National Homelessness Strategy: Discussion.

Members will recall from our meeting of 7 October 2008 that a request was sent to the MakeRoom Alliance to make a presentation to the committee on the national homelessness strategy. The campaign alliance consists of four main charities that deal with homelessness and their chief executives are here today. Copies of the strategy have been circulated by the clerk. A delegation from the alliance is here to discuss its concerns on the strategy. I welcome the members to the meeting. Those present include: Ms Niamh Randall from the Simon Communities of Ireland — who will be joined by Mr. Patrick Burke, CEO, who is attending another meeting in the building; Ms Joyce Loughnane represents Focus Ireland; Mr. Eoin Ó Broin is from the MakeRoom Alliance; and Mr. Bob Jordan is from Threshold. Apologies have been received from the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. I thank Mr. Ó Broin and the delegation for attending.

The format of the meeting will involve brief presentations followed by a question and answer session. I draw witnesses' attention to the fact that Members of the Oireachtas have absolute privilege but the same privilege does not apply to witnesses appearing before the committee. Members are reminded of the long-standing tradition to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I invite Ms Loughnane to commence her presentation.

Ms Joyce Loughnane

I thank the Chairman for the invitation to the committee and for introducing the members of the alliance. The MakeRoom Alliance was created in 2005 as a response to the Government's commitment to end long-term homelessness by 2010. The alliance is composed of Focus Ireland, the Simon Communities of Ireland, Threshold and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. We are the four national organisations that deliver the majority of services to people who are homeless or are at risk of being homeless.

We worked closely with the Government to create the national homelessness strategy, which was launched in August this year. At that time it was not accompanied by an implementation plan. We had a constructive meeting with the Minister last week and he has agreed that the MakeRoom Alliance can participate in a constructive, meaningful way in terms of formulating what the implementation plan will look like by the end of this year.

We wish to inform the committee of what we are doing and heighten the committee's awareness of our position on the strategy. The implementation plan needs to detail all the accountability, the timelines and from where the resources will come to fund the various actions that are required to realise the strategy. We are all aware of the political and economic dynamics in which we exist. We all find there has been an increased demand for our services as a result of the economic climate that prevails. We need to be able to work and have our opinions brought to bear because of the experience we have and the fact that we are working practically on the ground. We know what needs to happen to end homelessness by 2010. We are all committed to achieving that aim, ambitious as it is.

In terms of what else has to happen with the implementation plan, there needs to be meaningful participation in the monitoring of the plan and the evaluation of its execution in 2009 and 2010. We wish to give an overview of our strategic aims. We will not go through the entire strategy. Mr. Jordan from Threshold will outline the priorities as we see them for preventing homelessness and meeting the long-term housing need. Ms Randall will talk about how to end people sleeping rough and what changes are needed to allow people to move out of emergency accommodation into long-term homes. Mr. Eoin Ó Broin will speak on behalf of the representatives of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, who apologise for not being able to attend today. He will refer to aspects of improving the delivery of services to homeless people and outline how funding needs to be co-ordinated.

Mr. Bob Jordan

Members of the committee will be aware that homelessness was first dealt with in Ireland by voluntary organisations, beginning approximately 40 years ago. Therefore, much of the expertise on homelessness concerned bringing food to people on the streets and creating emergency hostels and shelters. It was a matter of dealing with the emergency aspects of homelessness to ensure people would not die on the streets and would have somewhere to go at night.

Between 1996 and 1999, the national number of homeless persons doubled. As a response, the Government created its first national homelessness strategy which focused predominantly on emergency measures. We now need to consider moving people out of the hostels and shelters into longer-term housing, and also preventing people from becoming homeless in the fist place.

People in emergency accommodation face significant blockages. The majority of homeless people are single and most of these are men. The members will be aware that, in this country, social housing is not built for single people. We are, therefore, asking the Government to maintain its focus on building social housing according to the national development plan targets but also to ring-fence social housing for people coming out of hostels and shelters for the homeless. This has been very difficult to achieve to date.

If this social housing is not in place, other measures will need to be considered. A new scheme, the rental accommodation scheme, uses the private rental sector as a means of moving people out of homelessness. We would like individual local authorities to set aside places under the rental accommodation scheme or social housing for those coming out of homelessness. This would make a very significant difference.

There are those who will not be able to live independently. We are very well aware of the kinds of problems homeless people have in respect of health, including mental health, addiction and literacy and language. Therefore, there is a need for supported housing, that is, housing with staff members on the premises to look after those who require care. Under the implementation plan for the new strategy, there needs to be a dedicated funding stream for this. The Health Service Executive can obviously deal with the pure care element but there is a need for the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to provide money to support people coming out of homelessness.

An issue arises regarding the levels of rent supplement. One will be aware that, in general, the rent supplement measure works satisfactorily. However, single people in particular receive a very small sum. It amounts to €130 per week in Dublin, for which one gets a very basic bed-sit. We would like there to be a focus on raising the level of rent supplement and extending it to the working poor to lift them out of very poor quality accommodation.

We welcome the commitment to introduce new standards and regulations for the private rented sector. This will make a considerable difference to those in substandard accommodation. Standards require enforcement and it is a matter of ensuring local authorities inspect properties. This will be the key to ensuring the regulations work.

With regard to the prevention of homelessness, we can track where people who are homeless come from. It is fair to say many of them come out of State institutions, including prisons and hospitals, and out of care. More emphasis ought to be placed on encouraging the staff in these institutions to prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place. To date, the focus has been on protocols and working arrangements between institutions. People with a dedicated responsibility to ensure no one from their respective institutions falls into homelessness need to be involved in this process.

There is a local element to homelessness. One of the key foci of the strategy is ensuring, at local level, that people do not become homeless. We want the roles of the local homelessness fora to be emphasised. We welcome the fact that a lead person will be appointed in each local authority to deal with the local homelessness fora. This will make a difference.

A new term, "tenancy sustainment", has arisen recently in the homelessness sector. It implies there are people living in accommodation who need someone to visit them to ensure they receive adequate support, get on satisfactorily in their accommodation and do not leave bills unpaid or interfere with their neighbours. This element of the strategy needs to be emphasised further in terms of prevention. In other words, there should be a key role for tenancy sustainment in ensuring people do not lose their current accommodation and end up going to homelessness services. There is an economic argument for this in that it is a lot cheaper to deliver a service such as tenancy sustainment than a 24-hour emergency homelessness service.

