Housing Bill, 1988: Committee Stage.

Section 1 agreed to.
NEW SECTION.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 4, before section 2, to insert the following new section:

"2.—A draft of every regulation proposed to be made under this Act shall be laid before each House of the Oireachtas and the regulation shall not be made until a resolution approving of the draft has been passed by each such House.".

This amendment is intended to ensure that any regulations brought in or made by the Minister under this Bill would be made by way of a positive motion before the House. It is quite common for legislation to enable the Minister to implement legislation by way of regulation, setting down certain conditions that must be complied with, etc. Generally, the motions introducing these regulations are made by way of a negative motion, that is, a motion that the regulations will stand, unless a motion is carried by the Dáil annulling the regulations. But, because of the nature of Standing Orders, it is virtually impossible in practical terms for such a motion to be brought before the House.

The Government will not allow Government time for any such motion, and in the nature of things those parties which have access to Private Members' Time are loth to use that time for the purpose of annulling regulations. If you look through the records of the House you have to go back to 1963 or thereabouts before you find a motion to annul regulations being debated in this House.

Many of the regulations the Minister will be making will be very important in regard to how the sections of this Bill will be implemented, the variety of obligations that will be placed on various local authorities. It is important that those regulations be brought before the House by way of a positive motion and that they must be agreed by the House before becoming the law of the land. That is the reason I am proposing this amendment.

The Workers' Party have generally adopted the position where we prefer positive amendments. In many cases where we have brought forward these amendments the Minister concerned has accepted them. Now we are faced with this legislation which covers more than just the question of the homeless, but at the same time we feel it is sufficiently important to ensure that any regulations made by the Minister under the Bill will require the positive approval of the House before it becomes law.

I want to make a suggestion for the Minister's consideration on Report Stage in relation to this section and the proposed amendment. It is my view that the accommodation to be made available to the homeless — accommodation which would normally be available to those on the local authority housing waiting list — should be of a permanent and acceptable nature. When people are under 18 years of age, and their best interests require that they be accommodated as homeless persons, consideration should be given to some form of sheltered or protected housing. In all other cases the Minister should give some consideration to age. He might consider a proposal along the lines that a person must be at least 18 years old, and that his best interest required that he be housed by the housing authority, or that he be a married person. Otherwise a person aged 15, 16 or 17 years could come to a local authority seeking permanent housing.

The Deputy's remarks might be more appropriate to another amendment.

I had almost completed my remarks. Consideration should be given to this proposal because there could be difficulties housing people of that age alone or without parental encouragement in the sort of permanent accommodation I have in mind.

Acting Chairman

I am putting the question: "That the new section be here inserted". Is that agreed?

Does the Minister wish to respond?

Is the Minister setting a nice precedent by accepting——

The tone the Minister strikes in these crucial moments will set the tone for a very amicable debate today.

As the Taoiseach said, the Minister would find us extraordinarily accommodating if he would take the first steps——

I was hoping the tone the Deputies might adopt would influence the Minister. However, I have given very careful consideration to all the amendments personally.

The same way he gave all the grant applications personal consideration?

I did that too, and I have discovered it works out well when one does that——

And the Minister takes personal responsibility.

Then, when one is speaking about these matters one is speaking from a position of knowledge. I am a great believer in product knowledge as being the best way to address oneself to any problem.

Lord, it is hard to be humble.

If the Deputy asks for it, he will get it today.

Acting Chairman

No further interruptions, please.

This is an example of the positive and constructive approach we are going to have to the Committee Stage obviously.

There will be a positive and constructive approach to these matters because I consider them to be of considerable importance. I am glad to see Deputies are in such good form because it bodes well for the rest of the business of the day.

In response to the point raised by Deputy De Rossa, every regulation under this Bill, in accordance with section 5 (2) of the Housing Act, 1966, is laid before each House of the Oireachtas and may be annulled by resolution of either House and passed within 21 sitting days. This procedure has applied to all regulations made under the housing code since 1966. I do not accept that it is necessary to provide that housing regulations be laid before each House in draft form and then await formal approval. I do not think that is a good way of proceeding. To do this would be wasteful of time, would lead to unnecessary delays and would be contrary to what is contemplated in the legislation and, I think, what is in the Deputy's mind as well. For that reason I ask him to consider that laying regulations in draft form before the House would not be a means of speeding up action and would be contrary to what he would wish to see happen.

