Threshold, the national housing organisation has called on the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Environment to ensure that the state stops subsidising poor quality housing when the administration of rent supplement is transferred from the Department of Social Protection to the Department of the Environment. Threshold made the call when it appeared before the Joint Oireachtas Committee – together with other housing and homeless agencies – today (18.10.11).
Speaking during the appearance, Threshold’s National Director, Bob Jordan, said: “The planned transfer in the administration of rent supplement to the Department of the Environment is an important opportunity to address problems at the lower end of the private rented sector. By making the private rented sector more resilient and sustainable, instances of homelessness can be – in effect – reduced.
“The private rented sector is now a key solution to social housing need. It is particularly important in providing accommodation for single people, as bedsits and one-bed apartments are typically the housing units that a homeless person will seek when moving into accommodation. Single housing units in the private rented sector also tend to typify the housing someone occupied before becoming homeless.
“To ensure that private rented accommodation plays its part in responding to homelessness, local authorities must ensure that landlords are fully compliant with their housing, legal and tax obligations. Threshold has proposed a self-certification scheme – similar to the BER scheme – which would put the onus on landlords to prove that their accommodation was ‘fit for purpose’ before it is made available for renting. This should be backed up by a systematic and consistent inspection regime by local authorities that targets older and neglected properties.
“We also advocate paying rent supplement directly to landlords as a means of safeguarding the interests of tenants, landlords and the state, while at the same time allowing the state to regulate the amount of rent paid to landlords. As it stands, it’s up to the tenant to bargain with their landlord and – sadly – most of those at the lower end of the private rented market feel they have to put up or shut up. This means that many feel trapped in poor quality accommodation which increases their risk of becoming homeless,” said Bob Jordan.
Despite enhanced regulation, such as greater tenant protection and dispute resolution processes, problems remain in the private rented sector. According to Mr Jordan: “With the upcoming transfer in the administration of rent supplement, it is crucial that the Joint Oireachtas Committee pushes for a greater oversight role in terms of the quality of accommodation and landlord compliance in respect of the properties that the state is effectively renting.
“Threshold is overwhelmed, on a daily basis, with calls and cases whereby tenants – particularly those at the lower end of the market – have not been treated fairly. Before the state moves to further invest in the private rented sector, it must become more rigid and forceful in safeguarding the tenant. That way, better value can be secured for taxpayer investment. As a housing organisation, we’re concerned that the gap between social housing and homelessness is adequately bridged so that we can prevent homelessness and create solutions for those who find themselves out of a home,” added Mr Jordan.
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.