I propose to take Questions Nos. 35, 50 and 51 together.
The rent supplement scheme provides support to eligible people living in private rented accommodation whose means are insufficient to meet their accommodation costs and who do not have accommodation available to them from any other source. There are currently approximately 70,000 rent supplement recipients, for which Government has provided over €298 million for 2015.
The Department recently published a review of the maximum rent limits, “Maximum Rent Limit Analysis and Findings” and it is available on www.welfare.ie. The review finds that increasing rent limits at this time could potentially add to further rental inflation in an already distressed market, affecting not alone rent supplement recipients, but lower-income workers and students. Between the rent supplement scheme and the Rental Accommodation Scheme (RAS) administered by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, the State accounts for a third of the private rented market. The State is therefore a very significant player in the sector which has a responsibility not alone to rent supplement recipients but also to the market as a whole, including all those in private accommodation. The review finds that increasing the rent limits would have several potentially negative effects, including providing an impetus for current rent supplement landlords to renegotiate their lease agreements to the new limits impacting on all existing recipients at significant cost to the Exchequer.
In light of the review’s findings, the Department will instead continue to allow for flexibility in assessing customers’ accommodation needs through the National Tenancy Sustainment Framework. Under this approach, each tenant’s circumstances throughout the county, including those in the Meath area, are considered on a case-by-case basis and rents can be increased above prescribed limits if deemed appropriate. I am satisfied that this is the appropriate response at this time which has assisted in excess of 1,000 rent supplement recipients throughout the country to retain their rented accommodation.
In addition, the Department in conjunction with Threshold operates a Tenancy Sustainment Protocol in the Dublin and Cork areas where supply is most acute. The primary objective of the Protocol is to ensure a speedy intervention to ensure that families at immediate risk of losing their tenancy get rapid assistance.
The review clearly points out that the main cause of difficulty for persons renting or seeking to rent at this time is the much reduced availability of affordable private rented accommodation. The issue of supply is being addressed by Government through the Construction 2020 Strategy and the Social Housing Strategy. Policy in relation to rent controls is a matter for my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, who is considering a number of policy options in relation to achieving greater rent certainty.
I can assure the Deputies that I am keeping this matter under close review to ensure that the appropriate supports continue to be provided for rent supplement recipients.