Czech Republic: 17 000 to lose benefits for tenancy in residential hotels
As many as 17 000 applicants for housing benefits, people in need who are living in residential hotels, could lose the roofs over their heads after local authorities reject their applications. The Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion reported the findings today.
The Czech Government Legislative Council also discussed the benefits today. The Council doubts whether the current rules for awarding them are constitutional.
Czech Human Rights Minister Jiří Dienstbier (ČSSD), the head of the Legislative Council, informed the press of those doubts today. According to estimates there are approximately 27 000 people total living in residential hotels.
The situation has been changed by an amendment to the law on aid to those in material distress. As of May, in order for the Labor Office to disburse the benefit, the consent of the municipality has also been required.
The regulation was supposed to make it possible for local councilors to crack down on so-called "trafficking in poverty". Benefits are not supposed to flow to those running overpriced facilities offering inappropriate conditions, but are supposed to support housing in regular apartments.
Dienstbier says the bill was ill-conceived, not thought through, and unsystematic, and that its implementation is causing problems. "We are at risk of many people's rights being violated and the security and social situations in the municipalities concerned deteriorating," the minister said.
A board of advisers to the Czech Interior Ministry recently met to discuss the current rules. Dienstbier said that in the view of that body, municipal consent to the disbursal of the benefit is not legally binding on the Labor Office.
Dienstbier added that the Government's Legislative Council has serious doubts about the constitutionality of the regulation on municipal consent to the benefits. The fastest solution to the current situation, according to the Human Rights Minister, would be for the Czech Labor and Social Affairs Ministry to issue instructions to the Labor Offices on precisely how to proceed in such cases.
That, however, necessitates a change to the law. The Labor and Social Affair Ministry should be designing that change now.
Dienstbier offered the cooperation of the Government's legislation experts and also proposed taking advantage of exceptions in the legislative process so another amendment can be adopted as soon as possible. "The new legislation must get rid of municipal consent in this form, but it must make it possible for municipalities to address the situation so that mayors can immediately stop filling up the residential hotels run by the 'traffickers in poverty'," the minister said.
The Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion estimates that as many as 17 000 people living in residential hotels could lose that housing during the next few months. The government department based that estimate on data from last week.
The Agency researched the situation in two towns in detail. "Those at risk of losing their housing in residential hotels are children, the elderly, the employed and the unemployed, and youth," said Agency Director Radek Jiránek.
In his view, the situation could partially be tided over by the extraordinary aid benefit that Labor Offices are able to disburse. He added, however, that such a benefit should not serve to "address legislative deficiencies".
People living in residential hotels in Ostrava have already threatened to take to the streets over the benefits. This particular aid is part of the welfare package available to persons in material distress.
The persons awarded housing benefits are those who are also entitled to housing subsidies but who even then have no money left over to live on. The benefit covers the necessary expenses for housing so these people will be able to live on the rest of their income.
During the first two months of this year, the Labor Offices disbursed CZK 500,200,000 in housing benefits. Last year it disbursed CZK 24,300,000 more in housing benefits during the same period.
The number of those receiving the benefits has also gone down. In February 2014 a total of 73 000 persons were awarded the benefits, while this February 64 500 were.
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