Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2014: Second Stage (Resumed)

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

It is ironic that we are discussing a Bill which includes a proposal to make it easier for local authorities to evict people, making them homeless, when we should be examining how to get people into houses. This is the social concern in Irish society and it has only recently started to trickle into the media that we have a crisis with people sleeping in their cars with their children or living in hostels, getting their children up in the morning and bringing them to school in the outer suburbs of this city and the greater Dublin area. In that sense, the debate is lop-sided. When we examine provisions to make it easier to remove people from housing, we must acknowledge one of the key reasons people are leaving housing is the policies being pursued by the Government regarding inadequate rent supplement, which will lead to higher levels of homelessness.

While I welcome the provisions in the Bill for the establishment of the housing assistance programme, HAP, which will bring it under the remit of the local authorities, it is long overdue. If we are to avert the crisis we must increase the levels of rent supplement available to people. It is ironic that this morning the Taoiseach spoke to Deputies on this side of the House about conjuring up houses overnight and said a construction proposal will take time to implement. In view of this, we are dealing with the existing housing stock. The rent assistance being given is inadequate and the only way to release the pressure valve now is to increase rent supplement or HAP, whatever it is called. It must be done. Despite yesterday's media reports that Dublin rents had increased by 14% since January, the State and the Department are capping rent payment at a ridiculous level, leaving more people homeless.

It is strange that we are dealing with local authority stock when the county councils have more power to deal with tenants than many private landlords. I recently had responses from the Minister regarding the Private Residential Tenancies Board, PRTB, and how we deal with unwelcome tenants in private housing. The Minister's response was that nothing could be done and that the PRTB existed. While we are not addressing legislation for the private market, we are doing so for the local authorities which have considerable powers.

The Minister's Department told me the dispute mechanism that the State established for landlords and tenants is not open for review. I will give a case study and the Minister may respond in her reply. It concerns two constituents in my area who purchased a starter home in 2005, which was never intended to be an investment property. However, when they got married and had a family, the house was inadequate for their needs and they moved. Given that they could not sell the house without being left with a huge debt, they rented it out in September 2012. Soon, the tenant started leaving them short of rent and, in October 2013, stopped all payment. The tenant refused to answer the phone or the door or deal with correspondence.

The owners contacted the PRTB, to which they had paid a registration fee and to which they had to pay €90 every time they changed. The PRTB told them it could take months before a hearing would happen. They served notice on the tenant to vacate the house in November, but the tenant did not move out and the new tenant who was lined up had to go elsewhere. Eventually, the owners got a hearing with the PRTB in February this year. The tenant did not attend and was given a notice to quit within 21 days. The tenant did not appeal and at the end of the 21 days another period of 28 days was put in place. These people had to chase the PRTB at every level, and the tenant is still in their house months later. Those people, who have a family and a mortgage to pay, cannot make ends meet. The fact that we are dealing with local authorities, which have powers, and are not addressing it is unbalanced.

I am not in favour of local authorities being able easily to evict people. It has not been the case previously and the Judiciary has made it very difficult for the very valid reason that there is a responsibility to house people and if the local authority evicts a person, it is not clear who will deal with the him or her. The focus of the Bill should be on avoiding the situation. An eviction should always be the last resort, be it for anti-social behaviour or otherwise. If the Government were trying to be constructive, we would be passing legislation to speed up the process of pre-let repairs and the archaic system of tendering which happens in local authorities in order to put people into houses rather than dealing with a piece of legislation to get them out.

One of the reasons for the difficulty local authorities have in addressing issues of anti-social behaviour is not that the legislation is weak, but that other supports are not provided. People with serious mental health problems who were supposed to be linked up with social workers have been placed in communities. While these people have a lot of other baggage, which is intrusive to their neighbours and is difficult for the local authorities' staff to deal with, the fault, in the main, is not with the local authority staff but the HSE or other agencies which failed to provide the necessary supports to those families, which gave rise to anti-social behaviour or other issues.

There have been problems with An Garda Síochána, as it has not in an efficient and timely manner furnished local authorities with information on tenants who may cause problems by dealing drugs, etc. It is a bit rich to speak about empowering local authorities to evict people when we preside over cases where local authority staff have been butchered, while the number of tasks they deal with have probably mushroomed. There are very hard-pressed council staff dealing with a multiplicity of estate management issues but because of the public sector recruitment embargo, there are not enough staff members to deal with them. Will this legislation mean families will be evicted, as we have not put in the resources to work at tenancy sustainment or keeping people in homes? That is really where the focus should be.

I am not in favour of a system of compulsory deductions from people's social welfare payments, which is a retrograde step akin to the draconian legislation introduced for the household charge, etc. It is a bad precedent. We should be assisting people rather than forcibly taking payments. The Minister of State and all the Deputies in this House who have knocked on doors in the past number of weeks know that families are coming to the door with mountains of bills in their hands, asking which bill they should not pay. That is a result of the austerity policies being implemented, so deducting money from social welfare payments is not a solution.

