Renting accommodation with a disability

First published on SpunOut.ie May 2016

In Ireland’s current volatile rental market finding suitable accommodation is difficult at the best of times but can be even more challenging for those with a disability. According to the Central Statistics Office based on answers from the 2011 census 600,000 people in Ireland have a disability. This is 13% of the population.

New legislation regarding rent allowance and discrimination came into effect at the end of 2015 and the beginning of 2016 with the intention of improving the lot of the many renters who are struggling across the country. One of the key rules prevents landlords from discriminating against tenants who are in receipt of rent allowance. If they do they may face a fine of up to 15,000 euro.

It is important to note that rent allowance goes into the tenant’s bank account and not the landlords. All the landlord has to do is fill out a one page form with their address and PPS number confirming that the individual is a tenant at that property. Many however have been reluctant to do this.

A complaints procedure has been established for when landlords refuse to accept rent allowance however even a quick search through daft.ie shows that preferences are still clearly stated. Terminology such as ‘seeking professional and hardworking tenants’ are used to imply that the unemployed, even those unable to work due to disability, are not wanted.

One reason for this could be because a tenant cannot claim rent allowance until they are already a confirmed tenant of a property. This means that they have to have the deposit and first few months’ rent before they move in. It is reasonable that a landlord would like their payments on time and in full.

However if a tenant is, or soon will be, in receipt of rent allowance surely this suggests that the tenant has a guaranteed income and in a way is a secure bet? These difficulties apply to all tenants but are perhaps heightened for those with disabilities or long term illnesses. If one is prevented from being able to work and is reliant on disability or social welfare it can be very tricky to build up the initial amount of money needed.

Another challenge is that many may need accommodation specifically suited to their needs and in some cases may need to make adjustments to their residence, for example wheel chair ramps or additional rails to hold onto in the bathroom. How many tenants would feel comfortable asking their landlord if they can make significant, or even small, changes to their property in order to better accommodate their needs?

How many landlords would be willing to make these changes for a tenant who may not still be living there in ten years’ time? This also does not take into account the matter of cost. Who is to pay and where do they get the money from? If a person does not have their own home or family home to go back to having become ill or disabled it must be very difficult for many to try and manage in the current rental market that seems to highly favour the landlord over the tenant.

It is also important to note that rent allowance is capped, with the amount varying from area to area. Arguably this makes it harder for someone to rent a one bed place to themselves, which is something that can be vital for someone recovering from serious illness or managing their disability. Further over the past year the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) has seen complaints over unfair rent hikes increase by almost 70%. This is despite the fact that there is now legislation regarding how often a landlord can increase the rent (one increase in two years with a three month notice period). Alongside this there has been an increase in the number of complaints over illegal evictions.

These obstacles are preventing many from branching out on their own and experiencing independence and the freedom of running their own lives by restricting their ability to move. According to disability.ie “today many disability organisations are promoting the idea of independent living. This means giving people with a disability a choice in where and how they live and making sure there are enough accessible buildings and enough support mechanisms to allow people to live as independently as they choose”.

The assistance that is available often comes from charities with little direct help from the state. Although there is some help out there in the form of local authority accommodation and voluntary housing accommodation for those with special housing requirements at present there is however very little for renters with invisible illnesses or disabilities, such as chronic pain or debilitating depression.

It seems unlikely that a new direction is going to be taken in the near future regarding housing and disability. As results from this year’s census are collated Ireland’s main political parties struggle to negotiate power sharing that is going to define the country over the next four years. Alongside this local councils appear unwilling to reach out and help those who need it. In other countries such as England and Wales people can turn to the council for advice renting and tenancy. Perhaps now is the time for Ireland to focus on helping those most in need of finding a way to live independently.

Spending Christmas away from your family


Christmas is a time typically associated with family but many of us this year will be spending the festive season with our friends instead. As a result of work, study abroad, expense and so on there are many reasons why some of us will not be going home to our families this year.

