Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2014: Second Stage

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am delighted to be here today to initiate the passage of this important housing Bill, which provides for innovative and necessary changes to social housing support and assistance in Ireland. One thing that was made very clear from all contributions during the recent Private Members' debate on housing was the passion that Members feel about the need to tackle housing issues. This Government, and I as Minister of State with responsibility for housing and planning, share this strong passion, which we are committed to turning into effective action and reform. The Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2014 before us today is one such reforming action, an important Bill that will bring radical change to our framework of social housing support.

As Members may be aware, the Government, in December of last year, approved the referral of the proposals contained within the Bill to the Oireachtas Sub-committee on the Environment, Community and Local Government for pre-legislative scrutiny and priority drafting of the required legislation. In respect of the pre-legislative process, my Department submitted the proposals for such consideration in early March of this year. I was subsequently informed by the committee, that given the overall timeline in respect of publication and enactment, it would be unable to meet the requirements of pre-legislative scrutiny by facilitating a session for consideration of the Bill and requested instead an alternative session on wider housing issues, a date for which is yet to be set.

With the publication of this Bill, the Government meets another commitment in the programme for Government and achieves one of the key reforms announced in the policy statement of June 2011. The priority afforded by the Government to housing will again be clearly articulated in the soon-to-be-published construction strategy. In concert with the construction strategy, work is under way in my Department on reviewing and renewing our social housing policy, which will be published later this year. The current housing policy statement is quite categorical in that the main focus of housing supports must be on meeting the most acute needs of those unable to provide for their accommodation from their own resources. This is particularly so because of the constraints on our resources. Nevertheless, there are clear signs that we are turning the corner in respect of the Government's aims of achieving economic recovery and growing employment, which will ultimately enhance what we can achieve in housing and help reduce the numbers of those at risk.

We are all only too familiar with the issues arising in the private and public housing sectors, most acutely seen perhaps here in Dublin than anywhere else. The serious constraints and supply problems turn the spotlight on our housing policy and finances. Are we getting value for money from our investment? Are we efficient and effective? Is our system coherent and equitable? Most important, are we assisting the vulnerable sections of our society?

As public representatives we see the growing and changing demand for housing supports every day. We need a system of housing supports that is more effective, more efficient, more coherent and that better serves the needs of people. It has long been accepted that one of our key State housing supports, the rent supplement system, was ill-used and was becoming a much more long-term support than was ever intended. This Bill is a key step in reforming rent supplement. The new housing assistance payment, HAP, which is provided for in the Bill, will introduce a more coherent and joined-up system of housing support that will be better for tenants, landlords and housing authorities.

The Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2014 in providing for a more coherent, responsive system of housing support, places all long-term supports with local authorities which will make for a better, fairer system. In addition, the Bill provides for the implementation of mandatory direct deduction of rental contributions due to housing authorities from the welfare payments of HAP recipients and local authority tenants which is a key provision in avoiding and combatting the build-up of rent arrears that cause significant financial difficulty for local authorities but most of all for tenants. The HAP is an opportunity to improve standards and levels of compliance, to remove employment traps, and to create a more equal and fair social housing system where the rights and opportunities available to tenants in different forms of social housing are vastly improved. The Bill also provides for two other significant areas of reform, namely, the termination of local authority tenancies and tenant purchase of local authority houses.

Section 62 of the Housing Act 1966 has withstood judicial scrutiny over the years but the enactment of the European Convention on Human Rights Act 2003 resulted in a stream of litigation claiming that the section 62 repossession procedure used by housing authorities is incompatible with the convention. The Supreme Court delivered a judgment in 2012 in two such cases, making a declaration under the European Convention on Human Rights Act 2003 in respect of one of these cases. In its judgment, it declared that section 62 of the Housing Act 1966 is incompatible with the convention where there was a factual dispute about the basis for the evictions, as it does not provide for an independent hearing of the merits of the proposed eviction. The court, however, made no such declaration in the second case, where it found there was no dispute as to the basis for the proposed repossession. New legislation is therefore required in this area in order to provide for repossession procedures that are compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights Act.

I believe the changes proposed in the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2014 deserve the widespread support of both Houses and of all Members of the Oireachtas. The Bill is set out in five parts with 51 sections and I will refer in some detail to the main provisions.

Part 1 contains standard provisions dealing with Title, collective citations, construction and commencement. It also provides for interpretation of key terms, regulations, orders and directions, repeals, revocations and amendments to the Housing Acts, including the Housing Act 2009 which remains a core housing statute, as well as other technical provisions such as legal savers and provision for expenses.

Part 2 repeals the repossession procedure set out in section 62 of the Housing Act 1966 and sets out a revised procedure for repossessing local authority dwellings where serious breaches of tenancy agreements have occurred, including anti-social behaviour and breaches of rescheduling arrangements for rent arrears. Warnings issued to tenants by housing authorities for such breaches will include the right of the tenant to request a review of the warning. Sections 7 to 11 set out procedures for tenancy warnings and their review. In the case of non-compliance with tenancy warnings for anti-social behaviour, housing authorities will have strengthened powers under sections 12 and 13 to either recover possession of the dwelling or seek an exclusion order as appropriate.

Sections 14 to 17 deal with abandoned local authority dwellings and recovery of property in the case of death of a tenant and certain other cases. This part also provides a legislative mechanism to update all existing local authority tenancy agreements to reflect new legislation without the necessity to terminate all existing agreements for the purpose of entering into new agreements incorporating updated terms and conditions.

I think we can all agree that we do not wish to see many tenancies terminated in this way, but we all also know the havoc and misery that anti-social behaviour can cause to communities. It is important that we have a mechanism available that meets the highest standards of the human and civil rights obligations of all concerned.

I will now to turn to one of the measures contained in the Bill most sought after by tenants. Part 3 provides for an incremental purchase scheme for existing houses which will cover local authority houses other than newly-built or newly-acquired houses and local authority apartments, which are covered by the existing incremental purchase schemes under the 2009 Act. The incremental purchase scheme detailed in sections 21 to 31 offers several key benefits. For families, the scheme offers the path to home ownership for those willing and able to undertake a house purchase. The scheme is also structured to make it attractive for people to retain long-term roots in the community and to continue their commitment to an area, thereby contributing to more stable and integrated communities.

In due course, I will make regulations on specific aspects of the new scheme, including the qualifying conditions for applicants, calculation of discounts, the method used by local authorities to determine the purchase price and discount, and the period of the charging order.

