Housing (Regulation of Approved Housing Bodies) Bill 2019: Second Stage

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

I am pleased to have the opportunity today to present the Housing (Regulation of Approved Housing Bodies) Bill 2019 to the House. This is a balanced and proportionate Bill, which provides for the regulation of approved housing bodies, AHBs, for the purposes of supporting stronger governance and the financial viability of that sector, with a particular focus on safeguarding the significant public investment being made in the delivery of social housing by AHBs. Similarly, the Bill will provide stronger assurance to tenants, the public and potential investors that the sector is well regulated.

As Deputies are aware, AHBs provide and manage social housing. They are independent, private, not-for-profit organisations, formed for the purpose of relieving housing need. AHBs provide housing in response to a range of different needs, including families on low incomes and households with special needs, older persons, people with disabilities and homeless persons. Under existing legislation, housing bodies are granted approved status by the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government under section 6 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1992 for the purpose of being able to receive funding from local authorities to provide social housing. This arrangement has been in place since 1992 and although operating well it is acknowledged that a more modern regulatory system needs to be put in place to oversee a sector which has developed significantly since then.

Ahead of the establishment of a statutory regulator, which is the aim of this Bill, an interim regulatory office for AHBs has been in place, based in the Housing Agency, since 2013. The interim regulation committee, supported by the regulation office, oversees implementation of a voluntary regulation code for AHBs. This existing framework will ensure that the statutory regulator, once established, can become fully operational much quicker than would otherwise be the case. Regulation is currently conducted through the voluntary regulation code, entitled Building for the Future: A Voluntary Regulation Code for Approved Housing Bodies in Ireland, and is underpinned by a financial, governance and performance standard. At present, 275 AHBs, including the larger tier three AHBs, have signed up to the voluntary code. My Department’s register indicates that there are currently 552 AHBs in existence. However, many of these are inactive and an exercise will be carried out to de-list inactive AHBs from the register. Preliminary work has already commenced in this regard.

As Deputies will be aware, the Rebuilding Ireland - Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness recognises the key contribution that approved housing bodies make to the delivery of social housing. They are committed to delivering one third of the 50,000 new social housing units that are to be provided over the period of the plan through a blended delivery of build, acquisition and leasing. In 2018, the AHB sector was responsible for 38% of the delivery of social homes. The overall target for delivery of housing solutions in 2019 is up 7% on 2018. The target for delivery through build, acquisition and lease is up more than 20%, from 7,869 to 10,000. The target for new build homes has almost tripled from 2,260 in 2016 to 6,545 in 2019. Delivery has exceeded its targets in each year of Rebuilding Ireland to date and we remain on target for this year in terms of our social housing supports. Last week, I provided an update on Rebuilding Ireland and published the social housing construction status report, which demonstrates positive progress made in advancing national local authority and approved housing body new build construction projects.

It is misleading to suggest, as some in this House and commentators outside do, that AHB housing is not social housing. Some say it does not count and so exclude it when reporting on social housing delivery. That is wrong. Housing bodies have a proud history in the country, with bodies such as the lveagh Trust involved in providing social housing since before the foundation of the State. Housing bodies receive finance from the taxpayer and support people from our housing lists. They build on local authority land. As part of our new and more sustainable approach to social housing, delivery is not dependent on one single stream as it was in the past. Social housing is now delivered in a number of ways, protecting would-be tenants from any adverse shocks to the economy or the sector. These not-for-profit bodies complement but do not replace social housing delivery by local authorities, which are once again, thanks to decisions made by the Government, delivering the majority of new social homes. In particular areas, for example, housing for people with disabilities, housing bodies have the required experience and expertise in providing the most appropriate housing. I have big ambitions for the sector and I want it to continue to grow and to continue to provide the quality homes that it has for those most in need. I want to compliment the Irish Council for Social Housing, ICSH, and the Housing Alliance and all involved in what was a record year in 2018 for the delivery of new social homes. The AHB sector is playing a central role in contributing to the delivery of social housing under Rebuilding Ireland and I am committed to using all mechanisms and schemes to ensure that momentum towards meeting the ambitious 50,000 social housing target under the action plan is maintained. This Bill will support and strengthen that ambition by demonstrating to all that the sector is well regulated.

I will now move to the detail of the Bill, which contains 70 sections in nine Parts, together with one Schedule, and will outline the purpose of each Part and some of the key provisions.

Part 1, sections 1 to 6, contains standard legislative provisions in regard to matters such as construction, commencement, collective citation and interpretation and other technical matters.

Section 4 places a duty on the Minister to review the operation and effectiveness of the Act not later than five years after the establishment of the regulator.

Part 2, sections 7 to 25, provides for the establishment of the approved housing body regulatory authority - the regulator - and sets out the functions and organisational structure of the regulator, the appointment of a chief executive, staff, preparation of a strategy statement and other related matters. The functions of the regulator, as set out in section 9, are to establish and maintain a register of AHBs, to register persons as AHBs, to prepare draft standards for approval by the Minister under section 38 and publish the approved standards. They also are to monitor and assess compliance by AHBs with this Act, in particular the approved standards, to carry out investigations under Part 5; to cancel the registration of AHBs under Part 6; to encourage and facilitate the better governance, administration and management, including corporate governance and financial management, of AHBs by the provision of such information and advice, in such form and manner, as the regulator considers appropriate and with a view to promoting awareness and understanding of this Act, make available such information as appears to the regulator to be expedient to give to the public about the operation of this Act, in such form and manner, as the regulator considers appropriate; to collect such information concerning AHBs as the regulator considers necessary and appropriate for the purposes of the performance of the regulator’s functions, and; to publish such information, including statistical information, concerning AHBs as the regulator considers appropriate.

Section 15 is an important oversight provision, which provides that the chief executive shall appear before relevant Oireachtas committees when requested to do so.

Part 3, sections 26 to 38, provides for the regulation of approved housing bodies and includes sections on the registration procedures for AHBs and their entry onto the register, as well as the drafting and approval of standards. To be eligible to register as an AHB, the persons or bodies must be a company with at least five directors, a registered society, a friendly society or a charitable trust with at least five trustees. The persons or bodies must include in their constitution the provision or management in the State of housing for the purpose of alleviating housing need, as well as provisions prohibiting the distribution of any surplus, profit, bonus or dividend to members or directors or other persons and requiring that its assets and profits be applied solely towards its primary object.

Sections 27 and 28 provide that the regulator will establish and maintain a register of AHBs and set out where and when the register may be inspected, along with setting out procedures for those persons or bodies who wish to apply for registration and what should be included within the application.

Section 35 enables existing AHBs approved under section 6 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1992 to be deemed registered. A body deemed registered under this section must apply for registration within a statutory period as set out.

Section 37 gives the regulator the powers, where it is necessary for the purpose of performing its functions, to require an AHB to provide the regulator with information, records or other documents in such form and manner as the regulator may reasonably require.

Section 38 provides for the drafting and adoption of standards for registered AHBs. Draft standards will be prepared and may make different provisions for different categories of registered AHBs taking into account a number of factors, including the nature, scale and complexity of activities of each category of AHB. Prior to submitting the standards to the Minister for Planning, Housing and Local Government for approval, the regulator will publish and allow for a period of representations to be made regarding the proposed standards.

