Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2008: Committee Stage (Resumed).

SECTION 20.

I move amendment No. 33:

In page 17, subsection (4)(e), line 27, after “alternative” to insert “and appropriate”.

The purpose of the amendment is to ensure "appropriate" is inserted after the word "alternative" to ensure accommodation would be not only alternative but appropriate to the household. It is not a large amendment, but it is sensible to make the provision to ensure accommodation is specifically appropriate to the needs of the household. It is a qualification of the existing word, but it does not change in any way the thrust of the section.

I support the amendment. It seems eminently sensible that accommodation should be tailored to the needs of the person or persons seeking it.

This amendment is unnecessary because the requirement to have regard to alternative accommodation appropriate to the household's needs is adequately reflected already in paragraph (e) as drafted, that is “the availability to the household of alternative accommodation that would meet its housing need;”. In those circumstances, I ask Senator Bacik to withdraw her amendment.

I wish to comment on that response, although I will, of course, defer to Senator Bacik if she wishes to withdraw her amendment. The Minister of State has expressed a very minimalist view. The phrase "meet its housing need" does not really carry the force of "appropriate". The response is a little bit grudging. Has the Minister of State accepted any amendments so far?

Yes, I was very generous on my previous visit to the House.

I cannot quite recall the detail. How generous was the Minister of State?

The record will show that I was generous.

I ask the Minister of State to indicate that he might at least consider accepting this amendment and that we might resume our discussion on it on Report Stage. As Senator Norris has said, to reject this amendment is somewhat grudging. While the terms of subsection (4)(e) clearly specify that the alternative accommodation would meet the housing need of the household, to say it also would be “appropriate” to that need is an important qualification.

It does not alter the tone or main thrust of the provision but gives it a nuance which would be important for particular households in seeking accommodation.

I wish to give a clear and specific example, if I may. I knew of a young man who had various difficulties. He had been subjected to aversion therapy because he was gay. His family was from rural Ireland and was very harsh in that regard. He was seriously distressed by this but, with great courage, pulled himself together. He was allocated a flat in the inner city which certainly met his housing needs. However, some of his neighbours learned of his sexual orientation and made his life a misery. They put excrement through his letter box, tried to burn him out, stole his post and so forth. Eventually I managed to get him accommodation in a sheltered housing complex in Donnybrook which transformed his life.

This is precisely the kind of case that would be addressed by Senator Bacik's amendment. The authorities could clearly say his housing needs were met in that they provided him with an adequate flat which had a kitchen, shower, bedroom and so forth. However, because of the hostility of his neighbours, the accommodation did not prove to be appropriate. He moved into a complex largely occupied by old ladies and got on like a house on fire. They adored him and he was great at doing bits and pieces for them.

That is an example which puts a human face on the issue. It may seem like a slight amendment with which the Minister of State need not bother but Senator Bacik has hit on an important point here. I ask the Minister of State to reflect on the case history I have given in considering this amendment. Of course, he does not have to say "yea" or "nay" now. He can always say he will think about it and we can do battle again on Report Stage.

I am grateful to Senator Norris for providing a very pertinent example of the sort of situation where the authority might be meeting housing needs objectively but, in fact, those needs are not being met in an appropriate way. I ask the Minister of State at least to consider taking on board our comments and revert to the issue on Report Stage. I would be very grateful if he would do so. It is part of the process of debate in this House and I would be grateful if rather than rejecting the amendment out of hand, he might indicate his willingness at least to consider the need for this extra nuance to the provision.

The purpose of the entire section is to ensure needs are met appropriately. This is the essence of why we are changing the way needs are assessed. Therefore, the word "appropriate" is superfluous in subsection (4)(e). We are changing the law to accommodate all situations.

Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 34:

In page 17, subsection (4), between lines 35 and 36, to insert the following:

"(h) additional needs of the household including medical, education, social, and cultural needs required to promote social inclusion and the development of sustainable communities.”.

This amendment is more substantial than the previous one. It inserts a new subsection (4)(h) in section 20 with the purpose of broadening the definition of need to include medical, education, social and cultural needs. It addresses how the authorities carry out needs assessments and has a similar purpose as amendment No. 33 in that it aims to ensure authorities make a comprehensive needs assessment to allocate accommodation which is appropriate to the needs of individual households. It also requires local authorities to consider the promotion of social inclusion and the development of sustainable communities, which are important aims to include in this legislation. It is important housing authorities would have regard to those aims.

The Minister of State has said that some considerations clearly are built into section 20 already. I am seeking to make them more explicitly thus. I do not think anyone would disagree with the rationale for this proposed amendment, although the Minister of State may not wish to accept it. The aim of the amendment simply is to make explicit something which is an underlying theme already in this legislation. I welcome that and do not want to appear to be critical in a non-constructive way. I am seeking simply to make more explicit the need to ensure needs assessments are carried out comprehensively and in a way which takes into account of all the needs of the household and which ultimately will promote social inclusion and the development of sustainable communities.

I support this amendment and wish to return to the case history I related some minutes ago. That unpleasant business might have been avoided if an appropriate assessment of needs had been done in the first place. The young man of whom I spoke would not have been placed in an inappropriate environment. I am all in favour of comprehensive assessments which would include consideration of social inclusion and the development of sustainable communities. That would have solved the problem to which I referred earlier. Consideration of cultural needs, for example, is also important given that our society is much more complex than in the past. In that context, this amendment is appropriate.

This amendment is not appropriate to subsection (4) which deals with the eligibility of households for social housing support by virtue of their current circumstances regarding income, availability of alternative accommodation, etc. The description of the particular housing needs in terms of medical needs and so forth is covered by subsection (6), which provides that:

The Minister may make regulations providing for the matters by reference to which a household's need for social housing support and the form of such support shall be determined including, but not necessarily limited to, the following:

(a) the description and classification of household need;

(b) the description of specific accommodation requirements according to different categories of household need;

(c) the description of accommodation need based on the composition of the household.

The proposed amendment also refers to the promotion of social inclusion and the development of sustainable communities. These aspects are more appropriate to housing strategies and, in the context of the Bill, to allocation policies as set out in section 22. In those circumstances, I ask the Senator to withdraw the amendment.

I accept there are other places in the Bill where these points could be made but I believe it is useful to insert them at this point in section 20. I have tabled amendments to further sections.

I note the Minister of State's point regarding the regulations provided for in subsection (6) providing for matters by reference to which a household's need for social housing support will be determined. However, subsection (4) is important and is perhaps key to the reality of life for people in households awaiting the allocation of housing. I note that social housing support has a broad definition in the Bill and therefore this will be a key provision for households that are awaiting supports or the allocation of housing. It would be useful to insert here, as I said, something with which nobody could have a fundamental disagreement. These are policy aims that everybody would support. The aim is to make these explicit in the provision giving the Minister the power to make regulations about how eligibility for social housing support will be determined. It is a crucial subsection for households that are awaiting supports because it gives the Minister the power to make the regulations providing for these criteria. Thus, it is important to include these criteria in the subsection. I will press the amendment.

The Minister's response was inadequate and evasive because he relies on sections further on in the Bill, on general and vague phrasing and on ministerial regulations. I have been long enough in this House to know about ministerial regulations. The Minister's hands are not tied in this matter. There is no requirement in this legislation that these things should be included. We rely on the Minister's goodwill. I believe the Minister as I have worked with him in this House for many years, but who knows what the future holds? He might not be there, decent man and all as he is. Since, as Senator Bacik has said, there is no conflict or difficulty in putting it in and reassuring the House, it will not cause any further problems. The only way in which it could cause a problem would be if the Minister did not intend to include this in regulations and strategy and all the other things he mentioned. This is a matter of policy that could appropriately be included at this point.

In light of the Minister's refusal to take on board the previous amendment about appropriate housing, despite the fact that I put on the record what I thought was a very clear case history in which the absence of this kind of provision militated against a citizen of this country, it is all the more pressing that he should accept this amendment. Even supposing it was redundant, it is not doing any damage. The planet will not collapse because of a couple of extra words in ink on a piece of paper — about a quarter of an inch of text. There are no strong, persuasive arguments against accepting it. I will say one thing in which I hope I am not being indiscreet. Both Senator Bacik and I have been extensively briefed by a coalition of groups who work at the coalface. They probably have a fairly good idea of the practical realities on the ground and the need for the inclusion of provisions such as these. They are not inventing amendments just for the hell of it. The Minister did not even take up my hint on the last amendment that he might say he was considering it, even if his tongue was licking his tonsils as he said it. He just ruled it out. That is a little disappointing.

The list suggested by the Senator is drawn from the 1988 Act which, in light of changing housing needs, has proved to be limited in terms of providing an accurate picture of both the nature of housing need and the relative priorities. Indeed, people may have multiple needs which are not adequately captured by the current statutory definitions. The proposed revised classification based on the FEANSTA approach provides for a more developed approach, reflecting the urgency and persistence of different types of needs. This will provide the basis for the development through regulation of a better measure of need in the future. The Senators will know that we are changing from what was in the 1988 Act, and section 20 reflects that. It allows for a broad approach to appropriate need.

When will we see the regulations?

Regulations are implemented subsequent to enactment of the legislation.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 36, 37 and 38 are alternatives to No. 35 and should be discussed with that amendment as they would not otherwise have an opportunity to be debated. Is that agreed? Agreed. If amendment No. 35 is agreed, amendments Nos. 36 to 38, inclusive, cannot be moved.