We make connections and bond with people throughout our lives and spending traditional family events with friends can be a fun, fulfilling alternative Christmas. This is your chance to do what you want to do and not what you should do. If this is your first time to do so, here are some top tips to make the day go smoothly:

1. Send out cards and emails to as many people as you can

You can still be connected to people even with distance between you. This is also a good time to keep in contact with lost acquaintances and people you used to work with. People like to know that they are thought of over Christmas.

2. Don’t ask why someone isn’t with their family

Think twice before questioning someone on why they are not with family over Christmas. For some it will be obvious e.g. cannot afford to travel home, working over the Christmas period or they are of a faith or culture that does not celebrate Christmas. Some however will have a difficult background or home life and will not want to be reminded of this. Be brave when looking at what you will do over Christmas and invite people round or suggest a get together.

3. Plan what you will eat

Decide what you are going to eat in advance. Go all out and treat yourself. It may be worth allocating jobs to different people. Want to buy everything pre made from Marks and Spencer? Great. Just make sure one person doesn’t get lumbered with all of the cost or all of the work.

4. Save money with a secret santa

Have a secret Santa instead of buying everyone a present or decide to spend your money and effort on food and decorations. Alternatively you could all make an agreement to donate to a charity the money that would have been spent on cards and presents. Following on from this, volunteering as a group at one of the many homeless charities can be an excellent way to spend your time together. This could be a great chance to get closer to people you care about and also do something worthwhile.

5. Never go empty handed

This applies to most events. Take a different dessert or bubbly drink with you. A non-alcoholic drink may be a particularly good idea.

6. Limit alcohol

This is also not the best time to get completely drunk. You will want to be awake and vibrant throughout the whole day and it is important not to annoy the host!

7. Control your expectations

Just let the day flow and enjoy each other’s company without adding pressure to have the best time ever. This is your chance to do things how you want to so relax. There is nearly always an after dinner slump on Christmas day, when people are perhaps a little tipsy and the atmosphere can become maudlin. Remember this is just a dip and will pass.

8. Keep us your Christmas traditions

Although this may be a good time to break out your favourite Christmas customs or games. Every year you normally play twister, watch Home Alone or indulge in a chocolate box challenge? Now’s the time to relax and have fun.

9. Skype your family if you can’t be with them

Importantly give people a chance and some privacy to skype their family if they choose to do so.

Bleak future for students renting

Bleak future for students renting

A new academic year is getting under way with Fresher’s week now behind us and the hard work, late nights and friendships of a new University year are about to begin. Thankfully for most of us the awful process of hunting for accommodation in Dublin is over for another year.

This is a difficult and often stressful process at best but it is being made even more difficult by rising rental prices and unscrupulous landlords taking whatever they can from incoming students.

If you are not one of the lucky few to be given a room on campus you will be preoccupied with finding accommodation before term starts. So will several thousand others. The news over the past few months has been particularly bleak for renters, students in particular, as they descend on Dublin in their thousands looking to make a life for themselves.

Newspapers, TV, radio, blogs and word of mouth are all carrying similar messages; renting is difficult and expensive. Since January prices have been gradually increasing. According to a recent report by Daft.ie, rental prices have risen by an average of 7.5% across Dublin.

This statistic was seized upon by the Irish Times with the shock headline ‘rent increases a ‘massive concern’ for incoming students’. How this increase is spread across the city is less clear, although it seems likely that the main increases will have been in central and popular student locations, such as Dublin 4 and 7.

From my own experience of viewing rooms, I have seen that even the most unlikely of places will capitalise on any positive and use it to bleed the most money out of unprepared students. One property I visited in the mature residential area in Glasnevin, sandwiched in between Hillcrest park and DCU, charged an average of 600 euro a month, including bills. Even at first sight this seems expensive, however on viewing the room available the price seemed positively absurd. The advert had requested women only.

This didn’t seem strange until it emerged that the house was inhabited by four men in their early thirties. The house was in the process of renovation, i.e. not really appropriate for human habitation. It did not have central heating, a lock on the bedroom door or even a proper bed.

