Other Questions.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Pádraic McCormack

Question:

6 Deputy Pádraic McCormack asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the process improvement initiatives introduced to reduce the processing times of jobseeker’s applications; the location at which these initiatives have been rolled out; if these initiatives have been extended to all social welfare offices; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17074/09]

I accept that becoming unemployed and having to claim jobseeker's payment is extremely difficult for people. I am trying to ensure the process of making a claim is as easy as possible. In 2008, we commenced a review of the processes and procedures for accepting and making decisions on claims. Certain initiatives have been introduced at all local and branch offices. A streamlined process has been introduced for people who had made a claim in the previous two years. The application form has been simplified so that claimants have to provide only details of any circumstances that have changed since the previous claim. A simplified procedure has been introduced to assist those who have to move to jobseeker's allowance when their period of jobseeker's benefit expires. More straightforward procedures for providing evidence of identity and address have been introduced. Application forms for jobseeker's schemes are now available on the Department's website, which contains comprehensive information on claiming jobseeker's payment, including details of the supporting documents that are required. When a person makes a claim for jobseeker's benefit or jobseeker's allowance, he or she can download and complete a claim form and bring it to his or her nearest local office. In addition, we have introduced an appointment system for taking claims in offices with high volumes of claims. Under this initiative, when a person first attends at a local office to claim, he or she is given details of the supporting documents required together with an appointment to attend to have his or her claim taken. The appointment system has been introduced in 14 local offices to date, seven of which are in Dublin. It is being extended to three other offices over the coming weeks, two of which are in Dublin. This initiative has been particularly effective in reducing queuing in local offices and it has also helped improve processing times where the customer provides supporting documentation at the point of claim. This initiative will be extended to a number of other offices over the coming months having regard to the volume of new claims at particular offices.

We are reviewing the processes involved in administering claims for those who are working reduced hours, such as part-time, casual and systematic short time. The existing arrangements are very labour intensive and it is envisaged that more streamlined arrangements, which will benefit customers and the Department, will be introduced in the near future.

These improvements are part of a programme of initiatives being developed by the Department to streamline processes and procedures in local and branch offices and it is intended that further improvements will be introduced on an ongoing basis during 2009.

Further improvement needs to be introduced immediately. What has happened so far is not working. I have already cited the example of Boyle. The five towns with the longest waiting periods, Edenderry, Navan and Tuam, at 15 weeks and the other two at 13 weeks, have been at the top of the list for at least the past six months. I know Edenderry particularly well. There has been no dramatic factory closure there since last summer although there have been small and steady closures and rising numbers. Printing out one's form on-line and so on is all very well but the Minister needs a sea change in the operation of this service when unemployment is rising so rapidly. The Minister said in response to an earlier question that supplementary welfare payment is paid for only a week or two. It must be paid out in these instances for much longer. In Boyle, it has obviously been paid out for 19 weeks because otherwise people are living on nothing.

The Minister will probably tell me that the average waiting time is six weeks and only two weeks in Ballymun but that is no comfort to the people in Boyle, Edenderry or Bandon. How will the Minister make changes now, particularly in these areas?

I met a social welfare officer the other day who has been out sick for nearly a fortnight. That person is responsible for means testing and all of those files are building up in her absence. Nobody is dealing with them while she is out sick. She will probably have to go out sick again a few weeks after her return to work to recover from the stress she will face. What kind of system has nobody to fill in the gaps when people get sick or go on maternity leave? We all accept that happens. Private sector employers must accommodate that. The social welfare system must accommodate it too.

In fairness to the staff there has been an 80% increase in productivity because of the increased number of claims. Where the improvements have been introduced they are working very well. I invite the Deputy to see any of the offices where the appointment system is in place.

What do I tell the people in Edenderry?

They came up against IR difficulties in their branch offices, yet now it has been spread and is working successfully. There is a particular difficulty with 14 of the branch offices, including some of those the Deputy mentioned. The local office support units are working specifically with those to try to reduce their claims, with Boyle being a case in point. Deciding officers have moved into some branch offices for a short time to free up the decision-making process and to work with them. The particular issue seems to rest with the branch offices.

There has been a meeting with the branch officers and another is taking place today to address these issues because their claims are then sent to the local office. Different processing arrangements are being put in place to try to improve those particular offices.