Government amendment No. 35:
In page 17, lines 36 to 45, to delete subsection (5) and substitute the following:
"(5) A household shall not be eligible for social housing support where the household or a member of the household—
(a) was at any time a tenant of a dwelling or site owned or provided by any housing authority under the Housing Acts 1966 to 2008 or provided under Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000, and
(b) during the 3 years immediately before the carrying out of the social housing assessment, was in arrears of rent in respect of the dwelling or site for an accumulated period of 12 weeks or has otherwise breached a condition of the tenancy agreement in respect of such dwelling or site.”.
The intention of section 20(5) is to underline the seriousness of actions such as a breach of tenancy agreement or non-payment of rent. The consequences of these actions are that they are to be taken into consideration by a housing authority in determining that household's eligibility for further support. The subsection as it is currently drafted provides that a household that was previously the tenant or owner of a local authority dwelling or site and was either in arrears of rent for an accumulated period of 12 weeks during a three-year period prior to the carrying out of a social housing assessment, or breached a condition of the tenancy agreement, will be deemed to be ineligible for social housing support.
While it is clear from the text that the rent arrears must have arisen in a three-year period prior to the assessment for ineligibility to arise, it is somewhat ambiguous as to whether the period also applies to a breach of a tenancy agreement. Thus, I am introducing an official amendment to make it clear that only breaches of a tenancy agreement that occurred in the three years immediately prior to the carrying out of a social housing assessment will render the household ineligible for social housing support. This will bring the proposed provision for taking tenancy breaches into account in social housing assessments in line with that for rent arrears. The existing subsection (5) does not confine the breach of a condition of a tenancy agreement to a three-year period immediately prior to the assessment. In view of this, I ask Senators to withdraw amendments Nos. 36 and 37.
With regard to the proposed amendment No. 38, which will include new provisions in this section on moneys due to housing authorities, I do not consider an amendment is necessary. Section 20 does not provide housing authorities with the power to charge rents, sell sites or dwellings, make tenancy agreements etc. These powers are exercised by authorities under other housing Acts and, in the case of charging of rents, under section 31 of this Bill when enacted. Moneys owed to the housing authorities and any provisions in that context are dealt with by section 33 of the Bill, which includes a provision allowing authorities to enter into various repayment arrangements with households regarding moneys owed where undue hardship would arise. I am satisfied that the proposed arrangements provide a sufficient level of relief for the circumstances envisaged by Senator Norris and in view of this I ask him to withdraw the amendment.

I would like to raise a couple of points about the Minister's amendment. Senator Norris will speak about his own amendments, although I support them.

My difficulty with subsection (5) is that it does not appear to contain any discretion.

I take the Minister's point that section 33, particularly subsection (5), allows an authority, where it is satisfied a household would suffer undue hardship if it owes money, to enter into an arrangement with the household. My concern is that without Senator Norris's amendment, the Minister's proposed subsection (5) appears to rule out discretion on behalf of the housing authority to do this.

There will be difficulty in interpreting how this subsection, together with section 33, is to be read. I am delighted to hear the Minister say that section 33 is intended to cover and perhaps provide discretion, but there does not appear to be discretion in subsection (5). I am concerned about the way in which it is drafted. The reason I am so concerned is not just the use of the words "shall not be eligible" in subsection (5), but also the statement in the new paragraph (b) that the household shall not be eligible either where it was in arrears for the period stipulated or where it had otherwise breached a condition of the tenancy agreement. There are many different types of condition in any tenancy agreement. Of course the housing authority should have the power to withhold housing support where a household has been in breach of a material or fundamental condition or where there has been some major breach, but it seems that this removes discretion from the housing authority for any breach of a condition. That seems to be far too absolutist in tone and I would have a real concern about the hardship that households might well suffer if this is passed into law. I ask the Minister of State to consider the points I have made and to consider the difficulties a court might have in seeking to interpret section 20(5) as against section 33, which appears to give the discretion — subsection (5) of section 20 does not appear to allow discretion and this is the difficulty with it.

Senator Bacik has hit the nail on the head. The whole purpose is to provide discretion. I refer to the two amendments, amendment No. 37, the changing of "shall" to "may" and the substantive amendment No. 38. The whole point of it was to enable a housing authority and the tenant together to make arrangements for the payment of arrears owed and at the same time to allow them to be in receipt of social housing support. That is not included here and I will most definitely put that amendment to a vote. This is absolutely disgraceful. It is dealing with people who are in a real situation of hardship and this very severe penalty could be imposed on somebody if they kept a parrot, a dog or a cat and there was a condition of that kind. They would be debarred from getting the social housing support at the same time as they were being forced to pay the arrears. I wonder if the penny has dropped in the Department as to the kind of economic times into which we are rapidly moving. Many people will be caught in this situation and it is absolutely unacceptable that the Minister of State should take this view and tie down the hands.

The Minister of State asked us to withdraw our amendments. I can tell him I will not be withdrawing this amendment. I am asking the Minister of State to withdraw his amendment and substitute ours, in the interests of decent treatment of these tenants. There are plenty of ways of dealing with tenants who get into arrears and all those powers remain with the local authority. All we are asking for is a bit of flexibility in economic circumstances which cry out for flexibility.

On a point of order and to assist Senator Norris, I note that section 33 explicitly does not apply to section 20. Subsection (1) of section 33 lists the provisions to which it applies but section 20 is not included.

Subsection 20(5) which provides the flexibilities states that where there are moneys due under any of the provisions——

That is a point on the Bill, not a point of order.

It is a point of assistance to my friend.

It is a point of great assistance and I am grateful to my learned colleague. Section 33(5) states: "Where there are moneys due and owing by a household to a housing authority under any of the provisions to which this section applies and the housing authority is satisfied that the household would otherwise suffer undue hardship the housing authority may, at the household's option, enter into arrangements with the household for the payment of those moneys (together with any interest that may have accrued undersubsection (2) by such instalments and at such times as the housing authority considers reasonable in all the circumstances in addition to any rent, charges, fees or loan repayments that the household is paying to the authority.”

That does not include section 20.

Exactly. They can moderate their demands for repayment but there is nothing there that covers the question of social housing support. I would certainly be of the view that this is an amendment on which this House should be quite firm.

The Minister of State says he has accepted amendments but I cannot remember any of them.

He accepted a small number.

He accepted some of Senator Hannigan's amendments, which I welcome, and that is why he remembers them, but he did not accept any of ours. That means there is no technical difficulty. The Bill has been amended so the question of not amending it because of pressure of time does not arise. I appeal to the Minister of State to look at this again. This provision will pinch people quite hard. I know local authorities are anxious to get arrears of rent and they are entitled to them. However, the whole question of the social policy of Government is involved here, not just the collection of arrears. We are not just dealing with the creation of a debt collection agency, we are dealing with real human problems. The Government's amendment is a mess and I will certainly be voting against it.

I agree with my colleagues. I remain unhappy with the Government's proposed amendment. However, I must admit that our amendment No. 36 is not as clear as it could be and we will not move that amendment but will reserve the right to retable it on Report Stage.

I ask the Minister of State to clarify paragraph (a) of Government amendment No. 35. Is this amendment intended to avoid any duplication of tenancies? Does it exclude or deprive anybody from seeking a transfer to adjacent local authorities? For example, if somebody is in a tenancy in a city housing authority and they wish to apply for a house in the adjacent county council housing authority, does this amendment preclude them from being assessed by the county authority?

I appreciate Senator Norris's concerns but it is worth putting the issue surrounding rent arrears in context. The differential rent scheme operated by housing authorities is based on the fundamental principle of ability to pay in that the rent is related to the household's income. That is a very affordable form of housing. Research carried out in 2001 on Dublin City Council tenant population suggested that the differential rent scheme plays an important role in combating poverty. Where people get into difficulty in paying rent, ample opportunity is provided for tenants before consideration of the serious step of termination of tenancy.

The provisions in section 31 envisage that a rent scheme would include provisions for temporary waiver of rent on hardship grounds and section 33 includes provision for instalment payments of money due under that section and where hardship arises. These form part of a process of encouraging people to keep up their rent repayments on one hand and having a balanced and fair approach when difficulties arise for a household. Against that background it is only reasonable that a person who is being evicted for arrears would not be immediately considered for another letting, otherwise there would not be an incentive to pay rent. That would not be particularly fair to the majority of tenants who keep up their rent payments. However, I think it is reasonable that this period of ineligibility should be limited and that is the reason I have put forward the official amendment to clarify that consideration would only be given to arrears in a tenancy over the past three years. In light of this clarification, which I believe improves the provision, I ask that the Senator withdraw amendment No. 38.

In response to Senator Bacik, the intention of section 25 is to underline the seriousness of actions such as a breach of tenancy agreement or non-payment of rent. The consequences of these actions are that they are to be taken into consideration by a housing authority in determining the household's eligibility for further support. I wish to put this explanation on the record. While the amendment proposed by the Senators seeks to include some discretion for local authorities in application of this provision, this desire needs to be balanced with the requirement for clarity about eligibility requirements. For that reason, the wording in the official amendment improves the situation.

I acknowledge that the Minister of State has made some degree of movement in providing the amendment and that is in response to the amendment that has been put down. However, my problem is that under my amendment local authorities can still do what the Minister of State has just spoken of — they can still evict and charge arrears. I do not see how under my amendments a local authority would be coerced into immediately rehousing a bad tenant who has been consistently, habitually and deliberately acting in bad faith by not paying rent. The Minister of State's concerns are catered for in the amendments.

I do not think I will press the amendment at this point. I will return to the groups which briefed me on these provisions, present the Minister of State's amendment to them and ask them if they are satisfied with it. I will be surprised if they are for the reasons given. Far be it from me to stand in the way of a ministerial amendment in response to an amendment we tabled and may claim. It might be no harm for all sides to take further advice on the issue.

The Minister of State raised the issue of the interaction of section 33 with section 20. I said a court would have difficulty in reading the two together. On careful reading, it would actually have no difficulty. The provisions of section 33 clearly do not apply to section 20. Section 33 specifies those provisions of the Bill to which it does apply and section 20 is not included among them. Therefore, the discretion allowed to housing authorities under section 33 cannot be incorporated into the provisions of section 20.

