Topical Issue Debate

Motor Insurance Costs

It has become apparent that insurance companies are applying an unfair loading to motor insurance policies for elderly people. Premium costs have been rising rapidly for several years, with motorists having loadings imposed on their policies for different reasons. The most annoying reason of all is where insurers have applied substantial increases because of drivers' ages. Pensioners, who have limited incomes, are bearing the brunt of unreasonable motor insurance increases. I recently dealt with an elderly constituent whose insurance had increased by almost 50%, which amounted to a rise of €400, for no other reason than his age. Clearly, it does not pay to be elderly. These exorbitant insurance increases will have a devastating effect on elderly people living in rural areas who are dependent on their car to go shopping, attend the doctor and visit family, thereby increasing the likelihood of their being isolated from the local community.

It will also impede their ability to do the most basic of tasks. This will have a serious effect on their mental well-being and quality of life. The problem in this context is not the elderly. They have proved to be safer drivers and less likely to drink and drive, take illegal drugs or speed. Statistics have shown that licence holders over the age of 60 represent a tiny percentage of those who have received penalty points.

Will the Minister ensure that the needs of elderly people with regard to car insurance are taken into account by the cost of insurance working group? What steps will the working group take to end the discrimination against the elderly? Will the working group also give consideration to the recommendation in the report of the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform and the Taoiseach on the rising cost of motor insurance that insurance companies be compelled to inform the consumer whether they have taken into account the mandatory medical assessments of drivers over the age of 70 when calculating insurance premiums and where insurance companies have disregarded medical assessments, they should clearly state the reason for doing so.

Other research in Europe has shown that children involved in crashes where their grandparents are driving are at half the risk of injury compared to when their parents are driving. It is also evident that if an older person is driving a car that is ten years old or older, they will be hit with a double whammy in that they will incur a loading on their premium. This is a serious issue. It affects, in particular, people living in rural areas. Age Action Ireland has recognised this problem and it has quoted a number of cases where this practice has taken place and it has named those cases.

I ask the Minister of State to consider this issue and to come back to me with some solutions or to let me know how these insurance companies can be dealt with. It is a scandal that older people, who have given so much service to this country, are ending up being penalised when they reach a certain age.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. Debating topics such as this is important, but it is also essential to be clear on the matter of responsibilities. The Minister for Finance is responsible for the development of the legal framework governing financial regulation. Neither he nor the Central Bank of Ireland can interfere in the provision or pricing of insurance products, as these matters are of a commercial nature, and are determined by insurance companies based on an assessment of the risks they are willing to accept. This position is reinforced by the EU framework for insurance which expressly prohibits member states from adopting rules which require insurance companies to obtain prior approval of the pricing or terms and conditions of insurance products. Consequently, the Minister is not in a position to direct insurance companies as to the pricing level or terms and conditions that they should apply to particular categories of individuals.

That is not to say that the Minister, or his Department, is not concerned about issues such as that raised by the Deputy. Therefore, Department of Finance officials contacted Insurance Ireland regarding the specific issue which the Deputy has outlined, given the context of the latest consumer price index data indicating that overall average motor insurance costs have decreased by 15.2% since peaking in July 2016. Insurance Ireland responded to the Department’s query as follows:

The premium charged by an insurer is due to a large number of underwriting criteria which determine the nature of the risk and the resultant premium. One of these rating factors would be the age of the person; however, this is only one factor. It would be recommended that the consumer should request a breakdown of the premium for clarification in the calculation of the premium.

Some of the other rating factors used by insurers include the type and age of the vehicle, driving experience, claims record and penalty points of the driver, the number of drivers, how the vehicle is used, and the location where it is normally stored. My understanding is that insurers do not all use the same combination of rating factors - in addition to which, they also price in accordance with their own past claims experience - and as a result prices and availability of cover vary across the market.

In this regard, the Deputy should note that the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission website has an informative section regarding the purchase of car insurance. This can be found on the consumer section of the CCPC’s website. One of the tips listed on the website to help cut costs is to "shop around" and to "always get quotes from several insurance providers when you need to get or renew insurance”. A checklist for "motor insurance shopping around” is also provided.

