The Department of Social Protection is asking Rent Supplement tenants to ‘do the impossible’ by expecting them to seek voluntary rent reductions from their landlords. That’s according to Threshold, the national housing charity, which today (20.01.12) strongly criticised the approach taken by the Department to communicating cuts being made to the Rent Supplement scheme.
“It appears tenants are being asked by the Department to seek a voluntary reduction in their rent,” said Senator Aideen Hayden, Chairperson of Threshold. But there is no legal basis in the Residential Tenancies Act for voluntary rent reductions. The Act outlines a very clear process for seeking a rent review, but this can be requested by tenants just once in any 12-month period.
“So, effectively, the Department is asking tenants to do the impossible – to break their lease agreements. This is something which is not only legally unsound, but which would – without doubt – lead tenants into serious conflict with their landlords.”
According to Threshold, the Department should negotiate directly with landlords to secure rent reductions, rather than expecting tenants to do so themselves.
“The Department is asking people – many of whom are very vulnerable and may not be well informed of their entitlements and rights – to negotiate directly with landlords to secure a reduction in their rent. This is a farcical situation.
“In our pre-budget submission to the Department, we acknowledged that there were savings that could be made to the Rent Supplement scheme, but we recommended that the best approach would be for the Department to negotiate directly with landlords to secure reduced levels of rent. Unfortunately, our advice has been completely overlooked.
“Not only is the Department asking tenants to do the impossible, but it is providing them with absolutely no support or information as to how to go about asking their landlords for a reduction in their rent. At the very least, the Department should be providing tenants with letters that clearly set out the cuts that are being made, and that could be shown to landlords to provide clarity around the situation.
“As things stand, neither tenants nor landlords have received any official communication from the Department to explain these cuts – they have been reliant on media reports to know what’s going on.”
To avoid a situation where tenants are forced to breach the terms of their lease, the Department should respect all existing rental agreements, Threshold said.
“The Department must respect existing least agreements and agreements that are based on rent reviews that have taken place over the past 12 months,” said Senator Hayden. “In these cases, existing levels of Rent Supplement should be maintained and reduced levels could then be negotiated once the rental agreements came up for renewal.
“If we enter into a situation now whereby tenants are forced to break their lease, landlords may be put off ever taking on Rent Supplement tenants again. They would, quite rightly, feel that their legal rights weren’t being upheld by the Department, which might make it more difficult than ever before to find appropriate accommodation for Rent Supplement tenants.
“Furthermore, if these cuts are implemented in a haphazard and legally ambiguous way, they will – in fact – result in no cost savings at all for the Exchequer. If tenants breach their lease agreements, they will lose their deposits – and may also be liable for compensating landlords for loss of rent. Their deposits have been paid for by the Department, and it would be the Department that would also have to compensate landlords . So, in effect, the potential cost-savings would be minimal.”
Threshold also expressed concern that the way the Rent Supplement changes are being implemented is placing tenants at risk of losing their homes.
“Those in receipt of Rent Supplement are amongst the most vulnerable people in the private rental sector,” said Senator Hayden. “They are already living in properties at the lower end of the price scale for rented accommodation. So if they can no longer afford to pay for these properties as a result of Rent Supplement cuts, they may be forced to leave their homes and become dependent on homeless services.
“It is really disappointing to see that the Department has taken such a chaotic and heavy-handed approach to reviewing the Rent Supplement scheme. We are urging the Minister and her officials to reconsider how this is implemented and, in particular, to ensure timely and comprehensive communications with all those effected, including tenants and landlords alike.”