Tuesday, 3 November 2020

Ceisteanna (608)

Carol Nolan

Ceist:

608. Deputy Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if he has engaged with the calls of a charity (details supplied) for a €20 million rent arrears fund to be included in budget 2021 aimed at helping tenants facing a rent crisis as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32985/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

The Residential Tenancies Act 2020 was enacted and came into operation on 24 October 2020 to help mitigate the impact of Covid-19 on tenants and to support the efforts of Government in restricting the movement of people in order to suppress the spread of Covid 19. The Act modifies the operation of the Residential Tenancies Acts 2004-2020 to prevent any notices of termination served by landlords, in all but limited cases such as anti-social behaviour, from taking effect in geographical locations and during periods specified by the Minister for Health in Regulations made by him under section 31A of the Health Act 1947 in respect of which a restriction applies on the movement of people outside a 5 km radius of their place of residence.

This Act operates in parallel with the Residential Tenancies and Valuation Act 2020 which came into effect from 1 August 2020 to provide enhanced protections for those tenants who are facing rent arrears due to Covid-19 and, as a result, are at risk of losing their tenancy.

If a tenant’s ability to pay rent has been impacted by Covid-19 and the tenant meets specific criteria, new procedures and protections apply under the Residential Tenancies and Valuation Act 2020. Tenants who follow these procedures cannot be required to vacate their rental accommodation before 11 January 2021, and are not required to pay any rent increase in respect of the period ending 10 January 2021.

My Department has published a guidance document, the Residential Tenancies and Valuation Act 2020: What this Means for Landlords and Tenants, which sets out exactly what is expected as the rental protections under the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Act 2020 expire, and provides details on the new protections for tenants in rent arrears and the income and other supports available to tenants and landlords. This guidance document clearly explains the new rent arrears procedure for both landlords and tenants facing rent arrears. The Guidance document is available on the Department's website - www.housing.gov.ie - and on the RTB's website - www.rtb.ie .

The RTB has engaged with stakeholders with regard to the recent tenancy protection enhancements and launched advertising campaigns, including on social media, informing the public and directing people to its website for more information. The advertising campaigns ran from 15 April until to 1 August 2020 and the final phase of a related mail-shot to tenants and landlords concluded last week.

The RTB and the Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS) are working with tenants in rent arrears to outline the financial supports which may be available to enable the tenant to meet their rental obligations to sustain their tenancy.

The Residential Tenancies and Valuation Act 2020 provides for permanent enhancements to tenancy protections that require a landlord to copy the RTB with any written rent arrears warning notice given to a tenant seeking the payment of all rent arrears within 28 days. The RTB will acknowledge receipt to the landlord and tenant and provide the tenant with written information to enable them to get advice from the Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS) and on the income and other supports available. If the tenant agrees, the RTB can help them to engage with MABS to resolve their rent arrears and sustain their tenancy.

Tenants are required to pay rent to their landlord and, in the event of tenants having difficulty doing so on foot of Covid-19, they are encouraged to engage with their landlords at the earliest opportunity.

Tenants facing difficulty in meeting the rental payments should engage with the Department of Social Protection (D/SP) as income supports such as Rent Supplement and Supplementary Welfare Allowances are available to assist them.

The DEASP Supplementary Welfare Allowance (SWA) scheme offers a safety net within the overall social welfare system by providing assistance to those whose means are insufficient to meet their own needs and those of their dependents. The main purpose of the scheme is to provide immediate and flexible assistance to those in need who do not qualify for payment under other State schemes. There are several payments within the scheme including once-off exceptional needs payments (ENPs) which can cover rent arrears.

Further information on these supports can be found by calling the D/SP Income Support Helpline for Covid-19 on 1890 800 024 or by visiting the D/SP website at:https://www.gov.ie/en/organisation/department-of-social-protection/.

My Department and the RTB urge landlords to consider the negative impacts of Covid-19 on their tenants and to show forbearance where temporary rent arrears might arise. Tenants and landlords are urged to discuss any problems promptly, keep lines of communication open and respect each other’s positions. If the problem cannot be resolved, registered landlords and all tenants can apply to the RTB for dispute resolution. Further information is available on www.rtb.ie .

Given the State income supports and assistance available, including those available for tenants in arrears, and informed by the evidence provided by research into this area, it would not be appropriate to establish a debt forgiveness scheme, as proposed by Threshold, to write-off rents payable in the residential rental sector which plays an important role in providing accommodation for many. State supports include the Rent Supplement, Supplementary Welfare Allowances and the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) schemes and the Help-to-Buy scheme and the Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan are also available to assist renters to buy their own home.