I regret the Minister does not appear prepared to accept the spirit of the amendment at least. The point I made was that the negative motions which are normally allowed for in legislation are not always satisfactory. Generally, in practical terms it is not possible for Opposition Deputies to get time to have motions annulling regulations debated in this House. There have been numerous examples of that in the past year alone. There was some disruption in this House as a result of one incident where regulations were being made and it was not possible to have them annulled by the Opposition parties. As a general rule it is best that regulations of an important nature should be debated in this House and that Deputies should have an opportunity of expressing their views. By sticking to the procedure whereby regulations have to be annulled by a motion, the Minister is effectively preventing debate on the regulations. For that reason I will be pressing the amendment.

The Minister is not preventing anything but is trying to speed up the whole process. If a draft regulation had to be brought into this House and discussed before it could be put into force it would be very wasteful of time. The House might like to discuss regulations in due course but when we are doing something positive to deal with the matters in this Bill it would be very time consuming to bring draft regulations before the House for debate. It might lead to the regulations not making the grade. I cannot see why the Deputy is pursuing this matter.

Will the Minister accept the amendment if the word "draft" is deleted?

No. Regulations made under the Housing Acts are laid before the House anyway and an opportunity is given in due course for Deputies to discuss them and amend them if they so wish. The system is already in place. To discuss draft regulations would be time consuming and would not achieve the aims set out in the legislation. I would ask the Deputy to reconsider his position.

I have considered this question at length on a whole variety of Bills to which I have contributed. Other Ministers have taken the point on board. This Minister says he is concerned about the word "draft" in the amendment and I am quite happy to delete that word if he is prepared to accept the amendment on that basis. In practical terms, because of the Standing Orders of this House and the way business is dealt with, negative motions with regard to regulations are rarely debated. One has to go back more than 20 years to find an attempt by Opposition Deputies to annul regulations. Important regulations are proposed under this Bill and a means should be found to have them brought to the floor of the House so that Deputies may have a chance to change them if the majority so decide. I am prepared to delete the word "draft" if the Minister feels it would delay the implementation of the regulations. It is quite common for regulations to be effective from the date they are made and any subsequent annulment does not interfere with decisions taken from the date they were made. There is no problem in that regard.

I am asking the Deputy to withdraw this amendment because of the practical time constraints in dealing with regulations placed before the House. It does not serve a useful purpose in regard to this legislation. To pursue this matter any further is to waste time, when one considers that there are so many other amendments.

I do not propose to pursue it any further.

Obviously all these amendments are important to the movers. There are over 60 amendments on the Order Paper and I was hoping we could move through them as quickly as possible, particularly since the Minister has indicated he is not interested in accepting any of the amendments.

I endorse what Deputy Keating has said. It is rather a pointless exercise for Members to take the trouble to draft amendments. Time for this debate is limited and we should try to impose some self-discipline in an effort to operate Committee Stage effectively.

Obviously I have been wasting my breath on the clean air in this dwelling. I have already said I do not propose to pursue it any further in terms of making a contribution.

The Deputy has been doing a great job for the past 15 minutes.

Yes. I am entitled to. It was Deputy Keating's party and Fine Gael who agreed to a restricted debate, not The Workers' Party and the Labour Party. We attempted to have the time extended. I have as many amendments on the Order Paper as Deputy Keating and have put as much work into them as he has.

I would rather we did not start off in this fashion because there are many important matters to be discussed. I have a very open mind on everything in the amendments, including this one. If negative motions are rarely debated, it presumably means that Deputies are happy with the regulations. If the word "draft" were deleted from the amendment it would become meaningless.

Amendment put and declared lost.
SECTION 2.

Acting Chairman

Amendment No. 2. Amendments Nos. 3, 9 and 36 are related. Amendment No. 4 is an alternative to amendment No. 3 and amendment No. 10 is an alternative to amendment No. 9. I suggest that amendments Nos. 2, 3, 4, 9, 10 and 36 be taken together, by agreement. It is agreed.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 4, line 7, to delete "by a housing authority".