Part 4 provides the regulator with the powers to monitor compliance by AHBs with the standards. Arising from the assessment, if the regulator deems that the AHB is not complying with the standards, it may require the body to draw up and submit a compliance plan.

Part 5 provides the regulator with powers to appoint inspectors and undertake investigations into the affairs and performance of AHBs. This Part also sets out the powers of the inspectors and the mechanism for the production of inspectors' reports.

Part 6 allows for intervention powers to be afforded to the regulator in respect of assets of an AHB where an offence has been committed, an AHB has failed or is failing to comply with any provision of the Bill, there has been misconduct by a director, officer or member of staff or the financial viability of an AHB is threatened. This Part provides, if a deemed AHB refuses to apply for registration after the relevant time period has elapsed or if registration is refused or if any AHB's registration is in the process of being cancelled or is cancelled and the regulator considers it necessary for the protection of tenants of dwellings, that the regulator may, by notice, require the AHB to transfer such dwellings to another AHB.

Section 55 empowers the regulator to seek a High Court order if he or she suspects that an AHB has committed an offence under the Bill; an AHB is failing to comply with provisions under the Bill; an AHB is misusing or mismanaging property in such a way that endangers the property; there has been misconduct or mismanagement by a director or employee of an AHB in relation to its affairs; there has been unlawful or improper use of funds; there is a serious risk to the financial viability of the body; it is necessary for the purpose of the protection of the tenants of dwellings provided or managed by an AHB; or there is information indicating any of the above. In such circumstances, the court may issue an interim or permanent order.

Part 7 provides for an AHB to submit appeals to an appeals panel where the regulator exercises its powers in relation to registration, compliance plans or cancellation of registration. This Part also provides that the Minister shall establish an appeals panel to determine appeals under the Bill. It sets out the qualifications and number of members, terms of office, grounds for removal of members and disqualification for appointment and the provision of resources to support the work of the panel.

Part 8 prohibits the unauthorised disclosure of confidential information.

Part 9 provides for the consequential amendments to the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1992, and the construction of certain references in other Acts or instruments made under other Acts.

I intend to bring forward a limited number of amendments as the Bill makes its way through the legislative process in the Houses of the Oireachtas. These amendments will be broadly technical in nature and relate to the substance of the Bill. For example, two of the proposed amendments will relate to the application for registration process. Currently, there are no specific provisions in the Bill for either the withdrawal of an application by an AHB, before the regulator makes a decision on the application, or for incomplete applications submitted.

This Bill, if enacted, will support stronger governance and financial viability of the very important AHB sector. It will safeguard the significant public investment being made in the delivery of social housing by AHBs and it will provide stronger assurance to tenants, the public and potential investors that the sector is well regulated.

I commend the Bill to the House.

I am sharing time with Deputy John Brassil.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Fianna Fáil supports this Bill, which is a small measure to regulate a sector that Government policy has neglected. I agree with the Minister that approved housing bodies have an essential role to play in providing new housing units.

However, they are constrained by the EUROSTAT decision that limits their borrowing capacity. The Government has also failed to set out a path to get off balance sheet, as is usual in most EU countries, and has failed to set up a special purpose vehicle to allow credit unions to invest in approved housing bodies, AHBs.

We support the Bill and AHBs. Last October, this issue was under scrutiny by me and other members of the Committee of Public Accounts. In his special chapter, the Comptroller and Auditor General pointed out that by mid-2018, just 246 AHBs, or some 45%, out of 547 that were in operation at the time had registered with the Department so regulation is welcome because the management and oversight of the funding provided to AHBs is complex as it is provided under a number of schemes. Because of the scale of the operation of some AHBs, they are in receipt of more than one type of funding from more than one local authority. As was pointed out during that session with members of the Department who were present on the day, the funding is significant. I know that when we examined the 2017 accounts at the Committee of Public Accounts, funding of €180 million was flowing through from the Department to AHBs on schemes available exclusively to them. The examination by the Local Government Audit Service in 2015 identified a number of areas where oversight of AHBs by local authorities could be improved. When we examined it, we found that between 2013 and 2017, €648 million was provided to AHBs with no review of operations during that period so the pressing need for regulation and a regulator was evident, particularly when one considers that in his report, the Comptroller and Auditor pointed out that when he tried to match the scheme expenditure with output data, he found that the Department did not report output on a scheme-by-scheme basis. He also found that the Department did not report the size of the social housing stock. It had figures for local authority stock but not for social housing held by approved AHBs. It was also very evident that a large number of AHBs were inactive but retained approved status. I welcome the work of the Department in tidying up the register prior to this legislation coming forward, as was recommended by the Comptroller and Auditor General and sought at that time.

We are supportive of the Bill. The need for it is clear given the significant sums of money involved in an area that is so important. I return to my opening comments, which are that this is a small measure in a sector that has been neglected and that housing policy in this country has been characterised by falling home ownership levels and missed targets on social housing. In 1991, the average age at which a person bought his or her first home was 26. I was that age in 2005 when I bought my home. In 2016, the average age was 35. House prices have risen by 90% since 2012 while incomes have risen by 7% during that same period. Home ownership levels have slipped to record lows of 67% across the country, down from a high of 82% in 2004. The Government's strategy has mired social housing projects in red tape and ignored the issue of credit union funding. We say that AHBs must play a central role in resolving the housing crisis but the Government has also failed to address the EUROSTAT ruling that limits AHBs future growth. We must move away from relying on the private sector and remove red tape for local authorities and AHBs to allow them to get to grips with the housing crisis.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on this Bill. While it is technical in nature, we will be supporting it. I very much welcome anything we can do that facilitates and speeds up the delivery of social housing so I welcome this Bill.

However, I wish to raise a very serious concern. From speaking to AHBs and the developers with which they work to deliver turnkey housing developments, I have heard of issues they are having with Irish Water. Those issues have mainly arisen since April since the introduction of new legislation. One example highlights many of the issues developers and AHBs are facing. It concerns a development in Fortfield in Tralee consisting of 15 houses. I worked with the Minister at the time to get it approved and was very grateful for his input. The development started, the developer agreed with Irish Water that as it was a social housing project and there would be no development contributions. The fee for providing a water connection was €8,900. The developer sent on the cheque and his agent sent on the necessary paperwork. Construction of the houses proceeded. In July, the developer became concerned that the water connection had not been provided so he contacted Irish Water to be told that it had no record of his cheque or paperwork, the original agreement had lapsed after 90 days and Irish Water was now looking for €90,000 which, as one can imagine, came as quite a shock to the developer as he had not budgeted for it in his original price. Irish Water basically said that after April, it was now charging voluntary housing bodies development levies and that if the developer had a difficulty with this decision, he could go to the regulator, which has happened. To add insult to injury, Irish Water came out on site a couple of weeks ago, found that the original connection was not where it wanted it to be, had to carry out some further infrastructural works and is now looking for a further €120,000 to bring the water main farther up the road to a new point of connection. In January 2018, the infrastructure charge was €8,900 but it has risen to somewhere in the region of €200,000. This will make this project completely unviable. I fear that if it is not resolved in the coming weeks, we will be left with 15 houses that are ready to be occupied but have no water connection so it needs to be resolved.

