The Government is appealing to homeowners to rent rooms to students under a scheme which allows families to receive up to €14,000 a year tax-free in a bid to ease an acute shortage of college beds.
The move comes amid warnings from students’ unions of an unprecedented accommodation crisis due to rising student numbers, scarce private rented accommodation and pressures linked to housing Ukrainian refugees.
Some students’ unions recently reported that offers of accommodation have been withdrawn in some parts of the country, while there have been images on social media of queues of young people trying to view units for rent in the private rented sector.
Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris said on Wednesday that the situation was “very challenging” due to housing supply and the need to accommodate Ukrainians.
He said promoting the rent-a-room scheme, which provided up to 3,000 beds before the pandemic, was an immediate practical measure that colleges and local communities could help with.
“This is something that works for families and for homeowners in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis,” he sad. “You can take in a student, or indeed anybody, rent a room in your home and earn €14,000 tax-free.”
He said recent changes mean that this income will not affect a homeowner’s eligibility for social welfare benefits or student grants.
“Almost every college, if not every college in Ireland, is now keeping a register of local rental rooms,” Mr Harris said.
“I was looking at websites this morning and there’s already hundreds of beds offered on these hubs.”
Latest figures indicate that about 18 per cent of students, overall, require accommodation.
While he said there will be an additional 1,200 beds in purpose-built student accommodation this year compared to last, Mr Harris accepted that housing policies were inadequate.
He said he has reached agreement with the Taoiseach that the Government will part-fund the construction of campus-based “affordable” accommodation in an attempt to unblock thousands of planned beds which have been stalled for cost reasons over recent years.
Mr Harris said he believed this would have a “massive” impact on the supply of student beds over coming years.
“For the very first time, the Government will invest hard-earned taxpayer money in helping colleges bridge that gap so that they can build college-owned affordable accommodation,” he said.
More help for Ukrainians
Separately, the Cabinet has agreed a new financial support scheme for displaced Ukrainians to enter further education.
Qualified people will be able to attend Solas-approved Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) courses free of charge and will be offered financial assistance for one year worth up to €6,115 to help them with their course. This sum is equivalent to the Susi grant.
“Over 45,000 people have fled Ukraine and come to Ireland. The generosity of the Irish people has been extraordinary,” said Mr Harris. “As Ukrainian families continue to embed in our communities, it is really important we offer opportunities to access education and employment.”
Potential applicants who are eligible can apply to their local Education and Training Bard first and, once accepted on a course, can fill out the application form for financial assistance. This will be paid monthly to students who continue in the course.
Fees for all post-Leaving Cert courses have been abolished for asylum seekers and Irish students from September.