"That Seanad Éireann notes that:
the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the European Social Charter recognises the right to housing as part of the right to an adequate standard of living;
there are 94,000 people in receipt of rent supplement in this State;
there are 100,000 people on waiting lists for local authority housing in this State, and the public housing sector has been chronically underfunded for many years;
many of those in receipt of rent supplement fall within a particularly vulnerable category of tenants, often already living in properties which are at the lower end of the price scale for rented accommodation;
the Minister for Social Welfare's stated commitment that no tenant would be made homeless on account of these changes;
according to Focus Ireland there are some 5,000 people homeless in the State at any given time;
many single parents face an anomaly as regards being assessed as single persons for the purposes of rent allowance, despite having joint custody of a child;
the problems experienced by a proportion of landlords cannot be separated from the wider mortgage arrears crisis;
many of those in receipt of rent supplement will find it difficult to renegotiate their rent downwards, and to find alternative accommodation in the vicinity.
Seanad Éireann criticises the practice of landlords seeking cash payments from tenants, in addition to accepting rent supplement, in breach of the legislation; and therefore calls on the Government to:
provide support information and assistance to tenants currently availing of rent supplement;
negotiate directly with landlords the rates at which rent supplement is paid, in order to reduce the expenditure on rent supplement;
put in place a scheme whereby rent supplement is paid directly to landlords, rather than to tenants;
make as much use as possible of suitable NAMA accommodation in order to meet the needs of those currently in receipt of rent supplement, and to acquire vacant NAMA properties for social housing purposes; and
direct HEOs, formerly known as CWOs, to take all reasonable steps necessary to ensure that tenants have appropriate accommodation.''
Cuirim céad fáilte roimh an Aire. Tá mé thar a bheith buíoch di as teacht isteach leis an rún seo a phlé. I dtosach, ba mhaith liom míle buíochas a ghlacadh le Ceannaire an Tí as an t-am a thabhairt dúinn leis an gnó príobháideach seo a chur chun cinn. Mar is eol dúinn go léir, níl aitheantas ghrúpa tugtha do Shinn Féin sa Seanad agus táimid ag brath ar deá-mhéin an Cheannaire. Táimid thar a bheith buíoch dó as an t-am sin a thabhairt dúinn.
Molaim an rún seo don Teach. Seo rún atá iontach tábhachtach agus atá ag tarraingt go leor cainte faoi láthair ar fud na tíre. Baineann sé leis na liúintais atá dháíoc ó thaobh chúrsaí cíosa de ar fud an oileáin seo. Tháinig leasú ar na rátaí sin le déanaí agus laghdaíodh iad. Aontaímid leis an Aire go bhfuil gá le leasú agus go bhfuil sé tábhachtach go mbaintear leas cheart as airgead an Stáit agus go bhfuil an t-uafás airgid dhá chaitheamh ar an scéim seo, ach tá fadhbanna an-bhunúsach leis an bealach atá sé seo dhá chur i bhfeidhm, ní amháin do na tionóntaí atá curtha in áit an deacair ó thaobh go bhfuil iarrtha orthu dul ar ais ag idirbheartaíocht leis na tiarnaí talún. Tá fadhbanna ag na tiarnaí talún féin mar tá go leor acu sa gcás nach bhfuil siad ábalta ná in acmhainn na cíosanna a laghdú. Tá fadhb bunúsach leis an leagan amach agus sin an fáth go bhfuil tar éis an rúin seo a thabhairt os comhair an Tí anocht. Tá cuid mhaith saineolais sa Teach seo maidir leis an ábhar seo agus síleann muid go bhfuil sé tábáchtach go bpléifíé seo agus go dtiocfaidh muid ar réiteach.
We are disappointed with the Government's amendment to a motion which we consider conciliatory and not inflammatory in any way. We have tried to find a constructive solution to the problem I have outlined. While aspects of the Government's amendment are well-intentioned, it also contains flaws. As I will explain later, the contention that the caps are in line with market value is false.
The amendment also makes reference to housing assistance payments. We look forward to hearing more about these payments but it appears the Minister for Social Protection has come up with this concept without providing much information about it. We are totally unfamiliar with it and councillors in Dublin and elsewhere also seem to know nothing about it. On the basis of telephone calls I made today, there is not much knowledge about the matter in either the Department of Social Protection or the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. It appears to be merely a vague idea which a steering group has yet to develop. As public representatives have not been briefed on housing assistance payments, it will be difficult for us to back the amendment. If we had included such a vague idea in our motion, it would have been shot down immediately. It is a bit rich to ask the House to give our backing to a scheme about which we know very little.
The right to housing is a fundamental right. As our motion notes, this right is recognised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the European Social Charter. This country places a particular value on the permanent or, at least, semi-permanent occupation of a dwelling. Our history has placed particular significance on the idea of the home hearth, good shelter and a stable homestead and it remains a major aspiration of Irish people to have a place in which to settle and build a life. However, we are significantly failing to vindicate the right of our citizens to adequate housing. As the motion notes, between 90,000 and 100,000 people remain on waiting lists for local authority housing in this State and the public housing sector has been chronically underfunded for many years.
Approximately 94,000 people in this State receive rent supplement. Recent census figures show that 500,000 people, or 29% of the population, are dependent on the rented sector. This is a huge number of people for such a small country. Despite the extensive amount of housing that lies empty, many people have no way of vindicating their right to adequate housing. This is a veritable housing crisis but it is taking place away from the intent gaze of the media and other players.