It is a question of moving people out of homelessness and preventing them from becoming homelessness. I will hand over to Ms Niamh Randall, who will talk about the emergency aspect of homelessness.

Ms Niamh Randall

As stated, I will focus most on the crisis end of homelessness. Although great strides have been made in recent years, unfortunately there are still people sleeping on the streets of Dublin and the rest of our cities at night. There are also people spending long periods in hostels who are subject to a cycle of staying with friends and relatives and then re-entering hostels. Addressing this is critical to resolving the issue of homelessness.

Aim two of the strategy concentrates on the elimination of the need to sleep rough. There needs to be greater focus on information provision for rough sleepers, locally based services where people may have existing support networks and access to all-day services, including toilet and bathing facilities. These may seem very basic but they are a real necessity.

We are very supportive of the care and case management approach, as described in the strategy. We have concerns, however, over how it will be implemented in reality, particularly with regard to people who are sleeping rough. They comprise a group that is very difficult to reach and can be difficult to engage with by way of such intensive interventions.

We acknowledge the link between drug use, alcohol use and homelessness. It is critical that there be greater access to detoxification services, rehabilitation, drug-free facilities and harm-reduction services.

With regard to housing people in existing rental accommodation, we are very supportive of housing people where there is a ready supply of mainstream housing, but only if the required additional supports are available.

Aim three of the strategy focuses on the elimination of long-term homelessness. In this regard, we focused on the elements that require to be prioritised in the implementation plan. To eliminate long-term homelessness, it is critical that each local authority, as a matter of urgency, identifies all individuals in its area who have been homeless for more than six months. It is also important that needs assessments are undertaken with each individual focusing on his or her health, social care and housing needs. This should be part of an overall care and case management approach.

If we are to house people in a place they can call home in the longer term, we need to consider the designation of emergency accommodation as long-term accommodation. This must be dependent on adherence to quality standards and additional wrap-around support services, as needed.

It is critical that specifications for accommodation suitable for long-term application are developed in the first quarter of 2009. As Mr. Jordan stated, the investment in social housing provision is essential if we are to put people into long-term sustainable housing. Mr. Eoin Ó Broin will discuss the remaining aims of the strategy.

Mr. Eoin Ó Broin

The last two aims of the strategy deal with providing quality services and better co-ordinated funding structures. These are two of the underpinning elements required to ensure those involved in service delivery can do what Mr. Jordan, Ms Loughnane and Ms Randall outlined.

With regard to better quality services, there are two parts of the strategy we would like to see emphasised, the first of which concerns models of best practice. Clearly there is considerable experience in the statutory and voluntary sectors and we would like to see the best practice guidelines developed as quickly as possible, learning particularly from the experience of front-line staff, be they working for local authorities, the Department or our own organisations. The speedy production of the best practice guidelines is vital.

The other issue, which is probably more contentious, concerns the definition of homelessness, which is outlined in section 10 of the Housing Act 1988. While sections of this Bill are very good, our four organisations and almost every single voluntary and non-governmental organisation throughout the European Union believe the definition in section 10 is too restrictive to incorporate all the experiences of homelessness in the 21st century. We are really keen to have incorporated into law the definition espoused by all NGOs and voluntary sector providers throughout the European Union, that is, the ethos definition of homelessness. Put very simply, one does not talk of being roofless, living on the streets, or homeless, living in emergency accommodation. It also includes people living in appropriate secure accommodation, for example, those experiencing domestic violence among other things. It is that broader, most inclusive, definition.

Interestingly, the homeless agency here in Dublin utilises that ethos definition in its day to day work. The Government acknowledges the value of this and includes ethos in an appendix to the homeless strategy. The Minister has said clearly it is not his intention to redefine in law the definition of homelessness. If one does not have the correct definition it is very difficult to solve the problem in the long term and I would like if the committee might devote its attention to that.

In terms of better co-ordinated funding arrangements, there are three brief points to be made. Money is very tight and everybody is aware of that, so the better our ability to plan in the medium term the more efficient the use of resources the State gives us. Therefore, if we have a plan covering multiannual or three year cycles it means we will use the money better. We understand the constraints because of the way the current budget expenditure is worked through Government, but there has to be a creative solution that will allow some form of multiannual funding to facilitate strategic planning in organisations such as ours, which will ultimately allow us to spend money more effectively.

Essentially there are three Departments that deal with homelessness. There is obviously the Department, with which this committee is involved, but there are also the HSE, the Department of Health and Children and the Department of Social and Family Affairs. That creates a certain structural confusion, despite the best efforts of officials in all the Departments. We really need to seek greater clarity in terms of the lead Department working in all these areas. The Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, was very clear, when he launched the strategy in August, that one of its aims was to move people out of emergency accommodation into long-term housing. We strongly support that for the reasons people have outlined. There are two ways in which this may be done. If the expenditure for the long-term housing people need access to is front-loaded, once that is done people move from emergency conditions into long-term housing and savings are created in the medium to long term. Alternatively, the savings may be made immediately in the emergency area as people are moved into long-term accommodation. However, we do not believe the second option is feasible as it would have too much of a negative impact on the emergency accommodation being provided. We are much more in favour of front-loading in terms of the preventative and long-term housing Mr. Jordan talked about, but the savings will come about as people are moved out of emergency accommodation.

I welcome the witnesses and acknowledge the fantastic work they are doing for people who find themselves in this position and are obviously less well off than we are. I have just a few matters on which to comment. From my experience of a local authority before my election to the Dáil, the housing of single people was a major issue, and still is. I always felt that single people were being discriminated against as they tend to find themselves at the wrong end of the spectrum in the housing area. I come from a rural area where we do not experience the same level of housing need and homelessness as cities or major towns. Having said that, I can see that the problem has spread into the country, too, in recent years and is causing serious problems in our rural towns. In recent years, again, the break-up of families has been on the increase and, very often, males, in particular find themselves homeless as a result. While we are facing into bad times at the moment and money might not be so plentiful, it is a good time to have a serious look at the situation because land availability, for instance, is at a different level today compared, for example, to 12 months or two years ago. Perhaps now is a good time to tackle this problem from the viewpoint of getting value for money.