My concern about section 20 is that it gives the housing authority no discretion. There is not even a qualification or material condition, to the effect that where a tenancy agreement has been breached by any member of a household, the household becomes ineligible for social housing support, to include dwellings, sales of dwellings, rental accommodation, caravan sites and so forth. Is the Minister of State suggesting there is residual discretion given to the housing authority? If so, I would welcome it but I do not see it mentioned in his amendment. No court would think for one moment that section 33 could apply.

I take Senator Norris's point that he does not wish to press the amendment.

It needs to be voted on if the Minister of State will not indicate that he might at least look at the points I have raised about this interaction, given that he first mentioned section 33. I do not see how the provisions of that section in its current form could possibly apply to section 20.

Will the Minister of State clarify if the Government's amendment to section 20(5)(a) will have an impact on the transfer of existing tenants from one housing authority to another?

I will be pressing my amendments for the simple reason that the Leas-Chathaoirleach has explained to me that if the Government's amendment is allowed to go through, I will not have an opportunity to resubmit my amendment on Report Stage. From brief consultations I have learned, as I imagined, that the amendment is regarded as significant.

Senator Norris will be able to resubmit his amendment on Report Stage by virtue of the fact it has been discussed in the House on Committee Stage.

Even if the Minister of State's amendment is passed.

We shall see. It is an important amendment and the Minister of State has not satisfied me with regard to the question of discretion. He has answered other points but not the ones in which I am interested.

The Minister of State should take carefully into account the interpretation of legislation by my eager young colleague, Senator Bacik, who is a brilliant professor of law at a distinguished university. The Seanad is lucky to have such legal expertise among its ranks. This is the type of thing which the Seanad is for. We have lost Dr. Mary Henry who brought to this House considerable expertise in medical matters but now have someone who can be helpful in advising. I agree with Senator Bacik on how these sections interact and there is a gap.

I am grateful for those entirely undeserved and kind comments. If it is not possible to make an amendment to this provision on Report Stage, the Minister of State might consider addressing the issue in a different way by amending section 33 to make it explicit that it applies to the power of housing authorities to determine whether households are eligible for social housing support under section 20. Section 33 could equally be amended, given that it contains the discretionary provision that Senator Norris wishes to have inserted in section 20.

Regarding Senator Coffey's concerns, it will not apply to transfers between housing authorities. Section 20 does not provide a housing authority with the power to charge rents, sell sites or dwellings, make tenancy agreements, etc. These powers are exercised by authorities under other housing Acts and, in the case of the charging of rents, section 31, when enacted. Sections 31 and 33 deal with rent arrears before eviction. Section 20 deals with situations after eviction for the non-payment of rent arrears. This is an important clarification.

I know why section 33 specifies "where there are moneys due and owing by a household to a housing authority under any of the provisions to which this section applies...". It applies to earlier legislation under which money may be owing and so forth. My difficulty, however, is that section 20(5) gives no discretion to a housing authority. It simply states a "household shall not be eligible for social housing support where the household or a member of the household was ... in arrears of rent in respect of the dwelling or site ... breached a condition of the tenancy agreement". Section 33(5), however, does give discretion but its provisions do not apply to section 20. The provision which Senator Norris wishes to have inserted essentially replicates the discretionary provision of section 33(5) in section 20. I accept section 20 does not give a housing authority power to charge rent and so forth but it does give power to withhold social housing support. Beyond this, it determines the conditions for eligibility. It is too absolutist. No one is denying a housing authority should have the power to withhold social housing support for breaches or the non-payment of rent arrears. Senator Norris's amendment would provide some leeway. The presumption applies that the household would be ineligible but there would be some scope for a housing authority in cases where it felt hardship was involved, particularly in these recessionary times, and could enter arrangements for the payment of moneys. Given that an authority can do this under section 33, I do not see why it cannot be imported in section 20. It would clarify that there was some discretion that a household would not be ineligible in every situation where there were arrears or a breach of a tenancy agreement. My concern is that a housing authority's hands will be tied.

Under my amendment, all the powers the Minister of State seeks for a housing authority would survive. It could evict and charge for arrears. Under the Minister of State's amendment, an authority will be required to remove social housing supports. The whole matter of flexibility is left in abeyance. The language in the section of facilitation is taken directly and specifically from other sections; therefore, it is the language used by the Parliamentary Counsel. The Minister of State should be in a position to accept what is, in effect, the very language in which the Bill is drafted. The effect of the Government's amendment does not go fully to meet our objection to the narrowing, constriction and tying of the hands of the local authorities. We seek flexibility and discretion.

I acknowledge the sentiments and concerns raised. However, the proposed amendments would raise issues regarding the exercise of any discretion in respect of eligibility. Given the importance of the matter, I am prepared to consider further the mandatory nature of the provision. I propose to undertake this in conjunction with the Chief Parliamentary Counsel. I ask Senators to accept the Government amendment and withdraw their amendment. I will see what I can do following consultation with the Chief Parliamentary Counsel.

That is very welcome and I thank the Minister of State for his flexibility. I hope there will be further flexibility. Does this mean the Minister of State is pressing amendment No. 35 or are we all withdrawing amendments so that he can come up with something better?

I am asking that amendment No. 35 be accepted and I will examine how we can accommodate the sentiments and concerns raised by the Senators.

Does that specifically relate to discretion?

The proposed amendments would raise issues concerning the exercise of any discretion in respect of eligibility.

They would not tie the hands.

I will refer it to the Chief Parliamentary Counsel.

I am grateful that the Minister of State has indicated he will refer it to the Chief Parliamentary Counsel. I ask that the latter might advise on the interaction between section 20 and section 33 and whether it would be possible to import some measure of discretion into that currently absolutist language in section 20(5). If the Chief Parliamentary Counsel will advise on this, we are prepared to reserve our position on this until Report Stage.

I want to add an additional rider. This has been a valuable debate and I ask the Minister of State to make available to the Chief Parliamentary Counsel the text of the debate on this section so that our concerns can be taken into account in the context of the debate. I would not be happy if it was a question posed to the Chief Parliamentary Counsel. Is the Minister of State prepared to allow the Chief Parliamentary Counsel to review the debate? It is only half an hour of debate.

I do not see any problem with that. It is only appropriate that the Chief Parliamentary Counsel would acknowledge the broad-ranging debate. I am prepared to examine the issues. While I cannot give guarantees, I will seek further advice from the Chief Parliamentary Counsel.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 36 to 39, inclusive, not moved.

I move amendment No. 40:

In page 18, subsection (6)(b), line 3, to delete “need;” and substitute the following:

"need. In particular housing need assessments must have regard to the need for housing of people who—

(i) are homeless,

(ii) are members of the Travelling Community,

(iii) are living in accommodation that is unfit for human habitation or is materially unsuitable for their adequate housing,

(iv) are living in overcrowded accommodation,

(v) are sharing accommodation with another person or persons and who, in the opinion of the housing authority, have a reasonable requirement for separate accommodation,

(vi) are young persons leaving institutional care or without family accommodation,

(vii) are in need of accommodation for medical or compassionate reasons,

(viii) are elderly,

(ix) are disabled,

(x) are, in the opinion of the housing authority, not reasonably able to meet the cost of the accommodation which they are occupying or to obtain suitable alternative accommodation;"

This seeks to insert a new provision in section 20(6) which is based on previous legislation and provides that the Minister would be empowered to make regulations providing for the matters by reference to which a household's need for social housing support and the form of such support would be determined. There is already a list of three such matters and my amendment inserts a further provision that housing needs assessments must have regard to the need for housing of people who are homeless, members of the Traveller community, and a list of other factors such as where accommodation is unfit for human habitation, overcrowded or where accommodation is shared. It sets out in a more specific way the list of persons especially in need. The existing provisions are returned to the Bill, providing a better foundation upon which the Minister may base regulations.

As Senator Norris has said, I am very grateful to the Make Room coalition which comprises Focus Ireland, the Society of St Vincent de Paul, the Simon Community and Threshold. These front-line housing agencies and homeless support agencies have been very helpful in giving us information. They are of the view that this should be re-inserted into the Bill and would be of assistance to the Minister in outlining the needs to which he or she must have regard.

This amendment is not necessary. Section 20(6) provides that the Minister will make regulations providing for the description and classification of household need. It is intended that these regulations would include a revised classification system for housing needs centred on the severity and persistence of need. It is proposed to base the revised classification system as much as possible on the model devised by FEANSTA, a European body representative of national organisations working with the homeless. The proposed classification system has already been the subject of extensive consultation with the social partners and housing authorities from the perspective of the general and special housing needs. These groups, on the whole, have been in favour of the proposals. Providing the details of such a classification system in regulation will allow the necessary flexibility to adapt the model over time as circumstances and priorities change. This flexibility is not as readily available in primary legislation. I ask the Senator to withdraw the amendment.

I do not intend to press the amendment but I reserve the right to come back to it on Report Stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 41:

In page 18, subsection (7), line 6, to delete "may" and substitute the following:

"shall, within one year of the commencement of this section,".

This is self-explanatory. It seeks to amend section 20(7) not to make any change to its purpose but to provide a time limit within which it would take effect. I have changed "may" to "shall, within one year of the commencement of this section,", changing from the facilitative, which allows the Minister to make regulations on carrying out social housing assessments, to the mandatory, which requires the Minister to do so within one year of the commencement of the section. Its importance is that it provides that new needs assessments will take place within a year of this section being commenced. Clearly, there is discretion as to when the section will be commenced and we are all realistic about that since it happens with most legislation. There is discretion as to when section 20(7) will take effect but this amendment is to strengthen its purpose, given how important it is that these regulations are made, by ensuring they would be made within one year of commencement. I do not see this as unduly restrictive of the Minister, given that there is always some flexibility as to when the section will be commenced. It provides a timeline for when the regulations will be drawn up in respect of new social housing assessments.

