Threshold, the national housing organisation, has called for the immediate introduction of an emergency payment to assist low income tenants meet rising rent costs.
At the launch of its Annual Report today (22.10.07), Threshold said that unprecedented rent inflation was putting enormous pressure on low-income tenants. This was contributing to the sharp rise in the numbers contacting the organisation with rent arrears and concerns about eviction.
According to the Chairperson of Threshold, Aideen Hayden, “most of our clients are on low incomes and increasingly are finding themselves in arrears or with spiralling debt problems. Many face a real prospect of eviction and potential homelessness.”
Rents rose nationally by 10% in 2006, and increases are expected to average 12% this year. However, some of Threshold’s clients have experienced increases of up to 20%.
The number of clients attending Threshold with rent arrears problems increased by more than 25% in 2006; the organisation has continued to see an acceleration in this client-category throughout 2007. Illegal evictions recorded by Threshold in 2006 stood at 239.
“Among those most affected by this unprecedented rent inflation are the working poor. Because of their employment status, they are unable to access supplementary welfare and are literally been squeezed out of the private rented market because they cannot afford to cover rent.
“Threshold is of the view that – because of the very real prospect of eviction and homeless now facing some tenants – the introduction of an ’emergency payment’ is critical to offer a safety net for these people.
“Indeed, given that there is little short-term prospect of the rental market stabilizing, it is timely for the Minister for Social and Family Affairs to undertaken much needed reform of rent supplement. Essential to such reform would be to base qualification for the payment on a means-test, rather than the current system where qualification is incumbent on the recipient being in receipt of a social welfare payment. This reform would address the hardship facing the working poor.”
Threshold also said that those on social welfare were also struggling to make ends meet. “Typically, social welfare recipients are being required to pay a top-up from their welfare payment to meet the rent increases being imposed by landlords. Supplementary welfare rent payments are not matching current market rents, particularly in high-demand urban areas. An emergency payment is also needed to help them.
“In the longer-term, measures need to be put in place to increase the availability of affordable rented accommodation. The Rental Accommodation Scheme which is now being rolled out across local authorities is an important step in offering quality and affordable accommodation to welfare recipients. However, additional interventions are required to address the accommodation needs of people receiving rent supplement and tenants in low paid jobs.
“Offering incentives through the tax code to employers – including statutory organisations – to provide low rent accommodation for workers help to fill this gap. Such incentives were promoted to increase the supply-side of student accommodation in recent years and they have proven effective. Besides, ‘key-worker’ housing is a concept that is widespread across the Continent and there is every argument for applying it here.”
Ms Hayden said that – in its policy ‘Delivering Homes, Sustaining Communities’ – the Government was committed to piloting initiatives to promote affordable rented accommodation, but so far there was no sign of progress.
During today’s Annual Report launch, Threshold acknowledged some recent improvements in the rental sector with the introduction of the Residential Tenancies Act, which offers tenants greater security of tenure. It also welcomed the Action Programme on Minimum Standards to promote enhanced accommodation standards.
According to Threshold’s Director, Bob Jordan, “the issue of poor quality accommodation and landlord failure to undertake essential maintenance and repair work remained a problem for a significant number of our clients in 2006. The majority of complaints in this regard were from tenants in the private rented sector.
“As an added safeguard against substandard accommodation, Threshold is proposing the concept of an NCT for rented accommodation. Under such an initiative, we would suggest that all rented accommodation would be require a ‘compliance review’ every four years by a qualified professional, such as a quantity surveyor. The test should initially apply to all pre-1990 properties which are not covered by more recent building legislation and post the greatest health and safety risks to tenants.”
In 2006, Threshold saw 18,246 clients, the majority (54%) had an income of less than €15,000 per year. The vast majority of these clients (81%) were living in the private rented sector; 6% were homeless and 3% lived in local authority accommodation. The largest number of complaints concerned failure of landlords to return deposits and failure to comply with notice periods and procedures as set out under the Residential Tenancies Act, 2005.