Minister Jan O’Sullivan, Senator Hayden, Board Members, Ladies and Gentlemen, in my new role as Chairperson of the Private Residential Tenancies Board, I would like to welcome you all here today. I would particularly like to thank the Minister for taking the time to join us.
I am the third person to be appointed as Chairperson of the PRTB, and I am very pleased that my two predecessors in that post - Tom Dunne and Orla Coyne – are also with us today.
I am delighted to start my term as Chairperson on a high note with the launch of the PRTB Rent Index and the new PRTB website. The Residential Tenancies Act has charged the PRTB with responsibility for producing information concerning prevailing rent levels. We are uniquely placed to do this. The new PRTB Rent Index we are launching here today is based on a very rich source of data; the register of tenancies. Each year we register in the region of 100,000 new tenancies, from every corner of Ireland. We currently have over 277,000 tenancies on our register.
The information that we capture on the registration form is quite detailed: obviously we capture rent amounts, but also location, dwelling type, number of bedrooms, number of tenants, etc . In summary, the PRTB holds the largest, and the most detailed, data-set in the country on the private rented market. The PRTB is also a completely impartial Rent Index. We record the actual rents achieved, as opposed to the rent requested. All of this places us in a unique position to produce a very authoritative National Rent Index.
Following an open tender, the ESRI were commissioned to produce this Rent Index based on this extensive database of ours. David Duffy and John Walsh of the ESRI have produced two excellent pieces of work -- a Hedonic Rent Index, dating back to 2007, and an Average Rent Report, and I want to thank them for their work.
In keeping with Government policy on Shared Services, the Average Rent Report is displayed on CSO specialist software. This software will allow Landlords and Tenants alike to explore by property type; for example, Apartments or Semi – detached dwellings, and by number of bedrooms. In addition to the large urban centres it will also allow users to drill down to regional towns for example Maynooth or Bray, and even down to local townslands. I am confident therefore that the PRTB Rent Index will be of assistance and value to Landlords and to Tenants alike, and to people considering renting.
The PRTB has also launched a new website. The layout and content has been carefully planned to respond to the needs of our Stakeholders, as identified in a series of workshops conducted by our IT consulting company Continuum. It is designed so that all visitors will be able to access the information they are seeking quickly and easily. This is an important step to ensure that people are well informed on their rights – and their responsibilities – under the Residential Tenancies Act. I would like to thank everyone who participated in the design stage of this project, particularly our various Stakeholders, all of whom are represented here to-day.
The staff and Board of the PRTB have embraced the challenge of “doing more with less” over the past few years, and have been exemplary in terms of the flexibility and commitment they have demonstrated.
The Rent Index and the Website are the final two projects in the current ICT Strategy of the PRTB. In the past three years the PRTB has rolled out 12 ICT projects including on-line registration, and on-line dispute application. We have moved from a system of handling thousands of paper registration forms, and dispute files in old fashioned ring binders, to state-of-the-art ICT systems. We now produce electronic case files which are distributed through secure portals to Adjudicators and Tribunal Members around the country. We have rolled out software to interrogate the Rent Supplement database so that we can identify unregistered Landlords.
The PRTB has been shortlisted for the Irish ICT awards twice in the past three years. The first time was with Vulcan for the Tenancy Management System (and I understand their CEO is with us to-day, Cian McNamara). We’ve been shortlisted again this year, with An Post, for an innovative system to track registered post and electronically certify “service” to the satisfaction of the Courts.
The PRTB has also embarked on an outsourcing arrangement with SouthWestern in Clonakilty, Co-Cork in the past six months to provide most of our call centre services, as well as Registration document management.
Finally, the PRTB has taken several opportunities to engage in Shared Services initiatives. For example our ICT projects were overseen by an ICT Steering Committee which includes the head of ICT in the NTMA & NAMA, and senior representatives from both the Revenue Commissioners and the LGMA. Our Disaster Recovery, which hopefully we’ll never need, is hosted by Revenue, behind their firewalls.
Many of you will know that the PRTB has been entirely self-financing for three years now. Our activities are funded from the Registration fees paid by Landlords and this also covers the cost of Local Authority inspections.
With the exponential growth in the rented sector, and the addition of the Social & Voluntary Housing Sector to our remit, we will need not just improved information technology but additional staff also.
Further streamlining of Dispute procedures require legislative change, which I know you are working on, Minister. As the Indecon Consultants report has independently found, simplified, efficient procedures will be absolutely crucial if we are to reduce our processing times and manage our increasing workload. However, we will continue to identify every possible opportunity to improve and develop our services.
29% of the population of Ireland now live in the Private Rented Sector. Renting a home is no longer just a transient option, but it’s where people now choose to live, and to raise their families, for the longer term. With severe financial constraints on Local Authorities, and difficulty accessing Mortgages, the Private Rented Sector is set to continue to be an extremely important housing solution.
Accurate, up-to-date information on the rented sector, which is easily accessible and entirely free of charge, is now more important than ever before. The PRTB Website and the PRTB Rent Index, which we are launching to-day, are both very valuable tools in that context.
Thank you for coming and for your attention.