On Wednesday evening, the Government defeated a Sinn Féin motion seeking to extend the eviction ban until next year, by 83 votes to 68. But there is further trouble to come as Labour will table a motion of no confidence in the Coalition that will be voted on next week. Sinn Féin will also table fresh legislation looking to extend the ban. Ministers and officials are expected to hold further talks with Independent TDs this coming weekend in an attempt to guarantee their support.
On Wednesday, Green rebel Neasa Hourigan sided with the Opposition, resulting in a 15-month suspension from the party and cutting the Government down to a bare majority.
Finding themselves in the position of kingmakers, the Independents have so far sought and received a number of concessions on housing from the Government. Among them are:
1. The Fair Deal scheme
The Regional Independent Group (RIG), which has on occasion supported this Government in key votes, demanded the Coalition remove the barriers preventing older people in long-term nursing home care from renting their homes.
They wanted those people, and their families, to be able to let out their homes on fairer terms from this May.
In a lengthy countermotion, which was tabled on Wednesday, the Government committed to doing so.
Under these changes, nursing home residents will be able to keep all their income from renting out their family home while living in care. The Coalition has signalled it will eliminate the policy that sees people in nursing homes pay 40 per cent of the rental income from their main home towards the cost of their care, reducing it to zero. This has the potential to unlock a large number of rental properties, and is a win for the regional TDs.
2. The Croí Cónaithe Scheme
A number of Independents have in recent days called for major changes to the Croí Cónaithe scheme, which provides grants for first-time buyers and other owner-occupiers willing to refurbish derelict and vacant homes.
One of the big asks was to include properties built prior to 2007, as opposed to 1993, in a tranche of the scheme, and the Government has accepted this and agreed to make the changes from May onwards.
The Regional Independent Group also called for the scheme to be extended to include properties that would be made available for rent rather than just those that are to be owner occupied. The Government has also agreed to this.
Another big ask was that the grant rates for the scheme be reviewed, as there has been concern that the current payments of up to €50,000 for a derelict house do not keep up with inflation. This has also been conceded by the Coalition, though no figure has been put on it yet. The matter is to be reviewed in the coming weeks.
[ Sally Rooney: Renters are being exploited and evictions must be stopped ]
3. The rent-a-room scheme
Independent TDs also demanded that the rent-a-room relief scheme be extended to people receiving social welfare payments so that they do not lose out on supplementary benefits such as medical cards.
In its countermotion, the Coalition said it would extend the scheme’s disregard to those on social welfare recipients and with medical cards from May. It will also allow local authority tenants to participate in the scheme.
[ Letters: Readers respond to Sally Rooney’s article on evictions and the housing crisis ]
4. Tax concessions for landlords and renters
The issue of tax breaks for landlords has been a thorny one for a number of years.
The Government is worried that many small landlords are leaving the market, and Independent TDs, including regional group members, have asked that Ministers introduce a tax-relief scheme in the budget, to take effect in the current tax year, for small landlords.
Minister for Finance Michael McGrath told the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party on Tuesday night that he was actively exploring taxation options to help keep small landlords in the sector and to further support tenants.
The Government has introduced a rent tax credit valued at up to €500 per renter per year for those paying for rented accommodation from last year to 2025. This could be increased and a significant Budget 2024 package for renters and landlords is now a given.
[ Gerard Howlin: Lifting the eviction ban was the right thing to do ]
5. Don’t lift the ban without a plan
Sinn Féin TDs have said they accept that the eviction ban cannot go on forever, though their motion called for it to be extended until next year. In the Dáil, their main line of attack has been that the Government is letting the ban lapse at a time when it does not have a ‘Plan B’ to protect renters.
This is where the Government has found itself most exposed. The shape of a Plan B emerged after Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, but there are questions around the feasibility of having the named measures ready by April 1st, when the ban begins to be phased out.
The first element is a scheme for local authorities or housing bodies to purchase a tenant’s home and rent it back to them. The Government says this will be in place by the start of next month, albeit on an “administrative basis”.
Another element of the Coalition’s plan is to give tenants first refusal to buy the property they are renting if their landlord decides to sell, but this will take longer to flesh out. Quite how long is the question, given legislation will be needed. There is no clear timeline for its introduction at this stage.