– Pre-budget advisory is issued to Government –
Threshold, the national housing organisation, has today (16.09.11) issued an advisory to the Government on reforms to rent supplement that should, it believes, be prioritised in the forthcoming budget.
The advisory welcomes the Government commitment, announced by the Minister for Housing and Planning in June, to transfer the administration of rent supplement from the Department of Social Protection to local authorities. However, it suggests that this transfer should take place as soon as practicable. Critically, according to Threshold, the transfer should not just involve a shift in responsibilities from one state agency to another.
According to Threshold’s Director, Bob Jordan, “the transfer in the administration of rent supplement should result in efficiencies and enhanced housing supports.
“The change in administration of rent supplement offers an opportunity to address a range of problems in the private rented sector,” he said. “First and foremost, it should be incumbent on local authorities to ensure all landlords offer good quality accommodation and are fully compliant with their housing, legal and tax obligations. Additionally, more should be done to make it attractive for all landlords – and not just those at the lower end of the rented housing market – to make their properties available to tenants in receipt of rent supplement.”
Chief among the recommendations made to Government is the establishment of a deposit protection scheme.
“The unjustified retention of deposits by landlords is the biggest problem faced by Threshold’s clients on an annual basis,” said Bob Jordan. “A typical deposit is €1,000, which is a huge ask for most social welfare recipients. Where they can’t get it back from their landlord, they are left hugely exposed to exploitation in the rented sector and risk becoming homeless. Where landlords retain deposits from rent supplement tenants, they not only put very vulnerable people at risk, but they defraud the State.”
A deposit protection scheme would see all deposits held by an independent body, such as the Private Residential Tenancies Board. At the end of a tenancy, the deposit would be returned to compliant tenants. Provision to introduce such as a scheme is contained in the Programme for Government.
According to Bob Jordan, “This scheme is not anti-landlord and is not intended to discriminate against landlords in any way. Where tenants are in arrears or have damaged a property, landlords are obviously perfectly entitled to retain some or all of their deposits. Introducing a deposit protection scheme would minimise such disputes and lead to greater efficiencies all round.”
Threshold has also called on the Government to put in place a system whereby all accommodation for which rent supplement is paid meets the standards set out in the Rental Accommodation Scheme. The organisation said it continues to be alarmed at the levels of sub-standard accommodation in which many of its clients are forced to live. Ultimately, Threshold would like to see a certification scheme introduced whereby all rented accommodation would have to be certified as fit for purpose. This would mirror the current BER scheme and indeed it could be integrated into this scheme and cover an expanded remit relevant to the range of standards that would be associated with property, including energy rating, rent standards, fire standards and revenue compliance.
Despite pressures on the Exchequer, particularly in the area of social supports and provisions, Threshold warned against any reduction in rent supplement, particularly for single person households since accommodation for this market remains expensive and many of the recipients in this category are particularly vulnerable.
The organisation also called for a root-and-branch reform of the rent supplement scheme. It said that long-overdue reforms should take place as the administration of the payment is shifted away from the Department of Social Protection to local authorities. Among the key reforms it is seeking are:
- Rent supplement should be paid in advance and not in arrears as is the case with mainstream private rental tenancies;
- Paying rent supplement directly to the landlord;
- Giving new recipients written approval in principle prior to securing accommodation;
- Backdating new rent supplement claims to the date of application.
Threshold said that – in presenting its advisory to Government – it was mindful that the private rented sector is now a very important housing solution for a large amount of our population, particularly as the impact of the recession persists. It said that the private rented sector needs to be a viable and sustainable housing option and Government policy must create the conditions to ensure that this happens.
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you wish to receive a copy of Threshold’s pre-budget advisory.
Threshold was founded in 1978 and is a not-for-profit organisation whose aim is to secure a right to housing, particularly for households experiencing the problems of poverty and exclusion. Its main concentration of work is within the rented sector. The organisation operates a national office, based in Dublin, and three regional offices. It provides advice and representation to over 20,000 people each year. Further information is available at www.threshold.ie.