I thank the committee for inviting the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government to discuss the subject of housing for people with disabilities. I am joined today by my colleagues, Mr. Aidan O’Reilly, principal officer, Mr. John Wickham, senior building standards adviser and Mr. Alan Byrne, assistant principal officer.
At the outset, I wish to assure the committee that the provision of housing for people with disabilities is a key priority for the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and for housing authorities. Working with a range of stakeholders, we are committed to achieving positive change for people with disabilities through the national housing strategy for people with a disability. Recognising that people with disability often have fewer choices in providing for their housing and accommodation needs and the importance of delivering better outcomes for these specific needs households, the aim of this strategy, which was jointly published with the Department of Health, is to facilitate access for people with disabilities to the appropriate range of housing and related support services. A key objective is also to ensure that services are delivered in an integrated and sustainable manner, which promotes equality of opportunity, individual choice and independent living.
The strategy was developed as part of a coherent framework, in conjunction with A Vision for Change, the strategy document which set out the direction for mental health services, the proposals of the report on the working group on congregated settings and the ongoing review of disability services, to support people with disabilities in community based living with maximum independence and choice.
The strategy has nine strategic aims, which collectively promote access for people with a disability to the full range of housing options available. One of the most important aims of the strategy is to foster effective inter-agency co-operation. Subsequent to the original publication of the strategy, a national implementation framework was developed and a partnership approach to implementation has been adopted between the two Departments, the Housing Agency, local authorities and disability stakeholders and we are working as a team to achieve the aims of the strategy.
This partnership approach has contributed in no small measure to a full appreciation of the fact that the provision of suitable housing is only one element in supporting people with disabilities to live fully inclusive lives. Whether a person with a disability is moving from an institutional setting or is already in the community, the personal care and other supports necessary to enable this must also be part of the offer of housing where these are necessary.
Identified actions in the strategy are driven primarily by the Housing Agency and a dedicated housing subgroup, comprising representatives from my Department, the Health Service Executive, the Department of Health, local authorities, the Irish Council for Social Housing, ICSH, and various disability representative organisations. At departmental level, an implementation monitoring group, which includes representatives from disability organisations and is chaired at assistant secretary level, was established in 2012 and this group monitors and reports on progress under the strategy.
From a strategic perspective, one of the most significant achievements of the strategy is the establishment of the housing and disability steering groups, HDSGs, in each local authority area which have prepared their own localised strategic plans for delivering housing in their areas for people with disabilities. The HDSGs are chaired by the local authority’s director of housing services, with representatives from the HSE, the approved housing body sector and representatives of the four disability sectors completing the membership. These have been established in each of the 31 local authorities.
People with disabilities are entitled to apply to their local authority for the full range of housing supports that are available to all applicants for housing support, including the housing assistance payment, HAP. The annual summary of social housing assessments provides data at local authority level as to how many households with disabilities are on the social housing waiting list at a given point in time each year. In 2018, there were 4,037 households with a disability on the list, down from 4,326 in 2017. Local authorities know from these data how many households they need to plan for and the national guidelines for the assessment and allocation process for housing provision for people with a disability ensure that they are enabled to appropriately assess applications for housing by persons with a disability. These guidelines were revised in 2017 and are a very practical and useful tool for local authorities in their assessment of applications at local level.
The delivery of housing for people with disabilities by local authorities and approved housing bodies is funded in a number of ways. Housing may be provided directly through the local authority capital programme, the long-term leasing programme or by way of the capital assistance scheme, CAS, and the capital advance leasing facility, programmes delivered through the approved housing body sector. In particular, CAS is directly targeted at providing accommodation for specific categories of need, including disability. Some €80.65 million was provided for dwellings under CAS in 2018, with a budget allocation of €94.87 million in 2019. There is also further specific funding available to local authorities of €15.075 million for the disabled persons grant scheme and the improvement works in lieu of local authority housing scheme, an increase of over €1 million from 2018 levels.
In addition to CAS funding for new accommodation, the housing adaptation grants for older people and people with a disability scheme provides funding for adaptations and extensions to private housing for people with disabilities to ensure that they can continue to live in their own homes. In 2018, 9,413 grants were provided under the scheme, with a total investment of €64.41 million. Funding for the scheme has increased year on year since 2014, and has been increased again in 2019 to €71.25 million, an increase of some 8% on the 2018 allocation. Significant work is being progressed to streamline how this scheme operates at local authority level and it will continue throughout the year with the introduction of a streamlined application process expected by year end. A key aim of the work is to ensure that the increased funding spreads the benefits as widely as possible to those who need it most and that the grants support the maximum numbers of households.
While funding for physical adaptations for people with disabilities is important, we should remember that there are many people with disabilities who do not require physical adaptations but for whom the design and location of housing is important. The housing strategy for people with a disability calls for the integration of good practice in the design and co-ordination of housing and related supports for people with disabilities and, in this regard, a number of initiatives have been put in place. The HSE and the Housing Agency have jointly published guidelines entitled Design for Mental Health, which is an international first of its kind. The guidelines identify ways in which homes can be designed to help to overcome the barriers to independent living experienced by people with certain mental health conditions. In addition, the Housing Agency is launching a new website with the title housingforall.ie, which is a design roadmap for anyone seeking an overview on providing accommodation for people with a disability and provides links to existing published legislation and guidance.
Part M of the building regulations underpins the principle of universal design and aims to foster an inclusive approach to the design and construction of the built environment. For dwellings, Part M aims to ensure that all new dwellings are visitable. The Department works closely with the National Disability Authority, NDA, and other stakeholders in reviewing and developing building regulations. In this context, future proofing all new housing versus adaptation of homes for individual specific needs as they arise requires a strong evidence-based approach. The Department understands that the NDA is working on a cost-benefit analysis of universal design in the context of action 97 of the National Disability Inclusion Strategy 2017-2021.
Government policies of improved land use, compact development and sustainable communities are manifesting in an increase in apartment buildings in urban centres. These embrace the fundamental principles of universal design and designing for all by their very nature and the requirements of the design guidelines for apartments. The Department has also collaborated with the Centre for Excellence in Universal Design on the homes for smart ageing universal design challenge, an initiative under the Rebuilding Ireland programme, action 2.19, and the programme of actions for smart ageing.
The national housing strategy for people with a disability is in its eighth year and we are now beginning to look to 2020, when it will be reviewed. The committee can be assured that we are committed to building on the progress made to date and to ensuring that people with a disability have the housing supports and services they require. I thank the committee again for the invitation to today’s session and my colleagues and I are more than happy to deal with any questions members might have.