Damp was rising up the walls, filth was ingrained in the kitchen and tiny bathroom and there was a general lack of usable white goods. Although this is at the upper end of the spectrum, many of the other places I viewed in the first ten days were no better. It seemed as though I traipsed through the very worst this city had to offer and it is easy to fall to the temptation of snapping up the first place with four intact walls and a ceiling.

In general this is an OK tactic, however in my case I ended up living with an over friendly alcoholic and my house hunt continued for another week or so. Another hurdle for the incoming student is that it can be surprisingly difficult to even get to the viewing stage. At best one in ten landlords respond quickly to emails and many of those who do, do so because they are desperate to find a tenant, often because their property is one of the ‘un-inhabitables’.

You may have a little more luck if you have an Irish number and know your way around the city, but for those moving to Dublin from abroad this is just another hurdle to finding decent accommodation. With prices continually rising, it is difficult for prospective students to budget accurately and it looks set to get even harder for next year’s students.

After searching the council website, there seems to be little regulation on rental properties and even if there is, it is obviously not being well enforced. With Dublin’s Universities also not maintaining a database or reliable landlords and properties, the rental future for students looks bleak.

Dealing with issues in the workplace

Finding a job can be a difficult task but what can be even harder is to know what to do when things go wrong. Sometimes you can start out with the best intentions but a job can become impossible to continue, leaving you to pick up the pieces and more often than not feel the consequences. I found myself in this situation last summer.

After what felt like an eternity of job hunting I stumbled across a vacancy for a receptionist on gumtree.ie (not the most reliable place for job hunters). Calling the number provided I was offered an interview for the next day and a second interview taking place the following day. Very quickly I found myself in employment. The relief I felt at this change in circumstances was not to be long lasting. Cracks began to appear very quickly and after only two months I felt there was no other option but to leave.

When I began work there I was to be paid monthly. Unfortunately they insisted on paying me in cash, which was obviously less than ideal. On the second month of payment the wages were a day late and eight euro over. They demanded change. A little research showed that so long as you are given a pay slip this is a legal form of payment.

It is however a legal requirement for you to receive a pay slip, no matter the method of payment and do not feel afraid of asking for some form of receipt. It took over two months for the company to send me my final pay slip and p45. A little over €150 was still owed. Despite having my address and bank details the final payment was not sent. Several emails were then ignored. It can be difficult to find help and to know what to do when things go wrong.

When working for large companies there are established hierarchies and complaints systems which can make it easier to file a complaint. It also gives you the option of speaking to several different people, not just your immediate supervisor. At the start try to familiarise yourself with those you work with and also their supervisors, get to know their names and contact details. If things feel as though they are not going well be sure to keep any email or text correspondence between you and your employer or any other parties involved. It may be needed as evidence at a later date.

Similarly, record the date and contents of all conversation that may be relevant. For example, if you are asked to do something that makes you feel uncomfortable or is outside of your job description make a note of it; record the date, nature of dissatisfaction and exactly what it is that your employer said or did. Similarly also keep a record of all hours worked and whether any overtime occurred.

However, if you work for a small company or an individual, things can be a little trickier. If after a calm discussion or email exchange it appears that there will be no easy resolution to the problem, whether it is lack of payment, bullying or unfair demands being placed on you, there is help available.

Useful websites include: Union Connect and Citiizens Information. The most helpful source of information that you are likely to find is Workplace Relations. It is here that you will find information on the complaints process, what it involves and how to begin the complaints procedure. There is a section titled ‘Refer a Dispute / Make a Complaint’. This section contains information on how to refer a dispute to a conciliation or mediation service, or taking it further to the Labour Rights Commission (LRC).

The LRC can be contacted directly by email. Contact details can be found here. Their main responsibility is to help those referring employment related complaints and disputes. They are an independent service that aims to improve workplace practices and procedures in Irish workplaces. Whether you are an individual or small group there is help for you in solving your workplace dispute. Complaints should be made as quickly as possible. When it comes to issues surrounding payment, or lack of it, complaints should always be made within six months in order for them to be investigated. If you contact the LRC directly they may be able to advise you on the correct path to take. Often they refer you to the complaints form, which can be found here.