I have spoken with two other developers who have told me that the single biggest blockage they face in delivering housing, both private and social, is Irish Water and the ability to get quotations and reasonable prices and to get the work done. I want to use this opportunity to bring this issue to the Minister's attention. I have spoken to Irish Water about the case I raised. It is not acceptable for a public utility to behave in a manner that jeopardises private and public housing developments. I am sure the Minister will take what I have said very seriously.

I do not know whether or not the next issue applies to AHBs but where infrastructure has been provided by the developer, Irish Water is not obliged to take that development in charge or take responsibility for it. If a developer provided the wastewater infrastructure for a completed development, it can never be taken in charge. I foresee significant problems down the road with this.

They want to be treated like every other development but because the developer provided the sewage infrastructure Irish Water does not want to know about it. It is something we have to deal with. I appreciate it is not part of this legislation but I wanted to take the opportunity to bring it to the Minister of State's attention.

I apologise to both the officials and the Minister for not being present at the beginning. I was at another event and got my wires crossed. I am sure the Minister of State, Deputy Damien English, will be more than happy to hear what I have to say.

I am glad the Deputy made it.

Sinn Féin supports the principle of regulation for the social housing sector in total. We have long argued for a regulator for social housing. While this is a technical Bill, it is a very important one with a lot of significant detail. The principles on which such regulation needs to be based are important. They need to be robust so that there is a strong regulatory regime and they need to be fair to all of the participants in that regime, including landlords, tenants and the taxpayer. Crucially, this regulation is about assisting the AHB sector to grow, thrive and to do what it is meant to do. It is important legislation and like many similar Bills, given its technical nature, it will probably not be subject to the level of scrutiny it deserves in light of what it has the potential to do if we get it right.

I want to put on record our concern that once again the local authority sector is being exempted from these regulations. I have argued for a long time that it makes no sense to have two different types of social housing provider. Both the providers and the tenants are subject to completely different regulatory regimes. In fact, because of the significant advances represented by the Residential Tenancies Acts, the RTB, and now some of the provisions of this Bill, the situation for AHB landlords and their tenants is far better than for the local authority sector, particularly for tenants, where regulation, protection, accountability and transparency are concerned. We know why that is. If local authority tenants were given access to the RTB tomorrow, the queue of tenants looking for substantial improvements to the poor quality of their accommodation caused by lack of investment in the stock would be simply unsustainable for Government. However, at some point we have to have a conversation about ensuring that all social landlords and all social housing tenants are captured under one Bill.

We have a slight technical difficulty with the current Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government because the heads of this Bill were introduced during the previous Dáil. None of the members of the current committee, therefore, was present for the pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill. That is nobody's fault, but it is unfortunately the way things have gone. Given the importance of the legislation, it is important for the committee members to hear from AHBs, the County and City Management Association and the interim regulator. We on the committee are exploring ways to facilitate a presentation by these stakeholders without delaying the Bill. We are not looking to delay it, but in private session later this week I will argue that we should find a mechanism to allow the committee to be brought up to speed with what our predecessors in the previous Dáil had the advantage of doing.

It is also important to remember that the context is very different from 2015. We have a completely different housing policy and regardless of one's support or criticism of that, it is a completely different policy context. The funding context is also different. Crucially, the reclassification of AHBs so that their funding is on the Government's balance sheet is a fundamental change to the configuration, the work and the regulation. One of the fundamental concerns of both EUROSTAT and the Central Statistics Office, CSO, is the level of Government control of the sector, concerning not just financing but also governance and policy. Although pre-legislative scrutiny happened in 2015, there is a value to updating that in the current context. It is relevant to the sections of the Bill I will address shortly.

That is specifically the case with reclassification. Officials from the Departments of Housing, Planning and Local Government and Finance will appear before the committee on Thursday to discuss this. There is a genuine concern, which is directly relevant to the provisions of this Bill and whether they are worthy of support. Many of us have the impression that there is not enough urgency in the Government's response to that issue and its efforts to get the AHB sector back off-balance sheet in a way that maintains the voluntary not-for-profit ethos.

This is not some technical concern. The additional fiscal space that any Government would have if that sector was brought back off balance sheet is in the order of several hundred million euro. The total current and capital expenditure on AHBs may be in the region of €600 million. When the fiscal rules are applied, it could be €100 million, €200 million or €250 million. Given that the Government has only €700 million of fiscal space for additional spending next year, an extra €200 million would be significant for any Government. We need to examine that

Central to the relevance of reclassification to this Bill is the issue of control and independence. Is the Government increasing its power and control over the sector or creating truly independent mechanisms to ensure good quality regulation in the interest of all?

The comments I am going to make are friendly. They are made in the context of wanting to support this Bill. I have some observations on some sections that I would like Mr. Paul Lemass and his team to consider. Some questions need to be addressed and may even require amendments, preferably from the Government on Report Stage if it is willing to work with us. I am keen to hear both the Minister of State's response and any subsequent response from the officials.

I will go through the sections and the key issues of concern. The first is the appointment of the regulator itself, which is provided for in the Schedule. The idea that the regulator and a board of five to 11 people would simply be appointed by the Minister is a mistake. Irrespective of whether the board's membership is determined by competence or some representative function, using the public appointments process would be a much better way of doing it. The Minister's approval would still be needed. It makes no sense that the chief executive would be appointed through the public appointments process but the board itself would not. I urge the Minister of State to look at that.

There is also the issue of whether the board should be competency-based or representative. My preference is for it to be competency-based. That would mean we would need some people on the board with intimate knowledge of the AHB sector, who preferably would not be currently working in the sector but would know its mechanics and its details. That should be considered.

I am genuinely concerned by the definitions of standards and the outline of strategy contained in sections 38 and 21. The Bill gives the board the power to develop the strategy and standards but it ultimately comes back to the Minister for approval. It is almost like the argument we had over the planning regulator; ultimately, the key decisions have to be referred back to the Minister for his or her consent. That is a bad way to establish independent regulators. I am also concerned that it may fall foul of the CSO and EUROSTAT when it comes to the redesignation. That has to be looked at very clearly.

I refer to the provisions on standards in section 38. In some respects this goes to the heart of the regulator. These are the key rules to which the regulator will be trying to ensure the AHB sector adheres. When there are investigations or interventions, as we will discuss shortly, in many cases they will arise from the regulator's view that a body may not be compliant with them. The standards deal with governance, financial management and property management, which is fine. There are no queries or quibbles with this. However, the section also refers to tenancy management. Later in the section, nominations and allocations are mentioned. Those are not governance or financial management issues. They are issues of policy, which is ultimately set by the Department and the local government sector. I was very surprised to see those within the standards and functions of the regulator. There is an issue in respect of how this will relate to the policymaking function of the Department and the implementation and current regulatory function of the local authorities or the RTB. I urge the Minister of State and his team to examine that.