The sense of what we are trying to achieve here is obvious. It permeates all the amendments on the Order Paper. I would ask the Minister to give sympathetic consideration to the amendment. It is designed to deal with the difficulty which many of us feel will arise if the adjudication on a range of matters in the Bill falls upon the local authority. The whole thrust of this Bill is to improve the situation for people who are within its ambit. One of the problems is that the local authority are to be both judge and juror. In principle, that conflict of interests is likely to result in some of the worthy objectives of the Bill not being achieved. I have no personal preoccupation as to which of these amendments would be acceptable to the Minister. As far as I am concerned they all seek to achieve the same ends. Indeed, if the Minister has a preferred form of words which he would like to offer, I would be agreeable, but the essence of it is that the local authority would not have the ultimate and absolute power of adjudication on the issues in that section. That is essentially what we are trying to achieve.

I would just like to ask for clarification. Who would?

That is the point.

That is a matter to be discussed. I would be quite happy that it should be somebody other than the local authority. It could be a matter of regulation by the Minister or some other forum. What is being proposed is what I find unacceptable. If some alternative were proposed we would look at that. I am not drafting this Bill; I am simply trying to amend it. The essence of it is that at the moment if one allows the local authority to make the rules, to decide, for example, if people are to be housed under the section and what kind of regulations to introduce for their own operations, unquestionably by definition and by nature, as any of us would, they will draw them up to suit themselves, to ensure that they stay within the financial constraints they are under and that the pressures on the staff that they have will not be exacerbated more readily by accepting additional responsibilities. That is the problem. This Bill is not essentially a financial Bill. It is a Housing Bill. What all of us are concerned about is to ensure that the obligation to house is fully met and I feel that the inclusion of the power of adjudication by the local authority is in conflict with the spirit of that.

That sums it up. It is a Housing Bill and because it is a housing Bill it is necessary to avoid ambiguity. That is specifically indicated in that section about who makes the decisions and about the responsibility of housing authorities for the homeless. Let me sum it up this way. We have to say in law who is responsible for taking the decision and as far as I am concerned it is the housing authority. For that reason if we delete that, it will make a nonsense of the whole legislation as framed. I would ask that that be considered in the best light, that, the housing authority being the ones best qualified, the ones in place and the ones with the responsibility in law to deal with housing matters, this Housing Bill should be their responsibility.

Does the Minister accept that there is a problem? In relation to amendments No. 4 and 36, the purpose of our amendment was not in fact to take it out of the hands of the local authority because we assumed that the section itself was giving the power to the local authority to provide accommodation. The purpose is to try to ensure that the decision made with regard to whether a person is homeless or not is based on information as far as can reasonably be ascertained. It is for that reason we were seeking to delete "in the opinion of the authority" and substitute "as far as can be reasonably established" because, as we know, the function in the local authority is not, in all cases, carried out by the manager who, in theory, is the person responsible, but is carried out by officials down the line and such officials may, for whatever reason, form an opinion about a particular applicant who is claiming to be homeless. We are trying to ensure that it is possible for the person who is seeking accommodation to present evidence of homelessness or for others who are seeking to assist that person to get accommodation to do so, and that the official would therefore be obliged to take that information into account in establishing, as far as can be reasonably established, that the person is homeless. The decision should be on the basis of the evidence presented and not simply based on the opinion of the authority or, indeed, as in practice would be the case, on the opinion of the official concerned.

There is nothing in my mind and there is nothing specifically stated in this legislation that would prevent a person or persons or an organisation on their behalf making any evidence whatsoever available to the housing authority adjudicating in their case. In fact the whole thrust of this is to make it possible for individuals and organisations to have an input into it and that is covered in every single aspect of the legislation. I cannot quite appreciate why the Deputy takes that point of view because there is nothing specifically stated in the legislation to give credence to what the Deputy is saying. For that reason the principle has to be established as to who makes the decisions and the only authority available for making decisions that can work is the housing authority. That is clearly enshrined in the legislation. If the Deputy could accept that principle, then a lot of the other sections deal with what they must consider and from who.

