That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Housing Act 1988 and the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 to update the definition of “homelessness” to more appropriately address the needs of people experiencing homelessness, to bring the task of homelessness prevention within the remit of the Housing Act 1988, and to provide for rent certainty in the private rental market and for related matters.
I thank groups such as Focus Ireland, Threshold, the Simon Community, the Peter McVerry Trust and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul for their excellent advocacy work. They have fought long and hard for the kind of reform contained in this simple, but important and timely, Bill. The inspiration for the legislation comes from the work of these groups, to highlight the gaps in legislation and policy in dealing with homelessness, as well as the factors that have combined to form our homelessness emergency.
An ever-growing population of people are without a home or secure accommodation. Every night, thousands of people sleep in bed and breakfasts, hostels and hotel rooms. Hundreds sleep rough on the floors of night cafés. Many more invisible homeless people sleep in abandoned buildings, cars, dark corners where nobody looks or on the sofas or floors of friends or relatives. At least 1,500 of our homeless are children, who must get up, go to school and learn about life through the prism of desperate need, isolation and insecurity. While the causes of the emergency are many, all interacting to create a perfect storm, the failure lies firmly at the door of the Government. I do not refer specifically to this Government. The groundwork was laid long before it took office. However, the Government's inaction and, in some cases, reckless action has turned a fire into an inferno, a wave into a tsunami.
The Bill seeks to amend sections 2 and 10 of the Housing Act 1988 to update the definition of "homelessness" and introduce new responsibilities for local authorities in dealing with homelessness and those affected by it. It provides for local authorities to consider the position of families and individuals who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, and thus compels the authorities to act in a preventative way.
We are always reminded that prevention is better than cure, but that is not true in the case of the Government's policy for tackling homelessness. Homelessness is treated like a dangerous, contagious and terminal disease which must be quarantined and controlled. The proposed amendment to section 10 provides for bodies such as local authorities and approved housing bodies to be given funding to support interventions which would prevent homelessness and adequately deal with the problem to ensure those who need support are housed. A crucial aspect of this amendment is that it would open resources to those who have not previously experienced homelessness, thereby preventing them from falling into this pit and facilitating a quick remedy for their individual crises.
The last section of this Bill seeks to do a job the Government failed to do for the past five years, which is to put a lid on rent rates. The Government has failed to deliver rent certainty. It has provided merely for a delay in rent increases. Rent certainty is the limiting of rent increases over a period of time. It is not simply the delay of such increases. The proposal in this Bill to tie increases to the rate of inflation, which would give landlords the ability to raise rents within a small margin or not at all, would provide real certainty.
No Bill is perfect. I welcome any constructive criticism that is intended to enhance this legislation and deliver on its aims. The rejection of this Bill by the Government, which is something that often happens with Opposition proposals, would be unacceptable in light of its reasonable and badly needed content. We have an emergency crisis. Approximately 5,000 people are homeless. Some 1,500 children are in emergency accommodation. We need more certainty for these people. People on the rent supplement and rental accommodation schemes and people who are losing their houses because of mortgages are ending up homeless. Many of these people are before the courts at the moment. I ask Deputies to support this legislative proposal which is urgently needed.