There are developments standing idle. Just how suitable they are for single homeless people is a moot question, but I know there are very good developments with no one living in them. Perhaps local authorities could purchase such housing. Many buildings could be transformed so that two or three people might live in them. Many people would welcome having company and it would be an advantage to have two or three living in a dwelling rather than a sole occupier. I am not a great believer in people living on their own. Most people like some company, regardless of what stage they are at in life.

Again, I welcome the witnesses' fantastic work. For my part, I should like to see these matters being addressed. I should like the witnesses' suggestions to be taken on board and considered by the relevant people. Perhaps we might invite in the Minister at some stage to discuss these matters at committee level.

I propose to call a couple of committee members and then we have some comments from the witnesses.

I welcome the delegation to the committee and acknowledge the work of the individual agencies. I know that for many years they have been working at the coalface, often without the ear of politicians — this must be acknowledged. I also welcome that the bodies have created this alliance because it is a good way for them to go about their business. After all they all have similar aims and objectives. I welcome that they can come before the committee as a powerful alliance, to inform and heighten our awareness of the work they do.

Much work is being done within local authorities to try to address the whole area of homelessness and the housing problem in general. I am a former member of a local authority in Waterford, where there was positive discrimination for single men. Only in recent times were units being specifically allocated for single people and I welcomed that at the time. However, it was just an ad hoc arrangement in one particular local authority. The bodies here today are lobbying, I believe, for a more recognised consistent approach across all local authorities, where single people and their needs are taken into account and I welcome moves in that direction. Local authorities will benefit as will the homeless and single people if some effort is concentrated in that area.

The delegates have dealt with areas of enormous concern to their respective organisations such as prevention, emergency response, the definition of homelessness, etc., and all of those areas need to be tackled. I, as a Fine Gael spokesman, will try to raise awareness within my parliamentary party. This is another platform, as a joint committee of the Oireachtas and I hope we can come up with a report with regard to homelessness, after listening to the delegates' views. Hopefully, we shall have the opportunity to question the Minister and his officials. I expect that he will rely heavily on his document, The Way Home, and the homeless strategy which was announced in August this year.

Perhaps I can ask a few pointed questions to get the views of the agencies on that. While the document has raised the issue of the homeless in Ireland — that is to be welcomed — do the agencies believe adequate funding is being set aside in budgets to realistically target and achieve what the strategy sets out? I know this is a pointed question but we need to have the delegates' views on this. As regards local authorities and their role in tackling homelessness, do the agencies believe they have the staff with the necessary qualifications and expertise to deal with homelessness? That is probably a hard question for local authorities, but I need to ask the agencies this, because they are interacting with them on a daily basis.

There is a preconception that regardless of what is done or what help or assistance is offered to some homeless people, some individuals will choose to remain homeless. Do the agencies agree with that view and, in the event, how might this be addressed because I believe the general public sometimes have this preconception? It is a barrier that needs to be broken down. I would like to hear the delegates' views in this regard.

I have spoken with some of the witnesses about the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2008 that is going through the Seanad. I acknowledge their professionalism in their submissions to Members. I appreciate the way they approached the whole issue, on which I compliment them. There is no proper definition of homelessness in the Bill. What are the views of the witnesses on that?

I too welcome the groups. I compliment them on their presentation and the marvellous work they are doing. I suppose things are different in the cities than they are in the small towns in my constituency. I compliment my own county council for appointing two officers a few years ago to deal with homelessness. In some of my Friday evening clinics, I might come across an unfortunate person who has no place to stay over the weekend, due to marriage difficulties or alcoholism. Those two officers are always on the telephone at 8 p.m. on a Friday and it is great to see them doing the work in very difficult circumstances. They often find it difficult to get accommodation. There might be an experience from the past where a difficult individual got into a bed and breakfast and the owner does not want to facilitate the officers. It is not an easy job for them, although I am sure the witnesses have an even more difficult job in the cities.

We all know that most homeless people are single people. What are the statistics for single men as opposed to single women? Are there many foreign nationals involved? The witnesses spoke about language difficulties, which must be very difficult. When I was a member of the county council, many one-bedroom apartments were being built and these were always there for such people. I left the council in 2003 and its the policy seems to have changed to build two-bedroom apartments. There is much more demand for two-bedroom apartments, and many elderly and single people are being left behind, which is very unfair. If children are involved, such applicants will get accommodation quicker than a single person. Such problems should be brought to the attention of the Minister. I am sure the witnesses, Oireachtas Members and councillors have all come across these problems.

There are difficult cases and it can be very hard to reach out to some of these people. This is especially the case if drugs or drink is involved. However, the people in charge of all this in my county are doing great work in very difficult circumstances.

Ms Joyce Loughnane

I would like to respond to Deputy O'Sullivan's points. His point that there is more evidence to suggest an increase in homelessness in rural areas is correct. We are waiting for the housing needs assessment to be published so that we can figure out the need nationally and respond to it. It is far better for us to provide services locally. Part of the strategy in the implementation plan will have to detail how that is to be done so that we can move the services out. Traditionally, people came to the city to seek help from the services. We now need to start providing services locally, where there is the demand.

The Deputy also made a point about developments that are partially finished and are lying vacant. There are opportunities to take advantage of the economic situation as it stands. There is capacity in the construction sector and there is great value to be had in that sector. We have been trying to get access to housing in a very buoyant property market in recent years. It would be a shame if we did not exploit the opportunities and take advantage of the partly developed and fully developed environments.

Senator Coffey asked whether we think the funding is adequate. We are all very pragmatic and know the economic situation that prevails. The budget indicates that there has been a cut in allocation to social housing. There is a huge challenge to ensure that the programme outlined by Mr. Jordan delivers the social housing infrastructure that is needed. We must get value for the money we receive and use it well. There has been an increase in the RAS allocation which we welcome. It will open doors to housing access, so we will try to take advantage by using the RAS as a funding stream to enter into leases with landlords and so on.

There has also been an increase in the funding to homeless services. Most of that goes into emergency provision. The emphasis for the future needs to be on the long-term solution, rather than putting all the money into dealing with the crisis and managing people in a crisis. There is far better value for money to be gained by investing in the long-term solution. In working with the Minister and his Department to formulate this implementation plan, it is our challenge to get value from the resources that are there and to articulate the resources that are needed to realise the strategy.

I will ask Mr. Jordan to answer the question about the capability of local authority staff to deal with homelessness.

