Question to City Manager, Council Meeting 03/03/2014

Q1

COUNCILLOR RUAIRI MCGINLEY

To ask the Manager to indicate the number of people housed in temporary accommodation for longer than 1 month and to state how many such people are paying rent for their accommodation.

CITY MANAGER’S REPLY

The figures for January 2014 reveal that 1,052 adult individuals, of the 1,779 unique individual adults that accessed emergency accommodation during the month were in placement for a continuous period of 30 days.
Information relating to how many of these individuals are paying rent for their accommodation requires extensive further analysis which will be provided to the councillor in 2 weeks time.

Q2

COUNCILLOR RUAIRI MCGINLEY

To ask the Manager to indicate the full legal costs incurred by DCC in relation to High Court case appealing Standards in Public Office Commission finding.

CITY MANAGER’S REPLY

We are waiting to hear from the Solicitors who act on behalf of SIPOC with their Bill of Costs in this case. The Order for Costs was only made by the High Court on Wednesday last the 26th February so it is likely that we will not be furnished with the costs for a week or two. The City Councils legal costs to date come to a total of €117,912.72 in respect of Senior and Junior Council. We have paid the third parties legal costs of €1,591.50. We are also waiting a bill of costs from the Legal Stenography Company.

Q4

COUNCILLOR RUAIRI MCGINLEY COUNCILLOR

To ask the Manager to set out the number of 3 and 4 bedroom council tenancy properties with a single tenant.

CITY MANAGER’S REPLY

There are 963 properties with at least three bedrooms with a single occupant.

Q5

COUNCILLOR RUAIRI MCGINLEY COUNCILLOR

To ask the Manager to state in how many of the approx. 6,700 housing rent accounts with greater than 3 months arrears; are there are payment plans in place? To also ask the Manager how many eviction cases are pending for non payment of housing rents?

CITY MANAGER’S REPLY

The City Council has an extensive and proactive early intervention system in place that monitors accounts and issues letters to alert tenants whose accounts are in arrears. The process, which derives its legal basis from Section 62 of the 1966 Housing Act, is as following:

i. A first warning letter is issued to tenants if no payments are received for 3 weeks.
ii. If there is no response from the tenant, a second warning letter is issued 2 weeks later.
iii. If there is still no response from the tenant, a third warning letter is issued after another 2 weeks followed by a personal visit or telephone call to tenant.
iv. Failure to respond to the warning letters results in a Notice to Quit being served on the tenant.
v. Instruction given to Law Agent to arrange Court Date and notify tenant in question
vi. Any Agreements subsequently made between the Executive Housing Officer & Tenant are noted once Court Date has been arranged
vii. Eviction will usually take place in the event of an agreement not being made

The above arrears recovery strategy is deliberately initiated at an early stage in order to protect the income of the authority and to ensure that the debt is kept at a level that tenants can realistically afford to repay.
In addition to the above, the Rent Section also states the amount of arrears when writing to the tenant requesting the tenant to make contact with the office to update their information. The tenant is also issued with quarterly rent statements of the accounts. The Rent Section endeavours to ensure that this initial contact is sensitive to the situation of the tenants in arrears and that all information provided is clear and easy to follow.

The amount of rent is determined by the Rent Scheme. It is designed to be simple and transparent, easily administered by staff and readily understood by tenants, and the formula used to assess rents is equitable and does not discriminate against any category of tenant, does not create or perpetuate inequality and does not contribute to an unemployment gap.
As per the tenancy agreement, the onus is on the tenant to ensure that the rent assessment is up to date and that sufficient payments are made to clear any arrears on the account.

The principal cause of arrears is not the non-payment of rent but the failure of tenants to timely inform to the Housing and Residential Department of changes in their personal circumstances. This results in a retrospective debit once the change in circumstances has been identified. To tackle this the City Council has recently adopted a more strategic approach to the management of rent assessment, collection, and arrears management which will increase the equity, effectiveness and value for money of these elements of the rent service, and facilitate and encourage the prompt payment of rent by tenants. The Rent Section will actively target tenants who have failed to reply to requests for information on changes in financial and family circumstances and will continue to apply a back-dated debit to accounts where an under-declaration of income has occurred.

Tenants with back dated arrears are encouraged to enter into an agreement. The details of the rent arrears repayment will vary depending on the size of the debt and the personal circumstances and vulnerability of the individual tenant.

In addition to the above the Rents Section in the last four years have inter alia:
i. Collaborated with the Allocations Section to ensure that no transfer will be granted unless the tenant has an up to date rent assessment and a clear rent account for at least 6 months.
ii. Collaborated with the Maintenance Section to ensure that tenants who are more than 6 weeks in arrears will not be entitled to have routine maintenance work carried out on their respective properties
iii. Have a full-time legal team assigned to pursue arrears in the courts
iv. Have strengthened links with inter alia the Department of Social Protection, and MABS.
v. Have filled key vacancies within Rent Arrears
vi. Have an extensive range of payment options

As of the 20th February 2013, there are:
• only 38 accounts where there has not been a payment for more than 12 months. This represents 0.0014% of total let stock. The Rent Section is aware of all these accounts and has taken action in all cases. The majority of these accounts highlight other social issues that the housing and residential services are trying to resolve with the tenant. For example, some of the tenants are being taken to the high court for estate management reasons. The Allocations Section is pursuing a significant proportion of these accounts for succession/illegal occupier reasons. Another proportion are tenants who have been hospitalised, died or abandoned their properties. There are a number of properties at an advanced stage with the Eviction Office.
• 2,373 accounts with unbroken arrangements.
• 1,464 accounts do not have satisfactory arrangements in place and accordingly notices to quit proceedings have been served.
In order to accommodate the unique circumstances of each tenant the nature of the repayment agreements can be wide ranging and are monitored regularly by the Arrears Supervisors, Rent Arrears Section.