That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Housing Acts 1966 to 2009 by providing a definition of social housing and social housing support. The Act makes a distinction between the provision of real social housing, a dwelling owned by the local authority or an approved housing body, and social housing support which can include Housing Assistance Payment, long term leases and Rental Accommodation Scheme tenancies.
Traditionally, social housing was understood as houses, apartments or land provided to meet people's long-term housing needs but two significant legislative changes altered that substantially. The Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 introduced the idea of social housing support — the idea that short-term, four-year rental accommodation scheme tenancies would somehow equate to long-term social housing as traditionally understood. The Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2014 further shortened that so that two-year housing assistance payment, HAP, tenancies are treated, both legally and from a policy point of view, as the same as long-term housing and while for some people this might seem like a technical point of difference, it has profound consequences.
There are four problems with conflating meeting people's short-term needs through HAP and the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, with meeting people's long-term housing needs through traditional social housing. The first is it represents the casualisation of social housing. We now have 70,000 households in HAP and RAS, two and four-year tenancies, and that creates real difficulties for those families in putting down roots, becoming parts of communities, choosing schools and sports teams for their children etc. Given the volatility in the private rental sector, one can see the real insecurity, particularly at the moment, for RAS tenants of having that as their long-term social housing support.
It is also bad for all those people who are seeking to rent and buy and are not eligible for social housing support because it crowds out private housing with social housing tenants. In fact, including rent supplement claimants, there are 100,000 households living in the private rental sector and that number is increasing because of the Rebuilding Ireland HAP targets. That is one reason we have increasing demand for private housing and is driving up prices to rent and buy.
It is also incredibly expensive to the taxpayer and that is not only the view of the Opposition. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform report of 2017 definitively demonstrated that subsidising social housing tenants in the private rental sector is much more expensive than providing traditional social housing.
Another problem is that is underestimates the real level of long-term social housing need. The Government will tell us that there are approximately 70,000 households on local authority lists today. That is true but if one looks at real social housing need, the 50,000 households in HAP and 19,000 or 20,000 households in RAS would have to be added to that, which gives a much bigger figure. One of the anomalies of the current system is that if I am in rent supplement and receiving State aid in the private rental sector, I am still seen as having a long-term social housing need and am counted in the housing list figures. However, if I am living next door on a two-year HAP tenancy, I am not included in those figures and that makes no sense.
The purpose of this Bill is not to argue against short-term housing supports. They are essential and any sensible housing system will have some form of housing benefit. The purpose of this Bill is to introduce in law a clear distinction between social housing, houses, apartments, land or accommodation for Travellers that meets the long-term social housing needs of households. On the other hand, there are social housing supports, which are temporary in nature, while people are waiting to secure long-term and real social housing. It is a straightforward legislation but it profoundly changes and improves how we think about our social housing system and the supports, albeit temporary, that are provided for people who are waiting for real social housing. It would give policy clarity to the Government, remove the anomalies and produce a much better and more stable housing system and, on that basis, I am seeking leave to introduce.