On a slightly less significant point, the idea of a strategy, as referred to in section 21, is probably a little too grandiose. This is an operational plan for how to implement the work. The term "strategy" makes it sound like a much bigger organisation with a policy vision and a mission, and that is not my view of what a regulator should do. That is the responsibility of the Minister and his Department in the first instance, as well as the Oireachtas.

Section 11 concerns fees. The Minister of State will know that I took the Government's side against pretty much everybody else in the Opposition on levying fees on the AHB sector at reduced rates for registration of tenancies with the RTB. I did that because approved housing bodies will access the RTB for services such as mediation and adjudication and it is right and proper for them to make a contribution towards those. I am not against the charging of fees where it is appropriate.

I do not see the rationale for charging fees under this legislation. The Charities Regulator, for example, does not charge fees because it does not provide charities with the service RTB provides for landlords and tenants in mediation or adjudication. It is also not clear how the fees will be set. They may be set so low as to make a minimal contribution to the financing of the regulator. In that case, why bother? The other possibility is that the fees will be set so high, in an effort to recover costs, they could be prohibitively excessive. The approved housing body sector already has significant cash flow issues on development projects, as the Department knows well. In that context, this section should simply be removed. That is not my position because I do not want AHBs to have to pay. I just do not see for what the Minster is asking them to pay. This is a function of the Government, not the AHBs.

I make the same point about section 46 which deals with inspectors. Would it not be better if the Public Appointments Service was involved in this process? If I understand the section correctly, the regulator can simply appoint the inspectors. As we have a good Public Appointments Service, let us use it. There could be a shortlisting of candidates and the regulator could then make the final decisions. If we want to make sure inspectors have the greatest possible experience and competence, a more rigorous process is needed.

Section 47 is very important. We need good quality, robust investigations. That is the core of any strong regulatory regime. We have to strike a balance between the powers given and due process. However, the balance in a couple of areas might be tipping towards strong powers to the detriment of due process. The Minister should look at this issue. Some of the language used is also vague. For example, there is mention of "if the regulator considers it necessary", "considers it appropriate" and "for the purposes of the performance of its functions". These are either vague or have low thresholds for what could be significant interventions. Having looked briefly at other regulatory regimes, a regulator should need to have a reasonable suspicion that something is not being done right in order to intervene. There should be a suspicion that something is not being done about standards. Not adhering to or not implementing standards should clearly be grounds for action. The Minister needs to look at that issue again.

One of the areas with the greatest weaknesses is the transfer of stocks which is covered in section 54. I understand this well. There may a case to have an AHB, perhaps a smaller body, overseeing a small number of units, with older trustees who are no longer in a position to be involved. There might be a maintenance or standards issue. I accept that an application to the High Court is the right way to deal with that issue. However, who decides where the stock is going to go? All the Bill states is that it will be up to the regulator. Who will cover the costs if, for example, the buildings are in poor condition and there is no sinking fund? The regulator might want them to go to another approved housing body or a local authority. Will the approved housing body or local authority accept the transfer if they are not being compensated for having to deal with the associated issues? When we were regulating the credit union sector, there was a comparable issue about credit unions in difficulty. That legislation included a resolution process. There was a clear mechanism whereby a transparent process would be put in place in a case where an entity failed or was perceived to be failing. It would also have a fund available to ensure stock could be transferred where an approved housing body was no longer able to do its job properly or was not doing its job properly. In the case of credit unions, mergers can be negotiated and a fund is available.

There is also an issue with private property rights. The mortgages might almost be paid on some of the stock. We are not talking about approved housing bodies such as Clúid or Clanmil but about small, local approved housing bodies that were sometimes set up in the 1960s. If those bodies now own properties outright, is the Minister guaranteeing that the Attorney General has stated there are no constitutional issues? I am referring to a High Court order for the transfer to another entity of what is now private property, on which the State no longer has a charge. I am not objecting to stock being transferred, if there is a reason for it. However, if we are going to insert this type of mechanism, it has to be really watertight and able to fulfil its function.

Co-operation with other operators, as dealt with in section 24, is very sensible. I do not understand, however, why Tusla and the Property Services Regulatory Authority are not listed. They seem to be two of the most obvious bodies to include. I know that the section states "and other regulators", but given that some of the other obvious bodies are named such as the Residential Tenancies Board, these two should be included also. That is particularly the case because there is going to be potential for a regulatory conflict. I mentioned my concerns about having tenancy management included in the standards. Strictly speaking, tenancy management is something with which the RTB deals for tenants who state tenancy management is not being carried out properly by a landlord. Who should have responsibility for what in such cases? A little thought is needed on how co-operation is mediated and who decides the outcome if there is a conflict over whose piece of regulatory turf encompasses an incident and how it is to be dealt with.

I will mention some small issues before I conclude. They are more for discussion on Committee Stage. I refer to notifiable events which are included in a later part of the Bill. It is a sensible inclusion. Every order from the RTB pertaining to an AHB is to be a notifiable event. That will be a major bureaucratic difficulty for the approved housing body. Somebody will also be needed in the regulator's office to do nothing other than read RTB determinations from AHBs when it might not necessarily need to be the case. I would have thought, in fact, that in the section dealing with co-operation with other regulators a mechanism would be found to agree to a protocol for such cases. If the RTB finds that approved housing body "X" has a repeated history of not maintaining its stock properly, it could red flag it and consider whether it might be a regulatory or a financial management issue and if it might be time for notification to be given to the regulator of the approved housing bodies. There could be a more effective way that would save time for the approved housing body and the regulator and also have more utility.

It is the same point in the case of the appeals panel. The Minister should look at involving the Public Appointments Service. These appeals are important and significant. They are often technical issues which involve financial management, property management or appropriate governance. For all of the reasons I outlined previously, the public appointments process is the right one.

On the publication of interim reports, I am all for transparency and full publication. If I understand the section correctly, however, the Minister is talking about publishing interim reports before the approved housing body will have had an opportunity to read and respond to them. That seems to involve a lack of due process. I am not arguing against publication, but the approved housing bodies should have the right to read and respond to reports. That would ordinarily be the case in other circumstances.

I will conclude by restating our sympathetic approach to the Bill. We want to see good quality, robust regulation of the sector. Notwithstanding the significant work Mr. Paul Lemass and his team have put into the Bill, we need to see some Government or Opposition amendments accepted on Committee and Report Stages. The key issue is what is the Government's vision for the approved housing body sector? How does this legislation assist us in delivering on that vision? How will the capacity of the sector be assisted to meet these standards, particularly in the case of those bodies which are smaller and more local?

I have some key questions for the Minister. He might respond in making his concluding remarks or perhaps at the housing committee. In his view and that of the Department, what will be the impact of the Bill on the attempt to get the AHBs off the Government's balance sheet in the context of reclassification? Have the CSO and the Department of Finance been consulted? They are key bodies and their views are of major importance. I understand a regulatory impact assessment was made back in 2014 or 2015 before I was a Member of the Oireachtas. Has an updated regulatory impact assessment been made at a previous stage? If not, is it something that could be done, even after the passage of the Bill? There is a fair lead-in time in the enactment of the legislation. It could be very helpful in making sure it is implemented properly.