I take the point the Minister is making that there is nothing in the Bill which prevents evidence being presented. What I am concerned about is the extent to which an official who will be acting on behalf of the manager of the local authority will be enabled to simply form his own opinion as to whether or not a person is homeless. The amendment should read "as far as can reasonably be established by the authority" and that can be rectified if that is necessary. I assumed that it was understood that it would be by the authority but in any event what I am trying to ensure is that decisions made by officials are based on evidence presented to them and not on the basis of the impression which the person creates on them and that therefore they form an opinion with regard to the person's entitlement to accommodation. That is the sole purpose of my amendment, that it is an opinion based on the position being reasonably established by evidence presented and not simply on an impression presented by the individual seeking accommodation.

I see what the Deputy is getting at. Opinions expressed by individuals or groups representing them will not be frustrated by this legislation. Chaos would reign if a situation arose where the organisation putting forward a case was seeking to dictate as to who would be regarded as homeless and what action would be taken in their case. There has to be an adjudication system somewhere and it rests with the housing authority. I would think that the best way is that the individuals and organisations would have available the means of putting forward the evidence that should be put forward on their behalf, and that then can be adjudicated on under certain guidelines set down in the legislation and the best decision taken. The Deputy will find that the thrust of the legislation is in broad conformity with what the Deputy would like in this regard, and I would ask him to accept that.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 3 and 4 not moved.

Acting Chairman

The next amendment is amendment No. 5. Amendments Nos. 6, 7, 8, 11 and 12 are related and it is proposed to take them together. Is that agreed?

A number of them relate to hostels and the definition of hostels, but I would not have thought that amendments Nos. 7 and 8 were in that respect related to the other amendments which relate to the definition of hostels.

It would be helpful if we got some indication in advance of the amendments that are to be taken together, because it takes a moment or two to gather one's senses on these matters. The whole point of these amendments is that they have a degree of separateness. We have no objection to taking some together if we could be told, say, at 1.30 p.m. of the proposal for the afternoon in this respect.

Acting Chairman

That would be up to the Deputies themselves.

We do not know about that. It is a matter for the Chair to propose.

Acting Chairman

I would leave it to the Deputies' own good sense as to how soon they would be making their contributions. We are taking amendments Nos. 5, 6, 7, 8, 11 and 12 together, by agreement.

There is no connection between some of these amendments.

I move amendment No. 5:

In page 4, line 14, after "shelter" to insert", hostel".

Let us make some progress. This amendment is in my name, in that of The Workers' Party and of Deputy Keating and Deputy Boland. This is the first substantial amendment on which there is entire support from the whole Opposition in this matter. I shall be as concise as I can because of time constraints. We are trying to put in an additional safeguard here. In the question of definition, we have left it, as will be seen from the last set of amendments, matters will be decided as in the opinion of the authority.

We want, if you like, belt and braces in relation to inclusion of the word "hostel" as well as "night shelter". I am speaking now exclusively in relation to amendment No. 5. It mentions a person who is living in a hospital, county home, night shelter, or other such institution. That is as the Minister has drafted it. We are asking him to consider the inclusion of the word "hostel" after the words "night shelter" and before "or other such institution". It could be argued that the Minister's definition is adequate, but from people who are directly involved in this area of activity it has been indicated to me — and I suspect to other Deputies — that they would like this additional inclusion. It does not alter the sense, purpose, or intent of the subsection, but it does clarify it. The Minister mentioned his desire that the law would be as unambiguous as possible and this would remove an area of potential ambiguity. That really is the essence of it. It is an additional clarification rather than an attempt to change the thrust or direction of the section.

I thank the Deputy. Let us discuss the matter a little. The concern behind some of these amendments may be misplaced. The term "hostel" was consciously omitted from the definition of a homeless person in this Bill and in the 1985 Bill for the reason that hostel accommodation incorporating both support services and decent standards of privacy is an appropriate and essential element in the range of accommodation necessary to meet the needs of homeless persons. It is precisely for this reason that the 1985 Bill provided that local authority housing subsidies for the first time would be made available for the provision of local authority hostel accommodation. Since then, the present Government have revised the voluntary housing scheme to allow the provision of modern hostel accommodation for homeless persons to be effectively grant-aided up to 95 per cent by housing authorities, with the full cost of these grants being made available by the Department. Section 15 of the Bill provides for the arrangement in that regard.