Consideration is also being given to the inclusion of certain other criteria for discounts in certain circumstances while a provision for clawback is being planned for in respect of the State benefiting appropriately from any resale of purchased property. This is a worthwhile and innovative initiative deserving the support of the House.
I would like to turn to what is probably the most important and certainly the most reforming part of the Bill. Part 4 provides the statutory framework for the introduction of the housing assistance payment, HAP. This new scheme is being designed to bring all long-term social housing services provided by the State together under the local authority system. In order for a household to qualify for HAP, its qualification for social housing support will have to be determined by a housing authority through a statutory social housing assessment and the authority must be satisfied that assistance under the scheme is an appropriate form of support for that household. HAP beneficiaries will source their own accommodation in the private rented market, as currently happens with rent supplement, and will enter into a tenancy agreement with the landlord concerned. The housing authority will pay the rent for the accommodation directly to the landlord on behalf of the household, which will be required to pay a rent contribution to the authority calculated in accordance with the authority's differential rent scheme. To be included in the HAP scheme, the accommodation must meet the statutory standards for rented accommodation and the landlord must be tax compliant. These provisions will provide a new framework for the provision of long-term rental assistance and, in collaboration with other measures, can facilitate the removal of some existing barriers to employment by allowing HAP recipients to remain in the scheme if they gain full-time employment.
The Bill also includes provisions detailing when a household would be considered ineligible to receive HAP, or cease to receive such support, and provisions on controls around tenancy changes and amendments to the Housing Acts 1966 to 2013 that are consequential on the introduction of HAP. There are also provisions allowing for transitional arrangements to facilitate the roll-out of HAP in Limerick and the six housing authorities selected for participation in the first phase of HAP, following the successful progress of this Bill.
Part 5 includes a number of miscellaneous provisions, notably section 49 which provides for the implementation of mandatory direct deduction of rental contributions due to housing authorities from the welfare payments of HAP recipients and local authority tenants. This Part also includes provisions for data sharing and exchange between housing authorities, the Department of Social Protection, my Department and other relevant bodies for the administration of the housing functions of local authorities.
While the Bill before the House addresses a wide range of issues, there are additional aspects still under development, which I hope to bring forward for consideration during the Bill's passage through the Oireachtas. Following review of the proposals concerned, I will bring appropriate text to Government in relation to these and any related amendments for approval for inclusion on Committee Stage. The main areas concerned are residency requirements for households seeking social housing support, an internal review procedure for certain HAP decisions, a power to allow a local authority to enter into an agreement with another body in relation to the performance of one or more of its housing functions and a number of amendments to the social welfare code, consequent to the introduction of HAP.
This Bill provides long awaited coherence and equity to long-term social housing support. I am confident that it will improve the ability of housing authorities to plan and deliver their services in a coherent, flexible and responsive manner by bringing all long-term social housing services provided by the State together under the local authority system. The Bill provides equity for those in receipt of housing assistance from the State, for those in receipt of long-term rent supplement and for those in traditional social housing. It also provides for legal clarity in respect of repossession procedures and brings coherence and consistency to tenant purchase within the State. This Bill is more than anything else tenant-focused and it will change the housing landscape in Ireland to the benefit of the tenant. I commend the Bill to the House.

The next speakers are Deputies Barry Cowen and Michael P. Kitt who are sharing time; Deputy Cowen will have 20 minutes and Deputy Kitt will have ten minutes.

I welcome the Minister of State and apologise for being late. I have serious concerns about the legislation. For those who are homeless, on social housing lists and renting on a low or middle income, the economic recovery's most tangible impact is to make the prospect of home ownership and stable accommodation a more distant possibility than possibly ever before. This Bill does not address the chronic lack of supply in housing units and the Government's inaction on the matter. Instead it seeks to address matters that would be relevant if there was an adequate supply of social housing and a rental market that was not in crisis. This is not the situation in towns and cities across the country where people are struggling to get a foothold.

In terms of the specific details of the Bill, there are a number of issues I would like to address. To access the housing assistance payments, HAP, scheme a household will complete a social housing assessment by the local authority. Once the household has secured appropriate accommodation in the private rented sector, the local authority will pay the landlord directly, with a contribution by the household paid directly to the local authority. As everyone in this House is acutely aware, there is a massive shortage of accommodation in the rental sector. Not only will this adversely affect the cost of rent paid by the householder, but the sheer shortage of supply will severely reduce the number of people who can avail of the HAP scheme. Furthermore, by placing the onus on the tenant to find suitable private accommodation, the Government is merely attempting to cover for its own shortcomings and abysmal record in delivering housing to those in need.

The volatility of the rental market at present, with rents reaching run-away levels, will severely hinder the capacity or the capability of HAP and the rental supplement. The existence of a maximum level of rent which can be subsidised by the local authority requires tenants to pay a top-up from their social welfare payment which will impact on their standard of living and force tenants back towards substandard accommodation that is not approved under the scheme. The core issue is the lack of adequate supply in the social housing market, which the Government is doing precious little to alleviate, and no amount of window dressing will distract people from the real problem at hand.

We appreciate that there may be extenuating circumstances by which continued breach of a tenancy agreement may require extraordinary action to be taken. However, surely the focus should be on dissuading the tenant from committing such breaches. If a housing authority is to recover such a dwelling, who becomes responsible for housing the tenant who has been evicted? Removing people from their homes simply feeds into the cycle of homelessness and passes the problem back to the local authority which is legally obliged to house such people.

The tenant purchase element of the Bill makes no allowance for the reinvestment of funds gained by the local authority through tenants buying their local authority dwelling. Fianna Fáil has consistently identified the need for local authorities to ring-fence and reinvest money collected locally into the very services that will benefit the local authority's immediate area.

In a week in which the United Nations committee behind the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty is meeting in Dublin, the latest statistics present a damning indictment of this Government's abysmal performance in providing the most basic need of housing for the Irish people. Inner City Helping Homeless, ICHH, recently said the issue of homelessness in Dublin has surpassed "crisis point". The Dublin regional homeless executive confirmed that rough sleeping in the city had increased by "a shocking 200 per cent in the past 12 months". Focus Ireland had reported an 18% increase in demand for its services this year. Experts in the area calculate that an estimated 3,000 housing units are needed to address long-term homelessness with the "housing first" policy. There can be absolutely no doubt that the Government is presiding over the greatest crisis in homelessness in the history of this State.

The latest quarterly report by property website daft.ie, written by Trinity College assistant professor of economics, Ronan Lyons, has identified some alarming trends in the rental sector and has stated the country is now in the midst of a housing crisis. Rental prices are now approaching levels they were at during the peak of the boom. Rents have risen in all cities, with Cork and Galway experiencing a 6% rise, Limerick a 5% rise and Waterford a 1% rise. Dublin has experienced the largest annual increase in rent of 14%. Supply of accommodation needs to quadruple in Dublin; otherwise, those on lower incomes will be further marginalised and pushed right out of the market.