I understand why people want to buy local authority houses. The tenant purchase scheme is very popular as people put a life's work into their houses. In reality, this is selling what could be future council housing stock, and it would be far better for the Government to be proactive in dealing with this issue. People could live in a home, raise their children before perhaps downsizing to an appropriate dwelling when the children are grown. The stock could be left in the hands of the State for another family which wants to rear a family. We do not have a continuous path now and the tenant purchase scheme is not the way to go.

This is the wrong discussion at the wrong time. The problem which councils have in dealing with tenants arises largely because of a lack of resources, the public sector recruitment embargo, austerity measures and so on. Our time would be better served in considering how to keep people in their homes rather than removing them from the dwellings.

I disagree with section 12(3)(a), which states that a local authority must only give tenants ten working days of notice before the District Court can hear a possession application. As Focus Ireland has argued, tenants should be given at least 30 working days so they can have a reasonable amount of time to obtain advice and information.

Having read some of the submissions to the Oireachtas environment committee regarding the Bill, it seems a strong theme emerged from organisations working on the front line with homeless people that the option of evicting tenants should only be used as a last resort. Local authorities should be obliged to first engage with problematic tenants to try to resolve issues leading to difficulties rather than going straight to eviction procedures. The Bill needs to deal with the fact that simply evicting people because of rent arrears or anti-social behaviour does nothing to tackle the root causes of these issues, such as poverty and social exclusion. Problems are just moved elsewhere, and in some cases the cost to the State increases, as newly homeless families must be provided with costly emergency homeless accommodation.

Part 3 provides for a new tenant purchase scheme along incremental lines. In Britain, the result of Prime Minister Thatcher's right-to-buy scheme is a chronic shortage of affordable housing and millions of people on the social housing waiting list. Between 1980 and 2010, more than 2 million properties were sold, which is equivalent to approximately half of the country's public housing stock. These council houses were sold at serious discounts of up to 50%, although new public housing was not built to fill the gap. In the London Review of Books, Mr. James Meek recently pointed out that councils were not allowed to spend the money earned to replace homes which were sold, and central government funding for housing was slashed. Of all the spending cuts made by the Thatcher government in its first term of notorious axe-swinging, three quarters came from the housing budget. Mr. Meek argues that many who bought their council houses sold them to private landlords who rented them to people on housing benefit who could not get a council house at double or triple the levels of council rent.

The right-to-buy scheme therefore created an astonishing leak of state money into the rental class. The British Government sold people homes it owned at a major discount and allowed the buyers to keep the profit when they sold the homes to a private landlord at the market price. It then artificially raised market rents by choking supply, making it impossible for councils to replace the sold houses. It also paid artificially high rents to the same private landlords in the form of housing benefit which was many times higher than what would have been paid if the houses remained in council hands. In other words, Britain made the private rental sector fat at the expense of the state in the long term, which does not make sense.

The Minister of State has just about admitted that this State's refusal to build social housing for a long period is the root of our problems with housing. The big elephant in the room is that we have yet to see a Government control the price of development land. The Government has information on who owns this land but it does not seem to care what is the price. There is sometimes regulation but there is no appetite to regulate this area, which is the biggest problem of all.

The issue is the difference between demand and supply. Demand is driven by a number of factors, with a small group of people controlling the supply. That suits these people, as prices are increased. Demand is great because the population is growing, although families are getting smaller. At one time there would have been far more people living in each house but there are now many more separate couples, which adds to demand. As the small group controls the land, it controls the supply, and the Government is the only party that can deal with this problem. One cannot expect the private sector to address the problem as it has a vested interest in not doing so.

Those involved in building private houses in this country are not doing so in an effort to house people but are doing so for profit. That is the way the system works. As they can control the supply of land, they can control the price of housing. Currently, agencies like the banks, some of which we practically own, and NAMA are selling large blocks of units to investors with the result that the investor has never owned as many units in this country. These properties are selling for a fraction of what they are worth. As I have stated before, some of my own portfolio has been sold for less than half of the cost to build such a unit today, even if I had the land for nothing. How logical is that? A portfolio went on the market last week, with approximately 400 units for sale at approximately €50,000 per unit. If an individual seeks to buy the same unit, he or she would have to pay close to €250,000 for it. As an investor can buy so many units in one block, and the institutions like the banks and NAMA are keen to sell the property in large parcels, we are sowing problems for tomorrow by giving a small group complete control of the rental sector.

Is the Government serious about the problems which the construction sector has brought to the table? That sector was knee-deep in both the boom and the economic collapse, so it is important for the State to control the issue. It will not do so until it addresses the problem of how much development land can be sold for. Everybody is familiar with the Kenny report which was published approximately 25 years ago.