It might be helpful to add that I regard the existing Simon hostels as coming within the definition of "night shelter or similar institution" and I shall make that point very clear in the guidelines that will be issued to local authorities on the implementation of sections 2 and 10. I hope that is helpful if the Deputy was referring to Simon hostels and wished to have them included. That is the case.

Would that also include Legion of Mary hostels?

The amendment would be harmful in its effect in that it could hinder the development of appropriate modern hostel accommodation for homeless persons as, legally, such accommodation could not be used by a housing authority to meet the housing needs of those homeless persons for whom it is most appropriate and suitable. I see hostels as part of the solution to this problem. A certain amount of privacy exists in the kind of hostels about which I am talking. It might be summed up in the following way. I would be particularly concerned about people who would be leaving institutions and entering hostels such as I have referred to and we could be doing something that would not help the situation in their circumstances. I regard the Simon hostels as coming within the definition of "night shelter". Perhaps that might go a long way towards easing Deputy Quinn's mind in so far as my interpretation is concerned. I give him the undertaking that if he accepts that, the guidelines will point that out quite clearly in so far as the operation of the housing authorities is concerned, subsequent to the guidelines being drawn up.

In relation to the Minister's concern as I understand it, first the section has to be taken in its entirety for the purpose of law and paragraph (a), which precedes the one which we seek to amend, gives the housing authority the right to evaluate what is the available stock of potential accommodation. Then it proceeds into paragraph (b). I can see the concern of the Minister in one sense that all sorts of hostels, An Óige and the rest, would be involved because of the generic word "hostel". My concern, as the Minister has accurately pointed out, is for Simon, or Legion of Mary, or voluntary organisations' accommodation to be catered for. I would not wish to broaden the definition so that there would be a possibility of somebody who happened to be in a place called a "hostel" being at a disadvantage in regard to this section. I am anxious to make progress. The amendments are not down for any frivolous reason and if the Minister will clearly make reference to this in the regulations, then I would be prepared to consider that. The amendment, I must point out, is also in the names of other Deputies and it would be their choice and decision. I understand the Minister's concern.

As Deputy Quinn has said, a number of Deputies have put their names to amendment No. 5 and to amendment No. 12 which attempts to define a hostel.

That is right.

It excludes accommodation which would be for students, professional trainees, or youth hostels. This is an attempt to confine the word "hostel" to other areas. I take the point the Minister has made and if he is giving us to understand he will include the commitment in the regulations or guidelines to local authorities with regard to dealing with people who are living in hostels in the broadest sense and can reasonably be regarded as homeless, I would be happy to withdraw the amendments referring to hostels.

I sympathise with the difficulties and the fear the Minister has, but the problem should be dealt with by reference to having in the Bill a definition for the word "hostel" and its inclusion. It is one thing for us to talk about the matter here and set out certain factors in regulations, but I am looking at the day-to-day operations of the local authority about which I am most concerned. I would prefer to have the word "hostel" in the Bill. After all, particularly in view of the earlier discussion on the other section, it is not an absolute obligation on a local authority but an option which they have. I want the word "hostel" to be available for consideration and not have some systematic exclusion of that word. If the word is defined so as to exclude the kinds of areas mentioned by Deputy Quinn, as I tried to do in amendment No. 6, which I gather we are taking with amendment No. 5, we would be able safely to include that word "hostel" in a qualified way to include places such as an overnight shelter and refuge, which are legitimate areas from which people should be housed. I do not see a problem if one is clear about what one means by "hostel". Why not define it?

The Minister's apprehension in this matter is misplaced. His concern is that if "hostel" is included in the Bill it would exclude modern accommodation which also provides social support services and accommodation for persons of a long term or virtually permanent nature. If there is a problem in relation to institutions of that nature, the institutions are being misnamed as hostels. Consequently, that is not a valid excuse or reason for not including the word "hostel" in the Bill. Various Deputies have tabled amendments seeking to define "hostel". In my amendment I sought to exclude hostels which were provided for the purposes of accommodation for students, persons in the course of training or employment or holiday or recreational need. Indeed, I went further and suggested that a hostel for the purpose of the Bill would have to be registered with the local authority as operating in the local authority area. Quite clearly, in relation to the category which the Minister mentioned, if, for some extraordinary reason, the operators of that accommodation want to continue to call it hostel — although I would have thought they would not want to do so — then that would not be regarded by the housing authority as suitable accommodation for the purposes of this Bill to be included in the register which the housing authority would be obliged to keep in operation under amendment No. 11. I do not see the Minister's justification for refusing any or all these amendments.

