A maximum of three single people will be allowed to share a room in Direct Provision after the Covid-19 crisis ends, the Department of Justice has said.
It comes as Ombudsman Peter Tyndall raised concerns over accommodation in the Direct Provision system in his annual report.
The report said coronavirus has highlighted the “unsustainability” of having three or more people living in the same room in Direct Provision.
In response to the report, the Department of Justice said the measures will be extended after the crisis ends.
A justice spokesman said: “We were pleased to be able to confirm to the Ombudsman before the publication of his report that we intend to continue this policy when the crisis is over.”
Mr Tyndall said the contagious nature of Covid-19 has highlighted how unsustainable it is to have three or more people, who are not from the same family, living in the same room for a significant amount of time.
Many people in Direct Provision centres share bedrooms with multiple people, particularly among the increasing numbers in emergency accommodation.
In his report, Mr Tyndall said the number of people in the Direct Provision system increased by 30% during 2018, and by 16% by early 2020.
He said the McMahon report – the recognised benchmark for Direct Provision services – had criticised the Department of Justice and Equality’s use of a definition from the 1966 Housing Act as the minimum space required for a bedroom.
The measurement was little more than the space required for a double bed, which the department continued to use.
Current Direct Provision accommodation is not appropriate for anything other than short-term stayPeter Tyndall, Ombudsman
As part of the investigation, Ombudsman’s office staff visited 26 accommodation centres last year including some unannounced visits.
The Ombudsman saw a 10.5% increase in complaints, from 152 in 2018 to 168 in 2019.
Complaints concerned the length of time in emergency accommodation, transfers to other accommodation, access to schools for children, food facilities, and access to GP services and medical cards.
The Ombudsman said the most significant change in 2019 was the increase in the number of applicants for international protection temporarily living in emergency accommodation in hotels, guesthouses, and bed and breakfasts.
At the start of 2020 there were 1,524 people in 37 locations across the country.
The Ombudsman said: “Current Direct Provision accommodation is not appropriate for anything other than short-term stay.
“Emergency accommodation is even more inappropriate. It is unacceptable that people who have sought refuge here can find themselves in accommodation that is entirely unsuitable for a prolonged period.”
A Department of Justice spokesman said it is trying to reduce the number of residents in emergency accommodation as well as the length of time that residents spend in emergency accommodation.
“As the Ombudsman rightly points out, it is impossible to predict accurately the demand for international protection,” the spokesman said. “In the last two years we have seen significant increases in the number of new applicants and the consequent demand for our accommodation services.
“Much of our use of emergency accommodation could be eliminated if the more than 1,000 people who have been granted permission to remain in the State but continue to reside in Direct Provision accommodation could relocate into mainstream accommodation.”