Mr. Bob Jordan

I wish to make one more point to Deputy O'Sullivan about the empty houses. There are over 200,000 vacant properties in Ireland, and over 40,000 of them are in Dublin. Many of them were given section 23 and section 27 tax breaks. Those tax breaks work to reward people for keeping them unoccupied. We would like to see those tax breaks linked to occupation, especially where there is a social need. Not all of them will be appropriate for our needs, but there are so many vacant properties that they need to be put to good use, given the current economic climate.

I was in Limerick yesterday dealing with homeless services, and one can imagine the situations that are arising there. People on the front line are doing excellent work, but the issue is about what they have to offer. Unfortunately, when a single person registers for the housing list in a local authority, there is a sense of despair on both sides that there will be nothing available for them. We all acknowledge that homeless people are the most disadvantaged, so there needs to be some portion of housing set aside specifically for them, once there is proof of homelessness. The concern that has blocked this initiative has been the sense that people might go homeless in order to get quicker access to local authority housing. We are concerned here with people who have a legitimate need for accommodation. If it is not social housing, it must be accommodation provided through the rental accommodation scheme, as Ms Loughnane mentioned, which is to use the private rented sector.

Ms Joyce Loughnane

I will hand over to Ms Randall to answer the question on whether people choose to remain homeless.

Ms Niamh Randall

To underline the fact, the root causes of homelessness are poverty and disadvantage. Nobody would choose to be homeless, nobody would choose to sleep rough and certainly nobody would sleep in emergency accommodation if they had any other choices. Sometimes there may be triggers such as a personal crisis, a physical or mental health issue or drug or alcohol use which lead a person to become homeless, but nobody would choose to stay there if they had any options.

In our services, we see the rapid deterioration of people in terms of physical and mental health issues once they become homeless. In addition, to take drug or alcohol use, one will see an increase in terms of frequency of use, unsafe practices and so on once they become homeless. We would always respect the right of people to choose, including to choose to access our services, but the issue around choices is limited by the options and opportunities that are available to people. If one thinks of the impacts on somebody who is rough sleeping or living in emergency accommodation, a person's self-esteem takes a major blow and his or her mental health will not be good — the person will not be in a good place. It may appear to others that the person is choosing to be there but that is never the case.

Ms Joyce Loughnane

Mr. Ó Broin will answer the question on the housing Bill.

Mr. Eoin Ó Broin

I thank Senator Coffey for the question. As members will know, the purpose of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill was primarily to put the "Delivering Homes, Sustaining Communities" policy statement of last year into legislative form. However, it seems to us it is also a huge opportunity to put into legislation the commitments outlined in "The Way Home" homeless strategy launched by the Minister in August this year, and also to introduce some of the other issues around homeless service provision and prevention into the legislation.

We were surprised when we saw the first draft of the Bill that the word "homelessness" was only mentioned once throughout the Bill, although it is quite a substantial document. We have been engaging very hard with Deputies and Senators from all of the political parties, as well as officials in the Department, and we have raised the issue with the Minister. We are hopeful we can get cross-party support for very constructive amendments to the Bill that mainstream homeless issues throughout a number of different sections.

We would also like to see the two core elements of the homeless strategy put on a statutory footing in the Bill — the homeless action plans as they are called which will be delivered by local authorities and, second, the homeless fora which will be delivered by local authorities, other statutory providers and voluntary sector bodies. However, they are not in the amendments that will be dealt with on Committee Stage in the Seanad tomorrow. Again, we will be talking to all involved to try to ensure those amendments are included at the first opportunity.

We are all agreed we want to see the homeless action plans, the homeless fora and some form of allocation and ring-fencing of allocations at a local authority level to homeless people on the basis of need. If we are all agreed on the principles, it is just a technical question of getting the amendments made. We obviously urge all members to talk to their parliamentary party colleagues to try to ensure we get the maximum benefit from this Bill, which is a very welcome opportunity.

I call Deputy Lynch, who will be followed by Deputy Flanagan.

I welcome the members of the various groups and commend them on the report. I know some of those present at a national level and I know some of their organisations at a local level. This comes from my previous experience when I worked with the City of Cork VEC in providing education programmes to the homeless or those under threat of homelessness, particularly in trying to move people into sheltered housing situations.

The first point that struck me when I was elected to Dáil Éireann was that when I walk down Molesworth Street in the morning or late at night, there are people lying on the street. It is a daily reminder to anybody in Leinster House of the issue of homelessness because one is literally stepping over people to get in and out of this building late at night.

One of the witnesses referred to mainstreaming of the issue. This relates to two points, namely, the philosophical position regarding homelessness and who ultimately owns the problem. When I was in Cork City Council, in conjunction with the Simon Community there was a proposal to put a wet house in a particular area of Cork, which created bedlam among the business community. There was a school in the area and all the parents, teachers and principals, with local residents, shamefully campaigned against the house. What made this peculiar was that there were two lap-dancing clubs and a sex shop in the area before the idea of the wet house was suggested and not one single objection was lodged against any of those, which would point to the reading in some people's minds when it comes to considering a strategy against homelessness. I am aware these are some of the difficulties the agencies must deal with. Everybody wants to see a solution to the problem but they may not want to see that solution based in their locality.

In recent years, there has been a drift into the mainstream in the voluntary housing area, a point the various groups might need to consider. I am not sure if this is such a good idea. I operate from a philosophical position that whether one is that guy lying homeless in Molesworth Street or somebody living in a local authority house, people have an ambition to own the home in which they live. The movement of the voluntary housing sector into mainstream housing inhibits that. I wonder if it is a distraction from providing the type of services the sector should be providing.

I would like to see the homeless agencies getting back into the niche areas of the voluntary housing sector, where they would deal with tenancy sustainment, to use a current term, whether this involves the rental accommodation scheme or the voluntary housing agency taking a section and providing that type of tenancy. I do not see the role of many voluntary housing agencies as being to deal with three-bedroom houses when there is a massive shortage of sustainable tenancies. I would support the agencies in any lobbying they would undertake in this area.

If that line was pursued, there would be a clear and measurable objective. I know some agencies are touching on this area and some are more developed in this regard but, given the current circumstances, there is a niche. This could be done at a multi-agency level. Local authorities do not have the experience of dealing with the client group the agencies deal with. God knows, I dealt with them and the rules of parliamentary language would prohibit me from describing some of the clients I came across. There are psychiatric cases, alcoholic cases and many issues that require attention and a multi-agency and multidisciplinary approach. The voluntary agency approach is the best method of achieving this.