I welcome the fact that an appointments system has been put in place in some offices and I am glad that the Minister took on our suggestion. This should have happened earlier. I accept that there has been a dramatic increase in the number of people applying and that has put serious pressure on the system but the Minister has failed to gear up the Department to deal adequately with that. While we understand that this is a new situation and there are considerable pressures, that is no excuse for people who depend on the Department in order to survive. A total of 28 social welfare offices have waiting times of more than two months. By any standard, that is completely unacceptable.

Last month during Question Time I asked the Minister about the particular problem affecting the branch offices. The Minister seemed to deny it, telling us it was all in hand and that she was dealing with it. She is not dealing with it. There are serious problems and she has not given us any grounds to expect that the issue will be dealt with soon. To what extent has she attempted to quantify the problem? How many staff does she believe are required now? Are all of the 115 extra staff all in place? How many additional staff does she believe are required to bring the waiting times down to an acceptable limit?

In fact, 230 additional staff have been in place in the past few months doing processing. In addition, 16 more inspectors are doing means testing. There has been a significant increase in the number of staff and there has also been an increase in productivity. New systems have been put in place and the appointments system is just one of them. The Dundalk office spearheaded that system. It ran into some difficulties, overcame them and it is now possible to spread them out. In order to counteract the delays in some of the offices, such as the branch offices, we have set up four central decision units which do nothing else. They do not meet the public but the forms are sent to them. They are in Dublin, Sligo, Finglas and Carrick-on-Shannon. We have started on three new ones in Roscommon, Wexford and Tallaght.

The local office support units are helping the branch offices with claims in hand and in some cases deciding officers are spending a short time with them. When a branch office manager retires, we have considered whether it is appropriate to keep the office going in that manner. Changes have come about following retirements in Carrigaline, Loughrea and Tullamore where we replaced the branch offices with local offices because of the demand. Following a retirement in Tulla in Clare, the office was replaced with another branch. Each one is considered carefully.

While I appreciate that some changes have been made, I do not hear a sense of urgency in the Minister's responses. I accept that there is a problem in the 14 branch offices that we have highlighted here but there is a problem in other areas too. What will the Minister do about the fact that when people are out sick or on maternity leave, the system seems to break down in those offices because there are not enough trained people? Will the Minister give me a commitment today on her aim? When will there be a system in which everybody is operating at best practice and nobody is waiting more than a few weeks for a claim to be processed?

The central units are the way to go because they concentrate on the decision-making. Having the four already and three new ones to come will make serious in-roads into any delays. The level of applications coming in is still extraordinarily high although it seems to have abated somewhat but a significant number come in every week. We have requested an additional 300 staff over and above those we have put in, if the pace of applications continues at its current rate.

They will all have to be trained.

The training does take time because the schemes are very complicated. It is not a case of automatically transferring someone to replace a person who is out sick. The person must be trained.

Then the Department needs a backup system.

It is not as if there is a backup system waiting on one side. Everybody is trying to work to capacity. The improvements the staff have made have helped.

It is not working.

Social Welfare Payments.

Tom Sheahan

Question:

7 Deputy Tom Sheahan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs her views on making social welfare payments available on different days in post offices in order to avoid the long queues currently being experienced in some areas and to ensure better security; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17091/09]

The current range of payment options offered by the Department to customers includes payment at a local post office, or to a bank or building society account, or certain credit unions that have been authorised by the banking and credit union regulators.

Other than jobseekers, customers can opt for a payment method having regard to their own personal circumstances. The Department administers a variety of schemes which have a weekly and monthly payment cycle. For operational reasons and to facilitate the distribution of payments through the post office network, each scheme is assigned a day of the week for payment. These measures ensure that payments to be distributed through post offices are evenly spread across the week. A person can collect their payment on the due date or within a number of days thereafter.

Of the 1.4 million customers paid each week, over 725,000 — some 51% of them — are paid at a post office on various days throughout the week. A further 81,000 collect their early child care supplement on the third Monday of each month, and 252,000 customers collect their child benefit payment on the first Tuesday of each month. When new schemes are introduced, such as early child care supplement or customers move from cheque to electronic payments, care is taken to ensure that the day assigned does not unduly impact on existing arrangements at post offices.

As the numbers claiming social welfare increase significantly, the Department must ensure that strict controls are in place in order to prevent fraud and abuse. Staff in post offices are required to satisfy themselves that they are making payment to the person entitled to receive that payment. This has generally been done through signature verification. The introduction of photo identification for those of working age, such as jobseekers and lone parents, is designed to strengthen security measures in order to prevent abuse of the social welfare system. Post office staff can ask for photo identification and if there are any difficulties with the identification being produced they can alert investigators in the Department.

