John-Mark McCafferty, Chief Executive of Threshold, outlines the charity’s work in protecting and supporting those in housing need.
Threshold is a national housing charity with regional advice centres in Dublin, Cork and Galway, providing frontline advice and support services to people with housing problems across Ireland. Our vision is an Ireland where everyone has access to affordable, secure, suitable and good quality housing.
We operate a number of services for tenants in the private rented sector ranging from general advice and advocacy to our Tenancy Protection Service which seeks to keep households in their home. In addition our Access Housing Unit sources private rented accommodation for households at risk of or exiting homelessness.
We make a leading contribution to national policy, establishing long-term solutions and delivering meaningful outcomes for individuals in housing need. Our mission is to prevent homelessness and to campaign for housing as a right by:
Regarding supports for renters at risk of homelessness, our two key supports to the general public are the Tenancy Protection Service and housing advice.
The Tenancy Protection Service is Threshold’s service to renters across the state who are worried about losing their tenancy. This is accessed via a Freephone number; 1800 454 454, available from 9am to 9pm Monday to Friday. The service plays a crucial role in keeping people in their homes and in preventing homelessness. The scarcity of rental property means that moving accommodation is no longer a viable option for many, so it is now more important than ever that tenants get the support they need to sustain their existing tenancies in both urban and rural areas.
Since 2014 we have provided a free telephone helpline for families and individuals at risk of homelessness and have worked to assist a broad range of renters to engage with their landlord to help to secure their homes. An important element of the service is to intervene in cases where families in receipt of Rent Supplement are in danger of losing their homes. As part of Rebuilding Ireland: An Action Plan on Housing and Homelessness, the service is now national, and the public awareness campaign launched on the 23 May 2017 by the then Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Simon Coveney TD reflects this.
Our vital Tenancy Protection Service ensures that families at risk of homelessness throughout Ireland stand a better chance of staying on in their current housing without having to seek homeless services. Since June 2014, the Tenancy Protection Service in Dublin has dealt with over 10,000 calls and helped 2,846 households remain in their privately rented homes through an enhanced rent supplement payment.
At a time when there are over 1,000 households with over 2,000 children in homeless services, the problem would be much worse for families if Threshold’s services were not in place.
Callers will receive the following prompt interventions by the Tenancy Protection Service if they are at risk of losing their home:
Alongside the Tenancy Protection Service, Threshold’s housing advice services play a key role in supporting vulnerable tenants and our direct interventions to prevent homelessness. Threshold’s advice services interface with many of the 320,000 households living in the private rented sector. Last year, our housing advisors took 38,844 actions in advising tenants experiencing housing problems. In addition, a total of 149,313 users sought information on Threshold’s website in 2016, an annual increase of 30 per cent.
The number of Threshold’s callers at risk of becoming homeless has also grown, due to the serious difficulties in the private rented sector. Tenancy termination was the number one client issue recorded by our services in 2016, with sale of property being the most cited reason for termination by landlords. This was closely followed by the issue of minimum standards with many tenants having to endure substandard accommodation because of the scarcity of alternative properties. Queries relating to sourcing accommodation were the third most common concern for individuals contacting our services last year, reflecting the difficulty of accessing housing due to the dearth of affordable and quality rental properties.
We also work to influence housing policy and practice through our policy and legal advocacy. This includes monitoring, analysis and representation on the following areas:
Regarding the Rental Strategy, Threshold will continue to advocate for indefinite tenancies. The issue of tenants’ rights during receivership continues to be one of the most common complaints to our advice line. The receivership process can be fractious and legally complex. We believe that the legal uncertainty over the obligations of receivers must be addressed by way of legislation and will advocate strongly for this. We will continue to lobby for a Deposit Protection Scheme given its importance to both tenant’s rights and homelessness prevention.
The standard of accommodation continues to remain one of the main issues facing clients in private rented housing, accounting for 15 per cent or 1,432 of Threshold’s caseload in 2016. The integration of anticipated and much needed energy efficiency standards by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment (DCCAE) with the more general minimum standards regulations is something we will watch closely and advocate on.
Overcrowding in rented accommodation has recently come into sharp focus as has the phenomena of ‘hidden homeless’ as we see growing instances of individuals ‘sofasurfing’ and situations of multiple generations of families living under the same roof because of the inability of younger generations to source affordable accommodation. There is currently no suitable definition of overcrowding and we will continue to make urgent calls for a definition to be inserted into existing minimum standards. We are also supporting research into the experience of ‘licensees’ – for example people in the ‘rent a room’ scheme or ‘in digs’.
Threshold is committed to finding housing solutions for renters at this particularly challenging time. The provision of our Tenancy Protection Service, advice service and our policy and legal work all seek the establishment of secure, quality, affordable tenancies for the people we assist. We can’t do this work without the continued support of the Department of Housing, Local Authorities and the ongoing generosity of our donors and supporters.
Chief Executive Threshold
Direct line: 00353 1 635 3606
Mobile: 087 236 3995
For our Tenancy Protection Service and Advice, please call: 1800 454 454