MANY of us are struggling to cope with reduced incomes. If there's a spare room in the house, one possibility of boosting the coffers is to take in a lodger.
The rental market is down but there is still demand for those prepared to be realistic about how much rent they can ask.
Under the "rent-a-room" scheme, income from a lodger is tax exempt provided it doesn't exceed €10,000 in the year, that's about €830 a month, although it's extremely unlikely a rent that high will fly in today's market.
But if you are getting a means-tested social assistance payment from the Department of Social and Family Affairs any rental income will be assessed as means and may affect payments.
The number of properties available to rent has more than doubled in recent months. On the Irish property website www.daft.ie there was a 133pc increase in rental ads in October last year, compared to the previous year.
"A lot of properties previously on the sales market have been taken off and put on the rental market, particularly in new developments," says Naoise McNally, a spokeswoman for the site.
"That's pushing rents down. They fell by 3.2pc in the quarter to October alone and are 8pc down over the previous year. Our figures suggest the decrease accelerated in the last few months of the year."
Rentals in Dublin city centre have dropped most, according to Daft's figures. The average rent for a double room is down €35, from €650 to €615. Room rentals in Cork and Limerick show less precipitous drops.
The average price for a double room in Cork is now €385, just €5 down on a year ago. In Limerick the average price is €306, €14 down on the previous year. On the plus side, the number of transactions on Daft is increasing steadily so there's still demand.
"Tenants are getting a lot pickier; they're negotiating much more aggressively. A lot of landlords are used to a market where they were in control. That's not the case any more," says Ms McNally.
The key to finding a tenant in the current market is to advertise at a reasonable rent. "Do plenty of research," says Ms McNally.
"Don't just check the rents being asked in your own area. Look further afield. Buyers will think about particular streets or areas, but renters aren't so fussy. If they can go down the road to a cheaper area, they will."
In the past, students from the country often lodged with families living near their colleges. "There isn't a huge market for that any more," says Ms McNally. "Young people are much more self-sufficient."
"There is the possibility of marketing a room for rent for five nights a week and making it cheaper. It might suit people who go home for the weekend."
Language schools are still a reasonably good source of potential lodgers for family homes, although the market has changed in the past few years, according to David O'Grady, chief executive of Marketing English in Ireland (www.mei.ie), the association for language schools.
"There is still strong demand but business is hurting a bit because of the weakness of sterling. The UK would be our main competition." On average, language schools will pay €150 a week for bed, breakfast and an evening meal. There are two main markets -- adult students over the age of 16 and juniors.
Over the past 10 years many adult students have rented apartments in town. "It's cheaper and more convenient for them," says Mr O'Grady.
"Often they take part-time jobs with unsociable hours, restaurant work, and that doesn't fit it in too well with family life. The other difficulty is that families who have enough space to accommodate students are further out, particularly in the Dublin area. "Traffic is so bad that students get exasperated spending an hour or so getting in and out of town. Most of the language schools in Dublin are in the city centre."
Junior students, under the age of 16, arrive in the summer or sometimes during the Easter break.
"The language school has to ensure that they're occupied, either in school or in supervised activities. The family is responsible for the time when the child is with them. It's more intense so it tends to be families who have kids that age anyway," says Mr O'Grady.
MEI will forward a list of local schools to anyone interested in the student market. The accommodation is checked out by a representative of the association.
Mr O'Grady warns against taking in students purely to make money, although it does bring in extra income. "We've noticed that people who see it just as a money-earner become mean, cut corners, start measuring out the butter, that sort of thing. Students detect that. It's counter-productive because the student will want to move and the school will be reluctant to place anyone else there."