The Department is aware that a small number of post offices are experiencing long queues at certain times of the day. This is under review by An Post which is responsible for the post office network and the operation of individual post offices, including security. I am satisfied with the measures being taken in post offices to ensure that the correct payment is being made to the right person, and that customers are not unduly inconvenienced while collecting payments in post offices.

I tabled this question because I have been contacted by a number of people about queues they have experienced in post offices. I appreciate that part of this matter is the responsibility of the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan. The biggest concern is about unemployment payments on the first day they are delivered. I accept that people can collect them on different days but the problem is on the first day because they want to receive it. I wonder if that system could be divided in any way. Could the matter at least be examined to see if pressure can be eased? The Minister should discuss with An Post the facilities it is making available to people. In some instances there are adequate staff, but An Post only supplies one computer.

I have also raised this issue because recently I was in a very small village and I was shocked when I heard how much was delivered to the post office for social welfare payments.

Do not mention it.

I will not but I could not believe how much was going in compared to the population. That postmaster said there is a real risk for them. They are in a rural area and there is no full-time Garda station, yet this massive amount of money is being deposited there. If the payments could be ordered twice a week it would make it somewhat safer for small post offices.

It is not the Minister's fault and it is up to individuals to opt for the method of payment. It would be a help, however, if more people changed their options.

Undoubtedly, the use of electronic payments is the way to go because it is very secure for everybody. From the end of September 2009 no books will be printed, so that will alleviate the problem for some. Looking at what customers are paid on different days, however, even if one was to move some jobseekers to a different day they would then impact on pensioners or some other group.

Friday seems to be the worst day, with 39%, because most pensioners get their money that day. The figures are 20% on Thursday and 21% on Wednesday. Tuesday is a light day with 6%, and it is 14% on Monday.

I appreciate the points the Deputy is making, particularly about security because of the large amounts of money involved. On the other hand, however, as a measure to control fraud we had to ensure that people physically collect the money for reasons of which we are all aware. Hopefully, with other payments being made by electronic transfer it should relieve some of the pressure.

Citizens Information Board.

Joe McHugh

Question:

8 Deputy Joe McHugh asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if the personal advocacy service for people with disabilities will be rolled out in 2009; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17080/09]

The statutory basis for the introduction of a personal advocacy service under the Citizens Information Board was provided for in the Citizens Information Act 2007. However, having regard to the current budgetary circumstances, it will not be possible to proceed with this in 2009.

The Citizens Information Board is monitoring the programme to ensure that the projects are operating in accordance with the board's advocacy guidelines. It is planned to undertake a full evaluation of the community and voluntary sector advocacy programme next year.

The Citizens Information Board also provides advocacy through the citizens information services, focusing on access to services, welfare entitlements and employment rights. This type of mainstream advocacy is also open to people with disabilities. The community and voluntary sector advocacy programme is creating close links with the citizens information services to ensure that people with disabilities are encouraged and supported to use the mainstream services where possible.

The advocacy capacity is being strengthened through the provision of advocacy resource officers who work to build the capacity of information providers within the citizens information services to advocate on behalf of clients. There are nine advocacy resource officers in operation across the citizens information services network.

I am satisfied with the developments undertaken to provide advocacy services for people with disabilities through the Citizens Information Board. Significant resources have been provided since 2005 and will continue to be made available under the auspices of the Citizens Information Board for the development and provision of advocacy services for people with disabilities. The Department will continue to work with the board to further enhance advocacy services for all citizens, including those with disabilities.

I thank the Minister for her reply. What is the situation regarding the post of director of personal advocacy services, which was advertised in December 2007? It was envisaged that the director could be up and running by 2008, but was that position ever filled? I understand from a previous reply by the Minister in June 2008 that a person had been identified but that the post remained to be sanctioned. Was the person appointed? How much has the Minister's Department saved by not going ahead with the personal advocacy service? How many people were going to be appointed to the service initially? Is the Minister now telling us that the Citizens Information Act, which we passed in 2007, is more or less defunct? Is she going down a different route, using advocacy resources officers through the citizens information service instead?

The position is that the director was not appointed. When it was decided that we were not in a position to go ahead with the personal advocacy service last year, there was not much point in appointing a director to that service. That is on hold for the moment.

