The Government is considering a winter ban on evictions that could be in place until the end of March, under plans being examined to deal with the cost-of-living crisis.
It comes as national grid operator EirGrid predicted homes and businesses could be most exposed to the Republic’s electricity shortage as they gear up for Christmas due to rising demand and declining or unreliable supplies.
EirGrid’s Winter Outlook 2022/23 says, based on up-to-date information, it expects “late November to mid-December and early January to mid-February” to be the periods where the margins between electricity demand and supply will be tightest.
However, the State company said there is no risk of system-wide blackouts in either the Republic or Northern Ireland under any circumstances this winter.
Amid heightened cost-of-living pressures, concern over the security of the electricity system and alongside record homelessness figures, Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien is consulting the Attorney General on the feasibility of a temporary ban on evictions.
Government sources emphasised that the proposal was in extremely early days of development but that if agreed the winter ban would likely run until the last day of February or the end of March.
A senior source pointed to eviction bans in France which lasted until the end of March this year and one in Scotland which will end on March 31st, 2023. The Attorney General is also looking at the length of time for any ban.
A senior Government source said the policy would have to be balanced against the possibility it could lead to more landlords leaving the system or deter investment in rental accommodation.
One idea being explored is evictions would still be allowed if someone refused to pay rent, or caused significant damage to a property.
A key issue with a potential ban is how it would weather a legal challenge on the basis that it restricted landlords’ property rights. Similar interventions during the pandemic were justified on the basis of the risk to life and restrictions on movement, but constitutional experts said a new ban stood a reasonable chance of success.
Dr David Kenny, assistant professor in Trinity College Dublin school of law, said the ban may be more vulnerable than its Covid-era equivalent but “there’s a good case for its proportionality once it is time limited and carefully drawn”.
Backbenchers in Fianna Fáil this week called for the intervention, but there are concerns in elsewhere in Government. A Fine Gael source said: “It’s simple to request it, but what’s the effect, are there unintended consequences.”
A ban would come against the backdrop of record homelessness figures. Sinn Féin housing spokesman Eoin Ó Broin said “unless there is a ban on evictions this winter, the homeless numbers will rise to levels never thought possible before”.
The Minister for Housing is also understood to be working on further tax breaks for landlords which could be delivered in the Finance Bill. Proposals under consideration include allowing investments made during a tenancy to be written off for tax purposes, such as white goods like fridges and other appliances.
Meanwhile, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan is engaged in a round of meetings with energy companies, including those operating pay-as-you-go meters. Mr Ryan is said to be seeking reassurances about consumer protections amid accusations from the Opposition that less well off households on the meters risk being cut off.
The meetings are also focused on pricing, charging, hedging and energy price forecasts.