The Government will consider proposals to encourage homeowners with an empty room to rent it to asylum seekers who have been given permission to stay in Ireland.
The measure is intended to tackle enormous strains in finding a place to live for asylum seekers after they have been allowed to remain here.
The suggestion forms part of the considerations of an inter-departmental group looking at the direct provision system.
A submission for Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe from his officials at the Department of Public Expenditure explained how it would be a "significantly cheaper option" than providing emergency accommodation.
There are 7,271 people in the direct provision system, of whom 1,585 are living in commercial accommodation premises.
The submission explained how getting a place to live is proving so difficult for many successful asylum seekers that some are choosing to stay in the direct provision system.
The memo, dated December 9th last and released under the Freedom of Information Act, said: “[Rent-a-room] would be a significantly cheaper option than the emergency accommodation option that is currently being used at significant expense for new applicants.
“[It] is essentially a direct consequence of spaces not being freed up by those with decisions [to remain in Ireland] choosing to stay within direct provision.”
The submission said that 8,000 people availed of the so-called “rent-a-room” scheme in 2017 at a cost to the exchequer of €12 million.
Under the scheme, homeowners can rent out a room for up to €14,000 a year without having to pay any tax on it.
While many people currently use it to provide accommodation to students, renting a room to somebody who had been in direct provision would give an income all year round.
The idea would provide not only economic benefits but also “facilitate better integration into the community”, the memo added.
It said the rent-a-room scheme was generally of use only to single people but this fitted well with the profile of those in direct provision – 55 per cent of whom are in Ireland by themselves.
Officials said they were looking for approval from the Minister to explore the option in consultation with non-governmental organisations for refugees.
It said: “Apart from the obvious benefit to the homeowner, the relief has served to deliver effectively a new [housing] supply source where supply in the wider market has been slow coming on stream.”
Officials said they wanted to discuss the idea with colleagues in the Department of Finance and the Revenue Commissioners about how the system would work in practice.
It said the most likely scenario was that the State would pay homeowners directly for their accommodation, as already happens with the Housing Assistance Payment (Hap) scheme.
A spokeswoman for Mr Donohoe said: “The report of the inter-departmental group on direct provision is part of an ongoing deliberative process and the draft report still needs to go to Government.”
The latest figures from the Department of Justice show that last weekend, there were 7,271 people in direct provision, 2,024 of whom are children.
Of those, 5,686 people – including 1,739 children – were living in 39 different international protection accommodation centres around the country. This includes places like Mosney and the Balseskin reception centre near Dublin Airport.
Another 1,585 people are being housed in commercial accommodation, with that total including 285 child family members.