Housing federation fears chasing water bill arrears will distract from providing new social housing

The Irish Council for Social Housing (ICSH), the national federation of non-profit housing associations who manage up to 27,000 homes for families and vulnerable groups, has expressed its concern at the inclusion of provisions in the new Water Charges Plan which will force landlords to hand over the deposits of tenants to Irish Water should they fail to engage with the company on the payment of arrears due on the account.

Under the proposals, announced by Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Alan Kelly in the Dáil on Wednesday, on the changeover of a tenancy the registration of a new tenant with Irish Water would be conditional on all water charge arrears being cleared  and, in the event of the former tenant not clearing  any  arrears, the landlord would be entitled to withhold the amount concerned from the tenant’s deposit and would be required to remit the amount involved to Irish Water.

According to Mr. Donal McManus, Executive Director of the ICSH, these new provisions will deflect from housing association’s primary role in the delivery and management of social housing:

“There is likely to be a disproportionate amount of time and resources spent by housing associations examining water bills from current and past tenants who will not pay. The government are set in the near future to launch a new social housing strategy where non-profit housing associations are keen to play their part in delivering more badly needed new social housing for the up to 90,000 households who require support from social housing  but housing associations  now going to have to potentially micro manage water bills which would point to there being no clear joined up Government approach on this” 

Mr. McManus highlighted several issues with the proposed scheme, including:

  • The fact that all tenant deposits  will shortly be held centrally by the Private Residential Tenancies Board under the Deposit Protection Scheme (part of the 2012 Residential Tenancies Bill)
  • Lack of clarity on who would have first charge/ priority on  returning  deposits where there was damage/ rent arrears incurred by the housing association tenant exceeding the value of the deposit
  • The possibility that these proposals may encourage tenants who may expect to lose some or all of their deposit to run up arrears on their rent accounts
  • The necessity to impose higher deposits on prospective new tenants on low income and vulnerable tenants due to this provision leading to an increased threat of homelessness.

The ICSH call on the Government and Irish Water to examine more direct methods to collect unpaid charges that avoid other stakeholders such as non-profit housing associations being tied up in the bureaucracy, which may also affect wider landlord/ tenant relations.

Finally, the ICSH, as the representative body for almost 300 housing associations, should be engaged by the government in order to fully examine the consequences for the sector if these provisions are imposed.

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