It is important to fill out the form in as clear and detailed manner as possible. This is where it will have been helpful to keep a record of all problems that occurred during the time of your employment. Be sure of what you are complaining about and try to be as specific as possible e.g. stating ‘according to my final payslip dated xxx I am owed xxx in unpaid earnings’, is much easier to deal with than ‘it was an unpleasant working environment and they did not treat me well’. After this you will receive electronic, and later written confirmation of your complaint. This will not be immediate but the wheels will be in motion.

From here on in the LRC will be investigating your complaint and helping to find a resolution, whether that involves the early resolution service or progresses to a hearing. No matter who you are or where in Ireland you are employed you do have rights and there are people out there who can help you tackle workplace disputes and uphold your rights.

12 tips on landing that dream house


Near the end of last year I had a part time job in a small Dublin’s lettings agency. Here the reality of the housing crisis became apparent. Politicians continue to debate solutions, rent controls, increase supply by building more public housing or incentives for landlords but where does that leave the average person looking for somewhere to rent?

In this job I saw people desperately trying to secure accommodation and the attitude and actions of agencies who have the pick of the crop. So what can you do to make sure you are the one that finds somewhere? Here are some of the keys things I learned.

1. Call First

When looking online express an interest in as many properties that look like they could be suitable. Where possible always secure viewings by phone. Contacting individuals and agencies by email rarely results in a reply and when it does it is often too slow; someone else has pipped you to the post. If you are calling an agency and leaving a message always state you name and leave your contact number twice. You have to make it as easy for them as possible. You need them more than they need you.

2. Discuss your requirements with your housemates

If you are searching for somewhere as a group make sure you have discussed what you are looking for before you start hunting. Decide what is essential (e.g. number of bedrooms) and what features can be compromised on (e.g. would you all be willing to live further away from you college / work place in exchange for a lower price?). Avoid any arguments by establishing these facts, in particular costings (rent, bills and transport costs) early on.

3. Have all the necessary paperwork

Attend viewings with all documents (and photocopies of documents) that you might need. You will probably be asked to show payslips, work contracts, bank details and references (preferably from previous landlords). It is becoming increasingly difficult for students, the unemployed and young families to find somewhere so make sure you have everything that they might ask for. They will probably want someone who can move in straight away and begin paying rent immediately. Be prepared for this. Very rarely will you be able to secure a place in May for arrival in September.

4. Present yourself well

Following on from this always present yourself well. Speak to the landlord or agency representative and try to build up a rapport. Engage with the process and appear interested. Treat viewings, open viewings in particular, as you would a job interview. Dress well, not necessarily suit and ties but clean, presentable clothing. Show yourself to be someone who has a serious interest in the property and that you will be a reliable tenant who will always pay rent on time.

5. Have your deposit ready

If you are offered a place move quickly and do not hesitate. Sign the contract and pay the deposit as soon as you can. This is one of those things that everyone says but hardly anyone ever does.

6. Keep photographic evidence

When you move into a place take photographs and notes of the condition of the room or house. Email a copy to yourself to keep them safe. This will also give you proof of date taken so if you need to use them in the future you can prove the condition of the property upon your arrival.

7. Keep copies of everything

When signing documents always make sure they are dated and hand signed by all parties. Makes copies of all documents, again it is always worth emailing a copy to yourself.

8. Discuss what will happen if someone leaves

If you are a group of people taking out a lease on a property decide whether one person is going to be the leaseholder named on the contract or whether all individuals will be on the contract. Ask if one person is forced to break the contract what impact will that have on the others. Will you have to find a new flatmate? Will you have to pay their share of the rent?

9. Keep financial records

Keep a paper trail. Either pay rent by cheque or if transferring money online be sure to label the transaction clearly, e.g. Mr Smith rent payment December 2015. Always ask for confirmation of payment and keep all receipts.

10. When you cannot pay your rent on time

If something should go wrong and you are unable to pay the rent on time one month, but you expect this to just be a one off glitch, contact the landlord or agency as soon as you can to explain your situation. Point out your track record of being a reliable tenant and make it clear how and when you intend to make your next payment.