The Minister offered to clarify this point very specifically in terms of the regulations. Obviously, he had time to consider these amendments and he is clearly unhappy with them. In section 12 and others there are various definitions which pretty well run parallel in what they are trying to do. If the Minister indicated that he would use these wordings, or a formulation based on them, in the regulations, directions and guidelines he gives to local authorities, we will certainly be able to make progress. There are pros and cons for putting in the word "hostel" and having a definition. We could go on arguing about it but each side has valid points. My concern — which is shared on all sides of the House — is that a person would not fail to be properly housed by a local authority if he or she happened to live in a hostel and the local authority considered such a person not to be homeless as a consequence. That is the fear and if the Minister can, by way of regulation, get over that I will be prepared to look at it.

I can take that point on board and the guidelines could be so arranged to give that kind of indication to the housing authorities. There is no difficulty in that regard. However, the difficulty is that there are certain hostels in this city in which people have been living for many years. They regard them as their home; they are looked after there and enjoy the facilities. They are not really interested in being housed in any other way. I do not want a situation to develop where some of these people might be thrown out, or in some way caught up in a system which might mean they would have to be dislodged. Many Deputies were fearful because Simon hostels were concerned. I will clear that once and for all and it will be in the guidelines to local authorities——

Wait a minute. There are other organisations doing very worthwhile work.

I accept that. I only used the Simon hostels as an indication of the kind of thing we are talking abuot. I see Simon and similar hostels being accommodated under the general term of night shelters or similar institutions. It comes back to what Deputy Gay Mitchell said in regard to amendment No. 1 in relation to certain types of hostels for young persons. There is a generosity on my part to try to understand Deputies' points of view but if they allow the word "hostel" to be left out it can be covered satisfactorily in the guidelines.

In regard to the regulations governing the administration of the Bill and the directives to local authorities, the point made by Deputy Boland, implicit in these amendments, requires a local authority to compile a register to eliminate any possibility of doubt. The regulations should require each housing authority to establish a register of recognised hostel accommodation for the purposes of definition so that people will know exactly where they stand in relation to this matter.

I take the point and I will consider it favourably. I am worried that in framing the guidelines, particularly in relation to certain kinds of hostels, I might leave out an organisation which I had wanted to include. For that reason, I ask Deputy Boland to concede the point. However, the guidelines will make it abundantly clear to the housing authority what is intended in so far as the interpetation of hostels is concerned.

Will the regulations apply to hostels run by voluntary organisations generally? Will there be a possibility of local authorities having to establish a register? It would not be a major task for them.

In that case, I will withdraw amendments Nos. 5 and 11.

Deputy Mitchell summed up my view in a previous contribution when he saw hostels as part of a solution to the difficulty.

I raised on section 2 the question of age and marital status in certain cases. The Minister did not reply. Perhaps he does not have a view on it. If he wishes to consider the matter, maybe he will give the House the benefit of his views on Report Stage if he is not in a position to do so now.

I have a point of view as far as age limits are concerned but I am not sure that this is the appropriate time to elaborate on it because there are inherent difficulties. Also, I do not think we should get into the area of marital status now. I should like to consider my view a little bit further.

This is something that should be considered and I am anxious to hear the Minister's view.

Yes, it is fair to ask me to do that.

A number of amendments are being taken together and paragraphs (c), (d), (e) and (f) in section 6 are somewhat different in nature. Are we disposing of those immediately?

We are dealing with amendments Nos. 6, 7, 8, 11 and 12.

May they be discussed?

When these amendments have been disposed of, the section will be put to the House for discussion and the Deputy may then comment on it. Of course, if the Deputy wishes to make a point now he is free to do so.

The content of some of those paragraphs is different from the point we have been discussing.

The Deputy can raise that on the section. I take it that amendments Nos. 5, 6, 7, 8, 11 and 12 are not being pressed?

