Call for improved rent collection as 61% of Dublin council tenants in arrears

Local Government Audit Service warns the financial situation ‘is not sustainable’

Dublin City Council chief executive Owen Keegan said the council’s policy included issuing warning notices to tenants, and legal proceedings. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Dublin City Council chief executive Owen Keegan said the council’s policy included issuing warning notices to tenants, and legal proceedings. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

 

Almost two-thirds of Dublin City Council tenants were in arrears at the end of 2018, according the local government auditor.

The latest report from the Local Government Audit Service finds that 61 per cent of all the council’s rent accounts are in arrears.

The statutory audit report for 2018 concluded that “every effort” should be made to improve rent collections, noting the financial situation “is not sustainable”. The audit was published by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government.

The audit service said arrears of rent increased to €27.83 million in 2018, from €26.2 million the previous year.

The figure included a shortfall of €25.23 million in direct rent payments to the local authority, €684,000 in payments to the council under the Rental Accommodation Scheme, and €92,000 in relation to the Rent to Buy Scheme .

In a summary the auditor said “a more focused approach is vital in addressing these significant amounts”. It said existing vacancies in council homes need to be addressed and “a significant body of work is involved to ensure that rental arrears are managed and controlled”.

Dedicated unit

The auditor also said it was “essential to have up-to-date and reliable” information on tenants’ incomes, and it recommended a dedicated unit be established within the council to continuously review all rent accounts to avoid large retrospective bills.

In response to the situation, Dublin City Council chief executive Owen Keegan said the council’s policy included issuing warning notices to tenants, and legal proceedings. Payment arrangements were also agreed where possible, he said.

Mr Keegan said the deployment of the system was delayed for technical reasons

But Mr Keegan said the council had expected the Department of Employment and Social Protection to provide access to its tenant income verification system by October 2018, and this had not happened. As a result the council had not been able to verify the income of the tenants.

Mr Keegan said the deployment of the system was delayed for technical reasons but once in place would assist in rent reviews. He added that Dublin City Council was reviewing its “structure and procedures in order to ensure maximum efficiency is achieved in rent assessment and collection”.

Annuity loans

The audit report also noted that in 2018 shared ownership loans totalling €12.36 million were “restructured and redeemed”. They were replaced by annuity loans which included capitalised arrears of €841,000.

In relation to housing loans, the auditor found there were 240 accounts in arrears for less than three months, and 74 accounts being reviewed with a view to being restructured.

Mr Keegan told the auditor the collection of housing loan arrears and restructuring of shared ownership loans had “progressed well in 2018”.