At that time the Kenny report referred to allowing development land to be sold - I am quoting from memory - for something like 25% above agricultural land. I could be wrong on that figure. If the Government allowed development land to be sold at double the price for agriculture, that would be fine because it would be measured but it is being sold for telephone numbers above the agricultural price. I bought a fifth of an acre in a working class area in Dublin for €5 million. Agricultural land has not reached that level. It is still around €10,000 an acre. Imagine if that could be controlled. Does the Government have the appetite to rein these people in? These guys are landbanking again.

Not only are investors, most of whom are foreign, buying large blocks of apartments and blocks of houses, but they are also buying land. It is unlikely that they will release that for development in the next 12 months. They will wait for the price to go up. Will the Government tax land that is zoned for development while the investors sit on it? It could be taxed highly because it creates the problem. If the investors have not started digging the ground 12 months after getting permission to build property on it, the Government should tax them to the hilt. That would do a lot to address the problem. I do not expect Fine Gael to have an appetite for it because it is far more interested in facilitating the private sector to get fat than in challenging it. It would mean a great deal if the Government would get its head around the idea that the price of development land has to be controlled. That is within the Government’s remit.

I rang Wexford County Council this morning to ask how it feels about the Bill and I was told that it welcomes some aspects of the housing assistance payment, HAP, going back to the local authority but it will need the proper resources to administer it. It pointed out that the rent supplement for applicants with short-term housing needs will continue to be the responsibility of the Department of Social Protection while applicants with long-term needs are passed to the local authority. It sees this as a duplication of resources which could lead to problems as applicants are passed from one Department to another. The Minister of State might consider that issue.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the legislation. Housing is a basic human need and right. All efforts of Government, and all of our energies must be directed to ensuring that people who are not in a position to purchase a home have access to one, and those who are have access to affordable housing. Those are reasonable requirements in a civilised modern society.

I welcome the passage of this Bill through the House as, without doubt, it represents the most radical reform of public housing support for decades. I salute the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, for her excellent work on it and for its pioneering, radical nature.

We are all well aware of the inherited challenges in the provision of social housing in this country. According to the chief executive officer of Respond, Ned Brennan, in 2008 the official social housing need assessment found that 56,249 households were in need of housing. In 2013, this number had increased dramatically to 89,872 households. That begs the question of how we arrived at this situation, bearing in mind that during the Celtic tiger years house construction was at an all-time high. Addressing the question, Mr Brennan found that during the Celtic tiger years, up to 20 new homes per 1,000 of the population were constructed - the highest average in the EU. We went mad building but fewer than two new homes per 1,000 of the population were built for social housing.

One of our commitments, under the programme for Government, was to address this appalling problem. Budget 2014 allocated €30 million to the State's house building programme, promising to deliver 500 houses. A further €10 million was allocated for the unfinished housing estate resolution, which is one of the great difficulties in our society and is probably the most appalling and grim legacy of the excesses of the Celtic tiger. The Minister of State should be commended on the sterling work she has done to achieve such a significant level of funding, in the context of many competing pressures.

Today's legislation is very long overdue and there are many welcome measures in it. Part 4 of the Bill, which encompasses sections 33 to 48, introduces the new housing assistance payment, HAP, to replace the current rent allowance system. The new HAP system will streamline housing support between tenants, landlords and local housing authorities and bring all State social housing services under the one umbrella. That is an excellent development which will be embraced by county councils. I am proud to say that Cavan County Council has an excellent housing department which cited the need for this for many a day and will embrace it.

Local authorities are in the best place to determine housing needs, at local level and this legislation equips them with the necessary resources to respond to housing needs and housing emergencies, within their jurisdiction. Under this new legislation, the local authority will assess the housing needs of a person who wants to qualify for HAP. Once the person is assessed as having a genuine housing need, he or she is free to source private, rented accommodation.

Under section 41, when a rental agreement is made between the tenant and the landlord, HAP is paid directly to the landlord, through the local authority and not by the tenant. There are many merits in that, for example, the local authorities will be vigilant and will spot rack-renting and the difficulties it poses. That is very important. The direct payment has the advantage for some tenants who might have bad financial management skills of not posing the difficulty for them of receiving money that is not theirs to spend. It is much more simple and straightforward. The payments will be made monthly by electronic funds transfer. The tenant will be required to pay a rent contribution to the authority, calculated in accordance with the authority's differential rent scheme. Having a certain practical knowledge of this area, I know this will be attractive to landlords who will not have to interface with tenants about rent. This will bring more attractive properties into this sphere and make them available to tenants who might not otherwise get them. People who come to my constituency office say they cannot access private housing because they receive or will receive rent allowance. Some landlords have an in-built opposition to that. This is a significant aspect of the legislation.

There is a huge amount of common sense, practicality and workability about this legislation and that is one facet of it.