The lack of social housing means there now exists little or no safety net for a housing market that is fast becoming the preserve of a few at the expense of those on middle and low incomes.

There are now almost 100,000 people on the social housing waiting list. Legislation the Government introduced such as the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Act, which is essentially a home repossession Act, has further exacerbated the problem by giving banks the power to repossess struggling home owners' properties.

There have been consistent delays in transferring NAMA properties, as we have said on numerous occasions during Question Time and other debates in the House, with only 500 transferred to date even though ten times that amount has been identified by NAMA as suitable for transfer. That is a very poor reflection on the House. We should think of the social dividend that was to have been availed of from NAMA. We have had announcements, year on year, about what NAMA would deliver. I ask the Minister of State to consider a dedicated, section within each local authority to speed up that process and address the major deficiencies and under-achievements in realising the expectations the Minister of State and others had, given what NAMA had at its disposal.

In 2012, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, stated that 2,000 housing units would be made available in 2012 to people on social housing lists through NAMA. Two years on, we are nowhere near that level of progress. The commitment given by the senior Minister that 2,000 housing units would be made available has failed. It needs a new focus, direction and commitment. A dedicated section within each local authority to deal with the mechanics - legal or otherwise - would be well informed and would have the potential to achieve the sorts of results we had all hoped would have been achieved by now.

To make matters worse, overall capital expenditure by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government has been reduced from €740 million in 2013 to €311 million this year. It gives me no great pleasure to say that these figures along with what has gone before represent a litany of broken promises by the Government and offer no comfort to the tens of thousands of people who are being consumed by the crisis in the housing sector.

We have outlined a series of real and practical steps the Government should seek to include in any future housing legislation the Minister of State might bring before the House. At the conclusion of her speech, she said she hoped to introduce a more comprehensive housing Bill to address these issues in the coming weeks. That is needed to tackle the interlinked private and social housing crisis. The Government should develop voluntary housing associations to a scale where they can access credit and start to build. It should use the tenant purchase scheme to fund future investments by local authorities. It should allow families on waiting lists to move into vacant homes and defray the costs of refurbishing them from future rent. We all know about the many empty units boarded up and not being availed of while many people on housing lists are crying out for those units. There is obviously something preventing the Minister of State from allowing families to refurbish them and have the cost defrayed on their rent. She should investigate doing that.

The Government should move towards a new capital expenditure programme for local authorities in excess of what it has promised. I know there are constraints on what it can do, but it should consider the National Pensions Reserve Fund in this regard.

The Government should ease restrictions on planning permissions and reduce development levies. These levies must be looked at and the Minister of State must give direction and leadership in that area to provide openings in the housing sector to spur on development. The Government should reduce windfall zoning tax to encourage development and introduce a vacant site levy. It should enable local authorities to suspend Part V requirements for a two-year period in order to see if that will encourage the sort of development we want to see. It should digitise planning process to improve times and reduce costs.

We are committed, as I am sure the Minister of State is also, to tackling the social housing waiting list. We need to revitalise the construction sector on a sustainable footing to get construction workers back in long-term employment and re-assert the fundamental right to housing for all citizens.

The Minister of State has stated the legislation will give effect to three important elements of the Government's housing policy. It is clear from the social housing crisis, a rental market that has reached boom time levels and record levels of homelessness that the Government does not have a housing policy of any substance. This Bill unfortunately falls abysmally short of what is required and represents a cynical ploy in box ticking and electioneering in the midst of the local election campaign.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire Stáit as ucht an ráitis atá tugtha aici anseo sa Teach. I welcome that we are discussing the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2014. I am concerned at some of the comments the Minister of State made. I am disappointed that when we are discussing homelessness, as we have been for some weeks in the Dáil, and when we are discussing the issue of increasing rents, we are not here this evening talking about doing something that would lead to extra housing or addressing the issue of rents.

The most positive thing to come from the Minister of State is the tenant purchase scheme, which is not a new scheme and is one that many tenants have been awaiting. We have had these schemes in the past. When a scheme is about to finish, people are worried if the following scheme will be better or worse than the previous one.

Having listened to the Minister of State, she obviously has other things to say about exclusions to the scheme. In responding, I hope she will refer to the situations where there would be exclusions to the tenant purchase scheme. She has referred in particular to section 30 which provides that the Minister may proscribe other classes of houses to which the scheme shall not apply, which concerns me.

I am also concerned that in many cases tenants cannot purchase a house. In some cases where I have supported voluntary housing associations getting involved in housing, tenants then find they cannot purchase the house. I have always argued for it. Even when my party was in power we were not able to do it and I am disappointed that the Minister of State has not addressed that most important issue in the Bill. There are many categories of housing in which tenants cannot buy out the house and it should be clarified.

The explanatory memorandum that accompanies the Bill states that the main purpose of the Bill is to provide for the following: a tenancy warning by a housing authority, which sounds very negative; a procedure to recover possession of a dwelling, which I presume would be as a last resort but again is very negative; a scheme of tenant purchase, which I welcome but would like more detail; a new scheme of housing assistance payments, HAP, which sounds like it is cutting red tape if the local authority is to be involved; and a mandatory facility for the deduction from social welfare payments due to local authority tenants and HAP and RAS beneficiaries of rents, rent contributions and rent arrears payable to housing authorities, which again is very negative and deals with recoupment.

I am very concerned that we are not talking about the real issue, which is helping homeless people and people who are paying rents and above all looking at the issue of building houses.

Given the Government's commitment to construction, I hope there will be construction of social housing in the very near future because there is a crisis. Every expert in the field has said we face a crisis in housing.

I refer to the headlines in the newspapers over the past few days. The Irish Independent stated that rents jumped by 9% over chronic homes shortage while The Irish Times referred, in particular, to Dublin where, according to daft.ie, rents have jumped 14% in one year. The average increase in rent was 9% while in Dublin it was 14%. There has been a reduction in the amount of rental properties available. Some 10,000 rental properties were advertised in Dublin in the first four months of the year compared to 18,000 in the same four month period in 2012.

There is a crisis which we should discuss. Hopefully, we will have an opportunity to do that because this Bill is as its Title suggests and relates to miscellaneous provisions. It does not deal with the real issues. We have already seen increases in cities such as Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford. In Wicklow and Kildare, the commuter belt of Dublin, there was an increase of 9%.

