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Rent review leaves dad with €11,000 arrears bill

A single parent living in County Galway was slapped with a rent arrears bill of almost €11,000 by the local authority.

The father of one dependent child, who lives in a Council house in Athenry, said he has been ‘unbelievably stressed’ since the letter demanding €10,890 landed through his letterbox last November.

Galway County Council has since reduced the amount to just shy of €7,000 following an appeal – but the dad told this newspaper he cannot afford the bill.

The man, who works in Galway city, said he has had sleepless nights since the Council wrote to him demanding arrears.

“I am a single parent on a low wage, and this is causing me considerable stress and anxiety. We are in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis, and I am just keeping my head above the water. A bill like this could put me over the edge,” he told the Connacht Tribune.

He said no breakdown of the outstanding rent arrears was outlined to him.

The arrears bill related to four years, from 2019 to 2022.

Ironically, this man believed the council pursued him for backdated rent only after he tried to pay additional rent.

That was during Covid-19 when his wages had increased because he was on better fixed-term contracts due to covering maternity leave.

“I took the decision to overpay my rent for quite a while when I could not get the relevant forms and did not know how the amount was worked out,” he said.

“I was asked by letter a number of times to reduce my rent to its original amount and to take back my overpayment. I rang and said I would take back the overpayment if requested. It was then that the question was asked why I overpaid in the first place and I explained,” he said.

Subsequent to that, a bill for almost €11,000 arrived. The tenant said he has suffered “considerable stress” since.

He had planned to buy the house but was refused because he was not on a permanent contract.

“As part of this application they had access to all my finances, so I was hiding nothing,” he said.

He said he tried to contact the Council on numerous occasions, and he blamed under-staffing and lack of training of County Council due to Covid-19 for this mess.

He has since contacted Councillor Shelly Herterich Quinn (FF) about the issue, and she has contacted the Housing Department for clarity.

The Connacht Tribune highlighted a similar case earlier this year, in which a single mother was hit with arrears of €3,300 just before Christmas.

At the time, in February, County Hall said it would not comment on individual cases.

The then-Director of Services for Housing, Liam Hanrahan said each renter had a very individual set of circumstances.

“The last rent review commenced in 2017 and finished in 2020. With a rent review for all tenants, we historically only apply arrears for the preceding six months,” Mr Hanrahan said.

He added the Council decided not to conduct rent reviews in 2020 and 2021 due to people’s changed circumstances during Covid-19.

In late 2022 the Council decided not to initiate a rent review ‘due to the cost-of-living crisis’.

“The only rent reviews conducted have been those requesting rent reviews following change of employment or those considering tenant purchase of their local authority dwelling,” he said.

The father at the centre of this latest bill said he would be writing again to the Council. “I am not paying, I cannot afford to,” he added.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:

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