Senators who work in constituencies where this issue arises will be more than familiar with the difficulties that people are facing. I have come across single parents with several children who have been waiting for housing for as long as ten years. In many households three generations live under the same roof, sometimes in small two up-two down houses, because of the inability or unwillingness of local authorities to build the accommodation they need.
Our public administration has long ago given up on the idea that the State should provide houses for those who cannot afford their own. Given the cost of housing during the past 20 years, this is no small or uniform category of persons. Because of this failure, 94,000 of our citizens are dependent on the rent supplement scheme. This has long been an unsatisfactory solution, one operated imperfectly even in better times. I note, whenever a parliamentary question is asked, that the first line of response is that the rent supplement is a short-term scheme. It is not short term for those dependent on it. It has long been an unsatisfactory solution.
In the most recent budget, the Government reduced the allocation for rent supplement by €21 million. This has led to a review of rates across the State and the introduction of new and lower rates, which according to the Department of Social Protection, were gauged on the basis of CSO and daft.ie figures. Often these new lower rates are way out of kilter with reality. The maximum payable to a single person for a one-bedroom flat-apartment is €450 per month. However, the most recent daft.ie report on rents indicates that the average cost of rent for a one-bed apartment-flat in the city is €542, which is €92 more than that allowed. Again in Galway the maximum allowable amount for a couple with a child renting a two-bed house-apartment is €680. According to daft.ie this type of accommodation in the city commands rent of €730 per month, which is €50 more than the amount allowed by the Department. Rent allowance for three bed accommodation in Galway city cannot breach €700 per month. Yet, according to daft.ie, average rents on the private market are €799 per month, which is €99 more than what is allowed by the Department.
This morning, I searched the daft.ie website for a three bedroomed house for rent in Galway for between €400 and €1,200 per month. I found 21 properties, only two of which fell within the price range allowable. There are 4,300 people in Galway who are dependent on rent supplement, all of whom are currently under review. It is clear that the rents being demanded are way above what is allowed by the Department. This is what we are hearing from people on the ground. This flatly contradicts the claim in the Government amendment that the new rent caps are in line with the most up-to-date market data available. The Government is sticking its head in the sand on this issue and needs to get real.
People are facing limits which their rent supplement will not meet. In recent weeks, tenants in receipt of rent supplement in many parts of the country have received letters from the Department advising them of the new rent supplement limits and that they must seek to reduce their rent to those limits. The manner in which this is being applied in different areas varies on account of the different approaches of local social welfare offices. However, the cumulative effect is the same. People can no longer afford the rent which their landlord is seeking. This is further exacerbated, as noted in the motion, by the fact that some landlords seek additional cash payments from their tenants. This is illegal, takes advantage of the tenant's difficulties and needs to be weeded out. We are calling on the Minister to take action on this issue as a matter of priority.
Those in receipt of rent supplement are being left in the invidious position of being asked to renegotiate their rent with a landlord who may be unable or unwilling to do so. The IPOA stated in its presentation to us that many landlords are not in a position to negotiate downwards because of the extra costs imposed on them. It is utterly unfair to expect tenants to renegotiate rents. These are not a category of tenants likely to wish to rock the boat. It is often quite difficult to find landlords who will accept rent supplement. People are, therefore, generally reluctant to leave suitable accommodation. This is the case where the person or family has put down roots in an area, has made a home of the house or where children are attending a local school. The possibility of displacement in such a context could potentially lead to devastation and turmoil for many families. I have met with many such families during the past number of weeks.
I welcome the Minister's commitment that these changes will not lead to any incidents of homelessness. The Minister can be assured that we will hold her to that commitment. In our view these changes left unchallenged will have enormous and devastating implications for individuals and families in receipt of rent allowance. They will also have huge implications for the State as it comes to terms with the countless families who will as a consequence face displacement from their communities and homes. It is not an effective or fair strategy to reduce rent or, more specifically, rent supplement in the private rental sector. Responsibility for implementing the new rent threshold falls squarely on the shoulders of the rent supplement recipient who, because of his or her precarious situation, will sign forms stating that rents have been reduced while being forced to meet the difference.
According to Threshold, the Department rather than tenants should negotiate directly with landlords to secure rent reductions. The Department is asking tenants to do the impossible and to break their lease agreements, which is not alone legally unsound but will without doubt lead tenants into serious conflict with their landlords. The Department is asking people, many of whom are very vulnerable and may not be well informed of their entitlements and rights, to negotiate directly with landlords to secure a reduction in their rent, which we believe is a farcical situation.
In our pre-budget submission to the Department, we acknowledged that savings could be made in the rent supplement scheme but recommended that the best approach would be for the Department to negotiate directly with landlords to secure reduced rent. Unfortunately, our advice was overlooked. In our view, it is time for action. My colleague, Senator Reilly, will outline the actions we believe the Government needs to take. However, the key issue is that the Minister needs to step in, take action and protect all of those unable to secure a rent reduction.
I will, possibly, come back with some further points ag an deireadh.
Táimid ag iarraidh ar an Aire glacadh leis an rún, i ndáiríre. Choinnigh muid an rún réasúnta díreach. Níl muid ag iarraidh a bheith ag scóráil pointí. Fadhb í seo atá le feiceáil ar fud na tíre agus tá súil agam go dtógfaidh an t-Aire ar bord é. Glacaim leis san leasú a bhfuil Seanadóirí an Rialtais á chur chun cinn go bhfuil siad ag teacht le cuid mhaith des na pointí atáimid a dhéanamh, ach bheimís ag impí orthu an leasú atá molta acu a tharraingt siar.