Why is the regulator not being given more independence? Why is every key decision being referred back to the Minister for consent? The Government should set policy. That is the job of the Government and the Oireachtas. The job of a regulator is to make sure the agents of the State tasked with implementing Government policy do what the law states they are meant to do. The regulator should not need to come back as often to the Government or the Minister. The regulator's role should be to ensure the policies and decisions made in this House are implemented.

My final point concerns a conversation about applying the same rights, entitlements, regulations and transparency and accountability to local authorities and their tenants as we do to the approved housing body sector. I knew that it would not be included in the Bill. I would like to hear from the Government if it is on the horizon, being discussed or something to which we can return at a later stage? I ask because if we want a strong, robust social housing sector that will meet the needs of the 20% to 25% of the population who should be in it, everybody providing that accommodation and living in it should be subject to the same rules and regulations and have the same rights and protections. It is a missed opportunity that there has not been a move in that direction in the Bill. If the Minister wishes to move in that direction in the future, we will work co-operatively with him.

We also support the Bill and its principle, although I have questions. My first response is to ask why it has taken so long. I was in the Department when we did the early work on the voluntary code. From my experience at that time, I know there was a strong request from the voluntary housing sector that they should have a Government structure and should be regulated, mainly because it would give the public an assurance their housing associations were properly run and managed and, as importantly, it would give them a status to raise funds such that they would find it much easier to raise finance to build social housing along with the funding they received from the State. They wanted to do this, particularly the larger voluntary housing associations. We did the earlier work on setting up the interim voluntary code established in the Housing Agency. The larger ones mainly signed up to the code at the time. I very much welcome the fact we have reached the point of introducing the legislation to establish a regulator. The way in which it is being done is the right way to do it.

My experience is that the contribution of the voluntary housing sector was strong, particularly at a time the country did not have an awful lot of money. There was very much a willingness to play their part in providing housing for people when there was not as much public funding as I hope there is now. We should also acknowledge this.

There clearly are different types of voluntary housing associations or AHBs and this is where the three tiers come from. The history of many smaller bodies is that villages or towns decided to build houses for their older citizens in order that they could retire to a safe environment The voluntary housing associations largely just managed those homes rather than build new ones. There are probably still many of these around the country. The much larger bodies had more ambition. Some of those bodies in the middle tier perhaps sometimes focused on supplying housing for a particular category of the community. We have a mix in the sector and I hope we can treat them all fairly in the system that is being set up. Some of this will need to be teased out as the legislation progresses. In his opening contribution, the Minister indicated there would be Government amendments but they would be largely technical. We all want to ensure we have the opportunity to table amendments where appropriate.

One of the significant problems is the issue of funding. I support what has been said regarding credit unions. This is something we have debated in the context of other housing and finance Bills and legislation. Credit unions need a special purpose vehicle, SPV. When I have tabled parliamentary questions, the response every time has been that the Government will facilitate them by setting up an SPV. They need the Government, the financial regulators and the Central Bank to work with them on establishing such a vehicle they can feed into because they have money. They are in all of our communities and they can make a contribution. We have all been lobbied by them because they feel they have not been assisted appropriately by the Government through the establishment of such a vehicle. The willingness is there. The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government probably does not need to do this but we need the credit union movement and the Government to come together to address this.

The other significant issue is the Government balance sheet. Approximately a year ago, I attended a presentation at a hotel in Dublin at which the Minister of State was speaking where stakeholders in the sector came together. I forget who organised the meeting but it was on what we could do to address this issue of the voluntary housing sector being on the Government balance sheet. I do not know what progress has been made and perhaps the Minister of State will address this in his response. Strictly speaking, it is not the business of the Bill but it is a major factor in the scale of the contribution the sector can make to the housing crisis and providing homes for people. I do not know whether the Minister of State has made progress in this regard but I would like to an update.

With regard to the various sizes and types of voluntary housing associations, I support Deputy Ó Broin's comments on fees, which are referred to in sections 11 and 35. The fees are not outlined in the Bill. I presume they will be set at a later stage. They should not be an obstacle. Deputy Ó Broin made the point that if the fees are to cover costs, they may be too high for the sector, but if they are not to cover costs, what will they achieve? Perhaps the Minister of State will give his views on this.

An issue in the lead-up to the legislation was the number of voluntary housing associations and the opportunity to merge or deregister them. I do not know what the up-to-date position is. Have some of them been deregistered or merged? I happened to be on the board of a voluntary housing association that put itself out of existence and transferred assets because there were too many associations and our perception as a board was that we did not need to exist any more. We transferred some elements of what we were doing to one of the larger voluntary housing associations and at least one property to Dublin City Council. This was a long time ago. Perhaps we have too many. I do not know how much discussion has taken place in the sector in this regard, particularly on whether some of the smaller bodies need to continue what they are doing or whether the local authorities can take over some of their functions. It is onerous for somebody to be on the board of any organisation because of the governance responsibilities. Some of them have difficulty in getting people to take on the responsibility. This is important for the sector.

I agree with Deputy Ó Broin on the issue of investigations under section 47. The wording is quite loose. If there were to be an investigation, it should be based on concern about the way in which a particular voluntary housing association is operating and it should not just be based on the opinion of the regulator. There should be concrete reasons an investigation would be instigated. This would be only fair to the associations concerned.

I welcome the Bill because the sector has wanted it for some time. When will local authorities be brought under its umbrella? I realise it would involve a lot of work and commitment on the part of the State to support local authorities to achieve the standard required. Tenants in local authority homes should not be at a disadvantage in comparison to tenants in the voluntary housing sector or the private sector. I would be interested to in an update on this.

I have mixed feelings about the Bill and the role the Government seems to see for the AHB sector in the delivery of social housing.

On the one hand, I do not doubt the contribution many AHBs make in the provision of social housing. Having met representatives of the AHBs at various committee meetings, I do not doubt the goodwill and bona fides of many, if not most, of those involved in the AHB sector in trying to provide for a social need, which, as we are all aware, is of great importance, given the scale and severity of the housing crisis. I do not want to be critical of the AHBs, nor do I oppose the principle that insofar as there is an approved housing body sector, it should be regulated. We should have streamlining, with consistency in standards, processes of registration, proper governance, oversight of the financial behaviour of these entities and so on. I see the logic in all that. However, I cannot help but feel that in the same way social housing generally is a response to the failure of the private market to provide affordable housing for many people on low and middle incomes, the AHB sector is a response to the failure of the State to provide public housing. It has to fill a gap left by the State's failure. I worry when I hear the Minister say he has great ambition for the approved housing body sector. That ambition seems to be growing at the expense of that for local authority housing - the direct provision of public housing by the Government and specifically the local authorities.

I have heard some of the approved housing bodies indicate that they think the burden placed on them by the Government because of its failure to deliver public housing on the scale necessary is one that is very difficult for them to shoulder. They do not really have the resources, scale and so on to deal with what the Government is trying to unload on them because of the failure of successive Governments to deliver public housing on the scale necessary via the local authorities. It is a form of outsourcing.