The Minister today announced improvements in standards in housing, which is welcome albeit there is a four year moratorium before we would see the existing build coming up to scratch. However, I know from my experience and the witnesses see on a daily basis that at the bottom rung of the social housing ladder — Mr. Jordan referred to this in his presentation — is the over-40 single male.

The various groups have suggested amendments to the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill and I would like to see a copy of these before the Bill comes to the Dáil. There is a requirement to loosen up the rental accommodation scheme. At present, the qualification criteria are that one must be in receipt of social welfare or rent allowance for 18 months. The scheme should be available for people who are not on rent allowance and should not be for people in receipt of social welfare. If people are on low wages, there should be mixed build development, to which Deputy O'Sullivan referred. We would not end up with homeless ghettoes, which we are trying to move people out of. Deputy O'Sullivan's point is critical. We should have a blend of housing and of clients.

Perhaps that is a bit ambitious of me but I know the various groups share that ambition. When a person comes off the street, it is not just about him having a roof for the next 24 hours but about a long-term way of getting that person back into some sort of self value, self productivity, giving him some degree of self-worth and some meaningful role in society. This can only be done with a housing strategy that incorporates such people back into society, not some unit at the end of an estate under Part V that is the "homeless house". Something more is required.

I am particularly interested in the delegates' views on the definition of homelessness. Local authorities seem uncertain in this regard. For example, Cork City Council's figures give an inaccurate reflection of the city's homeless figures because of the criteria for the regular housing assessment list. It is a distraction from the types of clients they are trying to represent. It might be helpful for the delegates to engage with the local authorities to ascertain their definitions. The figures for Cork city are skewed. There are many homeless people in the city but the figure does not run to the several hundreds suggested by the council's housing list.

I am interested to hear about what was referred to as "structural confusion". I assume this relates to local authorities, the Health Service Executive, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the relevant agencies under the Department's remit. The existing rent allowance system was originally part of a homeless strategy but evolved into a mainstream benefit which ended up serving no purpose. It created a massive distortion in the housing markets, with hundreds of millions of euro going into the private tenancy area on an annual basis, significantly inflating rents. One could argue that the rental accommodation scheme will also inflate rents. The rent allowance scheme was ineffective in several respects. There was no monitoring of property standards, landlord behaviour or tenant behaviour. There may be some scope for this in the rental accommodation scheme.

It was an obvious omission to include no direction on homelessness within the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2008. Any improvement in this area will be a direct consequence of the activities of the groups represented today. What that means in bricks and mortar and in euro and cents is another day's work after the Bill is enacted. I thank the delegates for attending the meeting. They are pushing an open door on some of these issues. Government and Opposition committee members have their own roles to play but we are all interested in their views. I look forward to working with them as the Bill goes through the Oireachtas.

I thank the delegates from the MakeRoom Alliance for their presentation and for all the good work they do. Their efforts make a great difference to the homeless. As Deputy Lynch said, the extent of the homelessness problem is very much in one's face in the two-mile radius around Leinster House, particularly in the evenings.

Are the delegates receiving sufficient funding for their work? What are the main difficulties they have identified in advancing their objectives? One of the Government's greatest failings in the past ten years is the failure to eliminate homelessness. It is shameful that almost 4,000 people are on the streets. This figure is taken from the 2005 assessment of housing report, which is probably no longer accurate. Is another assessment of housing due to take place soon? We can only assume the figure is even higher in 2008.

What action plan has been put in place over the next six years to eliminate homelessness? Will 500 people be housed on a yearly basis? Will an action plan be produced at the end of every year so that targets can be assessed and new ones set out for the coming year? I refer to an implementation plan to be done on a step-by-step basis. The report contains much that is useful but unless it is reduced to small steps, and unless the smallest steps are seen to be achieved, we will get nowhere on this.

Have any homeless people had to be turned away from emergency accommodation or any type of homeless accommodation because of insufficient funding or a breakdown in the system? Is it possible to put a figure on how much it would cost to eliminate homelessness? I understand there will always be a certain number of homeless people, because there will always be people who do not want to be helped or who find it difficult to accept such assistance.

The delegates' presentation document states that approximately 90% of homeless people have one or more physical health complaints. What supports are available for these persons, as well as those with mental health difficulties and alcohol and drug abuse issues? Given that the number of home repossessions is increasing, do the delegates predict that significant numbers may become homeless in this way in the coming years? How relevant is the report, given the sudden change in the State's economic fortunes?

In regard to the rental allowance scheme, are the delegates satisfied with the impact it is having on homelessness? I am interested in their views as people who are working at the coalface.

I confess that I am not very familiar with the work done nationally by the MakeRoom Alliance. However, I am very much aware of what is being done by communities, religious groups and voluntary groups in my own county of Kildare. I am also well aware of the activities of the Simon Community in my area and of the quality of the people working within these organisations. The Simon Community, for example, has very professional staff manning its telephones who do a wonderful job helping those less privileged than themselves.

I wonder how some of the groups represented today work in smaller communities. I have in mind, for example, the work done by Sr. Consilio in Athy in caring for alcoholics and others down on their luck. How does a national organisation feed into such small community services and draw on them for the support necessary for individuals who come to its notice?

In regard to the difficulties experienced by single people in accessing social housing, is there any way to incorporate actions in this regard into the housing strategies of the various local authorities? The houses for single occupancy that are being built in Kildare are primarily intended for senior citizens. Why are single people in their 30s, 40s and upwards not eligible for such housing?

While most Travellers are not generally considered homeless, some of them live in appalling conditions of overcrowding and other social deprivations. How do the delegates see their organisations working with Travellers to encourage them to move to permanent accommodation?

Deputy Johnny Brady told us that there are two members of staff in Meath County Council whose brief is to deal with homelessness. Is it standard practice in all local authorities to have officials who deal exclusively with the homeless on a continuous basis? Is there co-operation between these staff, via the strategic policy committees, and the organisations represented today?

Before reverting to the witnesses, I wish to ask one or two questions. How many housing units do the various organisations represented by the witnesses own, rent or manage? If the witnesses have the figures to hand, they should outline to members how many people who were homeless have been successfully put through their books and no longer are on the books.