For households who depend on social welfare for their income, the deductions will be made at source, similar to the current system. In other words, the payment by the tenant, if it comes from social welfare income, will be deducted at source. That has obvious merits from many perspectives. It is better for the tenant in question in that following this deduction he or she will be in receipt of his or her disposable income and can manage accordingly. I am pleased there will be no change in this regard, as it makes the transition of powers to the local authorities easier for all concerned.

In the interests of minimising confusion for tenants in receipt of rent allowance , the intention is that this method of rent collection will be introduced in the first instance for households qualifying for assistance and for new local authority tenants, with the procedure being extended over a period to cover all local authority tenants. In other words, it will be incremental and, in the first instance, will be available to new tenants. This is a wise move by the Minister as it ensures a smoother transition for all parties when the time arises. Given that there are arrangements in place, it might not be a good idea to introduce radical change overnight that could cause stress and confusion, distort matters and create homelessness.

There is an important provision in Part 5 of the legislation that enables the Department to recoup rental arrears directly from source. We cannot forget that this scheme is largely being funded from the public purse. If recent years have taught us anything, it is that money does not fall out of the sky. Public funds are a finite resource and that is the reason it is vital to have such a clause in the legislation. I welcome the assurance that the deductions that may be made in this instance from weekly social welfare payments will not exceed 15% of the total amount of social welfare payable to the tenant. The logic and humane reasonableness of that provision is obvious. I know the Simon Community and the Circle Voluntary Housing Association broadly welcome this provision as they believe it will help tenants to manage their weekly household budgets to a greater degree and will help some tenants to avoid going into arrears in the first place; it will act as a type of deterrent. For all of us paying the household charge or other charges, deduction at source has an appeal, an attractiveness and a user friendly dimension.

Focus Ireland, which does excellent work on behalf of homeless people, has raised an important point. It believes that deductions should be outlined in full to tenants before they are made, in other words, tenants should be fully informed about their duration and what they will mean for them, and the household should be given the opportunity to get independent financial advice in this respect. Tenants could contact the Money Advice & Budgeting Service, MABS, and get advice, even if they wanted to settle their payments if they were in a position to do so. I suggest to the Minister that the inclusion of a clause such as this in the legislation may be a possibility on Committee Stage to create a legislative imperative for such information to be available to tenants and for a prescribed code of practice to be available in that respect.

In many ways, this Bill places the spotlight on the tenant and his or her responsibilities. There are, however, important elements in the legislation that deal with the responsibilities of the landlord, and these are critical. We cannot have burdens only on the tenant and none the other way.

Part 4, section 40, ensures that no local authority will be able to make a rental payment to a landlord unless the property it wishes to rent out is fully compliant with building regulations and other statutory standards and that the landlord is tax compliant. There are a number of merits in that provision. It is right that the landlord be tax compliant from a public policy and public good perspective and it should not be otherwise if he or she is availing of public moneys. That is a sine qua non. It is also correct that the right standards of housing would be available. Those of us who do constituency work and interface with people on a daily basis will know that there are bizarre, bleak and sad examples of not only rack-renting but rack-renting in the provision of awful accommodation to vulnerable people. It is important that there is a legislative disincentive to doing that. I am pleased with the provision in that regard.

Just as there are bad tenants, there are also bad landlords and many honest tenants find themselves locked in unfair tenancy agreements. Under this legislation, where the landlord fails to produce evidence of compliance, within the prescribed period, the tenant is still protected. The authority may continue to pay rent allowance in respect of the dwelling for a further prescribed period to allow the tenant time to source another dwelling. A significant issue to bear in mind is that many rents are far too high. They are bizarrely high and landlords can sometimes take the State provision as providing an excuse or a carte blanche for charging any level of rent or providing any type of accommodation. Vigilance is needed in this respect. This is an important clause as it provides tenants with a safety net and a period of grace, allowing them time to find accommodation that is suitable for their needs. In other words, it will guard against them being put out on the street over night.

I want to refer to the scaremongering around the area of repossession in regard to the legislation. Part 2 outlines the termination of tenancy agreements for tenants in breach of its terms. There is great emphasis placed on anti-social behaviour in the legislation and section 7 deals specifically with this breach. Anti-social behaviour can have a detrimental effect on an individual who experiences it. It can adversely affect their quality of life and their feelings of safety and security. This part of the Bill references the Housing Act 1997, for its definition, where it states that behaviour such as drug dealing, criminal activity, violence, threats or intimidation towards neighbours, verbal or physical abuse and noise pollution are issues that can affect tenancy, and rightly so. We all know of the scenario of the neighbour from hell who makes life difficult for people and takes down the tone of an estate. I have the privilege and great honour of representing people in a large number of local authority estates, interfacing with them and meeting them on a daily basis. The majority of those people are excellent tenants; they are civic-minded, great community people and everything about them is good. One or two people can take down the image of an estate and cause great difficulties for the broader community. This provision is only right and timely.