The amount spent on personal advocacy from 2005 to 2008 was €6.1 million. The amount saved on that service last year, when the decision was made, was €1.2 million. Had it gone ahead this year it would have been a greater amount, but it was not provided for in the budget because a decision was made last summer not proceed with it.

It is important to say, however, that the advocacy on offer around the country is being availed of by people with disabilities everywhere. Some 4,153 people have availed of and benefited from an advocacy service. The citizens information bureaux continue to provide that service, but the personal advocacy service was not possible in light of budgetary constraints.

Is the Minister saying that there is no need to go ahead with the personal advocacy service, and that the resource officers she is putting in place are doing the job instead? Has she changed her policy in this area completely? When she says that this is being put on hold, does she envisage it happening sometime in the future and if so, how soon? Does she agree that there is a huge need for such a service for people with disabilities and other vulnerable people who cannot provide advocacy services for themselves?

The potential for a personal advocacy service is huge, including one that is dedicated to people with disabilities that can focus on their needs. It is always the intention of the Government to introduce it. It is just that because of the budgetary situation, both last year and currently, it was not possible to go ahead with it. That is why we did not appoint the director. It is only on hold, however, until we get out of the current economic crisis. It was purely a budgetary decision not to go ahead at the moment, rather than a policy one.

The most vulnerable are being affected now.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

9 Deputy Paul Connaughton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs her views on a full review of rent supplement rather than a cost saving review in view of the recent changes announced in the 7 April 2009 budget. [17033/09]

Rent supplement is intended as a short-term income support for eligible tenants whose means are insufficient to meet their accommodation costs. There are currently almost 85,000 people in receipt of rent supplement, an increase of 42% since the end of December 2007. Rent supplements are subject to a limit on the amount of rent an applicant for rent supplement may incur. The objective is to ensure rent supplement is not paid in respect of excessively expensive accommodation, having regard to the size of the household and market conditions.

Rent limits have recently been reviewed. In testing the level at which basic accommodation can be secured, the Department was informed by analysis of a number of data sources. Data published by the Central Statistics Office show rents fell by almost 7% between November 2008 and February 2009. A leading property website reports that rents have fallen by around 12% in the past year. A similar trend is apparent in tenancies registered with the Private Residential Tenancies Board.

The recent supplementary budget provided for reduced maximum rent limits to be prescribed in regulations to take effect from 1 June 2009. Rent limits will be kept under review in light of trends in the private rental market. Payments being made to existing rent supplement tenants are being reduced by 8%. Also, from 1 June 2009 the minimum contributions payable towards rent is being increased from €18 to €24 per week to reflect downward trends in the private rental market and align the minimum weekly contribution individuals make towards their rent under the rent supplement scheme more closely with the rents local authority tenants have to pay.

Rent supplement will also be restricted to individuals who have been an existing tenant for six months. Individuals forming new households must have been placed on a local authority housing list following a full housing needs assessment before they are eligible for rent supplement. Some exemptions will apply and rent supplement will continue to provide support where exceptional circumstances exist in any individual case, for example, where the person is at risk of experiencing homelessness and-or hardship.

One of the measures introduced in recent years to address the issue of long-term rent supplementation is the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, which gives local authorities specific responsibility for meeting the long-term housing needs of people receiving rent supplement for 18 months or more.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

Details of the 32,000 people in receipt of rent supplement for 18 months or more are notified regularly to the local authorities. Almost 19,500 tenants have been transferred from the rent supplement scheme to RAS and other social housing options since 2005 and it is expected that 9,000 further rent supplement recipients will be transferred in 2009.

One of the reported impediments to the fluid transfer of rent supplement claimants to RAS is what can be a significant difference between the contribution which is required of the tenant under the rent supplement scheme and the contribution which they are required to pay through the differential rent scheme. The increase in the contribution referred to earlier addresses this issue.

Overall, I am satisfied that the current rent supplement scheme provides an adequate short-term safety net within the overall social welfare system to ensure people do not suffer hardship due to loss of employment. Nonetheless, I intend to keep the scheme under review to ensure it meets the objective of catering for those who require assistance on a short-term basis while long-term housing needs are dealt with in a more appropriate manner. I intend to consult housing officers in local authorities and community welfare officers to determine how the scheme can best meet its intended aims.

It is not correct that the rent limits have been reviewed. The Minister took a blanket decision to reduce them and require tenants to pay more rent. If she had reviewed the limits, she would have made a fair decision based on the rent payable in each area.