I have not mentioned anything in relation to amendments Nos. 7 and 8 yet. We had been discussing the question of hostels which comes within the ambit of amendments Nos. 5 and 12, as far as I am concerned.

I would suggest that amendments Nos. 5 and 12 be withdrawn on the basis of the undertakings given by the Minister. The point Deputy De Rossa was raising, in relation to amendments Nos. 7 and 8, is substantially different and would merit separate discussion.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 6:

In page 4, between lines 16 and 17, to insert the following:

"(c) he has accommodation but is prevented from taking occupancy of it;

(d) a clear set of criteria, in respect of which judgments are made by local or other authorities under any section of this Act, shall be subject to the approval of the Minister, and shall be published by such authorities,

(e) if requested the Minister shall consider appeals against decisions made by local or other authorities under this section, provided such appeals are accompanied by evidence clearly indicating that there are grounds for disagreement with the authority's decision.

(f) for the purposes of this Act, a person may be considered homeless within the meaning of this section if there is evidence indicating that within twenty-eight days, he will become homeless and in need of accommodation.

(g) for the purposes of this Act, the term `hostel' referred to in this section shall be interpreted as a multiple occupancy dwelling providing refuge facilities, or accommodation for a person who would not otherwise have accommodation readily available to him, but shall not include hostel accommodation for students, professional trainees, or youth hostels.".

I would commend the content of my amendment to the Minister, I have some concerns about the inconsistencies between local authorities on the question of lack of rationale in the administration of some of their housing schemes. Some local authorities have certain elements in those housing schemes which others do not. It seems to me it is about time there was a mandatory obligation on local authorities — although many of them do at present — to publish a clear set of criteria which would be amenable to ministerial approval, that in extraordinary circumstances, if people felt themselves wronged by a decision, they would have some form of appeal available to them, provided they could produce tangible evidence that there was such a wrong done to them.

I have been struck by the fact that over the years, particularly in the area of Dublin city and county — with which I am most familiar and where county boundaries have changed — this type of anomaly can crop up between a city and county housing authority. It is about time there was some degree of consistency or cohesion introduced into the whole arrangement. That is what the provisions of subparagraph (d) of my amendment are designed to do.

The other points are self-explanatory. I formally commend that to the Minister for consideration and hope he will be sympathetic to it.

Amendment No. 6 deals with several items, one being the criteria and another appeals. In so far as the criteria are concerned I cannot see the need to provide in the Bill that housing authorities should be obliged to publish sets of criteria on the judgments they will be required to make under the provisions of the Bill. The preparation, publication and updating of such criteria by each housing authority and their submission for approval to the Minister would seriously divert resources away from the main activities of local authorities and would cause much of the disruption and delays we are endeavouring to overcome. It would be unnecessarily restrictive. For that reason I do not think the Deputy should pursue his amendment.

I am thinking of an annual statement of the conditions on which they make these decisions, that is really all, something akin to the scheme of housing priorities that some local authorities publish at present, so that we would have some national order in this area. That is all I seek.

The question of reports and so on, arises in another section and other amendments which we shall come to later. That might be the appropriate time to take up the aspect about which Deputy Keating is talking. I am talking about the strict element of criteria. In so far as appeals are concerned, I should say there are literally thousands of decisions taken by housing authorities every year in regard to the allocation of individual dwellings, transfers from one dwelling to another, for which no appeal from the decision of an authority lies with the Minister at all. I do not have any responsibility in that regard. The housing authorities are the responsible authorities in regard to those kinds of decisions. Of course, such decisions can be reviewed through the representations of elected members, organisations and others, and often are, as those Members who have been members of local authorities will have experienced over the years. These appeals and reviews do take place under the existing system but it is not a matter for the Minister. I do not consider it necessary or desirable that the Minister should be brought into the system of allocation of local authority housing. That would be a retrograde step and would not be of any assistance to the homeless or any other category of person in need of housing. I see the local and housing authorities as the responsible bodies for that kind of decision making.

To sum it up, if I were to concede that amendment, then I would be the person who would be allocating houses.

Deputy Keating should withdraw the amendment quickly.

Well, it would be contrary to what has always been regarded as good practice.