I take on board Deputy Wallace's point. I am sure we would all agree that one does not solve social problems with a punitive dimension. Nobody on the Government benches is suggesting that and nobody in this House would be so facile as to suggest that. That is not implicit in the legislation. All the initiatives, such as early childhood education and other initiatives through SOLAS and various schemes are still necessary to alleviate poverty, to deal with hardship and to provide opportunities, and they will have to mirror and operate in parallel with this slightly punitive dimension where people cannot engage in anti-social behaviour. Of course one must deal with the root causes. I would take that to be a given rather than something on which we need to be lectured or reminded about.

Under this legislation, it is proposed that in circumstances such as this, the housing authority may issue a tenancy warning to the tenant, outlining the reasons for the breach, requesting specific action and proving an opportunity to rectify it. In some cases, where there is blatant non-compliance, the housing authority has the power to issue an order for repossession and-or an exclusion order. Reassurances are given that a tenancy warning will be in place and so on. The Minister has that right and everybody has a civil right. With rights come responsibilities and that is what is implicit there.

I want to deal with a significant and important aspect of the legislation, namely, the fact that tenants will be in a position to buy out their houses.

In 2012, tenants who wished to purchase a house were offered a 3% discount on purchase. However, that scheme fell into abeyance. Under the new scheme, eligibility is based on household income rather than length of tenancy, which is fair. The legislation requires tenants to have a minimum income of €15,000 and may qualify for discounts of 40%, 50% or 60%, based on their income. I do not accept the thesis outlined earlier that this causes difficulty. In my experience people who buy houses become very proud of them and become very committed to the welfare of the estate and the broader community. I accept a certain number of people sold their former local authority houses at crazy prices when we had the housing bubble and that some very good people left those houses. In some instances, sadly, they might have got into mortgage difficulty now caused by the housing bubble. It was an unavoidable and unwelcome by-product of the Celtic tiger. However, the principle of people being allowed to buy out their houses is a good one.

I also accept that we should, through planning law and taxation measures, require people who bought land for building purposes to build on it and not squat on it, if one likes. While it is not germane to this legislation, Government will need to act on that matter. It should be attractive from a planning and taxation perspective to build on land or sell it on to someone who will. That is an important aspect. We cannot allow a return to the bizarre housing prices that existed. That was discriminatory and excluded people. That issue needs sorting which can be done through planning and taxation.

The Bill is excellent to the extent that it rationalises and puts a sensible structure around the provision of assistance to people to gain accommodation when they need it. It also provides for tenant purchase and places necessary responsibilities on landlords. If that were matched by an effort to make the planning and taxation systems unpalatable for those who squat on building land, we would be in business and we would have achieved a considerable amount. This is a major first step.

I call Deputy Broughan, who is sharing time with Deputy Shortall.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2014. This is probably one of the most fundamental pieces of legislation to be considered by this House in this session. I am somewhat concerned at the short window we have to consider the Bill. Although the scheme of the Bill was considered by the Joint Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht, the actual Bill was only published on Friday. It will certainly have profound consequences for thousands of citizens. It is a pity we did not have longer to look at it.

Before I discuss the provisions of the Bill I wish to make some comments about the scale of the housing crisis, which I have raised many times in the House with the Taoiseach and Tánaiste, in particular in recent weeks. I have repeatedly called on the Government to introduce a proper capital investment programme for social housing. I have had just two minutes to glance at the Government's Construction 2020 document. I was surprised that the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, was not present at the launch. I see nice photographs of the Taoiseach and Tánaiste but no sign of the Minister of State.

I was in here taking this Bill.

I accept that, but obviously she is the Minister of State with responsibility for housing and it might have been nice for her to have been there.

Based on a two or three minute speed reading I am not clear what impact that construction programme will have on those who are homeless tonight and those who are becoming homeless every day in this city, in the Minister of State's city, in Cork and throughout the country. The numbers of people presenting as homeless is increasing in Dublin city where emergency accommodation is completely packed out. I asked the Tánaiste and Taoiseach to consider the predicament of children of families who are living in one room in guesthouses or hotels if they are lucky.

I am concerned at the eviction of children, with rents being increased and people continually refused rent supplement. The www.daft.ie website has indicated that, disgracefully, some landlords will not accept tenants on rent supplement, which seems like astonishing discrimination. Every day, people, including children, are being evicted and the Minister of State is in Government. It seems incredible for people who consider themselves to be representatives of the labour or workers' movement to be involved in such a Government.

As I have stated repeatedly in this House, there appears to be a wilful and deliberate blind spot on the part of the Government not to deal with the desperate and homeless situation. Unfortunately, I do not believe the Bill before us or the Construction 2020 programme will make any change in the lives of those children and families in the remaining months of 2014 and well into 2015.

