A member of the Dáil’s spending watchdog has said that people availing of the State support for rental accommodation are living in “Dickensian” conditions as he claimed the inspections regime is “just not working”.
Labour Party TD Seán Sherlock made the remarks as senior officials from the Department of Housing appeared at the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
At the the end of 2021 there was about 62,000 people availing of Housing Assistance Payment (Hap) at a cost of €542 million to the State.
Department of Housing secretary general Graham Doyle said the estimated spend on the scheme for this year is €584 million.
Cork East TD Mr Sherlock outlined figures provided to him on the inspections of properties with Hap and Rental Accommodation Scheme (RAS) tenants in recent years.
He said that in 2018 there were about 28,000 inspections with 99 prohibition notices issued as a result, 2019 was 40,000 inspections and 106 prohibition notices and the corresponding figures for 2020 was 27,000 and 57.
Up to quarter three 2021 there were 11,731 inspections and 15 prohibition notices.
Mr Sherlock said the number of prohibition orders is “extremely low”.
He said he has visited people in Hap accommodation recently and he added: “to describe the conditions that they’re living in – to say that they’re Dickensian would be to put it mildly.”
He said such tenants are “caught in a major bind because they can’t go back to the landlord and say ‘look will you fix this or fix that’ because they’ll be out on their ear before they know it.”
And he said it’s a “major issue” given the “massive amount of money” being spent by the State on the schemes.
He said: “I can understand why we’re doing that because we need to keep people in housing in the private rented sector until supply is sufficiently provided for. But the inspection regime is just not working.”
Mr Sherlock asked officials not to blame the Covid-19 pandemic in their answers and he called for “robust” inspections regime to be put in place where local authorities are resourced to carry out the work.
Mr Doyle said accommodation standards are “incredibly important” and landlords have to be held to those standards.
He said that since September senior officials from his Department have met with all local authorities to discuss the inspection regime with a focus on the range of sanctions and enforcement options available.
Acting assistant secretary Caroline Timmons agreed with Mr Sherlock that the inspection regime needs to be improved. She said there's a target of inspecting 25 per cent of tenancies but that the pandemic has had an impact on this.
She said that 93 per cent of properties that fail inspections do so in the first instance because of a “small thing” and the issues are resolved and this is reflected in the low number of prohibition notices. Ms Timmons said local authorities will be encouraged to increase inspections this year.