I am concerned that the Government hopes to deliver one third of the social housing units it hopes to deliver by 2021 via AHBs. I do not know how that compares historically with the proportions they have delivered in the history of the State and perhaps the Minister might enlighten me. Proportionately, it seems to be growing. There is a correlation between the Government's ambition for the sector and the State's retreat from providing the public housing on the scale needed to address the housing crisis.

With that comes the need for a new body which will cost a significant amount of money. Given that we are where we are, to use that horrible phrase, I can see that we need the regulator. However, it is another body to be set up to manage a fragmented and inconsistent social housing sector. There are different tiers of AHBs and then we have the local authorities, none of which is quite the same. The lines of accountability are different for different types of social housing. The standards are different. The rents are different. In many cases the differential rents are different as between approved housing body housing and local authority housing.

I will give a simple example I have come across. I am more familiar with local authority housing. If there are problems, for example, in the quality or maintenance of local authority housing, as there often is, it is possible to go directly to the local authority and say there is a problem. If no response is forthcoming, a motion can be brought to the council. The elected representatives can have motions passed to do something about certain things. However, with AHBs it is not possible to do this. Much of the money is provided by the State to the point where the ambition to get approved housing bodies off balance sheet has not been successful because the level of State support is such that they would not exist without public funding. However, we do not have the same lines of accountability in being able to do something on behalf of the tenants if there is a problem.

I am dealing with a case - it will be interesting to see how it unfolds - where a number of tenants in an approved housing body building have informed me of very bad sound insulation between units. It does not affect just one or two tenants. About half a dozen tenants have said they are absolutely tortured by the poor sound insulation between units. By the way, they have said the standard of the units in which they have to live is different from the standard of units in the very same block which are not AHB units but which were built as private units, although they are being leased back under the HAP scheme. That is the bizarre situation in which we find ourselves. There is a group of AHB tenants and another group of HAP scheme tenants living in different standard accommodation according to the tenants. This has been disputed by the AHB which claims there is no difference between them. I am trying to get to the bottom of the matter. However, it is made all the more difficult because we are dealing with all of these different situations. There are local authority tenants, HAP scheme tenants and AHB tenants.

In addition, I have discovered in the case of the AHB that there is also a private property management company. With whom does one deal? Is it the private property management company,which apparently looks after the common areas or the AHB? As an elected representative, I cannot go to the local authority. What is the role of the local authority in this instance? It not the same. Social housing tenants are in a totally different situation, depending on whether they are in an AHB unit, a local authority house or a HAP scheme tenancy. It is different again if they are in the rental accommodation scheme, RAS. It could be different again, depending on whether it is tier 1, tier 2 or tier 3 of the approved housing body. To me, that is a problem.

I do not blame the AHBs for this problem because, as I said, they often arose as voluntary charity organisations that were trying to fill a gap that the State had failed to fill. While their intentions are good, it seems that the Government is taking advantage of the situation in a way that ultimately is problematic from the point of view of ensuring consistency in the quality and standard of social housing and the rights of tenants in social housing. There is no consistency in rents. There is no consistency in whom one approaches if one has a problem. There is no consistency in the role elected public representatives have in being able to intervene on behalf of tenants. The Government seems to be making the situation worse overall because of its ambition to unload it all on the approved housing body sector, instead of doing it in the more traditional way through providing local authority housing. I have a problem in that regard.

I do not know what to say about it because on the one hand I genuinely recognise that the people in these AHBs are trying to do a good thing but on the other hand I have a problem with that inconsistency from the point of view of tenants and all sorts of anomalies are thrown up about it. A person in a council house can transfer much more easily than a person in an approved housing body, AHB. If the family grows and goes from a two-bedroom need to a three or four-bedroom need and much of the AHB stock is one or two bedrooms, the family cannot transfer back to the local authority. Even if it is nominated from the local authority list to go into an AHB house, which it might be very glad of at the time, if its need changes it cannot be transferred back. It seems to me the family should be able to transfer.

The same resources are not available to approved housing bodies to deal with maintenance or anti-social issues. There is very little consistency in all of this. Many of the AHBs simply do not have the resources to deal with these situations. There is a big problem. Having a regulator may streamline it a bit more but is there not a problem in the lack of consistency of standards and rights for tenants, rents and so on in different types of social housing? A person in social housing should have the same rights and standards regardless of the type of social housing they are in. None of this is an attack on the AHBs but it is a significant concern I have about just how fragmented and inconsistent the situation is and consequently how tenants in different types of social housing or different AHBs are in different situations. Even I, as an elected representative who is reasonably knowledgeable about these things, often find myself very confused as to who to go to and what power I have to intervene on behalf of tenants depending what type of social housing or what type of AHB we are talking about, whether it is council housing, HAP, rental accommodation supplement, RAS, or whatever. I will be interested to hear what the Minister of State has to say in response to this and how the Bill progresses over the next few Stages.

On the surface this Bill sounds pleasant enough citing increased regulation for the AHB sector and the establishment of an independent regulator with functions to include establishing and maintaining a register of AHBs and also preparing draft standards, monitoring and assessing compliance by AHBs, including undertaking investigations. However, once we dig deep we unearth what seems to be a cover for both the Government's failings in the provision of housing for its citizens as well as an open invitation to bring in more private investors into the property market.

The Bill as presented will mean that regulation and monitoring within the AHB sector will be duplicated. The stated rationale of the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government for introducing statutory regulation is ensuring the governance and the financial viability of the sector, safeguarding the State's contribution towards AHBs in respect of housing assets and providing assurance to tenants, the public and investors. All this is proposed, despite the fact that the Housing Agency already exists to do much of what the Bill proposes. Standards have already been drafted for AHBs and a voluntary code of conduct enacted. Monitoring and assessing compliance is going through the Housing Agency while the agency has a registry of AHBs in the country. Why the duplication and the establishment of another quango with powers the Housing Agency already has? Why not statutorily enhance the powers of the Housing Agency, increase the number of staff within it, which is being proposed for the establishment of a regulator anyway, and widen the remit of the RTB to protect tenants under AHBs and increase tenant rights under the agency? It can mean only one thing which is that the Government is attempting to attract private finance into the country from private investors. This way the Government can keep social housing off the Exchequer books and hand over even more of the responsibility to the sector, thereby reducing the burden of its provision of social housing for people in the country. Fine Gael really has not learned anything from the past decade or two whereby private entities speculated over the housing market causing a catastrophic recession leading us to where we are now, which is an over-speculated market, increased financialisation of home ownership and the private market finding its feet again while the number of homeless families has increased by 178% since June 2015 and where more than one in three people in emergency accommodation is a child.