11. Keep records of your communication

Use email where possible so that there can be no dispute over whether a message was sent or when. Alternatively if staying in contact by post ask for a receipt when posting and notify the intended recipient that you have sent the item.

12. Know your rights

Brush up on tenant’s right. Citizen’s Information are very useful. And most of all, good luck!

Job Bridge or Scambridge?

More people than ever taking third level arts and heritage qualifications and the question of what to do after graduation is no longer a decision that can be put off. It is a time of mass youth unemployment as the country struggles out of recession; making it increasingly difficult for graduates to successfully navigate the move from education to work.

Internships are one possible solution, one that the Irish government have jumped on. The government have created and funded the Job Bridge scheme which provides 8,500 6 – 9 month work placements in a wide variety of industries. The scheme claims to bridge the gap between study and work by providing relevant work experience which will advance graduates opportunities in the job market. In an environment of high youth unemployment, and in turn increasing youth emigration, it is clear that there is a problem in getting onto the work ladder. Further to this many are trapped in a cycle of low paid, dead end jobs that are often part time, temporary or even on 0 hour contracts.

However Job Bridge does not seem to be the ideal solution that it was intended to be. If you dig beneath the surface there are several key failings in the scheme. Focussing on the arts and heritage sectors: the first complaint with the Job Bridge scheme is that it is only for those who have been unemployed for three months or longer and are in receipt of at least one form of benefit. Although there is obviously nothing wrong with this it does not sit well with those who have left college or University and found a job, even if it is not relevant to their desired career path but that pays the bills.

Finding work at the moment is hard, very hard, but if someone has left study and taken any job that they can get; cleaning, working in a warehouse, stacking shelves or taking and casual and temporary work that they can, how are they supposed to gain useful work experience, whilst working, which will help on their desired career path? This leads on to the second issue with the scheme. It is becoming increasingly difficult to find valuable work experience. Most museums, galleries and heritage sites offer volunteering opportunities however most of it is customer service based. Finding work experience that is relevant if you want to become say, an archivist or curator, is near impossible.

Especially if you are still studying or working and cannot commit yourself full time to often unpaid or low paid work experience. Arguably this scheme is making it harder for many to gain this experience as businesses are using Job Bridge interns to circumnavigate taking on new employees. They are gaining an employee without the financial burden of paying them. Why would a business take on a new employee when they could just keep using the free labour of interns?

This is particularly significant where you remember that many heritage sites outside of the capital are struggling financially and in order to work around this are attempting to use volunteers as much as possible in the creation of new exhibits and the front of house work that could be done by paid employees. This leads onto the biggest complaint with the scheme, which is the low numbers of Job Bridge interns who have moved onto full time paid work after successfully completing an internship.

Figures vary according to the different industries and employers that have taken advantage of the scheme however Joan Burton, Minister for Social Protection claimed that on 9 May 2012 that 38% of Job Bridge interns went onto full time employment. However this figure is hotly debated and a breakdown of the statistics can be found on www.scambridge.ie. This popular website has been set up as a result of the many frustrations young people who have participated in the scheme.

Their testimonies make interesting reading which the government should pay attention to if it intends to continue the scheme in its current form. How can the Job Bridge scheme continue as it is, taking advantage of the unemployed as free labour, ripe for exploitation? Well established heritage sights such as Christ Church Cathedral and the National Gallery currently provide internships through Job Bridge, primarily one imagines because the interns are ‘paid’ by the government (and in turn the tax payer) and not the company themselves. As unemployment figures remain unacceptably high, particularly amongst the young, it looks as though this scheme is trying to get volunteers to do the work that should be done by paid employees.

Is this scheme just another form of low paid labour designed to help out the businesses while massaging unemployment statistics for a government that is struggling with the fallout from the recession. Politicians, such as the Paul Murphy of the Socialist Party and MEP for Dublin have realised the shortcomings in the scheme and are pushing for it to be scrapped and replaced with job creating investment that will provide real work opportunities. Whether this will happen and how successful it would be is something that we cannot yet guess at, however criticisms are increasing and the evidence is looking pretty damning.

