I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill and I am glad it will amend the Residential Tenancies Acts 2004 and 2009 and provide for the application of those Acts to dwellings let by voluntary and co-operative housing bodies to tenants who have been assessed under the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 as having housing need. It also provides for the dissolution of the rent tribunal and provides for the transfer of its functions to the Private Residential Tenancies Board. The Bill further amends the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 by changing the name of the Private Residential Tenancies Board to the Residential Tenancies Board.
I welcome this debate. I hope, however, we are dealing with more than name changes. It is important we have a safe and stable way to find accommodation for those who are renting. More people are renting according to the figures and this Bill draws on work initiated by the Fianna Fáil Government in 2004. We must make changes to tackle the problems and the challenges faced by a very different Irish rental market. We must also put in place additional resources for the PRTB and we need more clarity on the deposit retention scheme. There are complex issues in this law that could undermine the potential of the Bill and I would like to see changes made on Committee Stage to address the concerns I have.
The figures mentioned for the increase in the numbers of tenancies are very important. It is interesting that the commonest complaints made by tenants are the refusal of landlords to refund deposits. Almost 72% of all cases taken by tenants in 2010 related to a refusal to refund the deposit. The most common complaint from landlords concerned rent arrears and breaches of other tenancy obligations, with those being the cause of 68% of all cases taken by landlords. How will the Minister of State deal with the issue of rent arrears and the return of deposits? These are the two big issues that have been highlighted by constituents, and we need more clarity about how this will happen.
I met a number of housing organisations and I am always very impressed when I meet the Simon Community. I have seen its work in Galway, especially that of Bill Griffin and Joan Gavin, who have been to the fore in trying to provide services other than housing for the homeless. In particularly, a chiropody service has been undertaken by the Simon Community with assistance from the HSE, and the Simon Community also sought dental services for the homeless. I was glad when I raised this issue as a Topical Issue matter and the former Minister of State, Deputy Shortall, told me six extra dentists would be appointed nationally, with one of them operating in the HSE western region to deal with this issue. That issue should be to the fore because there are so many areas that must be examined when discussing the homeless. From what I know of the organisations I have met and from talking to people who work with the homeless, the issue is much bigger than we think. The figures for homelessness, particularly in Dublin, are higher than we think. That should be to the fore of the Department's consideration of these questions.
I put some of those points to Focus Ireland, an organisation that has done considerable work on homelessness. Focus Ireland pointed out the issues relate to how quickly people can move into homelessness. The organisation has proposed a number of actions, including the causes of new homelessness being kept under review and amending public policy that pushes people into homelessness. It advocates preventative advice, information and family mediation, raising the question of services such as the money advice and budgeting service, and a new household debt adviser linked to homeless prevention services. Those issues and getting people into private rented accommodation are very important, as important as rent supplement, and should be targeted at those who are homeless, and they must reflect the rent levels they must pay.
We must also consider the question of providing social housing and ensuring 30% of social housing goes to the homeless. Focus Ireland also mentioned investment and the Pathways Housing First approach for chronic homeless people and the targeting of services for families in homeless accommodation to link them with mainstream housing and negotiate with community welfare officers, provide tenancy sustainment and support for adults and children. Focus Ireland has supported more than 70 families to move from homelessness into mainstream accommodation since last March. Those initiatives are welcome and the organisation deserves credit for that.
Another important issue is the anomaly whereby in a county like Galway, people in the city and in the rural areas get the same payment. That does not reflect local reality. Rents are higher in the city than in the county so there should be an independent, transparent process which uses rental data and does not use this one-size-fits-all approach.
I have also raised the issue of sheltered accommodation for the elderly, both with the Minister of State and the housing organisations.
There is very low priority for single people on low incomes. Obviously local authorities do not seem to have the resources to deal with this nor does the private sector or the Department. However, in a very welcome development in County Galway, Clúid, the housing organisation, has provided sheltered housing. There are many more such schemes and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Ballinasloe has submitted an application to the Department which should be considered because sheltered housing has not been given priority either by local authorities or by the Department.