As the Government is concerned about the matter raised, and sees the importance of keeping the cost of insurance at sustainable but not exorbitant levels, departmental officials will continue to monitor this matter and to discuss same with Insurance Ireland as part as the Department’s ongoing work in regard to the cost of motor insurance generally. The co-ordinating of the implementation of the 33 recommendations from the report on the cost of motor insurance is obviously a key component of this work. It is envisaged that the cumulative effect of the completion of the report’s action plan will be that the current trend towards greater stability in the pricing of motor insurance generally is maintained and that the objective of delivering fairer premiums for all consumers, including older drivers, can be achieved.

It is disappointing to hear that we have to rely on the market and the insurance companies. Motor insurance premiums vary considerably from company to company. We all have had experience of that. It is scandalous to see elderly people coming into my clinic and breaking down because of the pressure they have been put under in terms of them being concerned about being able to continue to drive and having heard that their insurance premium will double in price. I do not accept that we do not have a role in this because we do not interfere in these matters and that the Minister for Finance or the Central Bank does not have a role in dealing with this issue. They should be raising this issue with the insurance companies. There is no reason Ministers could not make representations pointing out that this practice is unacceptable. It is too serious an issue for many people for us not to act.

The Minister of State drew attention to the competition website where guidelines can be found. We have all had experience of searching for guidelines and having to go from one Department to another, but at some stage somebody in authority has to say to the insurance companies that they cannot do what they are doing. People get a breakdown of their insurance premium and companies have various reasons for adding a loading in different areas. It is obvious in a number of cases that elderly people are being loaded disproportionately compared to other motorists. That is unacceptable. Those who need their cars most are the elderly as they may be living in the middle of rural Ireland and have no public transport available and no other means of getting from A to B. They have to visit their families, which is important for their mental wellbeing. This is a major issue. It is disappointing that we do no have mechanism for dealing with this issue and that it is being kicked to touch and from Department to Department. That is very disappointing.

The Minister for Finance is concerned that there are suggestions of unfair loading elderly people's premiums, in particular, and he will continue to seek further information to see if this is a widespread issue. In the context of the general fall in the price of insurance premiums, it would be, in the Minister's view, unacceptable if this is the case. Accordingly, departmental officials who have already engaged with Insurance Ireland on this topic will maintain the contact over the coming weeks.

I have been contacted by a number of older people also who have found that their premiums have been loaded and they have been given different quotes from different companies. I always suggest to them that they should seek quotations from different companies. Some of those people have come back and told me that they have managed to get a lower premium. I will convey the Deputy's concerns to the Minister.

Cancer Services Funding

I am bitterly disappointed that the Minister for Health is not in the Chamber to take this matter as the issue I am raising concerning Purple House Cancer Support group in Bray is in his constituency. It is an issue of which he is well aware.

In Ireland, one person is diagnosed with cancer every three minutes. Some 30,000 people are diagnosed every year, and this is due to increase to 40,000 by 2020. Thankfully, there are over 150,000 cancer survivors in Ireland and by 2020, one in 20 people will be a cancer survivor.

Cancer support groups across the State provide a critical service. In County Wicklow, we have a number of cancer support groups, including in Arklow, Greystones, Rathdrum, west Wicklow and indeed Purple House in Bray. The people of Wicklow are fantastic for putting their hands in their pockets to help fund these organisations. Unfortunately, that cannot be said of the Government. The number of people seeking and getting support from these groups continues to grow on a daily basis. In 2016, Purple House had more than 1,200 people visit its cancer support centre in Bray and the outreach support service in Dún Laoghaire. It provided 1,729 cancer support sessions and its team of counsellors delivered 212 professional counselling sessions, while 2,590 calls were made to and from their telephone support line and 42 children attended camps and workshops for children directly affected by cancer. Its volunteer hospital transport service provided 320 trips for chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment.

Purple House Cancer Support works in partnership with the HSE and all existing medical agencies. It receives the majority of its referrals from the psycho-oncologists, social workers and cancer nurses in various hospitals as well as from general practitioners. Purple House not only serves the needs of those living with cancer in the community, but it also complements the implementation of wider Government policy on social inclusion, health promotion and strategic cancer support. It is an integrated part of the primary care system and regularly receives referrals from the primary care teams in the community.