I support this valuable and practical amendment. Senator O'Toole tabled a similar amendment with a time requirement in respect of other legislation and it was accepted. In this debate the Minister of State has relied extensively on a promissory note to the effect that this will be dealt with in the regulations. In return for that, it is fair enough that we are given a timeline. We cannot have an indefinite situation where we are waiting for these regulations to be made. All too easily it could turn into a continuous deferral of matters that are very substantial to the Bill. The Minister has relied extensively on postponing directly addressing certain issues until his regulations come into effect. For that reason, it is incumbent on the Minister to give a target date by which this work must be done. It must not be long-fingered, and the Minister would not wish it to be, but this would provide that degree of impetus.

We are all human. One of the achievements of which I am proudest is that for three and a half years I contributed a page every Thursday to a tabloid evening newspaper, theEvening Herald. I like to think I raised its tone somewhat. I tend to postpone things. I am, by nature, what Sean O’Casey would call a “prognosticator”. I am proud that I met the deadline every week for three and a half years. I would have put things off, but the deadline was a help and an incentive. In light of those various factors I would like the Minister to seriously consider this matter. If, upon advice, he finds six months are too short he can return with his own timeline. We must know when this material will come into operation, since the Minister has relied on the regulation provisions so extensively.

This amendment is not necessary. Subsection (7) empowers the Minister to make regulations to set out how an individual assessment of housing needs must be carried out on a household.

The Minister is becoming repetitive.

While it is the intention to introduce such regulations as quickly as possible, as discussed regarding other amendments which seek to place an obligation on the Minister to make regulations, this section follows the normal drafting convention to provide the necessary powers. In that circumstance I ask the Senator to withdraw the amendment.

I reserve my position until Report Stage and will not press the amendment now.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 42:

In page 18, subsection (7), line 7, after "of" to insert "annual".

This amendment appears somewhat similar but is much more forward-looking. It provides, again, for an amendment to subsection (7) that the Minister would make regulations on the carrying out of annual social housing assessments. The purpose is to ensure there is a more regularly updated review of housing assessments. I mentioned this in my speech on Second Stage. There is a serious issue——

Amendments Nos. 42 and 44 are related and may be discussed together.

I should have said the two amendments are being discussed together because amendment No. 44 would delete paragraph (d), which refers to the frequency of reviewing and updating assessments. This is a particular issue because the review and updating of assessments is carried out only every three years. That does not take into account changing circumstances. We are all seeing how rapidly the economic climate, property prices and people’s ability to make repayments are changing. Events are moving very quickly and in the real world these matters will move quickly. The Northern Ireland Housing Executive has adopted an annual review of needs assessments. In this jurisdiction we need a much more regular system of reviewing assessments. That is why I asked for the word “annual” to be inserted and for paragraph (d) to be deleted, almost as a corollary of that.

We have a problem with a lack of objective criteria for needs assessments across local authorities. That is probably uncontroversial to say; it is widely accepted. I welcome the general tone of this Bill, which I hope will provide for a more consistent set of criteria. The Bill still leaves ultimate power to local authorities. The powers of the Minister to provide for an overall national system of needs assessment should be much more strengthened in the Bill. That is what I seek to do in this series of amendments, briefed by the agencies I mentioned in the Make Room coalition.

The Northern Ireland model is useful for us because it shows the Housing Executive has recognised that to perform annual reviews is a better and more efficient way to ensure needs assessments are up to date. In Northern Ireland there are also quarterly updates. On Second Stage I said there is a problem generally with this in terms of collecting data from local authorities and I can see how that might be a problem in carrying out reviews. I proposed that the Central Statistics Office, CSO, might have a role here, as it does on Garda figures.

As a criminal lawyer I am very conscious that until very recently crime figures were kept and collated by the Garda Síochána. A very short number of years ago the CSO took over responsibility for collating and keeping a national database of crime statistics. Everybody, including the Garda, regard this as a much better method of keeping crime figures. There is room here for us to also change how we collate our housing data. This would assist in ensuring we could have annual reviews of needs assessments. I ask the Minister to indicate that he might consider inserting the word "annual" into this provision to bring us to an equivalent situation with Northern Ireland and ensure we can keep more efficiently up to date with changing economic circumstances for people in need of housing support.

I support this amendment. Senator Bacik made an effective political point when she talked about aligning the legislation in this part of the island with that in the Northern part. It should be particularly keenly felt by a member of Fianna Fáil, which has the aim of reuniting the national territory. That is a good political point. An even more urgent point is the fact that, as Senator Bacik has indicated, the compilation of these statistics is a significant element in policy formation. To formulate policy accurately one needs the most up-to-date statistics and this would assist with that. I support her on this.

I assure the Senator that Minister Margaret Ritchie and I have a good working relationship. She has been in the Customs House with me and I have visited the Bogside and Creggan areas with her.

For the sake of balance the Minister will also have to visit the Shankill.

This amendment is not appropriate to this provision. Subsection 7 empowers the Minister to make regulations to set out how an assessment of housing needs will be carried out on an individual household including the form of that assessment and the period within which the housing authority should carry out the assessment after receiving an application. Paragraph (d) of this subsection already provides that the Minister, through regulation, can set out how often an assessment of the circumstances of particular households should be reviewed or updated. It is the intention to move more timely reports on needs than the current tri-annual assessments. Amendment No. 44 is related. In those circumstances I ask that the Senator withdraw the amendments.

While I hear what the Minister says, it is important to be a little more specific about how regularly updates and reviews take place. Paragraph (d) refers to frequency of reviewing and updating assessments but it gives no commitment to more regular updating. The tri-annual system is not efficient enough and does not take into account changing circumstances. I would like the Minister to consider what I have said about the CSO. That might be a useful way to collate statistics. I will not press the amendment but reserve the right to do so on Report Stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 43:

In page 18, subsection (7), between lines 12 and 13, to insert the following:

"(c) the maximum period in which an applicant for social housing or housing support shall stay in accommodation designated as emergency;”.

Again, this seeks to amend subsection (7) by inserting a new provision specifying that the Minister, in his regulations, would specify the maximum period in which an applicant for social housing or housing support shall stay in accommodation designated as emergency. This is an important amendment which would commit the Minister to providing for a maximum period after which a housing authority would have an obligation to provide a household with alternative long-term housing accommodation. It is consistent with Government policy. This is a significant amendment that would provide for an important and enforceable new provision. It is important that it be made because it would give teeth to the Government's homelessness strategy. While it would be a departure — I do not pretend it would be something new to the Bill — it would also commit the Government to that to which it is already committed politically in the homelessness strategy which states households should not be left in emergency accommodation beyond six months. There is an aspiration and a political commitment to adhere to a maximum period beyond which households should not be left in emergency accommodation. In the amendment I am seeking to give to teeth to this commitment and have specified in the legislation that the Minister would designate a maximum period. The Minister could choose to designate a longer period. It may not need to be as tight as six months but that is the period at which the Government is aiming. There is no justification in a developed country in 2008 for leaving households longer than six months in emergency accommodation.

This is an important provision that would give teeth to the legislation. It would deal somewhat with the issue of homelessness which we raised in earlier debates on Committee Stage. Many of us have suggested there might be more in the Bill to tackle homelessness but this measure would give teeth to an important commitment the Government has already given. It is not against the Government's strategy. I, therefore, ask the Minister of State to consider inserting in the legislation the power to specify a maximum period. Given that the legislation states the Minister may make regulations, it would not tie the Minister's hands. I am not seeking to do this, rather I am asking that the Minister consider that within the regulations there should be the power to specify a maximum period beyond which households should not be left in emergency accommodation.

Again, I find myself in strong agreement with Senator Bacik. Six months is plenty of time for it to be considered an emergency but I warn about one aspect. We have had emergency legislation on the Statute Book since the time of the Second World War. For political purposes, therefore, emergencies can be lasting. I support and reinforce what Senator Bacik said because I have a personal memory, as I am sure the Senator does, of hearing the Minister of State speak effectively and tellingly on the precise subject of the Government's aim to move people out of emergency housing within six months. That is what he said in his Second Stage contribution a week or two ago in the House.

It is important to register again that the Minister would not be required to do this if it presented an awkwardness but it would facilitate him in doing it. I cannot imagine an objection, therefore, and will be profoundly shocked if the Minister of State says the amendment is not necessary. We are developing an oral formulaic response, whereby I could practically parrot some of the Minister of State's replies in advance. I ask him to consider the amendment. The Minister was extremely good on this issue on Second Stage but for persons in bed and breakfast accommodation who have to be out on the streets of a city all day and for part of the evening, particularly those with families, six months is a very long time to have to endure such hardship.

On these grounds I ask the Minister of State to accept the amendment which would not tie the Minister's hands. It may not be necessary but it depends on the Minister of State's view of necessity. Nothing is necessary. We are not necessary. This Parliament is not necessary for the continued functioning of the universe. It all depends on how lasting the Minister of States's view of necessity is. I hope he will not start his reply by saying the amendment is not necessary. In the universal scheme of things it may not be necessary and the inhabitants, if such there be, of Mars are unlikely to be affected by it but people in this limited jurisdiction would be in a practical way. I believe the Minister of State would want to move in that direction.

The proposed amendment is not appropriate to the subsection.

At least, it is a variation of the theme.

Subsection (7) empowers the Minister to make regulations to set out how an assessment of housing need will be carried out on an individual household. The aim of housing policy is to provide accommodation for households not in a position to provide it for themselves. In this context, the particular goals have been set in the new homelessness strategy, The Way Home, relating to the elimination of long-term occupancy of emergency homeless accommodation. It is appropriate to set such goals as policy rather than a legislative objective. Eliminating long-term occupancy of emergency homeless accommodation will require careful planning and organisation at local level with support from central government. It will be achieved by an adequate supply of long-term housing in each local area to address current and projected needs, adequate community support services for households vulnerable to homelessness, accessible mental health and addiction services, and effective interventions by the homeless services.