The economist, Ronan Lyons, said that the latest daft.ie report showed that the housing crisis in Dublin is getting worse. He said the solution was not capping rents, which would limit the supply of new homes, but rather addressing the underlying problems, in particular, streamlining the cost of land and regulation. In all the debates I have heard, even on "Prime Time" last night, people have talked about what could be done with planning permissions and they mentioned, in particular, that 30,000 planning permissions were not used. These are the issues which should be looked at. Any steps that can be taken, as Deputy Cowen mentioned, to try to make more housing available, whether by reforming planning, looking at the levies, looking at VAT and so on, should certainly be considered. I hope we will have a serious look at what we are doing in regard to housing.

Two weeks ago we had a debate on a motion tabled by the Technical Group. There was much emphasis on Dublin, and rightly so because cities like Dublin and other urban centres are now facing real problems. People have told some harrowing stories of the plight of homeless families. We are now talking about families and children rather than just individuals becoming homeless. There was the well publicised example of the mother and her five children who spent three months in a hotel room in Dublin and of another mother and her three children who lived in a car, although I know efforts were made to help the family. I hope we can look at these situations. It is not enough to talk about helping people because, as has been pointed out in the debates, sometimes we move families away from their own areas and even move children from their schools. We talk about the education of children but it is very unfortunate that families can be sent to accommodation, welcome as it may be, a long way from where the children go to school or where they lived.

If the figures are correct, more than 170 families, including 500 children, have been allocated temporary hotel accommodation by the local authorities. These families, like many others, are in a queue for social housing. We should look at the situation with NAMA. We have been told NAMA units are available for housing and yet we do not have dedicated units for NAMA in local authorities. I suggest there should be dedicated units in NAMA itself.

The construction industry has been in decline, with a collapse to approximately 6.5% of GNP, which is well below the international average. There has been a reduction in the private sector and we understand that only 10% of homes earmarked by NAMA for social housing have been transferred to local authorities. Much more can be done in this area to make housing available and to support voluntary housing, in particular. I have put proposals to the Minister in regard to Ballinasloe and I hope voluntary housing can be promoted and can get the credit and facilities to start building for people who are homeless and disadvantaged.

I am disappointed in the Bill in that we are not discussing the issues but talking about penalties and what can be done about possession and repossession of houses. I would like to get more information on the tenant purchase scheme, in particular.

Tá áthas orm go bhfuilimid ag déileáil leis an mBille seo mar tá géarchéim ann i dtaca le tithíocht.

We have waited more than three years for a significant legislation on housing from this Government. This Bill is certainly significant and contains some improvements to how local authority tenancies are managed but it will do very little to change the course of the housing crisis we currently face.

Currently, just under 90,000 households are on housing waiting lists across the State. This represents well over 100,000 men, women and children who are currently not adequately housed. Some are living in dangerous, overcrowded, unsecure, unaffordable and downright inhumane conditions. Many others simply cannot afford to house themselves in the private market due to unemployment, poverty or other factors. These figures represent the most vulnerable in our society - those who are denied the most basic right of a secure roof over their heads. They occupy modern slums, emergency accommodation, overcrowded family homes, hostels, bed and breakfasts and hotels, most of which is at the expense of local authorities. They sleep on friends' sofas. I have spoken to people who are not living but are simply surviving as heart-breaking testimonials to the ability of human beings to endure. Some are even sleeping in cars as we have seen recently.

Some 78,000 households are unable to afford the private market and must rely on rent supplement from the State. This subsidy, which is a subsidy of a private market which cannot provide for those in need, costs us €344 million a year. That is nearly €4,500 per household in receipt of it. Many on rent supplement are dependent on social welfare, in part due to a ban on them working over a very limited number of hours. Illegal top-ups following the introduction of two separate cuts to rent supplement rates and the new rent thresholds have led many families to extreme deprivation in order to meet exorbitant rents which is the only term one could use to describe rent rates currently.

In Dublin alone, rents have gone up by 14% since this time last year and rents had already been rising steadily for the past four years. There is one simple reason for this which the Minister seems to want to ignore. Landlords are in a position now where they can charge anything they want and people desperate for a decent place to live will pay - daft.ie has never been so empty as rent properties are snapped up in hours, taken without even a viewing. Landlords are now abandoning rent supplement and RAS as they believe they can do very well without such State aid and the annoyance of the greater bureaucracy and the choice between setting reasonable rents or demanding illegal top-ups.

The Government seems to have forgotten that the private market is about profit and right now profits are very good.

There is no desire for private landlords to provide housing for all; in fact, that is bad for business as far as they are concerned. It is a very basic case of supply and demand. That is why we need the State to intervene where the public good is not served by this model. I do not believe there are many cases where it does serve the public good but certainly in housing the profit model left to itself is actively damaging to the public good. It was the profit model in housing and the light touch regulation which led us into economic collapse and it will do nothing to tackle the housing crisis it created.

The recent Constitutional Convention recommended that the right to a home be enshrined in Bunreacht na hÉireann and that it be enforced by the courts. We believe that people do have a right to a home whether it is enshrined in the Constitution or not. We urge the Government to set a date for the referendum but we strongly urge that the Minister work in the here and now to realise a right which has already been signed up to by the State under the UN convention. At present, the right to a home is a sick joke in the State. There are measures which the Government could undertake today which would ease the problems in housing and the suffering of so many people.

Sinn Féin has outlined how €1 billion identified in the strategic investment fund could be invested in social housing. The plan would see the building of approximately 7,500 homes over 18 months while creating jobs, raising council revenue and saving money on emergency accommodation and rent supplement. The new housing stock would also help to reduce rent rates which would further bring down the rent supplement bill and protect private tenants at risk of losing their homes due to soaring rent rates. Of the €1 billion, €985 million could be spent on building 6,502 new homes for social housing, as well as renovating the final 948 homes left over after recently announced Government plans to deal with long-term vacant housing.

Those 7,500 homes represent 7,500 families given a new lease of life, a secure home and a chance to live in dignity. It represents thousands of jobs and millions in savings for the State. If 7,500 families were taken off rent supplement, it would save more than €30 million a year on the budget. It would reduce waiting lists in 18 months by nearly a tenth on top of housing promised by the Government already. The cost of allowing people to remain homeless and in emergency accommodation is so great that many other housing authorities around the world have decided it would be more cost-effective simply to house as many as possible immediately in whatever housing is available and suitable. The authorities would then pay the entire rent and provide supports as needed. That has been found to be more cost effective and has been shown to be a successful way to end homelessness or at least cut down on homeless numbers considerably. In Utah, the housing authority is on track not just with strategy, but in real terms, to end homelessness. It decided that to house people was a more cost-effective route and that is exactly what it did. It has reduced long-term homelessness by 74% over eight years while the approach in this country has seen homeless figures rise by similar percentages in recent years.