While I apologise for interrupting, a vote has been called in the Dáil.

Regrettably we are caught for time and only have a couple of minutes in which to conclude our deliberations. I apologise but the vote called in the main Chamber is beyond members' control. The witnesses should make a few brief comments.

Ms Joyce Loughnane

Should we come back to members with answers to their questions?

Do members wish to suspend for the vote and then return briefly? They already have met for two hours. What do they choose to do?

I have no difficulty in coming back for ten minutes after the vote.

What is Deputy Flanagan's view?

I have no problem with that.

If the witnesses are in a position to wait for 15 minutes while Deputies vote, the joint committee will suspend for that time.

My final question, on which the witnesses can chew before members return as soon as practicable, pertains to people who are refused access to the housing list by local authorities. Such people may previously have left houses or had rent arrears. I refer in particular to people who have a bad history with their local authority. Does the existence of organisations such as those represented by the witnesses make it easier for local authorities to tell such people to find accommodation somewhere else? If such organisations did not exist, would local authorities be obliged to be a little more careful? When a local authority refuses someone access to its list because he or she had refused accommodation previously, the witnesses' organisations probably are providing a safety net to enable local authorities to take the easy option. The witnesses should respond to that question on our return.

We will suspend now for approximately 15 minutes.

Sitting suspended at 5.21 p.m. and resumed at 5.48 p.m.

I invite the delegates to respond to the questions asked before the suspension and I thank them for bearing with us during the Dáil vote.

Ms Joyce Loughnane

I thank the Chairman. We welcome the opportunity to answer members' questions. Rather than going through who asked what, we will group them.

One question concerned how to overcome the resistance we encounter when we try to house the homeless in a socially inclusive community. The name of the MakeRoom Alliance was chosen for this reason. We must campaign to get all stakeholders to make room for the people we serve. Every assistance the members and others can provide in overcoming resistance is most welcome.

In the homeless strategy, there is a move to set up fora in each local area, which would bring all stakeholders in each area to the table. We feel it can also help in this regard. Our experience of housing people in local communities is that those in the communities are far more welcoming when they understand who they are and that they are from the local community.

With regard to actions, a step-by-step approach is not in place and we expect this must be done as part of preparing the implementation plan. The costs of solving homelessness are not available. We believe the journey of preparing the implementation plan is to detail what resources are required to ensure a step-by-step action plan is achieved.

Questions were asked about consolidating voluntary housing associations and that we should focus on a niche area. We believe we do so and the niche area we try to serve are those who are homeless or at risk of being homeless. We are not in the business of working on the general needs of vast housing estates. We work on a much smaller scale and are focused on who we serve and trying to ensure they get a home.

Work needs to be done on agreeing the appropriate housing models. The vision people have of who is homeless is the person one sees sleeping rough. This is not the nature of everyone who is homeless. Hundreds of people in emergency and transition accommodation are capable of living in mainstream housing. The key issue is that they cannot live there without support and this is why the supported housing model is what we advocate. As long as agencies such as ours provide these people with support, the majority of people we work with can live in mainstream housing. Part of public awareness is getting people to understand who is homeless and the nature of the situation.

The answer to the question on whether we have enough funding is "No". All the service providers are dependent on their private fund-raising activities to deliver their core service. Funding provided should be sufficient to deliver the core service on a cost recovery basis and any moneys raised privately should be kept for value added activities. This is not the case. A large percentage of our funding comes from private donations and, unfortunately, given the economic climate, this is diminishing significantly and rapidly. However, demand for our services is increasing. We are faced with a major quandary.

I will hand over to Mr. Jordan who will tackle the issues of the rental accommodation scheme and standards of accommodation.

Mr. Bob Jordan

Comments were made about the rental accommodation scheme. The RAS is a scheme whereby responsibility for people in receipt of rent supplement for 18 months or longer is transferred from the Department of Social and Family Affairs to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. Local authorities have responsibility for housing these people on the basis that they have been on rent supplement for a long time and they have a housing need.

We are supportive of this scheme. Until now, social housing was not available for single people so our people were blocked from progressing. At least RAS provides them with a move-on option. Many of them live in the rental sector already and are familiar with it. The benefits of the rental accommodation scheme in terms of units is that generally the quality of the accommodation is better. People are in receipt of differential rent which means they have the opportunity to go out and work which is good. Many people have taken up this option. We would like to see a proviso that RAS would not be the final destination for everybody. People need to be reassessed for social housing after a period to ensure it is their final option. It could be for some people and there is no problem with this.

The standard of rented accommodation remains an issue and a great deal is happening in this regard. Today's announcements are important whereby local authorities can force the new minimum standards regulations to ensure people do not have to live in very poor quality accommodation. By this we do not mean grotty or out of date accommodation; we mean no hot and cold running water, damp and mould growing on ceilings and walls and vermin infestation. The State is paying for this and it is appropriate that the rental accommodation scheme would step in and demand higher standards and that the new standards would be enforced.

Deputy Ciarán Lynch suggested that people should not have to be in receipt of rent supplement or wait 18 months and we support this. The working poor receive no help although they are struggling. These are people who work full time but happen to be in low paid jobs and receive no help with their housing costs. Given the current climate, if something is not done to help them, they might be in a much worse situation. Extending rent supplement and RAS to the working poor would be a homelessness prevention measure.

Tenancy sustainment is critical in terms of preventing homelessness and ensuring people do not lose their accommodation because they do not have behaviour support such as somebody visiting them and ensuring everything is okay. When people move out of a homeless hostel or shelter, they go from living in a dormitory with many other people to living in a bedsit on their own. An adjustment needs to made and tenancy sustainment is important. The implementation plan of the strategy needs to recognise both the prevention and move-on functions of tenancy sustainment.

Tenant monitoring can be dealt with through tenancy sustainment. To a large extent, landlord monitoring is the responsibility of community welfare officers and local authorities. We have seen the damage done by the lack of enforcement of minimum standards regulations. We must ensure this is carried through.

The homes of many people are being repossessed. The owners could afford to purchase housing in the first place and they need help to manage housing debt. We are interested in the people in the houses being repossessed as many are rented houses. Often, houses are repossessed but the tenants in the property do not know anything about the repossession until the sheriff arrives and they are made homeless. At the court hearings account needs to be taken of the tenants in the property. We suggest they need to receive the regular notice one receives under the Residential Tenancies Act and we have had signals on this.