Since 2011, unfortunately, HSE funding has decreased and stagnated for Purple House Cancer Support. In 2016, the costs of Purple House providing the excellent services and supports was €311,036. Over 77% of that was raised directly through fundraising. It is neither sustainable nor secure that only 23% of funding to Purple House comes from Government via the HSE. In July 2016, negotiations began between Purple House and the HSE with a view to securing sustainable funding for the survival of Purple House community cancer support services. Extensive work was carried out by Purple House in preparing a business case. Many meetings were held with senior HSE personnel and the business case was submitted to the Minister, Deputy Simon Harris. An application for funding has been made. Unfortunately, it appears to have hit a brick wall. Will support be given to the application by Purple House to put it on a sustainable funding level?

I am grateful for the opportunity to read into the record the reply of the Minister, Deputy Harris, who unfortunately cannot be here today. I welcome the opportunity to speak about funding in respect of Purple House Cancer Support in Bray.

Purple House Cancer Support is a registered charity which provides support to those living with and beyond cancer. Groups such as Purple House emphasise quality of life after cancer treatment. I am aware that Purple House plays an important role in supporting patients who have received a cancer diagnosis, particularly in regard to the provision of information, assistance and psychosocial supports. The HSE provides grants to health agencies and other organisations, including through national lottery funds. I understand that Purple House receives ongoing financial support from the HSE. However, it raises the majority of its money through fundraising.

In recent years, great strides have been made in regard to treatment outcomes of cancer patients. My Department is very focused on improving the quality of cancer care through the reorganisation and expansion of services. We have moved from a fragmented system of care to one that consolidates cancer treatment in larger centres, with multidisciplinary care and decision making. We recently launched the national cancer strategy 2017-26. The overall vision of the strategy is that together we will strive to prevent cancer and work to improve the treatment, health and well-being, experiences and outcomes of those living with and beyond cancer. There will be particular emphasis on reducing the cancer burden, providing optimal care, maximising patient involvement and quality of life and enabling and assuring change.

Purple House Cancer Support contributed to the cancer patient forum which was established to provide a patient input to the development of the strategy. It is expected that survival rates will continue to increase due to a combined approach of screening, early detection and improved treatment. Indeed, the recently published annual report of the National Cancer Registry records a further increase in cancer survival rates with overall five-year cancer survival now standing at 61.1% for all tumour types. There are now over 160,000 cancer survivors in Ireland and it is our aim to maximise the quality of life of these people so that they can return to a normal life as soon as possible.

The Minister for Health has made it clear that he wants to see the roll-out of services to support people living with and beyond cancer as part of the cancer strategy. I understand Purple House has made a submission in respect of this which is currently being considered. The Minister is in contact with Purple House and recognises the valuable role of voluntary organisations like it in supporting patients throughout their cancer journeys.

It is deeply disappointing that the Minister is not here himself. What we do not need is backslapping and congratulating of Purple House for the fantastic work it does. The community in Bray and the greater area knows exactly the fantastic work it does. What it needs is actual financial support from the Government. The HSE hospitals are referring cancer patients back to Purple House. It is bursting at the seams. It wants to be able to focus on the excellent work it does providing care, guidance and counselling services, rather than struggling to keep its doors open with people out shaking buckets on the street.

Unfortunately, we have a non-response from the Minister. I have been in consultation with the HSE and it is now saying that it is waiting on the national cancer control programme, NCCP, to come back with recommendations as to what will be rolled out in terms of funding for cancer support groups. Only at that stage will funding for Purple House be considered. It is going to be at least 12 months and more likely two to three years before there is any recommendation because they are waiting on the appointment of a clinical lead. That appointment has to be made before any recommendations, deliberations or discussions can even take place.

In the Minister's absence, perhaps the Minister of State can relay to him that what we need in the HSE service plan for 2018 is specific funding for Purple House. Can I get that commitment? Short of that, can we at least get interim funding to sustain Purple House over the next 12 to 24 months or however long it takes for the recommendations to come from the NCCP? It is not fair that organisations such as Purple House have to rely on voluntary contributions or bucket shaking. Can I have a more detailed, comprehensive response and more clarity from the Minister?

I reiterate to the Deputy that unfortunately the Minister cannot be here and that he would like to be here. I have been asked to take the Topical Issue on his behalf and I have noted many of the Deputy's concerns.

