Renters are being put at risk of homelessness because of Government inaction on a deposit protection scheme signed into law more than five years ago.
The Government has been strongly criticised for failing to roll out the system, with Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien now suggesting that giving the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) responsibility for deposits may not be “value for money”.
Under plans passed by the Dáil in 2015, the RTB would hold deposits and then act as an independent third party in the event of a dispute at the end of a tenancy.
Social Democrats TD Cian O’Callaghan said it is “unforgivable” that the scheme has yet to be put into operation.
“Organisations representing tenants and renters had been campaigning for decades for a deposit protection scheme,” he said.
The Dublin Bay North TD said the scheme would avoid some of the most common disputes between landlords and rents which centre around the retention of deposits, which in turn can lead to homelessness.
“Far too many renters never see their deposit again causing financial hardship, making it hard to secure another rental home, and resulting in homelessness for some people,” Mr O’Callaghan said.
National housing charity Threshold said deposit retention is one of the top five issues raised by tenants every year. The charity supported more than 1,500 renters who had difficulty in retrieving a deposit last year.
“The unlawful retention of deposits — often equivalent to one or two months’ rent — can make the difference between someone being able to secure a new tenancy, or becoming homeless,” said Threshold chairwoman Aideen Hayden.
“While a deposit protection scheme was legislated for in 2015, it is yet to be implemented.
Defending the lack of action, Mr O’Brien said that, from a “value-for-money perspective” at a time when the rental market is experiencing extreme pressure in terms of supply and costs, the introduction of a deposit protection scheme would require “careful consideration”.
“Financing the operation of the scheme is an important consideration, particularly in terms of ensuring that the likely outcomes of a new scheme are achieved efficiently and effectively and that the best value from public funds is secured,” he said.
“Careful consideration is therefore required to introduce any necessary reforms and enhancements to the 2015 scheme, with a view to considering whether and how to introduce a redesigned scheme that is fit for purpose and suitable for current and future rental and financial markets.”
Responding to parliamentary questions from Mr O’Callaghan, the minister said there have been significant changes in the rental market since the scheme was first envisaged and designed.
“For example, the 2015 scheme was intended to be financed by the interest payable on deposits lodged; this is no longer viable, given the current financial market conditions,” he said.
“Furthermore, it is noteworthy that disputes relating to deposits are no longer the most common dispute type referred to the RTB.”
However, Mr O’Callaghan said a similar scheme was introduced in the UK in 2007 and Ireland was now falling far behind other countries in terms of regulation of the private rented sector.
“I’m calling on the Minister for Housing to set up the deposit protection scheme as a matter of urgency,” he said.