Take-up of the rental accommodation scheme is only half of what was envisaged when the scheme was announced. Despite the brouhaha surrounding the budget announcement of 1,000 additional places under the scheme, this will increase take-up to marginally above half the number originally envisaged. Clearly, RAS is not working and must be reviewed.

In response to a priority question I tabled on this issue, the Minister stated the Revenue Commissioners have a system in place to chase down landlords, the ultimate recipients of rent supplement. Has this system been established in recent weeks? Some six weeks ago Deputies had an opportunity to put questions about this issue to representatives of the Revenue Commissioners and officials of the Department of Finance appearing before the Joint Committee on Social and Family Affairs. They indicated that such a system was not in place. Has a system been established in the meantime?

If the Minister were to introduce a deposit payments scheme, as I have proposed on several occasions, it would provide a series of mechanisms to save money without immediately affecting tenants or reducing their purchasing power. Will she establish such a scheme under the Private Residential Tenancies Board as opposed to under a new agency, given the potential of such a scheme to secure significant savings? A deposit payments scheme would also increase the power of tenants because landlords would be unable to get their hands on deposits.

A number of aspects of the rental accommodation scheme need to be reviewed. The significant expansion of the scheme in recent years, even prior to recent developments in the area of unemployment, raises questions, particularly as regards the formation of new households, young people etc. Issues also arise regarding the nature of the accommodation on offer, for instance, whether it is substandard. Another issue is the ability of people on rent supplement to obtain accommodation they would not be able to afford if they were in employment. In this context, the Department seeks to ensure we do not build into the system disincentives to work, an issue we discussed earlier.

A further issue, one which I have discussed with a number of housing officers, is the number of times individuals may be permitted to refuse an offer of social housing or to participate in the rental accommodation scheme before rent supplement is discontinued.

People are dying to get an offer under the scheme.

This is an issue. Thus far, 19,500 people have transferred to the rental accommodation scheme. I appreciate the importance of encouraging further transfers to the scheme. The Department is working closely with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to ensure more places are made available.

While taxation is a matter for the Revenue Commissioners, it is crucial that landlords meet all their tax obligations. I will consult community welfare officers and housing officers on the operation of the scheme. My officials are also in constant contact with officials in the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government about the scheme.

State expenditure of approximately €500 million per annum on rent supplement highlights the complete failure of the Government's housing strategy. An additional 1,000 places in the rental accommodation scheme is a drop in the ocean because the vast majority of people at the lower end of the private rented sector should be in the scheme. The Minister has failed to move quickly to address this issue.

Will the Minister explain precisely how the arbitrary cut of 8% in rent payments will work? Rents at the lower end of the market have not reduced by 8%. I refer to the grotty bedsits located all over Dublin and in other cities. Demand for cheap accommodation is increasing and there is no evidence to show rents have declined at the lower end of the market. I ask the Minister to explain what will happen in the case of a person in receipt of rent supplement living in a bedsit who approaches his or her landlord — provided the landlord can be found — and asks for an 8% rent reduction on the basis that rent supplement is being reduced. Such persons are in a contractual arrangement with their landlord and have signed a lease which could have ten months or more to run. If the landlord responds by telling the tenant to get lost, what should the tenant do?

Will the Minister confirm that no one will be made homeless as a result of this measure? Will she guarantee that a person whose landlord refuses to reduce the rent will continue to have rent supplement paid until alternative adequate accommodation is found? Will she also confirm that the measure will not increase costs on the State? Given that persons who manage to exit a contract will not have their deposit returned, will these moneys not be lost to the State?

Has the Minister taken legal advice on this issue because there is a legal view that the State, through the Department, is contractually obliged to honour leases already entered into with landlords? While I am aware the leases are agreed between tenants and landlords, the Department is involved in the contract through the operation of the rent supplement scheme, for instance, landlords must fill out a form and meet tax compliance requirements. It appears the Department is proposing to break contract law.

The Department does not have any contractual arrangements with landlords. Our agreements are made with tenants.

It is involved in the contract through the form and tax compliance requirements.

Money is paid to tenants who forward it to the landlord with whom they have an agreement. As I indicated, letters will issue to all tenants indicating that rent supplement will be reduced by 8%. As a result, tenants will be required to negotiate with their landlords. People who are working and experiencing a drop in their income are seeking and securing a reduction in their rents. Tenants who are on the rent supplement scheme will be able to negotiate with their landlords in a similar manner. As I indicated, community welfare officers have discretion in cases where persons are made homeless or suffer severe hardship.