Illegal evictions have been highlighted recently. Because landlords are struggling to pay their mortgages, they are less forgiving of tenants who get into trouble with rent arrears. However, tenants who are behaving well and paying rent are also being forced out because landlords want to receive higher rent from other tenants. This is on the rise and is a cause of homelessness. It needs to be taken seriously. Today, I met the Garda Commissioner to discuss the behaviour of gardaí in such a situation. It is a civil matter and we want to ensure it is dealt with appropriately through the Private Residential Tenancies Board and that nothing is done to contribute to people becoming homeless.

Ms Joyce Loughnane

Mr. Ó Broin will answer questions on local authorities and structural issues.

Mr. Eoin Ó Broin

One of the difficulties for local authorities is that they work on the basis of the legal definition we have from the 1988 Act. This was introduced into law at a time when society's understanding of homelessness was different from what it is today. It was far more limited. People's sense of homelessness was the rough sleeper or the older man with alcohol issues sleeping in a dormitory-style hostel. Homelessness is far more than this. It is a complex phenomenon which incorporates a broader range of people. Local authorities are constrained by the relatively ambiguous legal definition that exists at present. When the housing needs assessment was published in 2005, one local authority returned a homeless figure of zero despite the fact that one of our organisations operated emergency accommodation in that area. Issues arise in regard to people's understanding of homelessness and the capacity of local authorities. The best we could do is set out in legislation a single, modern and comprehensive definition of homelessness and, through the implementation of the homeless strategy, ensure that everybody is on the same page. Our submission to the committee provides one such definition. A compelling case can be made for introducing a new legal definition of homelessness.

Structural confusion is an important issue but I do not intend my remarks as a criticism of departmental officials, who themselves often complain privately about this issue. We are in an unusual situation compared to many other EU member states in that bricks and mortar are primarily provided by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government whereas services and support are provided by the HSE. This makes the management of specific projects or interventions quite difficult and has historically led to a very different interpretation of how one should respond to homelessness. A large percentage of the homeless population have health and care needs arising from alcohol, drugs, psychiatric illness, etc. By and large, however, when we speak about tenancy, sustainment and support housing, we are concerned less with care needs than with supports to sustain tenancies. That is a housing rather than a health issue. The strategy makes a positive commitment to consider the provision of a dedicated revenue stream for supported housing to sustain tenancies. As these are housing issues, we are keen to see in the implementation of the strategy the provision by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government of supports which are specifically designed to sustain tenancies in the short to medium term and which can diminish over a period of time. This would remove some of the structural confusion. The HSE and the Department of Health and Children should retain their responsibility for health and care needs but better co-ordination in this area would be welcome. Again, good work is being done at an official level. It is a matter of clarifying the housing supports to be provided by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

On the question of whether we are the safety net for people who are refused access to social housing, that is the case to a certain extent. Depending on the local authority, our organisations work closely with housing officers to ensure we are not alone in dealing with tenants. With the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2008, we will have for the first time a statutory obligation on local authorities to develop anti-social behaviour strategies. With the co-operation of all parties in the Seanad, we have sought substantive amendments on fleshing out these strategies so that organisations such as ours are not left to meet the needs of difficult or unwanted tenants. A variety of interventions are needed from an early stage, including mediation and other tools for dealing with difficult tenants who have complex needs. These could include protocols for evictions and on where those evicted from local authority housing should go to get help in addressing their issues in order to return to community life.

By and large, the tenants with the most complex needs end up in the private rented sector, where the levels of regulation and support are lowest. The expansion of the rental accommodation scheme provides a tool for dealing with this but, particularly in terms of anti-social behaviour, there is insufficient co-ordination between local authorities, the private rental sector and voluntary bodies. The Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill will provide a good opportunity if we get the language of section 34 right. We will be addressing this matter specifically with Members when that Bill comes before the Dáil.

Ms Joyce Loughnane

Ms Niamh Randall will address questions regarding statistics and the Traveller and new Irish communities.

Ms Niamh Randall

There is a lot of information among service providers but a knowledge deficit remains in terms of up-to-date data on the numbers of people who are homeless and their issues and experiences. We are awaiting the publication of the triannual assessment figures collected in March 2008. I understand the figures for Dublin will be published in early December and the remainder in early 2009. These figures are limited, however, by methodological issues and varying definitions among local authorities. As they represent stockpile figures, they cannot give us an idea of the movement of people in and out of homelessness or their experiences and health issues. We do not know from the figures what it is like to raise a family in a bed and breakfast and get the children to school, for example. An annual needs assessment is imperative and the information should be published without a time lag. Consistency is also needed in respect of methodology and collection methods.

In terms of health visits, we have found it useful to achieve a balance between targeted health care interventions and safety net programmes. An excellent example of a primary care intervention programme is in operation in the Dublin area to provides access to GPs, psychiatrists, dental health and drug counselling in hostels. Often the people in question will not access services because they have had negative experiences of hospitals or institutionalisation in the past. We are anxious to complement existing mainstream services with targeted interventions.

Drug and alcohol abuse is prevalent among homeless people but it is a chicken and egg issue. Between 25% and 50% of people who are currently homeless have drug or alcohol problems. We are also encountering increasing issues in respect of poly drug use, that is, the use of one or more substances. Rapid access to treatment is essential. Methadone programmes are provided on a catchment area basis but if one does not have a home, one is not within such an area. Trinity Court treats people in Dublin who have no fixed abode but its waiting list is 18 months. That is crazy. Wider supports are also needed for those who access drugs treatment programmes. It is very difficult to become drug-free if one is homeless, sleeping rough or staying in a hostel. The environment is often chaotic and others may be using drugs or alcohol. Health care and drug and alcohol supports must be combined with accommodation.

Given that Travellers would not describe themselves as homeless, we need to be careful in this regard. The issues that arise in respect of the Traveller community are access to sites and support services. The quality of some of the services provided at sites is appalling in terms of the implications for people's health. We must offer services and supports while respecting the Traveller community's heritage, nomadic lifestyle and ethnic identity.