Organisations, such as Purple House in Wicklow and in my area, do wonderful work. Those who work in them are filled with compassion when dealing with adults and children recovering from cancer. Funding is one of the main issues that all of these organisations face. The services these organisations provide could not be sustained if it were not for the support on the ground, contributions and voluntary fundraising. I would like all such organisations to be funded directly through the HSE and the Department. Unfortunately, that is not the case. However, I will relay the Deputy's concerns to the Minister. I agree with some of them and he made his point about Purple House clearly. I will ask the Minister to reply directly to the Deputy.

Ambulance Service Provision

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this important matter for discussion during Topical Issue time.

Last week the Kilkenny People revealed that Kilkenny has just two emergency ambulances on duty each night for its population of 100,000 people, or one ambulance to every 50,000 people. The figures, obtained through a freedom of information request, also revealed the total number of emergency ambulances available to Kilkenny on day-shift duty from Monday to Friday is four for each day. However, this falls to just two on Saturdays and Sundays, a time when there would be more demands on the service.

This particular point of the strategy needs to be urgently re-examined as we have a vibrant nightlife in Kilkenny city at weekends. The bars, clubs, hotels and restaurants are always busy with visitors from outside the county who come for a weekend city break or otherwise. The streets of the city are a busy place at night. There is always an increased risk of incident or injury occurring which, in turn, will increase the demand for ambulances. The majority of people are out to enjoy themselves and will be well behaved. There is always a risk of incident, however, when people are out late and perhaps drink is taken. The same can be said for any city.

If there is a valid reason as to why the National Ambulance Service deems it appropriate to reduce ambulance availability at the weekend when demand for a service could increase dramatically in a short space of time, I would be glad to hear it. However, if it is down to an oversight in strategy or planning, then it requires urgent re-examination. Will the Minister of State take a close look at this?

One ambulance cannot cater for 50,000 people on a nightly basis over a long-term period and a daily basis on weekends. It is simply not sustainable. We could potentially be sleepwalking into a scenario where on a bad night someone in an emergency situation in south Kilkenny cannot be reached in a reasonable timeframe because the other two ambulances are otherwise engaged in the north of the county. That person must then rely on what the HSE likes to call "dynamic deployment" from Carlow, Waterford, New Ross and Clonmel, provided the ambulances in those areas are not otherwise engaged or under pressure.

Kilkenny is a focal point of Ireland's Ancient East and has large numbers of tourists flocking to the county for day trips, particularly at weekends. We are lucky to have several stunning attractions around the county as a result of our rich medieval heritage. The tourism industry is important in sustaining our bars, traditional pubs, restaurants and other small and medium-sized enterprises. It is a high-risk strategy, to say the least, that only two ambulances are available in Kilkenny during busy weekends. There is a glaring risk of serious damage to our good reputation if a regrettable incident or incidents were to occur.

In respect of the day shift on weekdays, we have four ambulances available on Monday to Friday. How does this figure compare to the national average for ambulances deployed per capita in the various regions? If the Minister of State has any figures in this respect, I would be glad to hear them.

We have four ambulances on a weekday but only two at the weekend. That is not good enough for a population of 100,000 people. We need more ambulances. Relying on ambulances in other areas is not positive as they may not be available. I know of one incident where an ambulance available in Kilkenny was called to Wexford to bring a patient to Wexford General Hospital. It turned out the patient was 500 m from the hospital but no ambulance was available there. That was not viable or practical. The Department should re-examine the whole area of ambulance service provision in the area again.

I am taking this matter on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Harris, who regrets he cannot be here this afternoon.

The National Ambulance Service is committed to providing a quality ambulance service in Kilkenny, and across the country, both during daytime and night-time hours. The National Ambulance Service has advised the Minister for Health that the allocation of night-time ambulance resources is based on activity and demand. It is important to note the National Ambulance Service operates on a national and area basis as opposed to a local basis. While resources are dispatched to calls in the Kilkenny area from the ambulance station in Kilkenny in the first instance, resources are also deployed from stations in surrounding areas. In this regard, ambulance resources from Carlow, Waterford, New Ross and Clonmel can provide cover in Kilkenny as required and respond to incidents as they arise on a nearest to the incident basis.

In recent years, the National Ambulance Service has embarked on a strategic reform programme to reconfigure the management and delivery of pre-hospital emergency care services. The programme aims to deliver a service that is safe, responsive and fit for purpose through the development of a modern, clinically driven, nationally co-ordinated system, supported by technology and data. The reform programme mirrors many of the strategic changes under way in ambulance services internationally as they strive for high performance and efficiency while coping with increasing demands for services.