What will be the position if landlords refuse to reduce rent? How will the tenant be fixed in such circumstances? Will the Department continue to pay rent supplement until he or she finds alternative accommodation? These are important questions because they relate to real people who will find themselves in very difficult circumstances.

One of the reasons for the decision to reduce rent supplement was the substantial decline in rents throughout the country. Rented accommodation has also become much more widely available. Landlords are aware that existing tenants have a choice. Losing a tenant imposes costs on landlords because they must prepare accommodation for new tenants and then find them. They would prefer to hold on to current tenants rather than go through such a process.

Landlords can keep deposits. The Minister did not answer my questions.

The Minister should be trying to persuade landlords to enter the rental accommodation scheme. I thank her for clarifying the position on whether landlords are paying tax on income from the rent supplement scheme. I ask her to raise this matter with the Minister for Finance because it is not acceptable for her to inform Deputies repeatedly during Question Time that the issue of taxation is a matter for the Minister for Finance. The Ministers both have seats at the Cabinet table and the Exchequer is losing revenue.

I ask the Minister to withdraw her comment that people are refusing offers of council houses and remaining on rent supplement. Failing that, she should at least provide figures on the number of people who have refused offers because I have not met any of them. It is in very rare circumstances that somebody does that. There are tens of thousands of people on the housing list in this country who are very anxious to get a property.

Did the Minister say people have to be on the housing list before they qualify for rent supplement? Is the she aware the delay in getting approval to be on the housing list can be quite long? What happens in the interim to people who might be waiting for months and months to get such approval?

The indication of people turning down accommodation came from housing officers who said because one can buy time where perhaps three offers would be made to a person, pending on when such offers would be made, one could perhaps buy an extra year or whatever in rental accommodation.

Regarding the last question——

Did the Minister speak to the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan about it?

People do not want to waste time getting approval to be on the housing list.

One new measure being introduced is that one must have been an existing tenant for six months, but if one is forming a new household, one has to go through the full housing assessment to qualify for housing, unless one is homeless, which is one of the criteria. I will of course raise all aspects of tax, particularly in this scheme. It is costing the State half a billion euro.

We need to ensure wherever there is clawback it should be availed of.

As there are three minutes left, I do not propose to move on to another question. I will take another supplementary question from Deputy Shortall on this question.

I again ask the Minister to clarify today the position for people who are on rent supplement, go to their landlord to try and negotiate and the landlord refuses to reduce the rent? Many people on rent supplement are in very vulnerable circumstances and do not have the kind of choices people in the private sector have. They may have children at a local school and cannot move to another part of the city. There may be other reasons why they cannot move easily. There may not be other accommodation available in the area.

I ask the Minister to advise what is the situation because this is very important and affects many people who are, generally, in very poor circumstances. If the landlord says he will not reduce the rent, what happens then? Can the Minister give a guarantee such rent supplement will continue to be paid at the full rate until such time as appropriate accommodation can be sourced for the person concerned?

I am not willing to allow a situation where those on rent supplement are dictating the rents and guaranteeing landlords an income they would not get from a private tenant. If a tenant goes to their landlord and the rent is not reduced the tenant can do exactly what they would do in a private situation, namely, threaten to leave or leave. However, if they find themselves in a homeless situation, something we want to avoid, we would be very anxious to protect those in that most vulnerable situation and the community welfare officer has discretion to look after such people.

People will end up homeless unless the Minister allows some time for them to find alternative accommodation. She needs to clarify what the reasonable period is with community welfare officers because otherwise people will be turfed out and will end up on the street as a result of this cost-cutting measure.

What percentage of the rent supplements are paid to landlords who are registered with the PRTB? Will the Minister make any changes to ensure the payment of the supplement is linked to the standard of the accommodation? It would be one way of sorting out the situation, particularly the very poor standard of bedsits. I understand some 172 were found in the last report not to meet the minimum standards.

I do not have the figure on the number of landlords registered with the PRTB to hand, but if I have it I will send it to Deputy Enright.

What about standards?

Standards are also linked to the PRTB.

There is no link with rent supplement payments and standards. That is where the Minister has power to do something about it.

If they were in the PRTB, one could follow it through that way. I will get the information and follow up.

How long will the Minister give people to find alternative accommodation?

I already indicated community welfare officers will deal with that.

Community welfare officers do not know where they stand on this. This is an arbitrary decision made by the Minister.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.