Fine Gael has learned to be cunning in the way it increases the role of private finance in Ireland and this Bill is clearly a smokescreen to do just that while covering themselves by saying it is to protect tenants' rights. Traditional grant funding of AHBs by the Exchequer has been replaced with increased use of loan finance, that is a fact and, yes, as a result there are new challenges for the sector in terms of attracting funding to increase the number of units growing, however loan finance is not the answer to the ongoing housing crisis. Now more than ever we need a national social housing programme because the greater the role loan finance has the less of a role the Government will play in its duty to provide housing to its citizens. Furthermore, recent changes by the CSO and EUROSTAT to reclassify tier 3 AHBs, the largest ones in terms of housing units, as general Government sector means their expenditure will go on the Government's balance sheet. Loans taken by AHBs are expected to be €1,683 million by 2019, which is an increase of 469% from 2016. Relying solely on AHBs and loan finance to make up the housing numbers is not sustainable. I believe AHBs were only ever meant to dominate the market as the private sector has. They are there to provide a supporting role to the social housing sector and to cater for niche housing needs. It is clear that Fine Gael is angling for AHBs and the private sector to dominate and eventually sideline social housing initiatives. Just look at the scale: the Department estimates that AHBs have the capacity to deliver one third of the 47,000 new social housing units that are targeted up to 2021. That is quite a sizeable chunk and will no doubt increase in line with the availability of loan finance in this country.

While I agree with proper and effective regulation I believe it must be done for the right reasons by the appropriate authorities and with the resources necessary to monitor implementation. Many Bills come through this House and once passed are never implemented due to resource constraints. That is why I do not understand why the existing powers of the Housing Agency and the interim regulator within the Housing Agency cannot be expanded to do what this Bill attempts to do.

Furthermore, the right entities must be regulated and I find it interesting that local authorities have been largely left out of the question of increased regulation altogether. The Government, while forcing duplicate regulation in other sectors, continues to fail to regulate its own stock. The RTB still has no authority over local authority housing or the ability to protect local authority housing tenants. If the Government is so concerned about tenant rights in this Bill why not go back to the RTB and enhance protections there? AHBs are required to adhere to the compliance framework, which is regulated under the voluntary regulation code managed by the regulation office in the Housing Agency. AHBs must also go through rigorous reporting with insurance companies but when it comes to local authorities, they can just walk in and do what they like. What standards do they have to comply with and who is regulating them? Constituents come to our offices with concerns about the standard of their local authority housing, with local authorities not responding to the individual's housing needs or not responding on time to repair what needs fixing. AHBs are required to have a sinking fund, a fund which allows them to continue to manage their housing stock if it happens to go bust. It is three times the amount that local authorities are required to have.

I disagree with Deputy Boyd Barrett about AHBs. There is more input from tenants to have problems resolved, given that AHBs are the resource to do that whereas the local authorities are not. That is the Government's responsibility but it does not provide the local authorities with resources to hire people to deal with the tenants under their responsibility. One of the selling points the Government uses for AHBs is that they are great because they interact with tenants and have a proactive way of dealing with them. It is simply because local authorities are not given the funding to do the same, which is the problem. While it is true that it may be different in Dublin because there are different regimes among all the local authorities, which is a problem, in County Donegal at least, AHBs have a more proactive role in tenant management than the local authority, although that is because the latter is not funded to do it and is not required to do it, which is the real problem. Local authority housing would be managed a lot better if the local authorities had the same responsibilities as AHBs.

The crux of the issue lies in the Bill's main goal, namely, to have AHBs subsidise the private sector by buying private units to turn them into social housing. If AHBs are subsidising the private market, the private market profits off the State. Meanwhile, the State fails to build on its own stock and increases the role of loan finance to address people's housing needs. Appropriate regulation where it is needed, regulating what should be regulated by the appropriate body, should be central to any legislation. The Bill, however, fails to regulate appropriately where regulation is needed, which is at the existing bodies that already manage various aspects of the housing sector. Given that it has been done in the case of AHBs, why are we bringing in new legislation? It does not make sense. The House's time would be better spent dealing with matters on which we can make a difference rather than bringing in such legislation. It is less about reassuring the public or tenants in AHB units than reassuring private investors they hold a special place in the Government's heart.

I am delighted to contribute to the debate. I am a former board member of Caisleán Nua Voluntary Housing Association and one of the instigators of a voluntary group of laypeople who set up a wonderful organisation because of an horrendous attack on a vulnerable person. We held a community alert meeting in a full hall. As ever, until there is trouble and while everything is fine, nobody attends. A wonderful vision emerged from the meeting. A board was set up and delivered 14 social housing units. It might not have been hundreds or even dozens but there were 14 in the small village of Caisleán Nua na Siuire, Tiobraid Árann theas. I salute the board members and volunteers, many of whom were, and remain, much older than I am. Some of them are now in their 80s. They did a gallant job, without professionals on the board. I thank the housing officer on the county council at the time, Mr. John O'Mahony, who has since retired, and Mr. Donal McManus from the Irish Council of Social Housing, ICSH, for the advice and support we received.

The matter is a patchwork, like a quilt. Does the Minister of State know the song, "Forty Shades of Green", which referred to a blanket one's mother might make? He is trying to introduce catch-all legislation. Small bodies do an excellent job, while some of the larger ones also do a good job. The issue has changed so much. I spent many years on the board of the ICSH and I met people such as the chairman, a lovely man whose name eludes me. The ICSH did much work in Dublin, while many small groups did work throughout the country. Ní neart go cur le chéile. The approach should be of the people, by the people, for the people. We built 14 houses on the site in question and went on to build a further three special needs ones afterwards. We built them in a field we procured from the county council. There was not a step in the entire complex. It was all level access. The county council built houses in the same field, on the other side of it, with 11 or 12 bad steps up to the houses. Some of the steps are nearly as bad as those in the Chamber. The houses took five or six years to be built and were left unfinished for three winters. We built ours in 14 months, from start to finish, without a professional on the board. We hired in expertise, including an engineer and architect, Liam Long. We received great support from the council at the time. My point is that it can be done with a sense of meitheal and doing something for ourselves. Completing the project was one of my proudest moments in public life. I have been involved since 1986 in the community alert group, the second to be set up in the country, and it was one of the most satisfactory outcomes. The next conference will be held in County Wexford in two weeks and I hope to attend.

After a while, larger groups started to become involved, with more muscle power, and the dynamic of the board of the ICSH changed. The larger groups, with many different names, came in from abroad and so on, and were welcomed. Nevertheless, I saw an imbalance when they joined the sector. One of the groups was set up by famous brothers. There were Respond, Clúid, Foscadh and - you name it - there is a plethora of them now. They need regulations, as do all groups, including our community alert group, but regulation has gone bananas. Two more schemes would have been built by our group, Caisleán Nua, were it not for the regulation. We now spend more time on compliance than we do talking about the needs of the people and further projects. It overburdens people. It is like everything else in this country: an overarching reach of Departments and regulations. While some of the regulation is necessary, and accountability rightly ensures that every penny has to be accounted for, we were accounting and there was no waste.

