I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I am sharing my time with a number of colleagues. Finbar and Mary are a working family. Finbar has a full-time job and Mary has a part-time job. They have young children. They are just above the threshold for eligibility for social housing. They were renting accommodation for approximately €1,200 a month but got notice to quit. While there were rental properties available, unfortunately, rents had increased to a level they could not afford, €1,800 to €2,000. Ultimately, because they could not access private rental accommodation or social housing supports, they fell into homelessness.
Danielle is a single mother. She has two young children. She has been homeless before and was in housing assistance payment, HAP, accommodation provided through the local authority. She also received a notice to quit and was unable to transfer her housing assistance payment during the early part of the period of her notice to quit. It was only in the final four weeks that she was able to do so, which was not sufficient time to find an appropriate rental property. She too fell back into emergency accommodation.
Stephen is a constituent whom I remember very well. He had a very troubled life. He came from an abusive home, which led to a serious addiction to heroin. He fought against addiction, got into detoxification treatment and got himself clean. Despite this, because there was no aftercare plan for when he left detoxification treatment and because the only hostels available were low-threshold hostels where active drug users were staying, he had no other option but to sleep rough.
These are three real-life cases from my constituency. I am sure colleagues from all sides of the House have experience of similar cases. While many people in local authorities and voluntary service providers tried to help these three households, they were ultimately failed by the system. The single biggest failure was probably the lack of an adequate focus on prevention to keep Finbar, Mary and their children, Danielle and her girls, and Stephen from homelessness.
Next year's budget for homelessness is €218 million, representing a massive level of expenditure. Unfortunately, more than 90% of this will be spent on emergency response. I do not mean that as a criticism. That emergency response is urgently needed. It is also, however, a clear sign of our failure. Some very good work is being done. Threshold still has a tenancy sustainment programme which keeps people out of homelessness, local authorities do a great deal of work to make HAP available to homeless people as a preventative measure, and we have Housing First, which is good, although we need more. Despite all this, not enough is being done on the prevention side. If we are all honest, we will accept that is definitely the case.
The Bill Sinn Féin is proposing this evening is a contribution towards shifting the focus onto prevention. It is based on legislation introduced in Wales and England a number of years ago which has already proved successful. It does a very simple thing. It places a legal obligation on local authorities to put in place a homelessness prevention plan for single people and families 60 days before they become homeless.
Why is this prevention plan so important? We all know what happens. A family get a notice to quite or a single person leaves care or detoxification treatment. These people go to the local authority, which tells them they have access to HAP and that they should come back on the date on their notice to quit or the date on which they have to leave a residential care or detoxification facility if they cannot find anywhere. People who are already in very difficult and vulnerable situations are effectively left to their own devices. There are good support services and HAP for homeless people but when one is trying to find private rental accommodation, particularly in our cities but increasingly in rural areas, those supports are simply not enough. If our local authorities were under such an obligation, it would force them to be more proactive in ensuring that the maximum number of people possible never see the inside of a hotel, a hub or bed and breakfast accommodation.
This legislation is not perfect. While it is modelled on the Welsh and English experience, it could certainly be improved. It is one of the Bills which, with the assistance of the Government side and the expertise in the Department, could be amended, improved and strengthened on Committee Stage. I understand the Government is not opposing the Bill. If that is the case, I welcome its decision. We have many arguments about housing in this Chamber. We will continue to have those policy arguments. That is how the cut and thrust of policy development works and there is nothing wrong with that. There are, however, also occasions on which we in this House should put party political differences to one side. The Government should accept good ideas put on the table by the Opposition and the Opposition should welcome the advice and views of Government. Let us make a clear commitment that 2021 will be about preventing homelessness. This Bill, in whatever form it emerges after the various Stages in this House and in the Seanad, could have a very important role to play in that. On that basis, I commend the Bill to the House.