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Council is owed €20m in rent as dole queue soars

DUBLIN City Council is owed almost €20m in unpaid housing rent -- as increased unemployment has crippled tenants' ability to pay their bills.

Last year, rent arrears rose dramatically from €13.8m to €19.5m -- a jump of €5.7m.

Rent is the council's "single most important" source of income after rates, and DCC is now working to tackle the problem at a time when it is already strapped for cash.

Half of last year's arrears arose when the council carried out rent reviews because tenants had lost their jobs. It discovered that tenants had been paying less rent than they actually owed for previous years.

From 1995 to 2006, many residents received wage increases but failed to report them to the council, officials told councillors at the Finance Strategic Policy Committee (FSPC) meeting on Thursday.

And in 2009, when tenants informed the council of redundancies, their undeclared and unassessed income from previous years came to light.

Councillors on the FSPC all agreed that the crippling debt was devastating for tenants.

Cllr Nial Ring (Ind) said: "Their circumstances had changed and they didn't inform the council. A lot of people don't send the information in and they forget.

"In boom times, people were getting extra money and extra work, and then the city council found out at a time when they couldn't afford to pay [the rent]."

However, councillors suggested new methods of payments which would help tenants keep up to date with their bills.

Cllr Ruairi McGinley said: "If people are more than six weeks in arrears, then they won't get routine maintenance or transfers if they apply to put themselves on the transfer list."

Only 7pc of the council's tenants use the household budget scheme, a system which allows them to they pay their rents automatically out of their social welfare by direct debit.

"We would see that as a way forward. It seems to be an idea that has a future. Any new tenants will be asked to sign up to that," added Cllr McGinley.

But old age pensioners along with people receiving disability benefit, blind pension, and carers allowance cannot use the household budget scheme.

Cllr Dermot Lacey said: "These are the people who would have the most problem going down to get [their rent] paid, and yet we ban those people by law from what is a very sensible budgeting system. It seems to me to be daft."

Councillors have decided to write to the Department of Social Welfare, as well as opposition parties, to query this "oddity," according to Cllr Lacey.

"People get into arrears for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes it's the size and scale of the debt that makes them so frightened of it," he added.

Meanwhile, it was noted at the meeting that the majority of tenants have still kept up to date on their arrears.

"Seventy-five per cent of the tenants do pay on time, and some of those are quite poor and just on social welfare. But clearly there can be some difficult personal circumstances such as bereavement which lead people to go into arrears."