Another gap not addressed in the Bill is the major lacuna affecting the operation of voluntary housing bodies. This is a matter of grave concern because all our local authorities, in particular the very large one in Dublin city, have outsourced the management of local authority housing estates to bodies such as the Iveagh Trust, Clúid and Túath without any legislative basis for that being in place. Evictions or cases of anti-social behaviour can arise in that area of housing and there seems to be no legislative basis for dealing with that. That is a second area where we need urgent legislation. Obviously we needed this Bill two and a half years ago and it is past the time when it should have been before the House. It is also past the time that voluntary housing bodies should have been regulated.

In general terms I welcome the provisions contained in the Bill, which is confined mainly to three issues: termination of tenancies in certain circumstances; a new tenant purchase scheme; and the transfer of rental assistance from the Department of Social Protection to local authorities. I welcome clarification of the law regarding termination of tenancies. Unfortunately, there has been a lacuna in housing legislation due to the Supreme Court having decided that section 62 of the Housing Act 1966 was incompatible with the European Convention of Human Rights and it made a declaration of incompatibility under section 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights Act 2003 in the case of Donegan v. Dublin City Council. This important judgment recognised the deficiency in fair procedure guarantees for tenants subject to evictions procedures and the lack of legislative direction to a court considering the repossession of a local authority home. That gap in the legislation arising from the Supreme Court decision has put local authorities in a very difficult position to deal with tenants engaging in anti-social behaviour. I generally welcome the provisions contained in that section. Section 12(9) is particularly important because it outlines the circumstances to which a court must have regard when determining if it is reasonable that a local authority should recover a property.

The Northside Community Law Centre based in Coolock within my constituency carried out an important analysis of the scheme of the Bill. It has also been involved in a number of important court cases involving local authorities and the recovery of local authority homes. The law centre has welcomed the new provisions in Part 2 regarding terminations of tenancies. It has also welcomed the new system of tenancy warnings. I share its views on sections 6 to 11 dealing with the new system of tenancy warnings. In the area of anti-social behaviour in particular, it is vital that local authorities have powers to address the actions of very troublesome tenants.

I agree with the previous speaker that one of the worst things that can happen to an individual or family is to be subjected to outrageous harassment in one's own home meaning that the home is no longer a haven where one can relax with family and so on. Out-of-control individuals frequently target people owing to their age, ethnic background, etc. and make their daily life a misery.

It was appalling it happened over so many decades. Deputy Shortall, Deputy Conaghan, other Deputies and myself highlighted this outrageous situation on a daily basis in fora such as Dublin City Council. Often those engaged in anti-social behaviour were able to do so with impunity and the legislative lacuna following the Supreme Court decision made the situation even more difficult, so I welcome the protection in the Bill afforded to those making complaints about anti-social behaviour, in particular in section 7(5).

The second important issue affected by the updated system of tenancy warnings is the matter of rental arrears. I welcome clarification of the law in this regard. I would have some concern that an action to recover by a local authority can be taken within two months of such a tenancy warning having been issued under section 6. It would appear this is a very short timeframe and perhaps it is something the Minister of State could look at again in the amendments. The northside law centre has suggested we introduce a code of conduct on rental arrears similar to the one in place in Northern Ireland. It is a little like the future of our judicial and policing system in that the time has come, in many respects, to emulate what happens in the North.

A general note I would make about tenancy warnings, which is welcome from a fair procedures point of view, is that there is the potential in the Bill to have a review undertaken of the decision to issue a tenancy warning, as contained in section 10. However, as with the concerns expressed by Focus Ireland, it appears to me that the time limit for requesting a review of a tenancy warning of ten days is too short.

I welcome the provision in Part 2 of the Bill for excluding orders to be made against certain individuals, such as in the case of those engaging in anti-social behaviour. Again, there is an issue about individuals between 12 and 18 years of age and whether Tusla and other child care agencies would be involved as a result of the orders made under section 19.

Part 3 of the Bill outlines extensive provisions concerning a new system of tenant purchase. I recognise that tenant purchase has been very useful in the past. Many of us come from local authority housing, myself included. My grandparents bought out, or had begun to buy out, the tenancy. That certainly provided an avenue for people to develop their lives and their families. Many people might say now is not the time to be giving priority to this and that the priority should be the social housing construction programme and creating a much greater supply of social housing. From my first glance at the Construction 2020 document and consideration of this Bill and of other things which have come from the Department, the very grave error made 20 to 25 years ago was effectively to surrender to developers and landlords and to allow them to determine our housing provision.

The Minister of State is, unfortunately, under the direction of Fine Gael, in many respects. In my experience Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are joined at the hip when it comes to planning and housing at local government level, as the Minister of State knows. We still have not addressed the fundamental problem of housing provision.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this legislation, although I would point out that the standard practice is to allow Members two weeks to consider a new Bill. This is a fairly substantial Bill with 51 sections. The idea of publishing it last Friday and having the debate this week is quite unreasonable and one would have to wonder if the Government's concern is more with the election and being seen to be doing something for the election rather than giving Members adequate time to consider the Bill.