I outlined earlier the time it took us to build the project and that it took the council six years to build its dog's dinner of a project, in comparison with ours, in the same field. We had no architects or anyone else on board. We were only laypeople but we hired others in. We received the capital assistance scheme funding and were delighted to do so. We kept within budget because we had no choice. There is too much regulation, with a catch-all effect, and we will have to go back to the drawing board and ease up in that regard. The process was streamlined around the time we completed the project, in 1996, and approximately seven sections of the then Department of the Environment and Local Government were dealing with the issue throughout the country. Approximately three or four years later, following much lobbying from the ICSH and others, the number of offices and various other places one had to contact was cut to two. Gradually, however, during the recession and so on, mandarins put their hands on the matter again and there are now four or five places one must contact. There is no need for it. Such places do not help, much of the time, but make the process more difficult. We must support and salute the vision of the late Canon Hayes, who said it was better to light a candle than curse the dark, and his spirit of helping one another, through the ESB, rural electrification and everything else. We must support groups and not smother them with regulation and so on. We must be sure they are supported and helped, and lift the cloak of regulation that has come down on top of them.

I fundamentally disagree with Deputy Boyd Barrett. We have no problems on our estate, where there is a caretaker who looks after any problems that arise. Nobody has any bother approaching our board, of which I am now vice-chairman, while Mr. Tom Lonergan is chairperson. I salute the board members. The Minister of State mentioned the growth in the sector, which is phenomenal. The sector can resolve the issue. I do not refer to launches, Rebuilding Ireland and all the other measures he outlined such as big reports with nothing happening and nothing having been built. There is not even a hen house in Toomevara or a dog's kennel in Carrick-on-Suir. Tipperary County Council has an appalling record of building houses in recent years. The voluntary sector can do it and will do it. It is willing, fit and able to do it but needs to be allowed, without being stifled by unnecessary, overarching regulations and rules.

The matter was one of my passions when I was involved in it. There is energy in the sector to do more but it is utterly over-regulated, which is disappointing, as the Minister of State must know. It is not a criticism of the officials accompanying the Minister of State but there are too many units in the Department that one must go through. That is too much and we are killing the initiative of ordinary people. It happens in the case of all clubs and communities because there is regulation after regulation but they do not give us a better society. The Government should let the people who want to do it, that is, the leaders and visionaries who want to put the houses in place, build for themselves and not stifle them.

I am glad to have the opportunity to contribute on this important topic. I, too, am unhappy with the appointment of another regulator and another group of people who will be appointed by the Minister of the day.

There is enough officialdom as it is if those people woke up and gave funding to local authorities to build the houses. What difference will it make to have another regulator appointed by the Government? The regulator will have to revert to the Government for approval to release funding in any case. The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government demands a four-stage process when a project goes over €2 million and one would not build even eight houses for that now with all the new regulations. I do not approve of this.

For almost two years I have spoken about how the Government is blocking the tenant purchase scheme, which allows people to buy their houses after living for 30 or 40 years in them. Pensioners who have come into money are not allowed to purchase their houses despite giving 30 or 40 years to renting and maintaining a house to a high standard. They are blocked from buying those houses, which is very wrong. The money used to, in turn, go back to the local authority to refurbish voids and bring them back into circulation. We now have a problem with the number of voids in Kerry and it is taking too long to turn them around. I believe the authorities when they say they do not have the required funding. What is wrong with the Government? We were told in 2015 we would get €65 million. There was much hullabaloo from the Government at the time that Kerry was getting €65 million for housing but I can tell the House we have nowhere near even a quarter of that drawn down four years later because we are being stifled by the Department and its four-stage process. There is no order in what is going on.

There is much comment about landlords blackguarding tenants or charging too much rent. Most landlords are paying 52% of the money they receive in rent to the Government's coffers again. If the Government wants to do something about the amount of rent charged, it will have to do something about the amount of tax being taken from landlords. There are many good landlords and only a small minority does not comply with anything. Landlords are getting out of the game because the system is so much against them.

In Kerry, there are approximately 55 applicants on the local authority list for rural cottages and we will be lucky if 12 will be built between 2016 and 2021. That is equivalent to 12 houses in five years in all County Kerry, which is not good enough. The sites are provided and all we are asking for is the funding to build the houses. We are not getting it and I believe the local authority when it says it is not getting that funding. One rural cottage that has been built has no chimney, which is ridiculous, as it is in an area with turf all around it. The people will not be able to burn one sod of turf because there is no chimney in the house.

I always put it on the record that it can be perceived that I have a conflict with some of these matters. Since this Government entered its second term, it has had different chances to solve the housing crisis and the problems we have in that area but all it seems to do is bring out reports. I will relate what I have heard in County Kerry and around the rest of the country. The people have heard about reports, consultative groups and changes in regulatory bodies or new legislation. Meanwhile, people talk about criminalising people who rent properties. It seems to be a regular occurrence for people here to criminalise the people who help in providing accommodation, which is not a good way of encouraging people to be involved in that side of things. The day all people are knocked out of providing accommodation is the day the Government will perish on a rock; these people are taking up the slack when the Government is absent.

As my brother correctly said, we should remember that if a person collects €800 per month in rent, he or she will give the Government 52% of that before that person can do even one other thing. That portion goes to the State. These people must pay a mortgage and register with the RTB before they can do the painting, etc. They do this with 48% of the turnover, so the Government should not forget it. I am not referring to the Members present but some colleagues are talking about criminalising landlords. Those people should remember that landlords act as tax collectors with 52% of the rent. It is not that such people are looking for a medal but they do not want to be blackguarded either. Our job is to have balance and to be fair.

In my role as an elected representative, I deal with housing issues every day of the week. I know people desperately want what is a basic and common right. It is about having the security of a home instead of wondering if their time will be up next week, in three weeks or in six months. If people have children and are in a house while in receipt of HAP, they should be able to know they can stay as long as they need or they wish, or until they get a local authority house. I would dearly like to see people getting houses that they could eventually purchase. I stood up week after week speaking about this to a previous Taoiseach. I did everything bar get down on my hands and knees to beg him to introduce a tenant purchase scheme. After years when it was not provided, the Government eventually initiated a scheme that few people can avail of. They cannot qualify. If it is a retired person or somebody who has saved money through hard work, even if these people have enough money, they are not allowed to purchase the property if they are not in full-time employment. It is absolutely ridiculous and an insult to people. Perhaps these people can get assistance from family members and wish to buy their family home, in which they have lived for 20, 30 or 40 years. They are not allowed to buy it because they are not in full-time employment. It is crazy. The people who drafted the tenant purchase scheme should hang their heads in shame.

Any person who introduces a scheme of which the vast majority of people cannot avail is only kidding the people.

I hate talking about politicians if they are not here to defend themselves. I asked people to introduce a scheme and when that was announced to much fanfare, it was a disgrace. It was like selling people a pig in a poke. On the one hand, people think the scheme is working but it is like a three card trick. Now you see it and now you do not. When a person wants to use it, that is not possible, but it still exists. It is a complete joke.

I agree with Deputy Mattie McGrath's comments on voluntary housing agencies. I also recognise the work done by non-voluntary housing agencies in providing housing. The long and the short of it is that we welcome any avenue from which we get housing. We do not want layers of bureaucracy.

The best option would be to go back to what used to happen where local authorities would build a scheme of houses and give them to people who would live in them and then have the opportunity to purchase them when their finances improved and they got their legs under them.

Debate adjourned.