At present, almost 300 people are staying in hotels across Dublin every single day. The cost to the city is approximately €20,000 a day and millions a year. That is a wrong approach. This is the busy season for hotels and any person put out of a hotel now adds to the homeless list. I am aware of examples of that happening. The Minister of State has supported some Housing First pilot schemes but we face a major problem in emulating Utah and other places which have put full support behind the model. We do not have sufficient homes available to house people. That is a major problem and there is one solution. A major investment in social housing is required, as outlined previously by me and Sinn Féin. One cannot house people in homes that do not exist or further distort the private market with State subsidy of rents.

That brings me to the important point of the urgent need to deal with rents. Rents are too high and it is damaging to society and the economy. Landlords are cleaning up while local businesses falter as people struggle to make their rent which represents a growing portion of their outgoings - swallowing up their monthly income. Rent control is not a new idea. It has been tried and tested in many places around the world and has been successful in keeping rents at a fair level when implemented reasonably and in conjunction with the provision of social housing. Just last month the British Labour Party unveiled a plan to introduce rent controls. Perhaps it is time the Labour Party took a leaf out of the book of its sister party across the pond.

I recognise and appreciate that the Minister has commissioned a report on rent control but that is not enough. We need action on rents now. A major rent bubble is being created. A report was commissioned on deposit retention schemes by the Private Residential Tenancies Board, PRTB, in 2009. We are still waiting for the scheme which is badly needed. In fact, Sinn Féin submitted an amendment to the Residential Tenancies Bill in 2013 which would have provided for such a scheme but it was rejected by the Minister. This cannot be a re-run.

I also call on the Minister to deal with the immediate and very worrying problem being faced by rent supplement recipients who face eviction due to their landlords demanding rent above the current threshold. That is a very serious and widespread problem and poses a real danger to many families of being put on the street and therefore in need of emergency accommodation. The Minister of State has made remarks on directing community welfare officers, CWOs, to operate with discretion in order to avoid evictions. I urge that she would push at Cabinet level that the Department of Social Protection would issue a directive in that regard. The Department must look beyond the short-term cost of breaking its own threshold and consider the long-term expense and human suffering of the families being made homeless and forced to take up emergency accommodation. Is it not better that families are kept in their homes for a few euro more a day than to be placed in a hotel or bed and breakfast accommodation for close to €100 a night without cooking or cleaning facilities and at the whim of the management? Homeless people have been told to queue up in hotel foyers and wait until accommodation becomes available. In many cases more than one room is required for families. In some cases it costs a couple of hundred euro a day to accommodate a family in a hotel. It is that kind of short-term thinking that got us to the position where the biggest local authority in the State - Dublin City Council - built only 29 homes last year while tens of thousands in the city are desperate for homes.

Those are the great problems faced by the people in need of housing in the State and this Bill will not do much for them. That said, there are some welcome improvements on current policy, although more could be done even on those points. The eviction of local authority tenants and repossession of the home is a very difficult subject but I welcome that the Bill does take steps towards improving what was a wholly insufficient procedure in terms of the rights of the tenant but also those around them - the people who have to suffer where there are anti-social elements. The current legislation has been shown to be in violation of the EU Convention on Human Rights. It allowed local authorities summarily to evict people with a rubber stamp from the District Court. That was rightly ruled by the Supreme Court to be incompatible with the State's obligations. Tenants who face eviction should have the right to a fair hearing and due process. A local authority cannot be allowed to evict tenants on a whim or for other biased and unfair reasons, as evident in the case of my friend, Councillor John Brady, in Bray, who was given an eviction notice for rocking the boat and advocating on behalf of two women who were forced to live with their children in completely unsuitable emergency accommodation.

In the early stages of the drafting of the Bill, it stated that local authorities would have to give 15 days warning to any tenant that they were seeking to evict, allowing them time to prepare for the process. That has been reduced to ten working days. Focus Ireland rightly said that this should be 30 days in order to allow appropriate time to gather advice and information. I support the call and will seek an amendment in this regard on the next Stage. Eviction is not a solution to anti­social behaviour issues and it is and should always be a last resort.

This would allow appropriate time to gather advice and information. I support this call and we will seek an amendment in this regard on Committee Stage.

Eviction is not the solution to anti-social issues and it should always be a last resort. Anyone evicted from a local authority tenancy is then the responsibility of the local authority when he or she requires emergency accommodation. This should not be forgotten, and the damage this can do to a family unit can be much greater potentially than the anti-social behaviour in which a person was engaging. This trauma could make it even more difficult to deal properly with anti­social elements in a family. It must also be remembered that where criminal activity takes place it is a matter for the Garda.

The provision for giving tenancy warnings could be useful in preventing minor anti-social issues from developing into very serious problems. Issuing these warnings and the process which follows must be clear and transparent and allow for proper engagement between the tenant, the party responsible for the problem and the council. This should not be allowed to be a measure for punishing or penalising people who are seen as a nuisance by council officials for whatever reason not related to actual anti-social behaviour. As tenants deserve a fair hearing in the eviction process, they must also be allowed a fair hearing in this regard.

We feel, considering the housing crisis we face, that allowing someone with no succession rights to stay in a home which could be completely inappropriate for them for six months is not acceptable. There have been cases where single people who did not have any right to the former home of their deceased family member stayed in the property for an extended period of time. I recently came across this with regard to a four-bedroomed home. With so many families in desperate need, it is unacceptable that people should stay for long periods after being told to leave the premises. This needs to be addressed. If one does not have a recognised housing need and succession rights, there should be no more than a period of respect for the bereaved and an appropriate opportunity for the person to find alternative accommodation and remove possessions or other items. A problem often faced by local authorities is that people are very slow to remove items from houses. In some cases it is a sentimental issue as the houses are regarded as family homes, although the people involved have no succession rights. However, this sentimentality does not give them a right to stay there and this is clear.

Sinn Féin respects the right of local authority tenants to buy, and this is important in maintaining communities and avoiding poor social mix, but this must not be allowed to deplete the social housing stock without sufficient replacement and an increase in the stock. While we support the inclusion of a tenant purchase scheme, we believe the State must implement a significant house building initiative as a matter of priority. We also believe the money obtained from these houses should go back into social housing and should be targeted in this way. The State should not be allowed throw the money into the mix for other measures. It is very important to replace the stock and give people the right to buy their own house.

We welcome the introduction of the housing assistance payment as a much needed improvement on the rent supplement system, but it marks a failure of this Government and successive Governments to ensure that rent supplement remained a stop-gap measure for private tenants in difficulty. The Government has now adopted an approach which seems to desire a system whereby the State does not provide housing but incentivises the private profit market to do its job in social housing. The voluntary housing groups are doing a massive job, but the main delivery of social housing should come from local authorities because they are the best source. Unfortunately, we seem to be going in the opposite direction and the Government is drawing back. This approach cannot and will not work because the private market is incapable of providing housing to the extent it is needed at the value required. The State is the only vehicle for the delivery of quality affordable housing for those most in need.