However, having said that, I welcome, in principle, most of the provisions of the Bill but we need more detail on some aspects of it. Indeed, there is some provisions in the Bill about which I have some concerns. As others said, the Bill seeks to make three important changes to the whole area of housing legislation and I want to deal with each of those three areas. The first concerns changes to section 62 of the Housing Act, which I very much welcome. We have waited a very long time for the Department's response to the High Court judgment of February 2012. This has been raised on umpteen occasions in this House, including on the Order of Business and by way of parliamentary questions. There was no ultimate sanction in terms of local authority tenants engaging in anti-social activity. While that sanction might rarely be used, it is very important it is there. It left local authority staff quite powerless in local communities in terms of dealing with serious anti-social activity.

Why was it that the Minister of State did not fast track that legislation? She knew there was a lacuna there for some time and the difficulties it was causing? It was regrettable that she did not allocate more resources to tackling it. I understand two of the officials who had been dealing with it moved on to something else and a long period of time was wasted in terms of dealing with this pressing issue. As a result of that, local authorities were very much left in the lurch and they were unable to execute evictions against people who were perpetrating serious anti-social activity against their neighbours. We all know evictions should be the final recourse. Nobody wants to see people being evicted on any kind of large scale but, as I said, it is important it is available as a last resort for local authorities.

In the short time I have had to look at this, and while I welcome in it in principle, only time will tell whether it is strong enough. I certainly would have liked to have had an opportunity to consult Dublin City Council officials in this regard. They have been lobbying for the legislation to be updated for a very long time but, unfortunately, the timescale provided did not allow for that which is regrettable.

I welcome the introduction of tenancy warning procedures, which is a good idea. The Minister of State might clarify the position in regard to excluding orders which are also an important part of the measures available to local authorities in terms of dealing with anti-social activity and I very much welcome that provision in this Bill. However, I would like clarification on the lower age group against whom excluding orders can be used. It is certainly not enough to ensure a situation where a local authority has to notify the HSE or the Child and Family Agency. The State cannot be in a position where it makes a minor homeless and then wash its hands of responsibility. There must be a clear handing over procedure involved and I am not sure the legislation is sufficiently robust in that regard.

In regard to the new tenant purchase scheme, I very much welcome the extension of opportunities for people to purchase their homes but I would give it a guarded welcome in so far as there is a real danger we would end up losing a lot of the housing stock. Experience has shown that has happened in the past where extremely attractive schemes were offered to people and the State ended up with a very much depleted housing stock. We need to ensure that does not happen again. I would like the Minister of State to clarify whether tenants in local authority maisonettes will be included in the purchase scheme because that it not clear in the Bill. Clearly, the terms have to be attractive for tenants but they should not be too attractive. We need to ensure the State maintains sufficient housing stock to meet the needs that are there, which we know are very substantial.

I welcome, in principle, the proposal to introduce a new housing assistance payment. The Minister of State will be aware that I have been campaigning in this area for a number of years and I brought forward proposals on this and I am glad to see a number of the proposals have been included in the provisions. There are two great benefits from switching people from rent supplement to such a payment. The local authority pays the full rent directly to the landlord, so issues with tax evasion, poor quality housing, anti-social behaviour, security of tenure and so on can be effectively dealt with. The system also has the potential to prevent the loss of deposits which is very prevalent under the rent supplement scheme. It is estimated that approximately €7 million is lost every year as a result of this. It is not clear what the position is in regard to deposits under this housing assistance payment. If the onus is on the tenant to secure the housing, how can she or he do this without putting down a deposit? Who pays the deposit? If it is the tenant, how will it be reimbursed and how can one ensure it is reimbursed?

How will the deposit be retrieved by the local authority when the tenant moves on? I would be grateful if the Minister of State would clarify those points.

The second great benefit of moving tenants onto a local authority's differential rent scheme would be to remove a very significant unemployment and poverty trap. The vast majority of welfare recipients are better off when they take up employment, except of course many of those who are on rent supplement. One flaw, however, is that under Part 4 of the scheme, households benefitting from HAP will be deemed to have their housing need met. While the provisions of the Bill should provide for a better deal for tenants and improved security of tenure over the current rent supplement arrangements, the scheme far from meets the long-term needs of low income families. This provision is particularly unfair on existing tenants who have a place on their local authority's waiting list. What is to happen to them? If the provision is not removed from the Bill before enactment, it will seriously undermine the attractiveness of the scheme for tenants.