As I explained to Senators on the previous occasion, The Way Home contains a number of actions, the majority of which have deadlines for completion under each strategy aim. It also includes performance indicators relating to each strategy aim. These will form the basis of a more detailed implementation which will assign lead roles and specific timetables to achieve the important national objective of ensuring that by 2010 no one will be in emergency accommodation for more than six months. A range of actions are required to make this and other elements of the strategy work. One of the most important issues from the legislative perspective is the commitment to introduce statutory local based homeless action plans. In practice, implementation has already started. A circular has been issued to all local authorities providing further details of action plans and advising them to commence work on updating their existing plans. It also advises them about their local homeless forum and the formation of the management group for each local homeless forum.

We are working on bringing forward a necessary legislative provision in conjunction with a more broadly based implementation plan. It is envisaged in The Way Home that these plans, as well as containing an overall vision and objective, will include output targets and timescales for achievement. The associated actions to be included in the plans must take account of the local position, as the experience of the homeless varies throughout the country. The plans must have regard to the national implementation plan and the guidelines that will be issued by my Department. In the light of this ongoing work, I ask the Senator to withdraw her amendment.

I thank the Minister of State for his full response. However, I am concerned to hear him say that he would prefer to see the laudable goals outlined in The Way Home, the homelessness strategy, which I welcome, as policy rather than legislative objectives. That may undermine significantly whether these goals are achievable because if they are not given legislative backing, they will remain only as aspirations. The Minister of State might clarify this because he went on to say he envisaged some legislative provision. I accept that local considerations need to be taken into account. I was glad to hear the Minister of State say he wanted plans at local level to include output targets and timescales. I would like him to clarify whether the plans will have legislative backing in other legislation. Even taking into account variations in local areas and in the meaning of emergency accommodation, we all are well aware such accommodation has meant families with young children being forced to stay in bed and breakfast accommodation and having to wander the streets aimlessly between breakfast and bed time. That is not in anyone's interest.

As Senator Norris said, six months is too long a time for any parent of young children or any individual to be left in such emergency accommodation. I will consider what the Minister of State said because I do not want to dismiss it out of hand, but I am concerned he said these important goals such as limiting the time people spend in emergency accommodation would be policy aspirations rather than legislative objectives. Will he clarify whether legislation will be introduced to give teeth to this goal in the homeless strategy?

I support Senator Bacik. The Minister of State has explained this as a policy whereas legislation is the implementation of policy. He has been very clear in this area about the policy he strongly advocates and it would be a pity to miss this opportunity to implement the policy or at least to provide a framework within which it can be implemented. I am a little disturbed at his reluctance to accept an amendment that is in clear alignment with his own policy. It proposes to implement the policy, which is the purpose of legislation. If the policy only exists as a pious aspiration, it will have no impact on the lived experience of people in Dublin.

There is a commitment to introduce statutory-based local homeless action plans. The way to give legislative effect to this goal is to put those plans in place. We are working on the legislation.

Is the amendment being pressed?

I am obliged to the Minister of State. In that circumstance, I will not press the amendment but I reserve the right to do so on Report Stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 44:

In page 18, subsection (7), line 16, to delete paragraph (d).

I indicated I would not press this amendment also and I reserve the right to do so on Report Stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Government amendment No. 45:
In page 18, between lines 32 and 33, to insert the following subsection:
"(10) A household in receipt of social housing support referred to insection 19(2)(b), before the commencement of this section, is deemed to have been assessed and qualified for such social housing support under this section.”.

The amendment proposes an additional subsection in this section providing that tenants in receipt of social housing support from the voluntary sector prior to the enactment of the Bill are deemed to be qualified for social housing support under this section. The amendment is required to copperfasten the existing exclusion from the terms of the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 of dwellings let by the voluntary sector to persons qualified for such support. Following the repeal under the Bill of section 9 of the Housing Act 1988, which is referred to in the existing exclusion set out in section 32(c)(ii) of the Residential Tenancies Act 2004, an amendment to that provision, included in amendment No. 107, and this addition to section 20 are necessary to update the exclusion of the voluntary sector from the terms of the 2004 Act.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 20, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 21.

Amendments Nos. 46 and 93 are related and may be discussed together.

Government amendment No. 46:
In page 19, lines 1 and 2, to delete subsection (2).

These amendments delete subsections that provide for a matter to be prescribed in situations where the section already provides for that matter to be prescribed. Thus, section 21(2) provides for the Minister to prescribe the form of a summary of social housing assessment when section 21(1) refers to the prescribed form of the summary. Similarly, section 43(1)(i) provides for the Minister to prescribe a date when section 43(1) refers to the date as may be prescribed. Under section 3, the Minister is empowered to make regulations prescribing any matter referred in the Act as prescribed. The second reference to "prescribed" in both sections 21 and 43 are unnecessary and, therefore, I propose to delete them.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 21, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 22.

I move amendment No. 47:

In page 19, subsection (4), line 31, to delete "may" and substitute "shall".

Amendment put and declared lost.
Amendment No. 48 not moved.

I move amendment No. 49:

In page 19, subsection (4), between lines 43 and 44, to insert the following:

"(d) measures to prevent and reduce homelessness.”.

The amendment is intended to ensure homelessness is identified in the Bill. The section covers housing allocation, which is probably the most important function of a housing authority. Its housing allocation must be seen as fair and consistent and it must take all the applicant's circumstances into account. As I said on Second Stage, I am concerned that homelessness is not clearly enshrined in law and the Bill provides the Minister of State with an opportunity to acknowledge that and to make this amendment. I urge him to take the amendment into consideration.

The amendment is not necessary. Section 22(4) empowers the Minister to make regulations governing the matters that housing authorities must include in their allocation scheme, which is a mechanism for them to allocate dwellings fairly and transparently to individual households. Section 22(5) provides sufficient scope for housing authorities, as appropriate, to reserve a portion of dwellings in their areas for allocation to particular classes of household. This allows them, based on the identified housing needs in their area, to target support, where appropriate, to particular types of household need, for example, the homeless, Travellers, people with disabilities and single adult households. In those circumstances, I ask the Senator to withdraw the amendment.

I agree to withdraw the amendment but I reserve the right to reintroduce it on Report Stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 50:

In page 19, subsection (4), between lines 43 and 44, to insert the following:

"(e) The Minister shall lay the draft regulations before the relevant Oireachtas Committee for debate. The Minister shall consider the recommendations of the Oireachtas Committee before signing final regulations.”.

The reason I tabled the amendment is the regulations laid down by the Minister will have a serious impact, especially on citizens involved in the provision of housing. If the amendment is accepted, regulations introduced by him or her should be brought before the joint Oireachtas committee for discussion. The committee can consult all the various stakeholders and take their views on board, thus ensuring the regulations are properly debated in a timely fashion. The Minister should lay regulations before the committee which would be a worthwhile sounding board. It would be a worthwhile function of the committee to discuss regulations relating to this legislation. We would ask that the Minister of State take this amendment into consideration.

The Minister of State will presumably be laying the draft regulations before the Houses of the Oireachtas. Perhaps he will clarify whether this will happen and whether this will be taken with debate because we are familiar with a number of situations where matters were taken without debate. I am assuming that these regulations will be laid before the Houses, although not perhaps in draft form. It may be that the advice of a committee that has a focus on this area, among others, would be very helpful at the draft stage before they come to the House, which might make for a more efficient management of business. It seems an appropriate amendment and I support it.

This amendment is not necessary. Section 3(3) provides that every regulation under this Act shall be laid before the Oireachtas and resolutions may be passed to annul the regulation.

I concur with Senator Norris. In my short time in the House, I have often encountered situations where regulations are brought before the House without debate and we do not get the opportunity to further consult on and debate the various issues. We in Fine Gael believe it would be appropriate that any draft regulations should go before the joint committee. This would enhance its role in consulting with the various stakeholders and would assist the Minister in finalising his regulations in that it would have a broader and more consultative basis before he finalises them, which would be appropriate. For that reason, I will be pressing the amendment.

As I have said, the amendment is not necessary. The regulations are laid before the House and the House has the entitlement to pass the resolution to annul the regulation. That is the democratic right of the House.

Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 18; Níl, 25.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Hannigan, Dominic.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • McFadden, Nicky.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Norris, David.
  • O’Reilly, Joe.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Twomey, Liam.

Níl

  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Butler, Larry.
  • Callanan, Peter.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Corrigan, Maria.
  • de Búrca, Déirdre.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Glynn, Camillus.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • McDonald, Lisa.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O’Brien, Francis.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • O’Sullivan, Ned.
  • O’Toole, Joe.
  • Ormonde, Ann.
  • Phelan, Kieran.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paudie Coffey and Maurice Cummins; Níl, Senators Camillus Glynn and Diarmuid Wilson.
Amendment declared lost.
Sitting suspended at 1.35 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.
Amendments Nos. 51 and 52 not moved.

I move amendment No. 53:

In page 20, subsection (5), between lines 4 and 5, to insert the following:

"(d) allocation on the basis of need.”.

This amendment proposes that allocations be made on the basis of need. This requirement must be enshrined in law so that all housing authorities are clear in this regard.

This amendment is unnecessary. The principle upon which housing authority schemes are founded is allocation on the basis of need, as provided for by section 22 as a whole. Subsection (5) provides a mechanism whereby, within a general allocation on the basis of need, housing authorities may reserve a portion of dwellings within the stock to cater for particular groups with particular types of needs, including the homeless, Travellers and single-adult households.