The national emergency operations centre has been established where emergency calls are received and emergency resources are dispatched. The National Ambulance Service utilises an advanced medical priority dispatch system which uses international standards in triaging and prioritising emergency calls. This system ensures life-threatening calls receive an immediate and appropriate response, while lower acuity calls may have to wait until an emergency resource becomes available. In addition, the National Ambulance Service has developed the intermediate care service to provide lower acuity hospital transfers, which frees up emergency ambulances for more urgent calls. A permanent emergency aeromedical support service has also been established to provide a more timely response to persons in rural areas.

The ambulance reform programme is taking place against the backdrop of the HIQA review of ambulance services, published in late 2014, and the National Ambulance Service capacity review, published last year. The capacity review examined overall ambulance resource levels and distribution against demand and activity. Implementation of the recommendations of the capacity review will require a multi-annual programme of phased investment in ambulance manpower, vehicles and technology. Additional funding of €7.2 million was provided in 2016 for the National Ambulance Service, including €2 million in development funding. In 2017, an additional sum of €3.6 million was made available which included €1 million to fund new developments. Additional funding will be made available for the continued development of the National Ambulance Service in 2018. This will be set out in the national service plan 2018. The allocation of the additional funding by the HSE to specific service developments around the country must await the finalisation of the national service plan, a process which is under way.

We can use all the HSE buzzwords we like. We can say that resources are dynamically deployed or that ambulances are dispatched on a nearest available to incident basis and not a county boundary basis. When one peels back the spin, however, the ratio of ambulances to population size is concerning. The idea of roaming ambulances and resources can only work if there is a sufficient complement of ambulances to begin with. We cannot subject people to a lottery of roaming resources as if the ambulances are constantly static and can be at the scene of an incident anywhere in the county at a moment's notice. That is what the HSE's dynamic language suggests but the reality is the current strategy is simply not sustainable.

If we were unfortunate enough to have a high number of emergency situations occurring, either simultaneously or in a close timeframe to one another, this strategy would unravel faster than one could dial 911. I raise this public safety issue against the backdrop of our continuous fight for 24-7 cardiac care for a population in excess of 500,000 people across the south east. The idea that we expect critically ill patients who present to University Hospital Waterford outside of Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., to travel to Cork University Hospital is not workable.

It is not possible to do that fast enough to maintain patient safety. It can take close to two hours to travel from south Kilkenny to Cork University Hospital. The journey takes far too long and puts the lives of patients at risk.

There is a mobile cath lab, which is a welcome assistance, but I am concerned it could increase pressure on existing cardiac services for people in the south east. More people will be diagnosed more quickly but the existing laboratory will have limited extra capacity to carry out follow-up procedures that result from the additional angiograms. It is projected that 30% of patients would require additional procedures and 1,500 diagnostic procedures could be carried out annually in the mobile lab. That indicates 450 people would be added to waiting lists for cardiac procedures at the existing cath lab at Waterford Hospital each year. However, only €500,000 additional funding has been allocated. Will the Minister increase that funding allocation?

There is currently no emergency cardiac care service at the weekend in Kilkenny. One ambulance cannot care for 50,000 people. It is an emergency waiting to happen. There should be a reconsideration of more ambulances being made available on a county basis.

I assure the Deputy that I have noted his concerns regarding the ambulance service for the 100,000 people living in Kilkenny. Nobody can predict how many emergencies will occur in an area at a particular time. The emergency services must do the best they can in the time permitted and with the number of ambulances provided in Kilkenny. I do not know who decided on the number of ambulances allocated to Kilkenny but I assume it was the National Ambulance Service. I will bring the concerns of the Deputy to the Minister's attention.

More than 90% of non-emergency patients are seen to by intermediate care services during daytime and night time, which frees up ambulances for real emergencies. However, I will bring the Deputy's concerns to the Minister and I will outline, as I have done in the House, the number of ambulances available Monday to Friday and on Saturdays and Sundays. I do not know why there are fewer ambulances available at night time. I will ask the Minister to revert to the Deputy.

Homeless Persons Supports

The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Murphy, contacted me earlier to say he was unable to take this Topical Issue and I am grateful to the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Doyle, for standing in for him. I ask the Minister of State to bring the points I make to the attention of the Minister. I appreciate that Ministers often find it difficult to appear in the House on Thursdays.

