Hundreds of families hit with bills of up to €2,000 after council rent review
Hundreds of families living in council homes across Galway have been hit with bills for back-rent for as much as €2,000.
The bills were sent out after Galway County Council implemented a rent review and backdated the amount owed to January of this year under the Differential Rent Scheme.
The timing of the decision has been criticised by locals, including Fine Gael councillor Michael Maher.
"The council hasn't reviewed the rents since 2008, it was supposed to be done on a yearly basis. People are supposed to update their status but these are hard times and many of these people are elderly," he said.
Mr Maher said he had received more than 40 calls from distressed families who can't pay.
In one instance an elderly pensioner saw her weekly rent rise from €25 to the new maximum of €86.
"This woman had never missed her rent but suddenly she was finding herself in arrears. She was shocked to discover it had more than tripled because she hadn't filled out a form. She was in tears and her carer was in tears," said Mr Maher.
After the local councillor raised her case, this decision was revised to a €2 weekly increase. Mr Maher said the majority of families he spoke to were facing a doubling of their rent.
"For about 75pc it's doubled to the new max rent. People are very worried, most say they can manage the new rent but it's the back rent which is killing them.
"I spoke to one young couple who have been hit with a bill for €2,100. People are very distressed, they feel this move by the council could drive them to moneylenders.
"I have no issue with a rent increase, it should have been reviewed on a more regular basis but you can't hit families with bills like this. We are coming into Christmas and people are already feeling the stretch," he added.
A statement from the council said that, under the Differential Rent Scheme, tenants were obliged to notify the council of any changes in income or family circumstances.
"The process now being undertaken is that which has been in place for a number of years and where the process results in individual cases of hardship, these are considered and dealt with compassionately," it said.
It said it would facilitate various types of payment options and had "taken a pragmatic decision to limit the exposure to tenants by capping the back dating of arrears".