I thank the Minister of State for his explanation. I withdraw the amendment on the basis that it may be resubmitted on Report Stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment No. 54 in the name of Senator Norris is out of order as it involves a potential charge on the Revenue.

Will the Leas-Chathaoirleach explain how this is so? The amendment relates to the establishment of an appeals commission.

The legal advice I have is that it involves a potential charge on the Exchequer.

Amendment No. 54 not moved.
Question proposed: "That section 22 stand part of the Bill."

I regret that my amendment No. 54 was ruled out of order. It is most frustrating. I strongly object to the notion that it cannot be moved because it would involve a charge to the Exchequer. Does this refer to the establishment of the commission, the payment of salaries and so on? We routinely pass similar provisions in the House. The decision to rule the amendment out of order highlights the farce under which this House is precluded from discussing any proposal involving money. The time for a re-examination of this restriction is long overdue and it should be done within the overall review of the working of the Seanad.

This is an issue the House should debate. Even though my amendment cannot be taken, I have a perfect entitlement to discuss the need for an appeals commission, as provided for in the amendment, in the debate on the section. Some 21,000 people applied for support during a previous regime, of which 9,000 were declared ineligible. No analysis was done of the reasons for these rejections. Some may have arisen as a result of non-delivery within the postal system of the correct forms. In many cases, applicants were deemed ineligible because they did not reply to letters and circulars from the authorities. This raises the question of literacy, particularly in the case of homeless people. There may well be a concealed problem of illiteracy which accounts for the fact that some applicants did not reply to certain correspondence.

Will the Minister of State consider my proposal to establish an appeals commission notwithstanding the ridiculous situation whereby I am precluded from doing so on the basis that it might create a charge on the Exchequer? That restriction is a farce and it makes the entire proceedings of this House ridiculous.

It is open to any member of the public to present concerns on issues such as this to the Office of the Ombudsman.

That is a weak response. The Ombudsman is not the answer to everything.

Section 22 provides that housing authorities put in place an allocation scheme for the provision of social housing supports to eligible households. It replaces section 11 of the Housing Act 1988. The section will allow the Minister to make regulations governing the making of an allocation scheme, the method by which households are prioritised and how the scheme will operate. It re-states some of the provisions of section 11, most particularly providing that the Minister cannot direct the allocation of a dwelling to a specific household, subsection (17)(b).

At present, housing authorities use a scheme for letting priorities to manage the allocation of dwellings to households in need. Authorities have compete discretion as to how households are prioritised within those schemes, which means there has been little consistency in how dwellings are allocated across local authorities. They also make no specific provision as to how transfer applicants are to be managed. Most housing authorities put in place their own arrangements in that regard. The reform of the allocation policy is part of a suite of reforms aimed at improving services and ensuring that social housing is delivered in a way that is fair and efficient. This approach was developed in conjunction with the local government sector. The social partners were also consulted through the housing forum.

The key components of the new allocation system include: a standard framework within which housing authorities will make their allocation schemes; a standard prioritisation methodology which will be applied to all housing authorities; a standard mechanism for housing authorities to deal with refusals of accommodation; the power for local authorities to reserve certain portions of dwellings to target particular groups in need; a mechanism to take account of the location preferences of eligible households; and standard mechanisms for housing authorities to manage transfer applicants and emergency accommodation requirements.

Subsection (1) sets out dwellings to which the allocation schemes made by a housing authority will apply. This is being expanded from the 1998 housing Act to include not just local authority housing but also dwellings provided by the authority through contracting or leasing and dwellings owned and provided by the voluntary and co-operative sector. In terms of local authority housing this includes dwellings provided under any of the housing Acts since 1966 and dwellings provided under Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000, where the authority is the owner or has leased or contracted a dwelling, including the rental availability agreements.

Subsection (2) provides that a housing authority may allocate a dwelling to the household in accordance with an allocation scheme made under subsection (3) of the section. Subsection (3) provides that a housing authority should, not later that a year after the section comes into operation, make an allocation scheme to set out the priority in which the allocation of dwellings will be made to households that have undergone a social housing assessment under section 20 and who have been determined to be qualified for that support and households already in receipt of social housing support of some kind and who have requested a transfer from a housing authority or who have applied to purchase a dwelling under Part 3, the incremental purchase scheme. This is similar to requirements of section 11 of the 1988 housing Act and has been extended to provide that housing authorities must also have an allocation process in place for transfer applicants. It also provides that households availing of the incremental purchase scheme must be subject to an allocation scheme.

That is the main thrust of the section.

Question put and agreed to.
Section 23 agreed to.
SECTION 24.
Government amendment No. 55:
In page 22, subsection (2)(b), to delete lines 36 to 40 and substitute the following:
"(i) his or her tax reference number within the meaning of section 888 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997, and".

The existing subparagraph (i) specifies that in order to benefit under the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, a rental accommodation provider must furnish to the housing authority either his or her PPS number, as defined in social welfare legislation, or, in the case of a company, its registered number and address. The purpose of this amendment is to replace this provision with a single requirement. A rental accommodation provider must furnish his or her tax reference number as defined under the tax legislation. The basic requirement has not changed. The RAS landlord must supply his or her PPS number to the housing authority to benefit under the scheme. The amendment proposes to use a more straightforward and relevant statutory provision as a reference point, as the definition of a tax reference number also includes the reference number on the tax returns of companies.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 24, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 25.

Amendment No. 57 is consequential on amendment No. 56. Is it agreed that amendments Nos. 56 and 57 be discussed together? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 56:

In page 25, subsection (4), between lines 4 and 5, to insert the following:

"(i) procedures for supporting tenants who fall into rent arrears designed to assist them in sustaining their tenancy.”.

This amendment, if accepted, would ensure that when tenants fall into arrears there are procedures in place for resolving the situation before the arrears accumulate to the degree that the tenants are unable to pay them.

Procedures for housing authorities to deal with tenants who fall into rent arrears are provided for in section 31(6)(f), which allows a housing authority to include in its rent scheme procedures, where appropriate, to waive rent in whole or in part on a temporary basis in the case of financial hardship as tenants move into the scheme from the rent supplement. The provisions of section 31 apply to rents paid under a rental accommodation arrangement.

The amendments are unnecessary and I ask the Senator to withdraw them.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 57 not moved.

Amendment No. 110 is related to amendment No. 58. Is it agreed that amendments Nos. 58 and 110 be discussed together? Agreed.

Government amendment No. 58:
In page 25, subsection (5)(c), to delete lines 18 to 23 and substitute the following:
"(iii) knowingly permitting a person, against whom an excluding order under section 3 of the Act of 1997 or an interim excluding order under section 4 of that Act is in force in respect of the dwelling concerned, to enter the dwelling in breach of the excluding order or interim excluding order, as the case may be.".

These amendments substitute new provisions for two existing provisions in section 25(5)(c)(iii) and in paragraph (ii) of Schedule 3, respectively. The new material essentially makes two changes to the existing text. It extends the grounds on which a Chapter 4 tenancy may be terminated from knowingly permitting a person to enter the house who is the subject of an exclusion order sought by a housing authority, to include persons subject to exclusion orders sought by a tenant. The basis for the amendment is that the breach of any excluding order made after a court hearing of evidence of anti-social behaviour constitutes reasonable grounds for terminating a tenancy, even if the housing authority was not involved in the court proceedings.

It deals with cases where an excluding order or an interim excluding order permits the respondent to enter a dwelling subject to conditions that may be specified in the order. In such cases, the offence is permitting the respondent to enter the dwelling knowing that he or she is in breach of a condition attached to such permission in the court order. The text of subsection (5)(c) has been amended to reflect this possibility.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 25, as amended, agreed to.
Section 26 agreed to.
NEW SECTION.

Amendments Nos. 59, 86, 94, 105 and 106 are related and may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Government amendment No. 59:
In page 26, before section 27, but in Chapter 4, to insert the following new section:
"27. —Section 211(2) of the Planning and Development Act 2000 and section 183 of the Local Government Act 2001 shall not apply to the disposal, for any of the purposes of this Chapter, of land or a dwelling by a housing authority.".

These amendments extend the provisions concerned to disapply section 211(2) of the Planning and Development Act 2000 from disposals of dwellings or lands by a housing authority under the following schemes: the rental accommodation arrangements, the new incremental purchase scheme, the tenant purchase scheme and affordable housing under both the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2002 and Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000. Section 211(2) of the planning Act provides that, subject to subsection (3), the Minister's consent is required for any sale, lease or exchange of land acquired or building provided by a local authority for any statutory purpose where the selling price is below the market value. As all the schemes referred to are national schemes implemented by housing authorities with a policy framework set down by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, there is no need for ministerial consent in cases of individual disposals under the schemes.

Amendment put and declared carried.
Section 27 deleted.
SECTION 28.

Amendments Nos. 60, 83 and 104 are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Government amendment No. 60:
In page 26, subsection (2), line 35, after "or" to insert "provided under".

Amendments Nos. 60 and 83 are required so that the provisions concerned apply to dwellings provided under Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000, but without specifying whether such dwellings are provided by a housing or planning authority. This is because social housing, provided under the Planning and Development Act, may be provided either by a local authority, in its capacity as a planning authority, or as a housing authority arising from the application of Part V of the Act to particular lands or dwellings. Amendment No. 104 deals with broadly the same issue. This amendment refers to section 99 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 set out in Part 7 of the Schedule. It refers to a local authority in its capacity as a planning authority as distinct from a housing authority. Section 99 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 provides for profit claw backs on resales of affordable housing provided by the planning authorities under Part V of the Act.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 61:
In page 27, subsection (6), line 50, to delete "section 56 of the Principal Act or under this Act" and substitute "section 11“.