Non-Irish people have long accessed homeless services but their numbers have increased since the advent of the Celtic tiger. There has been an increase in immigration from the new EU member states. The application of the habitual residence condition has had an impact on people who come to Ireland to find work without an awareness of our high cost of living. These people are turning up at the doors of homeless services. The Homeless Agency conducted research on the specific issue of Dublin services and found that approximately 280 people from ten new member states accessed homeless services in one week in November 2006. Their needs are different to the traditional homeless population in Ireland in terms of language and employment services such as writing a curriculum vitae. Some of them do not know, for example, that the Safe Pass course must be completed before they can work on construction sites because the criteria are different in their country of origin. It is placing increasing pressure on homeless services and is an issue we need to examine into the future.

Approximately how many housing units do the Simon Communities of Ireland own or manage? Why do they own some and manage others? I cannot comprehend how the results of a needs assessment carried out at the end of March were not out at the end of April. My county, Laois, could have 500 to 700, and the cities are much bigger. How long does it take to count up to that? I cannot comprehend how it can take nine months to get statistics out when that is the scale. The mind boggles. No wonder we are not tackling the problem if we are so slow in counting them. My first question is out of curiosity. Do they own, manage or rent? How does the system work?

Ms Joyce Loughnane

The MakeRoom Alliance has not consolidated those figures across all our organisations. Focus Ireland is the largest provider of homes for people who have been homeless. Our contribution to ending homelessness by 2010 is that we would house 2010 people by 2010. Since 2005 we have been making good progress on that. We have settled approximately 450 people in homes that are not ours and we have acquired or built approximately 350 homes which we own and manage. Our housing stock is 619 homes. Our preferences vary. Our ideal is social housing rather than housing people in the private rented sector because the security of that tenure is not as good. Whether the home is owned by us, another voluntary housing association or a local authority is of no concern to us.

Since 2005 there has been investment in the sector. As Ms Randall said, there is much fluidity. In Focus Ireland the number of people to whom we need to provide services or who are coming to use our services has not reduced over all the years. It has generally remained at approximately 5,000 although there was a peak of approximately 6,000 when many asylum seekers were coming into the country. Of those 5,000 approximately 1,800 people become homeless in Dublin every year. A large majority of people are being housed in the private rented sector, but as Mr. Jordan said, many of these are being housed in very substandard accommodation and without support. They return to being homeless, so there is a cycle of becoming homeless.

That is the point I was trying to say in a positive way. If the numbers are constant and new cases are arising, by definition there is success at the other side.

Ms Joyce Loughnane

Absolutely.

Mr. Bob Jordan

I welcome the opportunity to explain a little more because sometimes we do not get that opportunity. Threshold is not in the business of owning housing. We own a small number of units in Cork for an affordable housing scheme. Our specialisation is around the private rented sector and one of the difficulties is that many landlords refuse rent supplement on the basis that they do not want people on lower incomes in their housing. When the issue of homelessness is added to that, it is very difficult for people to get rented accommodation. Then there is the issue of standards. Through our access housing unit we go out and encourage landlords to take on homeless people on the basis that we will provide them with the support. Obviously we check out the accommodation to ensure it is good quality and good value to the State in terms of the rent supplement scheme. We take referrals from other agencies that have people in emergency accommodation such as Focus Ireland, the Simon Communities and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, and move people permanently into rented accommodation.

In recent years we have permanently moved approximately 350 people who were homeless. We provide them with ongoing tenancy sustainment for a period. We take on those people on the basis that they will eventually be capable of independent living. Many of those people are not in need of support from us. There is movement of people out of homelessness. We are quite supportive of the rental accommodation scheme in that it provides better quality accommodation and because local authorities are involved in sourcing that from landlords. That helps us all create a bigger pool of accommodation for people to move on to. That people are moving on is an important side of the story.

When we talked about having full employment in this country, we had 4% unemployment. Equally when we talk about ending homelessness by 2010 we mean nobody will need to sleep rough or stay in emergency accommodation for longer than it is an emergency and that nobody will become homeless because there is no service. We are saying we can end homelessness by ensuring that when people fall into homelessness, the experience is very short. That is our goal. The blockage is getting people out of the emergency situation into longer term housing. The time lag is too long. That one issue needs to be unblocked to really solve homelessness.

Mr. Eoin Ó Broin

I can give some brief information about the Society of St. Vincent de Paul's accommodation base. I do not work for SVP but spoke to its representatives recently about it. Its accommodation falls into two categories. One is the more traditional hostels which, alongside the Simon Communities, it has provided for decades, North and South. It probably has the single largest number of hostel beds in the State, approximately 2,000, although I would need to check that figure. Because SVP is not a single centralised national organisation but works through a network of local communities, many of its local communities respond to very specific sets of housing needs. Particularly in the western seaboard and the north west they do a considerable amount of accommodation in smaller housing units, often bungalows, for older people. Many of these are returning Irish migrants in their 50s or 60s who may no longer have family at home but who wish to return and might have used some of SVP's sister services in the major cities of Britain. That is another aspect of homelessness we do not often think about but they provide a very valuable service.

Ms Niamh Randall

I cannot give a definitive figure for the Simon Communities. We have eight communities based around Ireland, including Cork, Galway, the mid-west and Limerick, the south east, the north west and Dublin. Each community provides a range of different services in slightly different ways and has different arrangements with voluntary service and home service providers. There are three emergency hostels — Dublin, Cork and Dundalk. There is a range of transitional and supported housing and a residential detox facility in Dublin. There is a range of different services and these are provided throughout the different communities in slightly different ways. I am putting together our annual report figures, so I can pass them on to the committee if members are interested.

I asked that question because I am from County Laois and have dealt with the Simon Community more than any other organisation. It has bought houses in different parts of Portlaoise and is very happy with that. I was just wondering if there are many similar houses. We just wanted to get a fix on the extent and scale of the organisations we are dealing with. It helps us put it in context.

I thank the witnesses for being with us for so long. We had a late start due to a Dáil vote. We have found the information helpful and I thank the members who have stuck with us at this late stage. We have found it informative and we thank the witnesses. If they want to send any future information to the committee, such as annual reports, I ask them to please do so. Some members are having a discussion with the Committee on Health and Children on health aspects associated with homelessness. It is coincidental that the two meetings were on this afternoon but that is good in its own way.

There being no other business, we will adjourn the meeting until next Tuesday. The meeting is a little earlier than normal because we are meeting out of sequence.

The joint committee adjourned at 6.20 p.m. until 2 p.m. on Tuesday, 25 November 2008.