Department of Social Protection officials came under fire when they told a Dáil committee community welfare officers are helping thousands of distressed tenants by providing rent advances and help with deposits.
Helen Faughnan, assistant secretary at the Department of Social Welfare, told the Housing and Homelessness Committee that €1.48m had been handed out in deposit assistance and rent advances with an average of €590 paid.
Ms Faughnan also urged tenants to contact them if they are asked to pay “top-ups” by landlords on top of rent supplement or rental accommodation scheme and said “not to be scared” as they would not be penalised.
She said the Department can help tenants with increased rent supplement “within reasonable limits”.
Dublin West TD, Socialist Ruth Coppinger, accused the department of “turning a blind eye to top-up payments” being made by state-funded tenants in rental accommodation, saying lone parents are paying €100 top- ups as well as the required €30 per week they must contribute to their rent.
Ms Faughnan said under the recently-agreed new rent assistance protocols, 23% of state-funded recipients in Dublin City are getting a “lift up” to help them meet market rent demands. Department officials said they are paying up to €1,400 in parts of Dublin where a family has medical problems or where there is a big family.
Longford Westmeath TD, Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran, said families in his area are not getting supports with deposits and rent advances. They are more likely to be helped by St Vincent de Paul, he said.
Sinn Féin’s Kathleen Funchion said she had never heard of rent being paid in advance by community welfare officers in Kilkenny and that the approach of community welfare officers is not uniform: “I had never heard of people getting deposits or top-ups from community welfare officers until today.”
Limerick TD, Maurice Quinlivan said every person renting with state assistance is paying top-ups over the amount paid by the State.
Meanwhile, Threshold CEO, Bob Jordan, argued that rent certainty is vital in the private rental sector. Such a move, he said, would “give a bandwidth of certainty to both landlords and tenants” as landlords suffer when rents fell as they did, dropping by 30% at the beginning of the downturn.
Mr Jordan said government priority must be to prevent people becoming homeless and called for greater increases in rent supplement to that end. He also called for any state rent assistance to be “more invisible to the landlord”.
Calling for a new commission on housing, Mr Jordan argued the supply of bedsits or one-bedroom flats had increased with improved regulation. He said landlords had “brought them up to scratch”and there is greater supply.
Louth TD Fergus O’Dowd said it is “a disgrace” local authorities have refused large numbers of housing offered by Nama, however, Independent TD Mick Wallace countered “ a lot of what they offered wasn’t fit for purpose”.
Threshold pointed out there is “no legal impediment” stopping a landlord from selling a house with a sitting tenant. He said it was more “custom and practice” that stopped it happening more.
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