This amendment deletes the reference to section 56 of the Housing Act 1966 in section 28(6) which deals with the letting of allotments by housing authorities and replaces it with a reference to section 11 of the Bill. Section 56 of the 1956 Act is being repealed in Schedule 1 of the Bill. Section 11 lists allotments as one of the services ancillary to the provision of housing.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 28, as amended, agreed to.
Amendment No. 62 not moved.
Sections 29 and 30 agreed to.
SECTION 31.

I move amendment No. 63:

In page 31, subsection (4)(b), between lines 2 and 3, to insert the following:

"(iii) special needs charges.".

This amendment seeks to insert the words "special needs charges". The rationale is to ensure special needs charges that may be levied are included in this section.

The intention of this amendment is not clear. Section 31(4) provides housing authorities with the power to make charges relating to a range of functions, including the provision of services which are also provided to the occupants of other dwellings. It is not intended that charges would be levied on households for services from which such households do not benefit, nor is there any intention to levy charges in respect of special needs services. In the circumstances, will Senator Hannigan withdraw the amendment?

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 64 and 65 are cognate and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Government amendment No. 64:
In page 31, subsection (6)(b), line 20, after “size,” to insert “standard,”.

Section 31(6)(b) provides that the Minister may regulate for the manner in which the specified characteristics of any class of dwelling shall be reckonable for rent, having regard to the market rent in the administrative area for dwellings in that class with those characteristics. The characteristics specified in subsection (6)(b) are size, location and amenity. These amendments propose to add another characteristic to the list, namely, the standard of the dwelling. For example, the rent of a new dwelling built to the latest high insulation standards would attract a higher rent than an older dwelling built under an earlier building regulation code which would have higher running costs for the occupier. I have no immediate plans to adjust differential levels in respect of particular standards of dwellings, but it is reasonable to provide powers for the Minister to regulate in this area in future.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 65:
In page 31, subsection (6)(b), line 23, after “size,” to insert “standard,”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 66:
In page 31, subsection (6)(d), line 29, after “allowances,” to insert “in respect of rent”.

Section 31(6) empowers the Minister to make regulations to provide for matters which should be included in a housing authority rent scheme. Subsection (6)(d) provides that one such matter is the amount and method of calculating any allowances made for dependants. The purpose of this provision is to enable the Minister to regulate allowances for dependants related to rent determination by housing authorities. The amendment clarifies that the power to regulate allowances for dependants is confined to the payment of rent, as it was never my intention that allowances would be made for dependants in the case of other charges for local authorities dwellings or for works and services relating to such dwellings.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 67:
In page 31, between lines 38 and 39, to insert the following subsection:
"(8) The charging of rents or other charges referred to insubsection (3) in respect of a dwelling to which this section applies and the review of such rents or other charges in accordance with a rent scheme are executive functions.”.

Section 31(5) provides that it is a matter for elected members to determine the housing authority policy for determining rents and other charges related to the rental accommodation scheme and related works and services. I propose this amendment to clarify that it is the responsibility of the local authority manager to fix and review individual rents and charges in accordance with council policy. While it is the position that all local authority functions not specified in legislation are executive functions exercised by the manager, it is important to spell out the respective duties of the elected members and the manager within the statutory provisions relating to housing rents and charges. This amendment will dispel any residual doubts concerning the matter.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 31, as amended, agreed to.
Section 32 agreed to.
SECTION 33.

Amendments Nos. 68 and 71 are cognate and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Government amendment No. 68:
In page 34, subsection (3), line 14, to delete "subsection (1)“ and substitute “subsection (2)“.

These amendments correct referencing errors in section 33(3) and section 33(6). Subsection (2) is the enabling provision for charging interest under the section and contains the correct reference to the two subsections.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 69 and 72 are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Government amendment No. 69:
In page 34, lines 23 to 32, to delete subsection (5).

These amendments insert a new section, section 34, in place of section 33(5). Under the existing section 33(5), the provisions relating to rescheduling of repayments in the case of hardship apply to rent and loan repayments due to the housing authorities as well as to profit claw back payments. The provisions in the new section do not apply to profit claw back payments. There is no basis for allowing hardship arguments to be presented in the case of profit claw back payments, which are designed to ensure housing authorities share in the profits made by householders on the sale of dwellings, which were originally purchased at a discount from the housing authority.

Can I discuss section 34?

The Senator may speak on the section when we reach it.

I understood the amendment No. 72 was included in the discussion, and that I may not be allowed speak on that amendment at a later stage.

The Senator can speak to amendment No. 72 if he so wishes. We are currently discussing amendments Nos. 69 and 72.

My party is not opposing these amendments. However, I have a number of queries for the Minister of State. Given that market prices have fallen sharply recently, how does that effect housing authorities' responsibilities in terms of shared ownership arrangements? House prices have fallen dramatically and many people are locked into shared ownership schemes at what would now seem to be elevated prices. Is there any recourse for such people to apply to housing authorities to have their house value figures revised? What measures are being taken by housing authorities to address the decline in the market in the context of new shared ownership schemes?

Fine Gael welcomes section 34 of the Bill which deals with anti-social behaviour. My party believes that action in law has been required for some time to deal with the scourge of anti-social behaviour in many local authority housing estates, and private estates. The lives of many law-abiding citizens and tenants of councils have been made a hell by a very small minority in some housing estates and many housing authorities feel unable to deal with the problem of anti-social behaviour. My party is hopeful that this Bill and the anti-social behaviour strategy therein will help local authorities to identify the problems at source, as well as give them the wherewithal to deal with them. In many cases, tenants are too frightened to deal with the problem themselves and are depending on the local authorities to address anti-social behaviour on their behalf. Of course, authorities must work with the Garda Síochána and other agencies such as the HSE.

Fine Gael welcomes section 34, which enhances the role of local authorities with regard to responding to anti-social difficulties in their housing estates. I would welcome further comment from the Minister of State on these matters.

I am somewhat confused because I thought we had not yet moved on to discuss the existing section 34. I thought we were still debating amendments to the existing section 33.

We are discussing amendments Nos. 69 and 72.

I thought we were debating amendments Nos. 68 and 71 together.

No, we are currently dealing with amendments Nos. 69 and 72 and amendment No. 72 refers to section 34 of the Bill.

Amendment No. 72 is listed under the heading for section 34, but its aim is to insert a new section 34, as I understand it, which is closer to the existing section 33. We have not yet reached the point of discussing anti-social behaviour as dealt with in the existing section 34 of the Bill. We have not yet moved to the existing section 34, which is important to point out at this stage.

Amendments Nos. 69 and 72 are related.

Yes, they are related amendments but they relate to the provisions of section 33 as it currently stands. Amendment No. 72 aims to insert a new section 34 but has nothing to do with anti-social behaviour. I wish to make that clear because I have tabled amendments to the existing section 34 dealing with anti-social behaviour but I do not propose to address those in speaking on amendment No. 72.

Amendment No. 72 also raises an issue discussed earlier during the debate on section 20. The Minister of State referred to section 33 as offering a discretion to a housing authority where a household was in arrears, had moneys due and owing but would suffer undue hardship in paying such moneys. In that situation, a housing authority could make arrangements with a household for payment in instalments or other similar arrangements. I welcome that provision. However, I note that amendment No. 72 provides for a similar discretion but, just as with the point I made regarding section 33(1), the proposed section 34(1) contained in amendmentNo. 72 does not apply to section 20 of this Bill. The Minister of State has already indicated that he will be referring that matter to the Parliamentary Counsel for advice as to whether the apparent absolutist nature of the provision in section 20(5) might be mitigated by some similar sort of discretion. I am grateful that he has agreed to do that.

I am speaking to amendment No. 72 lest it be assumed that I am simply accepting it as it stands. I would like to see amendment No. 72 altered so that it also applies to section 20 of this Bill. The same points I made earlier in respect of section 20(5) and section 33(1) would also apply to amendment No. 72.

I welcome Senator Coffey's comments on the new section. There is provision in the affordable housing schemes to ensure that on any sale the local authority clawback comes into play when the mortgage is repaid.

Amendment put and declared carried.

I move amendment No. 70:

In page 34, between lines 32 and 33, to insert the following subsection:

"(6) Where exceptional circumstances arise such that arrangements undersubsection (5) cannot be put in place without causing undue hardship, a housing authority may cancel the obligation of a household to pay part or all of the moneys referred to in subsection (5).”.

The principle here is to ensure that if a household is in hardship and cannot enter into an arrangement to repay moneys owed to the housing authority, that the authority would have the power to waive any arrears on a permanent rather than temporary basis.

I support this amendment because it provides for an extra level of discretion for housing authorities. I stress that it does not, in any way, prevent housing authorities from exercising powers to impose sanctions on households that are in arrears or breaching tenancy conditions. It provides for an extra level of discretion in exceptional circumstances, as the amendment proposes, and those circumstances mean that arrangements cannot be put in place without causing undue hardship. In such a situation, the housing authority could go so far as to cancel the obligation of the household to pay moneys owing. It provides housing authorities with an extra layer of discretion and I ask the Minister of State to consider the point that housing authorities should have discretion. Nobody is suggesting they should be forced to cancel obligations. Clearly the authorities must have the power to impose sanctions but it is also important that they have some discretion, especially in the current climate. Circumstances have clearly changed since this Bill was originally drafted and it is important that we would note that exceptional circumstances can and do arise. In that context, this Bill should put in place mechanisms that would give authorities extra discretion in such exceptional circumstances.

I cannot accept this amendment. Section 33(5) sets out the arrangements for the operation of a hardship clause in the application of this section where moneys are owing to a housing authority. It provides that where a housing authority is satisfied that a household would suffer undue hardship, it can enter into an agreement with the said household for the repayment of the moneys due in reasonable instalments, in addition to any rents or charges the household is already paying to the authority. This provision is fair and provides a reasonable safety net for households. It is also sufficiently flexible to allow housing authorities to operate it in a sensible manner. In that context, I ask Senator Hannigan to withdraw the amendment.