The hunt for student accommodation

Looking for somewhere to live for the academic year in Dublin is difficult. Increasingly difficult. This is something many more will encounter over the coming months as it is nearly that time of year again when an influx of new students will lead to a desperate scramble for decent well located student accommodation in Dublin city. With rising rental costs and increasing competition for accommodation, it looks likely that this year will be more stressful than the last for student renters.

However, each year raises the question of what form of protection is there for student renters? Many of whom are made vulnerable by financial and time constraints, harsh competition for accommodation and the staggeringly high number of rooms and houses on offer that are barely habitable. We have all heard the horror stories of feckless landlords or accommodation that is at best disgusting, and at its worst should be condemned.

One of the rooms I viewed in August last year was enough to make even the most world weary of renters despair. The landlord wanted €90 per week rent plus €20 per week for bills. Cost wise this isn’t outrageous when compared to other rental rooms in the docklands area, until you bear in mind the state of the place. Walking to the viewing it shouldn’t have been surprising that in the row of squat but neat red brick terraces the house where all of the windows had been sealed shut with rusting metal grids was the one I was there to view. Inside was worse.

The place stank of damp, rotting wood and mouldy carpets and curtains. The window frame was so rotten that it had holes in it. Hopefully, property like this is few and far between, but as one could tell from the fact the other six rooms in the house were occupied; there will come a point of desperation and financial difficulty when even the worst of places will seem like a good, if only, option. Many universities and colleges, despite being the main draw for students and newcomers to the city, have been very slow to see the problem faced by their students and to act upon it. Even though individuals are paying high prices to study in Dublin, there is very little if any help easily available. This begs the question, why is there no protection or real help for student renters in Ireland’s biggest city?

There is a guaranteed inflow into the city every August and September as the dozens of colleges and universities open their doors for a new year. Even though these students are bringing money into the educational institutions and the city as a whole, there seems to be only a desire to take, take, take. Trinity College Dublin (TCD) is a case in point. Although it has an advisory service, it does not have either a database of trusted landlords or rental agencies. Is this because it might divert students from staying in Trinity’s own, hugely expensive accommodation? The lack of any form of database or agreement between the universities and landlords or estate agencies is also worrying. Having studied for my undergrad in the UK and then gone on to work in the accommodation department of a top ten British University, I was bewildered to find that students on their arrival here in Ireland are completely alone. This situation is perhaps worse for international students, who feel the need to find somewhere to live more keenly.

There is no end to the horror stories, but perhaps most striking are the figures in black and white. As house prices in Dublin have started another rapid ascension, so have rental prices, as the rising cost of home ownership is passed on to renters. For most renters, their incomes have stayed the same, or with the rising cost of living taken into account, have decreased. What is a student renter to do in difficult circumstances? The high numbers of landlords hoping to conduct all business cash in hand only exacerbates this problem. Of course before you look for somewhere to live you will be told repeatedly to have a contract, rent book and receipts for all payments made. However, in practice, this is not always possible. With funds for temporary accommodation running low, how many will find themselves jumping at the first offer of a place to live, even if it leaves one without stability.

Surely protection for renters is also protection for landlords? Without a contract, disreputable landlords can change their prices or even throw a renter out. There is limited means for renters to report or get help when faced with a lack of paperwork, a refusal to return a deposit, unreasonable behaviour or substandard living conditions. Although many landlords may want to keep things under the radar with cash in hand payments, they are also open to the risk of students moving on without warning, potentially leaving property damage and debt in their wake as the lack of a contract and security also gives students the dubious freedom of being able to pack up and leave whenever they like.

Dublin City Council and County Council are also spectacularly unhelpful. Unless you are on the brink of homelessness, they appear to be unwilling to help. If you scour the Dublin City Council and Dublin County Councils websites, you will find very little in the way of information or assistance for renters. Unlike many cities, the council here has chosen to not implement any form of rent controls, minimum standards for rental properties or deposit protection schemes. With students being a vital source of growth and income for the city, isn’t it time that educational institutions and the council made an effort to protect them?