The Cabinet has extended rental protections for those financially impacted by the pandemic.

It means those in arrears and at risk of homelessness cannot face rent increases or evictions until 12 January 2022.

Minister for Housing Darragh O'Brien described the response as "proportionate and focused".

Minister O'Brien told RTÉ's News at One that the protections will be available to those who have lost jobs or are in receipt of social welfare payments or at risk of homelessness because of the pandemic.

He said the system will require a self-declaration by tenants and the only exceptions will be where there has been serious criminal or anti-social behaviour or rental arrears for over five months.

The minister said that 500 tenants are currently availing of these protections as their take-home pay and salaries continue to be negatively impacted by the Covid-19 situation.

The extension will run until 22 January and Minister O'Brien said he expects it to come into place before 12 July.

Minister O'Brien said he is also looking at bringing in measures ahead of a new Rent Reform Bill to to try and address rent hikes expected in July.

However, Social Democrats Housing Spokesperson Cian O'Callaghan said the measures will be cold comfort for the vast majority of renters who have been excluded.

"Unfortunately, the Government's decision is more about show than substance. Only a few hundred renters will benefit out of tens of thousands," he said.

The Cabinet also agreed that upfront payments for rental properties will be capped at two months' rent, which is a deposit and one month's rent in advance.

Students will also have to give a maximum of 28 days notice to end a tenancy.

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"Having met previously with members of the USI, I know they were particularly concerned about students being asked to pay up to a year's rent in advance and having to provide lengthy termination notices," Minister O'Brien said.

While the Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris confirmed the measures would be in place for the new academic year and would remove a significant upfront expense for students attending college.

The Cabinet has also agreed to extend current planning permissions by two years due to delays to construction caused by the pandemic.

Meanwhile, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Michael McGrath said the Government would like to see people return to the workplace as soon as possible, but for now it is about holding on to the gains already made.

Speaking on his way into Cabinet this morning, he said it is too early to say if the two metre social distancing rule could be reconsidered in line with a return to the workplace.

Mr McGrath said the Cabinet will seek to protect tenants impacted by Covid-19 from rent increases and evictions until next January.

The Irish Property Owners Association (IPOA) has said landlords should be allowed to choose the deposit amount required from tenants.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today programme, IPOA information officer Margaret McCormack said: "It needs to be a landlord who chooses the amount because one month deposit doesn't protect an asset, the financial risk is to the landlord. The landlord has borrowed and the landlord has taken on the risk."

Speaking on the same programme, Lorna Fitzpatrick, President, Union of Students in Ireland, said it "welcomed" that upfront payments may be restricted to a value no greater that two months' rent.

She said the expectation in recent years that students and their families would pay six to nine months' rent upfront was "grossly unfair".

Reporting Micheál Lehane and Samantha Libreri