We support the improved provision for people to work while receiving housing assistance, but share Focus Ireland's concern that maintaining people who have become unemployed more recently on rent supplement is unlikely to help end the poverty trap it has perpetuated over the years, given these are the people most likely to return to work in the short or medium term. Placing only those who are long-term unemployed in the position whereby they can work while allowing those newly unemployed to remain within rent supplement constraints makes no sense.

We also share the Simon Communities' concerns about the standards of accommodation. The State should strongly avoid subsidising landlords providing substandard housing. It is already scandalous that some landlords in receipt of rent supplement are not even registered with the Private Residential Tenancies Board, PRTB. This is totally unacceptable.

I strongly oppose the idea of putting in place a system mandatorily to deduct rent arrears from the income and social welfare of tenants and rent assistance recipients. Social housing has been allowed by successive Governments to become the last resort for the most vulnerable and poorest in society. Those in social housing or receiving social housing support are not affluent. In cases where arrears are owed, usually the people involved have failed to budget correctly following a drop in income or a new expense. New medicines, social welfare cuts, water charges, back to school expenses and accidentally undeclared new incomes are often the cause of accrued rent arrears.

In most cases tenants are happy to work with councils to plan repayments. Most of the tenants with rent arrears whom I have dealt with would have no problem with a direct debit type scheme for repayment of arrears which was reasonable. To do this mandatorily would be a very negative step in how councils and their tenants relate to each other. It certainly would not be acceptable for a private landlord to be able to syphon money out of a tenant's account without permission to pay arrears. My experience of local authorities, in particular Dublin City Council, is that they pull out all the stops to deal with people in arrears and they are generally very flexible. We need to be careful about making this mandatory and taking the money from social welfare payments. In the past some people have had a choice between putting bread on the table or paying rent and in some cases this is how the rent fell behind. The current system of repayment of arrears, while not perfect and requiring renewed focus, has the potential to work well and is based on co-operation between tenants and the councils. This change would be devastating if applied in some cases and I am strongly opposed to it.

The Minister of State said the plan is to end long-term homelessness by 2016. At present, given that 5,000 people are homeless, this target seems virtually impossible to achieve. Last month, approximately 40 new people were reported as homeless. How will we end it? I support the idea of home purchase and the right of tenants to purchase their own homes. I will wait to see the method and mechanism to be used and these are extremely important. I would like to see financial contributions used more to get more housing. It has proved successful in the past and delivered much housing for local authorities. Without rent control, all we will do is increase prices because once the local authorities start trying to buy prices go through the roof and we have seen this happen in the past.

In many of the cases where homeless people are in hotels they are not near schools. They have been put in far away places and moved around. They must be kept as close as possible to their communities, schools and places they access. This should be a priority. I acknowledge there is desperation, that hotels are being chased and people are being put left, right and centre. Some people have been obliged to attend two or three different schools within months because their families have been moved from one place to another. This is absolutely scandalous and is putting enormous pressure on people.

Over the past two years, a number of rules have been introduced in respect of local authorities. I believe the change regarding the crossing over from one local authority to another has caused huge problems and must be reconsidered. In the so-called good times, many people went to places such as Cavan or wherever and bought into them but now find themselves in serious trouble. Many people are trying to get back to places where their families were or where they had their communities only to meet this obstacle of crossing over from one local authority to another. It is the same in respect of people on the housing waiting lists in that one cannot go on to Fingal's list if one is living within Dublin City Council's limits or if one lives in Fingal, one cannot go on to the city council's lists. This policy, which has only been introduced within the last couple of years, must be reconsidered. It has cut down the choices for many people in respect of places in which they had lived and where they wished to be.

There is another issue about which I remain unclear. I refer to people who had family homes but who lost those homes or in cases in which there was familial discord between the husband and wife or the partners and people were obliged to move out. The experience in some local authorities has been that such people cannot get housing through rent supplement. In some cases, Dublin City Council has been more flexible and provided such people with a housing needs letter enabling them to approach the welfare officers. This issue must be examined as it is highly unfair that in some local authorities, someone who unfortunately breaks up with a partner and now finds him or herself out of a home and who is unemployed etc., is being excluded from getting on the housing list. The rule must be applied across the board. One cannot have one rule in Cork and another rule in Dublin because from what I have heard, this seems to be what is happening across the country. This issue also must be examined because the position must be clarified for people.

The housing crisis now is in the worst state I have ever seen. I have never seen so many people in desperate need and have never seen so many people in such dire situations. I acknowledge this did not simply happen on the Minister of State's watch. It happened under the previous Government and unfortunately, even during the so-called boom, the quantity of social housing that should have been produced was not produced. However, another area that may require reconsideration or re-examination is the Part V provisions. The Minister of State has indicated there will be some changes in this regard but were building to recommence, I would not like to think the 20% provision that originally had been gained from large housing groups and schemes would be conceded. Members should be reluctant to concede in this regard and that position should be maintained. I acknowledge the Labour Party has strong views in this respect and I certainly believe Members should remain strong on this issue. Members should not concede that provision too easily. I acknowledge that not many houses are being built at present but if things are moving and if the housing market begins to be addressed, it is important to get those units. In addition, Members should consider the issue of affordable housing with a view to ensuring the State is in a position to pursue it. That is an area that has worked very well over the years with the local authorities.

The Minister of State has an awful job ahead of her because the housing situation is absolutely calamitous at present. Moreover, it will get worse because a huge number of people are in mortgage distress. The homeless situation will continue and in my opinion it will increase. The housing lists will lengthen because the authorities are firefighting at present and even those firefighting measures are going nowhere near helping to alleviate the situation because it has become so bad. Were the banks to become more aggressive - all the signs are that they will - this country will be facing one of the worst human problems seen here for many a year. That is my worry and the banks must be put in their place in this regard. Consideration must be given to demanding that people who cannot afford a mortgage should remain in their homes and pay rent. This possibility must be considered and Members need to be making the point that people cannot be put out. It does not make sense economically to seize these homes and for people to be put out. This issue must be addressed and while I do not know the Minister of State's intentions on this issue, I certainly will be watching closely as to what is to be done and how this problem will be tackled because this is the major crisis that is yet to come. While it already is with us, it will get worse.

The Technical Group is next and I believe Deputy Boyd Barrett is sharing time with Deputy Catherine Murphy, with 20 minutes allocated to Deputy Boyd Barrett and ten minutes to Deputy Catherine Murphy.

If it is okay, we intend to split it with 15 minutes each.

