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Representatives of students feel they have been left with no other choice but to canvass on the street. Alamy Stock Photo
Dig out

Students canvass Dubliners to join the rent-a-room scheme in an attempt to increase bed supply

The scheme was criticised by the Union Of Students in Ireland as a “band-aid” to the accommodation shortage.

STUDENTS FROM TRINITY College and University College Dublin canvassed commuters in Dublin City today in a last ditch effort to boost the supply of rooms to rent ahead of the upcoming academic year.

The rent-a-room scheme, which provides tax relief on digs accommodation, has been criticised by the Union Of Students in Ireland (USI) as a “band-aid” to the accommodation shortage in recent weeks.

However, while representatives of students from UCD (who are not members of the USI) and Trinity College are unhappy with elements the scheme, they feel they have been left with no other choice but to canvass on the street.

The Students’ Unions from both universities launched a joint campaign, the ‘Digs Drive’, today in an attempt to convince commuters in Dublin to join the scheme. Members of both unions handed flyers to commuters at Luas stations.

A statement from the unions on the campaign said: “The chronic shortage of rental accommodation in Dublin has put the pursuit of education and the on-campus student experience of a growing number of prospective and returning students at risk.”

The campaign, which will run in selected locations near Trinity College, comes ahead of the first round of CAO offers, due to be sent to students tomorrow. The shortage in accommodation is linked to an ongoing lack of purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA).

Martha Ní Riada of UCD Students’ Union told The Journal that both unions felt they had no other option but to canvass.

“We see [digs] as a solution. It’s not an ideal one but it’s something for the short time.” Ní Riada said.

Ní Riada said she sees the Digs Drive as a result of inaction from government.

It is a band-aid over the situation but it’s a much needed band-aid. It’s something we really do want homeowners to consider because it is so needed.”

László Molnárfi, president of the Trinity Students’ Union, said: “We shouldn’t have to do this, but sadly, we are forced to due to the state of the housing crisis.”

Molnárfi added that the Unions believe that the government should “treat housing as a human right, not as a commodity”.

STUDENTS CAMPAIGN FOR BEDS 6 Martha Ní Riada handing flyers to commuters today in Dublin. TCDSU & UCDSU TCDSU & UCDSU

The flyers, handed out by students this morning and this afternoon, ask commuters if they can help a student ‘secure their future’, by offering a spare room in their home. 

“Students need affordable, adequate places to live in order to reach their full potential,” the flyer says.

It adds: “We urge you to consider providing a 7-day let as for many students, in particular international students, 5-day digs arrangements are not suitable.”

img_9079_720 Copy of the flyer handed out to commuters in Dublin this morning. Muiris O'Cearbhaill / The Journal Muiris O'Cearbhaill / The Journal / The Journal

Rent-a-room scheme

The rent-a-room scheme, which does not require the homeowner to register as a landlord, allows those who avail to the scheme to earn €14,000 tax free. 

Under the scheme a homeowner must establish eight things with their tenant, including the cost, transaction method and frequency of rent, duration of tenancy, the division of utility bills, restrictions on noise levels, notice and rent review periods.

The homeowner is not required to register as a landlord, therefore the arrangement is not within the remit of the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) which leaves the student with fewer rights as a tenant, compared to others in the private rental market. 

This means any dispute between the homeowner and the tenant cannot be brought to the RTB for them to settle.

Furthermore, the Residential Tenancies Act of 2021 provides tenants with further protections such as a ban on upfront rent payments. However, the same rights are not provided to tenants in properties deemed ‘student-specific’.

This means homeowners are also not required to include the use of basic amenities, such as toilet and kitchen facilities, for their tenant. Ní Riada asked homeowners to ensure they include this.

“Students need somewhere safe to stay and we’d urge anyone availing of the Rent-a -Room Relief Scheme to ensure that the lodger has access to appropriate facilities and isn’t subject to onerous conditions, or not to make a stay contingent on other conditions, such as housework or caring responsibilities,” Ní Riada said.

Last week, an advertisement seen by The Journal contained offers which say that students can avail of the room if they work as a childminder for up to four hours a day during the week.

This arrangement was described as “very unorthodox” by Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris. The minister later met with the USI and UCD students’ union, which highlighted their concerns over the rent-a-room scheme to him.

Harris yesterday said while the representatives make “a lot of valid points” he still believes that the scheme will help thousands of students this year.

“The students’ unions rightly make the point, while [the scheme] works for many, sometimes, there can be bad experiences and it’s important that we have protections in place.”

Molnárfi told The Journal that Trinity’s union do not see the rent-a-room scheme as a solution.

For us, digs are really our last resort.”

Molnárfi said that students need legislation to ensure that students have the correct protections as tenants.

“The issue with digs is that you essentially have no protections. You have as many rights as a hotel resident, or even less,” he said. “It leaves students in a very vulnerable and defenceless position.”

Harris, who has publicly backed the rent-a-room scheme on many occasions, said that he plans to publish a draft licensing agreement for homeowners and prospective tenants this year. 

The higher education minister believes that the introduction of this agreement, as a standard in the scheme, will provide tenants with more protections as legal efforts can be exercised through the small claims court.

However, Harris said the agreement will not come alongside the provision of legislation but restated his stance that he is “open to the idea” of doing so.

The provision of legislation, something which the USI is heavily in favour for, would provide students in digs with the same protections as any other renters. It would also allow for students in digs avail to rent relief schemes, such as the €500 tax credit for renters introduced in Budget 2023.

“Whether tax credits are or aren’t linked to [the scheme] is a matter for the Department of Finance,” Harris said yesterday.

Ní Riada said that the draft licensing agreement is a “step in the right direction” as she believes any type of guidelines will make it a lot easier to secure the provision of legislation.

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