That is somewhat trite. All I am suggesting — I might put this caution on the record — is that there is a serious crisis in local authority housing finance, as the Minister knows, and in relation to housing authority staffing. When there is a locked-in system, whereby the only appeal available to one, and the only adjudication is made by those who are also, if you like, the victims — in perhaps understandable but nevertheless serious public expenditure constraints — the reality is that it is the people out there who will suffer ultimately. All I am saying is that I am not satisfied, in an arrangement where there is no other form of appeal at all, regardless of how extreme the circumstances may be, that justice will be done. I do not have an easy answer. Had I the resources available to the Minister I might be able to come up with one. I am simply saying that that has been the experience on the ground, as somebody involved in a local authority can verify. It is not that I want the Minister to be involved in looking through housing lists at all. In other circumstances I might suggest that the Ombudsman might be the appropriate person to whom such people should go but I will not suggest that in this context.

Provided they had a rod licence.

Would the Deputy accept that the implications of the provisions of his amendment would lead inevitably to the Minister becoming involved in the actual decision making process as far as the allocation of houses is concerned?

At least the Minister is accountable to some extent.

I sincerely hope there is no implication, in any of the amendments the Deputy is putting forward in this area, that somehow housing authorities are not to be trusted to deal adequately or fairly with homeless persons or any other type of person seeking accommodation from a housing authority. If there is any such implication I would reject it absolutely, in that large housing authorities do discharge their functions very fairly. In addition, they do so in a reasonable manner. It is my belief they will continue to do so. To seek to super-impose some other system of appeal on one that has worked well in the way appeals have been heard to date would be superfluous.

It has worked well if it has worked in favour of the applicant.

I think Deputy Keating is afraid that some housing authorities might play God.

I presume that any organisation that has the authority to give out benefits might be so interpreted. At the same time it is always very difficult, in a Godless society, to play God.

Can we come down from the supernatural and move away from amendment No. 6?

We have gone from the sublime to the ridiculous so I will not press my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 7:

In page 4, between lines 16 and 17, to insert the following:

"(c) if the authority is satisfied that a person is in real and present danger of coming within the meaning of paragraphs (a) and (b) within 28 days.".

It is proposed in amendments Nos. 7 and 8 to insert two new parts to section 2, that is subsections (c) and (d). Our purpose is to provide for two possible eventualities. Subparagraph (c) seeks to ensure that an authority will treat a person as homeless if they are satisfied that that person is in real and present danger of coming within the meaning of paragraphs (a) and (b) within 28 days. It is not unusual for people in private accommodation to receive eviction notices on account of inability to pay rent or because their landlord may want to dispose of the property. There are a variety of reasons, such as the building being unsafe when, at present, an authority would be obliged to make them some offer of alternative accommodation. The purpose of these amendments is to ensure that people are not left to the last minute before being made an offer of alternative accommodation by a local authority and be accepted as homeless.

I have a particular instance in mind, that of a constituent of mine living in a house which was owned by her parents who have since died. The house was left to the family who have dispersed, who are now insisting that the property be sold in order to distribute whatever moneys may be gained from its sale. Effectively, when that property is sold, that woman and her children will be homeless. At present the local authority are not prepared to accept that family onto their housing list. They regard them as being adequately housed because, as far as they are concerned, they are not in need of accommodation and are unlikely to be in the foreseeable future. However, they do say that, when the House is sold the tenant should come back to them, when they will ascertain what they can do for her. It is those kinds of circumstances we should endeavour to avoid when much stress is caused to a tenant. The local authority are quite within their rights in doing what they are doing, but we should endeavour to ensure, by way of the provisions in this Bill, that there are at least 28 days available within which there is the possibility of a person becoming homeless and a local authority being obliged to treat them as such.

I might deal now with amendment No. 8 where the intent is fairly clear, that a local authority will treat a person as homeless if it is probable that occupation of their existing dwelling will lead to their——

It appears to me that we are not going to dispose of amendment No. 7 as the Deputy is still in full flight on that amendment.

I had moved to amendment No. 8. but I know there are other Deputies wishing to contribute on amendment No. 7.

Progress reported; Committee to sit again.
Sitting suspended at 1.30 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 a.m.