Against the background of an absolutely dire housing emergency, this Bill is a fairly pathetic response from the Government. One aspect of the legislation may have a marginal impact on the crisis we face and I will turn to that in a minute. However, against the overall background of record numbers of people presenting as homeless, that is, six per day, probably the longest housing waiting list seen in the history of the State, families with children presenting in increasing number as homeless because of a dramatic rise in rents and a chronic shortage of local authority housing, this Bill really is pathetic.

I had wished to see something positive because all I really want now is to be able to turn around to the families who are presenting to my clinic and to tell them there is a solution, there is light at the end of the tunnel and that they may have somewhere secure to live in a few weeks' time or even in a few months' time. Unfortunately however, this Bill does not offer that and nor does it offer any means to deal with the underlying madness of social housing policy as it has been administered in recent years under both the present Government and its predecessor. This is because even if this measure works as the Minister of State hopes, the net result will be that the State still will be pouring approximately three quarters of a billion euro a year into the pockets of private landlords, which is just money down the drain. Moreover, it is completely unsustainable financially and in terms of providing the security of tenure social housing tenants need. It simply will not work. It is a waste of money and will not work and I wish the Government would realise that.

In the debate Members held on this issue a week or so ago, the Minister of State rightly stated this was not a problem that started with her and that the previous Government had laid the foundations of the current crisis. That is absolutely true and in fact, successive Governments, probably over the past 20 years or so, have laid the foundations for this crisis by dramatically reducing the direct provision of council housing and essentially outsourcing social housing to the private sector in the form of rent allowance and more recently, rental accommodation scheme, RAS, arrangements and other leasing arrangements.

That policy was not really very sustainable even during the boom period but the chickens have come home to roost in the current situation of economic crisis, with people's incomes being slashed and huge extra numbers of people needing social and affordable housing. This crisis is the consequence of the policy failures of successive Governments. When this Government came into office, instead of correctly analysing what was at the root of the problem and beginning to move in a different direction that could address the problem, every single action taken by the Government has made it worse and in fact has accelerated the processes that led to the crisis in the first place.

The Minister of State referred in her speech last week to the policy document produced by her Department in June 2011. I am not sure if Deputy Jan O'Sullivan was the Minister of State at that time because Deputy Penrose may have been the Minister of State then. That document to which the Minister of State still refers, sets out the ingredients of the current crisis. At the time there was no discussion in the Dáil. I refer to press releases which I issued on 14 June 2011 stating that this policy would be a disaster because the Government was accelerating the privatisation of social and affordable housing. We held a press conference in Buswell's Hotel with groups like Tenants First and a number of people on the housing list. We said at the time that this policy would be a disaster. I raised the matter with the Tánaiste in July 2012. I said that the combined effect of the policies set out in that document - I will paraphrase the policies but the reference can be checked if necessary by anyone who is interested - was to cease the direct provision of new capital projects for building social housing and to rely primarily on leasing arrangements with the private sector and some talk of the voluntary sector as well. That was the policy which combined with reductions in the rent caps which followed in two subsequent budgets, have acted as a pincer which has produced the housing crisis and the homeless emergency. In July 2012 I said to the Tánaiste that it was not an exaggeration to say that the Government's new housing policy and cuts to rent allowance would lead to a new era of homelessness and a return to slum landlords and tenement conditions. I did not know how right I was at that stage because the real crisis was only unleashed in the years following that, reaching a crescendo in the past number of months.

The poverty of understanding of this crisis at all sorts of levels in Irish society is extraordinary. I was talking to a senior media figure whom I will not name because it would not be fair. I wanted to discuss the failure of the Irish media even to understand, never mind cover, the housing crisis in this country. At least this particular senior executive in one of the major broadcasting institutions admitted: "Most of the people who work with me and whom I know, might have mortgage difficulties but they would not know anything about being on a council housing list." Of course, that is the bloody truth. They do not understand because they have no experience of what it is like for hundreds of thousands of families who really are a silent, if not majority, a very significant silent minority, voiceless, but in desperate situations, whose suffering - there is no other word for it - is not articulated in a mainstream debate and much of the time until very recently was not articulated in debate in this House. Despite some of us screaming for a debate on this issue, it has taken until the last few months to get even a serious discussion about how bad this issue is and only now because the crisis is staring us in the face and because the worse predictions have come to pass.

When the rent caps were introduced the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, with a solemn face ridiculed those critics of that policy and she told us solemnly that rents would come down. Oh my God, how wrong can one be? It shows a fundamental poverty of analysis about how the housing market works and about the attitude of the private sector to housing. We still have the same poverty of analysis now when I hear the Taoiseach saying that we need 80,000 houses and that supply is the fundamental problem. I am sorry, the fundamental problem is not supply; it is part of the problem. Did we have supply between 2002 and 2008? We had massive supply, 70,000 to 90,000 houses a year. Did that in any way improve the housing list position or the level of homelessness? Not at all; it got worse during that period, even though we were building record numbers of houses.

It is a simple elementary fact and I have not heard one economist - so-called expert - in the past few weeks who understands that elementary point. Supply does not equal demand or supply does not rise to meet demand. That is textbook rubbish. In reality, supply rises to meet effective demand and demand where profits can be made. Effective demand is demand where people have the money to pay and that is where the market will orientate, towards people who can afford to pay hefty rents or hefty prices for property. It does not and will not orientate towards people who do not have enough money to put a roof over their head and who need low cost housing. I hear every day for the past week that incentivising private developers or even removing the Part V stipulation so that they do not need to provide social housing, will mean that prices will come down because they will provide so much housing. This is absolute rubbish. It is stuff one sees in leaving certificate economics where one line of demand meets one line of supply in the middle, in this beautiful equilibrium. This is rubbish and it is not the real world. It is textbook neoliberal dogma. That is not just my view, it is the experience of 2002 to 2008. How do we meet the need for housing of people who do not have the money to pay these high rents or to pay the massively rising property prices for housing in the Dublin property market? The answer is that the State provides subsidised housing. This is the only answer there has ever been. That is how we moved from the slums of the 19th century and the squalor associated with them, to some semblance of civilisation and equality in the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. Tragically, we have been rolling back on that since the 1980s with disastrous consequences, to the benefit of private developers and landlords, turning the property sector completely into a casino with disastrous consequences particularly when an economic recession hits.

Against this background this Bill facilitates evictions which is not wonderful, in my opinion. I agree there should be a streamlined process and that there needs to be fairness which there has not been. Cases were brought under the EU Convention on Human Rights because there was no fairness. Extraordinary draconian powers were in the hands of anti-social officers in local authorities who essentially, on the basis of their own personal discretion, could evict people. Sometimes this was justified and in many cases it was totally unjustified. There needs to be an independent fair process to adjudicate matters such as that and we need to examine the detail in this regard but it will not solve the problem.