I would also like to know the amount of extra resources local authorities will receive to manage the extra properties and the responsibilities in regard to tenants who will come under that remit. Will HAP tenants have a tenancy agreement with the local authority, and will it have the same provisions as tenants have in local authority housing in respect of anti-social behaviour? We all know from dealing with problems of anti-social behaviour at local level that at least under section 62 there was a provision for dealing with that by local authorities. The big problem related to rent supplement tenants causing trouble locally was there was no mechanism for dealing with them. I seek clarification from the Minister of State as to whether the Bill will deal with the issue. The responsibilities of landlords should be set out clearly. While I welcome the provisions in as far as they go, I stress that the Bill goes nowhere in terms of tackling the major housing problem we have at the moment, which principally relates to the lack of supply.

I have not had a chance to read Construction 2020 but I have serious concerns about what has been mooted in recent days in respect of the mortgage insurance scheme. That would be a retrograde step for the Minister of State to take because it would only fuel the spiralling crisis. That is not the problem; the problem is one of supply. The points made by Deputy Wallace were important. I refer to the need to put in place measures to free up development land and to introduce punitive taxation measures to bring the land into use.

I again appeal to the Minister of State to look carefully at some of the measures open to her to deal with one element of housing, namely, improving the supply of good quality accommodation for older people in order that they can surrender their houses or sell them and free up family homes. There is a lot of spare capacity throughout the country. The financial contribution scheme was used very widely in the Dublin City Council area in my constituency to very good effect. The scheme was very successful but it has ceased now as funding is not available. I strongly appeal to the Minister of State to consider reintroducing the scheme because it has the potential to address a number of housing supply issues.

I call Deputy Maloney, who is sharing time with Deputies Spring, Bannon and Heydon. I remind Deputies that debate on the Bill will adjourn at 4 p.m.

I welcome the Bill. I always make my welcome of Bills conditional. I do not think there is such a thing as perfect legislation that resolves every issue it is supposed to tackle. I welcome the thrust of the Bill and thank the Minister of State and her staff for their input.

I agree entirely with what Deputy Shortall said in her contribution, which I will not repeat, on anti-social behaviour. She also, correctly, raised the issue of tenancies.

In terms of the broader debate on the lack of housing, I have no doubt those on the opposite side will find opportunities to criticise the Minister of State. However, she cannot be held responsible for the collapse of capitalism following the end of the Celtic tiger. Some of those who were architects of that are not in the Chamber. Regardless of what is fired at the Minister of State about her efforts to try to resolve the emergency crisis, none of the blame rests with her. What she is doing is trying to sort out an absolute mess because of the effective abandonment of social housing, or council housing as I prefer to call it. When we debate housing issues, I always like to qualify my interest by saying I was born in a council house and I live in a council house. I am proud of both facts. I listened to some of the debate yesterday and today and I am not sure how often some speakers have been in a council house or council estate. That is another matter with which we are confronted during such debates - listening to people who are experts on how the rest of us should live and behave.

The Minister of State is trying to resolve an issue that started when I and other Members were members of local authorities. I was mayor of the second largest local authority, South Dublin County Council, and the best local authority in the country. I well remember being in the chair of the council at a monthly meeting in 2008 and having to read out a letter from the then Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government telling the second largest local authority, as it did other local authorities, that it could not build any houses because it would not get money to do so. That was the start of it. No council houses were to be built and that decision was followed year after year.

There are different aspects to what the Celtic tiger did for this country. Some people benefited but many others further down the social ladder never saw a shadow of it. That includes those who would have required social housing. In effect, part of the fall-out from the end of the Celtic tiger, apart from emigration and increased unemployment, was the abandonment of the building of council houses. The approach has continued. I dare say the Minister of State, the Acting Chairman, Deputy Buttimer, and others would be pleased if council houses were to built, but one needs money to do so. Given that one has an economy that is creeping its way up from the bottom, how can Members tell the Minister of State she must build hundreds of thousands of houses as if there was a war chest or money to be found in a garden at the back of Merrion Square? That is not the way things work in reality. People are being misled by some of the contributions. What interest does any Member of this House have in keeping people out of a home? A home is a basic social necessity. If we had money, we would build houses. Why would one not do so? In spite of the Bill’s shortcomings, I thank the Minister of State and her departmental staff for tackling, for the first time in many years, issues that require to be addressed.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for affording me the opportunity to speak on this important Bill. I welcome the opportunity to do so.

As public representatives we see every day the growing and changing demands for housing supports. We need a system of housing supports that is more efficient, effective and coherent to better serve people’s needs. The Bill is a key step in the right direction.

Early enactment is essential to enable the housing assistance scheme to be rolled out throughout the country without delay. This is probably the most important part of the Bill. This new scheme is aimed at reforming social housing payments and is targeted at people who have been on rent supplement schemes for more than 18 months. Tenants will source private accommodation themselves, with rent to be paid directly to landlords by the council. An important advantage of the scheme will allow tenants to work without losing their rent supplement. Instead an adjustment will be made to the payment taking the tenant's income into account.

Tackling substandard housing and privately rented accommodation is a priority for me and I firmly believe we should have access to secure, quality and affordable housing.

Debate adjourned.