There has been much discussion of the topic this week. I am anxious to raise it because there is still a stigma and stereotype around homelessness and a belief that it only happens to marginalised people. That was evidenced by some views expressed this week. The first time I became aware of a homelessness issue involving a family in my constituency was three years ago when a school principal contacted me to say a family who had lived in a middle class area of my local electoral ward of Rathfarnham had been given notice to quit. That was long before the introduction of the new rules and regulations governing notices to quit. The family had spent the previous night sleeping in a car. All Members have heard of such experiences. That was my first time to encounter it. It was an ordinary working family who had been given notice to quit by their landlord, who wished to sell. They tried to rent a home in close proximity to where they were living and where their children were going to school. They were not marginalised people. Another constituent of mine, who I previously assisted to find a home, has been given notice that he will have to leave his apartment by 11 February. Although support services are available, those examples show how a person, if he or she does not get accommodation, can become homeless overnight. These are not people who were traditionally on the street and they do not have any mental or behavioural issues. It can happen to anybody.

Schools are often the first point of contact for families who face homelessness. I had an hour-long conversation about the issue with a constituent of mine who is the principal of a school in the constituency of my colleague, Deputy Curran. She pointed out the difficulty in accessing services experienced by people who have never had to interact with services, their complete ignorance of the system and unawareness of where to go or who the first point of contact ought to be. She said that advocates are needed to assist people. She discovered that through trial and error. She missed a cumulative almost two weeks of school through trying to find safe spaces for some families to stay. She used an interesting phrase: when a family does not know what to do, what do they do? She discussed the need for the system to help mentor people. She had to find such help for families who came to her for assistance. In one instance, she rang 55 hotels in one day, seeking accommodation for a Dublin-based family. She finally got a place for them in a hotel in Mullingar. Dublin City Council was not willing to accept that as accommodation for the family because it was not in Dublin but she finally persuaded them to do so. At one stage, she was thirty-fifth on a list of callers holding with Dublin City Council. She was advocating for a family.

I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, to ask the Minister, Deputy Murphy, and the Minister of State, Deputy English, what a family should do when they become homeless and do not know what to do. Public representatives know that the local council should be contacted, such as South Dublin County Council for those in my constituency, and that people should go to the council's housing desk. However, although Members know that, many people threatened by homelessness may not be computer literate. How do such people access a hotel room or find out what hotels are available? We make many assumptions that need to be challenged. An information campaign is needed at a minimum. I wish to highlight the need for advocacy for those who do not have a voice.

I thank Deputy Lahart for raising this topical matter. I assure him that I will convey his message to the Minister and Minister of State. Although I have a prepared script that will be read into the record, we can deal with some of the issues raised in the time available for supplementary questions. It is very important that the Deputy raised the issue of advocacy.

We are facing a crisis in homelessness in this country. The Minister, Deputy Murphy, acknowledged that earlier this year and that is why resolving the crisis and helping every individual and family with compassion and care remains a priority for the Government.

Local authorities provide a wide range of services to those experiencing homelessness and have wide and flexible statutory powers to assist or make arrangements for the accommodation of homeless persons. To support that, homeless funding is provided by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government under section 10 of the Housing Act 1988. In addition, housing authorities provide funding from within their own resources.

As regards homeless services in Dublin, the Dublin Region Homeless Executive's central placement service at Parkgate Street provides a range of such services to homeless people. Homeless individuals or families can meet with a staff member at the placement service who will consider their needs, assist them to access accommodation as required and advise them in regard to accessing other support services.

Families or individuals at risk of homelessness usually begin to engage with homeless services before their existing accommodation becomes unavailable, whether that be days, weeks or months before they become homeless. That allows the Dublin Region Homeless Executive time to consider the various requirements of the household concerned and to tailor supports and consider accommodation options. In many instances, the homeless executive has successfully assisted those who engage at an early stage. So far this year in the Dublin region, almost 600 households who engaged with the homeless executive at an early stage have been prevented from entering emergency accommodation by securing a new private rented tenancy under the housing assistance payment.

The Dublin Region Homeless Executive will also work with those presenting to consider if they are eligible for social housing and assist in the submission of an application if appropriate. It will also engage with the landlord on the family's behalf if there are issues that advocacy can assist. A State-funded prevention service is also available through Threshold which can provide support and advice to those at risk of homelessness and examine any notices to quit they might have received for validity. However, often prevention is not possible and temporary accommodation will be required. The Dublin Region Homeless Executive's freefone helpline operates nightly until after 1 a.m., and anyone seeking emergency assistance out-of-hours can be accommodated through this service.

