I thank all the Members who contributed to the debate. At the outset, I want to address the matter of pre-legislative scrutiny. Deputy Connolly noted that the committee voted on the issue and the result was seven votes to six in favour of proceeding with the scrutiny process. We respect the committee vote. I served on the housing committee in the previous Dáil and I respect the Oireachtas committee system greatly. It was not in any way, shape or form a slight on the committee that we sought to bypass pre-legislative scrutiny. It is important to note that this Bill is an extension of existing legislation.
Having said that, I take the Deputy's point. It is not something I would like to see done on a regular basis. In fact, it should only happen in extremis. I genuinely have taken on board the points Deputies have made, particularly those of members of the housing committee. As I said, the decision to waive the pre-legislative process was not in any way meant as a slight on committee members and their expertise in scrutinising legislative proposals. This is the fourth Bill on this issue and it is very similar to the previous Bills that were brought forward. I certainly have noted Deputies' comments on this issue. I reiterate that I do not want to see pre-legislative scrutiny being set aside with any degree of regularity.
In this instance, however, there is an urgency around the extension of protections for those who need them most. On each occasion that I have brought forward legislation in this Chamber, I have said that if we need to do more at any stage, we will do it. Anybody looking to arrive at a fair assessment of what we have done in regard to tenancy protections will agree that I have done exactly that. The measures we take must be proportionate, legal and constitutional. I have a job to do to balance the rights of tenants with the rights of property owners. Some may wish to set that aside or dismiss it, and that is fine. Deputy Connolly did not do so, to be fair.
I want to correct one point she made. A total of 86% of landlords own one or two properties. They are normal people and some of them depend on rent as an income. I have to protect their rights alongside, and proportionate to, the rights of tenants. The wilful non-payment of rent by tenants is not acceptable. Even Deputy Ó Broin said yesterday that neither her nor the Opposition in general seeks to protect anyone who wilfully refuses to pay his or her rent. I agree with him on that point and this Bill will ensure there is clarification in that regard. For anyone who needs help or assistance with paying rent, there are Government supports in place that are being accessed and should be accessed. I have said that time and again. More than €11 billion of additional social welfare supports have been brought in by the Government to help people during this pandemic.
It behoves people to be realistic in this debate. Last August, we brought forward new protections in the Residential Tenancies and Valuation Act 2020, which some in the House opposed. Many of those who have criticised the Bill before us voted against bringing in these protections in the first instance. In the area of rent arrears, we introduced in that Act a new process to get MABS and the RTB involved at the first stage of arrears arising. Before that, we never had data and assistance for people in this regard.
I know right now, as Minister, that 2,401 warning letters were issued for rent arrears, as when the first rent arrears letter is issued by a landlord it must be copied to the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, as well. The tenants must also get a letter detailing what supports are in place for them. That measure, by the way, has been very much welcomed by Threshold and others who I greatly regard and from whom I seek support and advice regularly.
Let us remember that the provisions I am now thankful are in law were opposed by many of the Members opposite. If we had gone down the road proposed by many of the Members who contributed to the debate today and yesterday, we would not have those additional supports in place for tenants right now. The voting record is there for everybody to see. I remind people that when we discuss this matter, we should do so with a bit of realism and honesty. We might stop trying to play both sides that way. Fundamentally we are ensuring a proportionate response to what is happening right now. It is about extending further protection to the people who need it most and whose income has been affected by the pandemic, with the associated risk of going into rent arrears, or who are in rent arrears already. Through a self-declaration, they can get protection until 12 July this year.
If we need further action, I will introduce further legislation, as I have done before. In the overall context of tenancies and rents, we are working on a package of reforms separate from the pandemic and responses we are discussing in this Bill. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle, Deputy Connolly, spoke of the bigger picture, and that is being addressed. I will bring those provisions before the House later this year. We must look at replacing rent pressure zones, RPZs, if anything is to replace them. Work is ongoing in that space. In the meantime, we must ensure those who need protection most will get it.
Going back to the question of rent arrears, we must be realistic. I respect what the Members opposite have said and listened to them intently, but there is a reality that, since 2018, we have seen a loss of approximately 18,000 tenancies. Individual landlords, whether people like them or not, are leaving the market. We are trying to build our public housing stock and deliver affordable rental and affordable purchase schemes, which I hope the Members opposite will support. The Land Development Agency will ensure we will build on State-owned land, putting it to productive use to deliver public and affordable housing for people. Again, some people critical of this Bill voted against that legislation also. We are getting to the stage where those Members are against this and other provisions, so we must ask what they are for.
Approximately 750 notices of terminations were issued - not effected - on the grounds of rent arrears, and that is in the context of just short of 300,000 tenancies that are in place. That is a quarter of 1% of all tenancies. Those notices of termination are not necessarily effected and there are additional protections under existing legislation. From listening to Deputy Boyd Barrett in particular and others, one might swear there is no protection at all for tenants and the purpose of this Bill is really just to rip any protections out from under these tenants. Nothing could be further from the truth. These are additional provisions. I just ask for a fair reading of what is there. We must act on this urgently.
I remind Members there was much discussion last summer when we moved out of the blanket eviction ban introduced by the previous Government into something more sustainable. It introduced legally robust provisions. Again, at the time, many Members predicted a tsunami of evictions if protections were removed, but that has not come to pass. That is not to be in any way complacent about the matters before us and we are still ensuring there are protections in place. Many of the Members who oppose this legislation were the same who predicted a massive increase in evictions that did not happen because the protection we introduced worked.
I will address something a couple of Members mentioned. Approximately 407 individuals have sought protection under the existing Act. Some people have said only 407 people have sought protection, so it must not be working. Would it be better if there were 4,007 people seeking protection and we knew there were disputes and distress for them, as opposed to approximately 400 people? It is a counter-intuitive argument and the fact the protections exist means the market knows tenants are protected. Nevertheless, Deputy Ó Broin and others are saying only 400 people are getting protection and they would much rather if 40,000 people had to sign a self-declaration about being in arrears and losing their income. One of the reasons that has not happened is the Government support put in place through the pandemic, with the emergency rent supplement, the employment wage subsidy scheme and the more than €11 billion in social welfare supports that have correctly been used to help people.
Deputies cannot have it both ways. These protections are working and all I am seeking from the Dáil and the Seanad later in the week is to allow the most vulnerable and those affected by the pandemic to be protected further until 12 July. Anybody with a fair mind looking at this would think this reasonable. If others want to find reasons not to support this, it is up to them and I will respect that action while not agreeing with it.