The issue of incremental purchase of council houses is a good thing in itself, so long as these are replaced with new build of social housing, otherwise all that will happen is the existing stock of social housing will be run down and there will be problems stored up for the future. The housing assistance payment, HAP, is the one substantial provision in the Bill. At least this will, depending on the detail of the proposal, remove the ridiculous anomaly whereby local authorities in leasing arrangements with private landlords are paying way in excess of the rent caps which community welfare officers are allowed to pay. A person who is homeless or is threatened with homelessness goes to the community welfare officer who says he or she can only provide €1,000 a month for a three-bedroom house, when in south Dublin, one could not rent a box for that amount and would have to pay €1,300 or €1,400 a month.

The person is then sent to homeless services, which will send him or her to a hotel on the other side of Dublin or, failing that, he or she will be left to sleep in a car or on the sofa of a relative. At the same time, the local authority has entered into a crazy arrangement with landlords under which it pays rents of €1,300 and €1,400 per month. I cannot understand how these arrangements have been allowed to persist for so long. The legislation should at least remove this ridiculous anomaly and force councils to vary the rent caps, as Deputies on this side have argued. We must, however, see the detail before deciding if that is the case. Even if it addresses that issue, it will not solve the fundamental problem. Local authorities will become sitting ducks for landlords who want to jack up rents or pull out of current leasing arrangements. We know this will happen because some of them are already doing so.

While the legislation removes one anomaly and may also remove a second anomaly under which people who take up employment lose money, it is not sustainable because it does not resolve the fundamental problem. The only solution is to return to large-scale building of local authority houses. I do not accept the view that this cannot be done because of current economic constraints. We built tens of thousands of council houses in the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s and 1970s and no one can tell me we cannot afford to do so now, especially as the alternative is to spend €750 million on rent allowance and leasing arrangements. This money pours into the pockets of landlords and down the drain. The alternative is to build council houses. I plead with the Government to start to do so.

I will repeat many of the points made by previous speakers. When I raised the issue of housing on Leaders' Questions two weeks ago the Taoiseach agreed with me that there is a housing crisis. I expected the Government to provide a comprehensive response to this crisis. What we have seen thus far, however, is thoroughly inadequate. It is heart-breaking that Deputies are unable to suggest any form of solution to people who visit our clinics in turmoil because they are worried about where they and their families will live the following week. A response is needed to this horror but none has been forthcoming.

The Bill is divided into five Parts. I first read Part 1, which deals with the housing assistance payment, HAP, a scheme that has been heralded as a great initiative which will address all the problems in housing. One of my criticisms of the rent accommodation scheme, RAS, scheme is that it produces a poverty trap and does not encourage people to return to employment because people who start a job at entry level cannot afford to lose the payment. I refer specifically to families with children. My heart sank when I read some of the provisions relating to the housing assistance payment. As I noted, we have a massive problem in the housing area, with 98,000 individuals and families on the housing waiting list. With 45,000 of these located in only six local authority areas, it is clear that the problem is much worse in some areas, including mine, than in others.

How will the HAP scheme work? As with the RAS, the tenant must find a house to rent and contact his or her local authority seeking a payment under the scheme. The local authority will then spend several weeks deciding whether to send a member of staff to visit the home and assess its suitability. In the meantime, the landlord will have rented the house to someone else.

The scheme is based on a view that local authorities have sufficient staff. County Meath, which has a slightly smaller population than the combined population of Limerick city and county, has 620 staff compared with a combined total of 1,074 in Limerick city and county councils. This scheme cannot be administered without more staff. The local authority areas that are worst affected by the housing crisis are also those which will have the greatest difficulty with staff, yet the Minister for Social Protection has stated she will not transfer staff to assist local authorities in administering the scheme. That is the first flaw in the HAP.

The second flaw arises from the decision to impose caps similar to those that apply to the rental accommodation scheme. I have not heard anything to indicate that additional funds will be provided for the HAP scheme, even in the short term. While I have no great desire to put large sums of money into landlords' pockets, the reality is that people are being excluded from the rental market by virtue of rent caps.

Last week, representatives of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, Limerick City Council and Roscommon County Council appeared before the Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht. The spokespersons for Roscommon County Council and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council stated that their councils have been unable to secure housing on the rental accommodation scheme without exceeding the caps. The representative of Limerick City Council stated that landlords were withdrawing from the RAS. Caps are also provided for under the housing assistance payment scheme. The Minister for Social Protection has become the minister for homelessness because she will not listen. By refusing to accept that tenants are topping up their rent payments, she is denying the problem and her part in it.

The HAP scheme will be the responsibility of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, rather than the Minister for Social Protection. It does not matter who is responsible; what matters is that the funding provided will not be sufficient. That is the second problem with the scheme.

The third problem with this legislation is that it does not provide for the construction of social housing. If rents are to be kept down, we must build new social housing. Having the working poor and people on housing waiting lists competing for the same housing causes serious damage to the economy. Basic shelter has become unaffordable in areas where people have a prospect of securing employment.

The HAP scheme is seriously flawed. When someone finds accommodation he or she must ask the local authority to have it assessed by a member of staff. If, however, a landlord has a long list of people who are willing to rent the house, as is currently the case with most accommodation, he or she will have the vacancy filled by somebody else.

That is already the case.

I agree. This is a serious problem.

The issue of staffing cannot be viewed one dimensionally. Workforce planning is required to identify who will deliver the housing assistance payment scheme. Limerick City Council is supposed to have developed a business plan for this scheme. When I asked who was drawing up the plan, I was informed that it is not yet complete. As such, we do not yet know what is the full business case for the scheme. We were informed that staff in Limerick City Council were transferred from the rental accommodation scheme to the housing assistance payment scheme. Such an approach would not work in County Kildare as it only has one member of staff dealing with the rental accommodation scheme. Moreover, the individual in question is engaged full-time in dealing with landlords. The council does not have any capacity to deal with new cases under the scheme. When a scheme that is good in theory faces many impediments in practice, one must ask how it will help address the current abysmal circumstances.

I acknowledge the recent announcement by the Minister of State that funding has been provided to allow Dublin City Council to purchase a small number of houses. More funding is required for other local authorities in areas which face exactly the same pressure. It takes time to build houses, however. If, for example, the Minister were to announce a major house building programme today, not one house would be occupied by 2016 when the next general election is due.

We are talking about a big lead-in time. Up to €340 million is spent on rent supplement alone with more moneys spent on the rental accommodation scheme and long-term leasing. These moneys need to be replaced by a more normal funding arrangement in time.

Debate adjourned.