The Minister, Deputy Murphy, spoke to each of these issues yesterday in the Dáil. Where a family seeks homelessness services for the first time out-of-hours, they will be referred to the Focus Ireland family homeless action team, which provides the contact point under a funded service level agreement with the Dublin Region Homeless Executive. The action team will consider the presenting family's immediate needs and work with them to secure hotel accommodation for that night. The next day a more thorough assessment of the individual family's requirements will be conducted. Following this assessment and information session, the family will be allocated a case worker who will work with the family throughout their homelessness episode, with a view to ensuring they benefit from the available supports.

State-funded services are also available on a nightly basis to individuals who are sleeping rough. A Focus Ireland-McVerry Trust consortium is fully funded to provide a nightly Housing First service which engages rough sleepers on a proactive basis in an attempt to get individuals to access accommodation or consider entering a Housing First tenancy. Once an individual or family engages with homelessness services, the homeless executive will work tirelessly to seek solutions, and it is achieving significant success in this regard. In the first six months of this year, the Dublin housing authorities assisted 1,400 adults to exit homelessness services into independent tenancies. The Deputy can be assured that the Minister, Deputy Murphy's Department and the homeless inter-agency group, established in September of this year following the housing summit, will continue to work with all local authorities and stakeholders to address the very serious homelessness issues that this country faces.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. Things have changed and moved on. It is not so long ago that someone threatened with homelessness could not act until they were actually homeless, so there has been a big step forward, which I acknowledge. One of the key phrases in the Minister's response is "once an individual or family engages with the homelessness services". What I am asking him is what happens to these individuals and families if they do not know who can advocate for them. In the case of the school principal advocating for families, it was a voyage of discovery for her. One of her first ports of call was the Citizens Information bureau, which any citizen in the country would think is a useful place to go, but it does not advocate for people who are homeless. She found Focus Ireland absolutely fantastic. However, she was put in the position of making, as I said, 55 calls a day and waiting thirty-fifth in a telephone queue with Dublin City Council, eventually securing a hotel in Mullingar, having tried every hotel in Dublin. The city council would not accept it. The council finally accepted it because she pushed the matter. She then drove the family to Mullingar. This is on top of all her additional responsibilities as a school principal.

It is that gap in the process to which I refer. Some people are aware of the services available. The second constituent of mine I mentioned, the young man, knew to whom to reach out, but what if one does not know to whom to reach out? We are essentially talking about providing information campaigns, even on billboards, telling people that if they find themselves threatened with homelessness, these are the steps they can take.

Our clinics are full of people who are terrified. They are now beginning to say there is a chance that in six months' time their landlord may decide to sell or refurbish the house or whatever and they are asking what they should do then. They did not ask this six months ago. People out there are anxious. They need to know the first steps they must take. I hope the Minister and the Department take this on board.

I accept the Deputy's comments. There is a network of routes through public representatives, councillors, Deputies and Senators, apart from schoolteachers and other people who have front-line engagement with families all the time. There should be awareness of all the initiatives. There are ambitious targets and an increased budget for 2018. However, it is like anything else: if there is an airlock in the system that stops the information flowing and people do not access the most efficient route to get their support, through the likes of Parkgate Street in Dublin's case, people encounter undue distress, delay and frustration. The Deputy's example of the schoolteacher is a case in point. That school principal has much work to do and, in fairness, it seems unreasonable to expect that to be part of her role. In any case, had she been tooled with the knowledge of where to go to, she probably could have short-circuited much of the family's and her frustration and anxiety.

We should state on the record that we all have housing and homelessness and dealing with it on the top of our agenda. No one has a monopoly over compassion or care; I think we all care. The best way we as public representatives can show our care is to work together. If there are problems with advocacy, navigation and awareness such as the Deputy has identified, we should take that on board. I will ensure that the Minister takes it on board and seeks to address it. In theory, it should be simple - to let people know where the services are available and how they work. There is a freefone number until 1 a.m., etc. Let us work on this, and if there are other blips in the system, let us iron them out and fix them in order that we can streamline this. We have much work to do. There are many resources being pumped into this but they need to be effective.