are grossly degrading and should no longer have a place in the Irish housing landscape.
“The State’s rent supplement is effectively supporting the continuation of bedsits, because most landlords won’t accept it. Rent supplement is paid in arrears and not in advance, as is the usual practice with rental payments. Furthermore, the payment can take up to two months to process, which is a turn off to landlords who know they can secure other tenant interest who have deposits and payments in their bank for automatic draw-down.
“A level playing pitch needs to be introduced for rent supplement tenants, so that they can access better quality accommodation. The Minister for Social Affairs, Seamus Brennan, has already indicated that he wants to outlaw the discrimination they face, and it’s now time for action.
“Rent supplement should be paid in advance by standing order and deposits must be paid promptly. No landlord should be left at a disadvantage by accepting a rent supplement tenant. These administrative changes are not rocket science, but they would represent a major shift away from sub-standard accommodation.”
Threshold said it welcomed some of recent changes that have provided for stricter obligations and rights for tenants and landlords. “Legislation introduced in 2004 means that landlords are limited to one annual rent increase. A new action programme to improve standards of private rented accommodation standards, announced by the Minister of State for Housing last year, is also a very positive move that we hope to see progressed rapidly,” added Aideen Hayden.
During today’s conference, Threshold said that it had assisted 20,000 clients with a housing problem in 2006. The vast majority of these were living in the private rented sector on incomes less than €25,000 per year.
Today’s conference, which was organised by Threshold, was also addressed by a host of speakers including the Minister of State for Housing, Noel Ahern, TD; Professor Peter Kemp from Oxford University; John Fitzgerald from the ESRI; Professor Tony Crook from the University of Sheffield and Jim Power of Friends First.
The conference was supported by the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government and by the Irish Banking Federation.