While I appreciate the Senator's concerns, it is worth putting in context issues surrounding rent arrears. The differential rent scheme operated by housing authorities is based on the fundamental principle of ability to pay, in that rent is related to the household's income. This is a very affordable form of housing provision. Research in 2001 on Dublin City Council's tenant population suggested that the differential rent scheme plays an important role in combating poverty. It is important, in this context, that people are encouraged to sustain their tenancy by paying their rent and that there is a fair and balanced arrangement for dealing with rent arrears which discourages non-payment of rent on the one hand while also providing for an instalment basis for paying any interest charges that ultimately arise. This section must be read in conjunction with the general powers in section 31 relating to rents. Subsection (6) of that section gives the power to the Minister relating to matters to be included in rent schemes, including the waiving of rent, in whole or in part, or on a temporary basis, in the case of hardship.

Taken together, the provisions in the Bill will prove to be a fair and balanced approach to the issue of rents for local authority dwellings. I cannot accept the Senator's proposed amendment which would alter that balance.

Again, this comes back to the word "reasonable". We had a debate on a previous occasion about what constitutes "reasonable" in the context of the social housing assessment. There are cases of hardship, as I am sure the Minister of State has seen in his work in the past, in which people cannot pay off their arrears for whatever reason. This amendment is to give some discretion to the local authority to waive those moneys on a permanent basis where hardship exists. I ask the Minister of State to think again and perhaps take this away with him and come back another day.

To follow on from what Senator Hannigan said, I have a question about extreme hardship cases. If a tenant of the local authority dies, where does the rest of the family stand with regard to any charge that might be on that dwelling? It could be a sibling, a son or a daughter. Does the local authority have discretion in law? I would appreciate if the Minister would clarify that for me.

As I said, subsection (6) of that section gives power to the Minister with regard to matters to be included in the rent scheme, including the waiving of rent in whole or in part or on a temporary basis in the case of hardship. That provision is there. The official amendment No. 72 inserts a new subsection to clarify that while rescheduling of repayments in cases of hardship will apply to rent, loans and so on due to housing authorities, it will not apply to profit and clawback payments due to them. There is no basis for allowing hardship arguments to be presented in the case of clawbacks designed to ensure that housing authorities share in the profit made by householders on sales of dwellings for market value that they originally bought at a discount from the local authorities. That is a separate matter. However, authorities are entitled to waive either in part or in whole rent due to them from households.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Government amendment No. 71:
In page 34, subsection (6), line 34, to delete "subsection (1)” and substitute “subsection (2)”.
Amendment agreed to.
Section 33, as amended, agreed to.
NEW SECTION.
Government amendment No. 72:
In page 34, before section 34, to insert the following new section:
"34.—(1) This section applies to the following provisions:
(a) sections 28, 31 and 32(7) and (8);
(b) section 13 of the Act of 1988;
(c) sections 3 and 11 of the Act of 1992, and
(d) section 25 of the Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Act 1998.
(2) Where there are moneys due and owing by a household to a housing authority under any of the provisions to which this section applies and the housing authority is satisfied that the household would otherwise suffer undue hardship, the housing authority may enter into arrangements with the household for the payment of those moneys (together with any interest that may have accrued undersection 33(2)) by such instalments and at such times as the housing authority considers reasonable in all the circumstances in addition to any rent, charges, fees or loan repayments that the household is paying to the authority.”.
Amendment agreed to.
SECTION 34.
Amendment No. 73 not moved.

Amendments Nos. 74 and 76 are related and may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 74:

In page 34, subsection (2), after line 46, to insert the following:

"(a) the promotion of good estate management,”.

These amendments together provide for a reordering of the existing provisions in section 34, which is headed "Anti-social behaviour strategy". We all accept that housing authorities must have clear procedures and strategies for dealing with anti-social behaviour and we are all aware of the severe problems experienced by housing authorities, households and individual persons due to such behaviour. It is important, however, that we give a good deal of consideration to the content of the provisions dealing with anti-social behaviour. As a criminal law practitioner, I am conscious that we recently passed legislation to deal with the criminal justice aspects of anti-social behaviour. The ASBOs, anti-social behaviour orders, which were introduced with great fanfare by a previous Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, have proved to be ineffectual in practice in tackling anti-social behaviour. Indeed, many of us raised real concerns about the way in which the provisions in the criminal justice legislation were drafted in the first place. We must be cautious in our approach to legislation dealing with anti-social behaviour.

I am conscious that this Bill deals with anti-social behaviour in a particular context which is not that of criminal justice but rather of housing. The housing authorities must have powers to deal with anti-social behaviour, but what I am aiming to do with these two amendments, which must be read together, is to emphasise positive actions to deal with such behaviour. Rather than have the promotion of good estate management as the fourth objective in the list of objectives for an anti-social behaviour strategy, as is currently the case, I suggest that it be moved to constitute the first objective for an anti-social behaviour strategy. Thus, section 34(2) would read:

An anti-social behaviour strategy shall have as its principal objectives—

(a) the promotion of good estate management,

It is a reworking of the priorities in the Bill to emphasise that the promotion of good estate management is the key objective for any housing authority in developing its anti-social behaviour strategy and that the prevention and reduction of anti-social behaviour must come after that. The two are closely connected, but I am trying to achieve a difference in emphasis by ensuring the positive aspect is written first. That is why I ask the Minister to consider this simple reordering, which tries to give expression to a rather different view of priorities for a housing authority in devising an anti-social behaviour strategy.

These amendments are unnecessary. I am advised that the ordering of paragraphs in such a subsection gives no particular pre-eminence to the items covered. I therefore ask the Senator to withdraw the amendment.

I will not press it at this stage but I reserve the right to raise it again on Report Stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 75:

In page 35, subsection (2), between lines 1 and 2, to insert the following:

"(b) initiatives for the prevention and reduction of anti-social behaviour, including but not limited to family intervention and mediation services,”.

This amendment expands on the existing proposals in the Bill for the prevention and reduction of anti-social behaviour by inserting the words "family intervention and mediation services". Again, this is to try to move the emphasis of section 34 away from the criminal justice aspects of anti-social behaviour, important though they are, and towards a more positive aspect of prevention, which is supporting families. It is an attempt to give a specific basis for such initiatives, which I think housing authorities will adopt, in any event, in their anti-social behaviour strategies, by specifying that these things can be included in their initiatives to prevent and reduce anti-social behaviour and that they should not be limited to criminal justice measures.

The anti-social behaviour strategy sets out an important high level framework for housing authorities to plan for the prevention and reduction of anti-social behaviour in their housing stock. Section 34 specifies the principal objectives of a strategy, notably the promotion of co-operation with other persons, including the Garda, to avoid duplication of effort. It also outlines the matters that may be dealt with in a strategy and sets out the bodies that must be consulted in drawing up a strategy, including the HSE. The HSE has a central role in terms of family intervention and mediation services, and I am satisfied that the issue of inter-agency co-operation is given sufficient standing in the provisions to allow for protocols to be agreed locally and for practical actions to support vulnerable families of the type envisaged in the proposed amendment. I do not propose to accept these amendments.

I am glad to hear the Minister of State emphasising the role of the HSE and the need for inter-agency co-operation on this issue. That is exactly what I am trying to achieve in a different way. I am attempting to spell out the need for inter-agency co-operation and HSE intervention in the form of family supports and mediation services. It is really just to give a specific expression to that in the Bill. I accept the Minister's statement that it will happen anyway but, as with many other provisions in the Bill, it would be worth setting out more specifically that those measures can be taken by housing authorities in addressing anti-social behaviour. There is much goodwill towards the Bill among all of us and we would all like to see it strengthened. The thrust of many of the amendments is to strengthen and give specific expression to many of the policies and principles the Minister has expressed and provided for in the homelessness strategy and so on. It is really just a way of giving more specific expression to things on which we are all agreed. I ask the Minister to consider accepting the amendment.

To add to my earlier contribution, this is a very important section of the Bill and has been awaited for a long time by local authorities and elected representatives around the country who have been dealing with anti-social issues at the coalface. I am glad that consultation with the joint policing committees is recommended in the Bill. Some pilot projects of joint policing committees were established and have been a success and more are being established in the various local authority areas. This is a step in the right direction, attempting to bring the different agencies together, including housing authorities, local authorities, the Garda Síochána, the Health Service Executive and any other stakeholders working in this area. This is to be welcomed.

I welcome the fact that the adoption and amendment of an anti-social behaviour strategy shall be a reserved function. It is very important that democratically elected Members and councillors in local authority areas have that reserved function to amend and adopt the anti-social behaviour plans after what I hope will be a lengthy process of consultation with the various stakeholders. Fine Gael welcomes this provision.

The opportunity exists for local protocols. While I appreciate the intent, there is also a danger specifically that the flexibility and innovation required in inter-agency work might be constrained. However, I will be providing guidance in this area.

I am grateful to the Minister of State for indicating he will provide guidelines in the area. It is a pity not to specify in more detail what initiatives can be taken by housing authorities. I will not press the amendment at this stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 76 to 78, inclusive, not moved.

I move amendment No. 79:

In page 35, between lines 23 and 24, to insert the following:

"(d) formal detail of how the housing authority plans to implement and resource its anti-social behaviour strategy;

(e) relevant rights and responsibilities of tenants and landlords;

(f) protocols and procedures for responding to anti-social behaviour;

(g) protocols and procedures ensuring fair and due process in responding to anti-social behaviour;

(h) protocols and procedures for evictions;

(i) ensuring a clear, independent and accessible appeals process is available to tenants who are subject to eviction procedures;

(j) appropriate protocols and procedures for meeting the accommodation needs of households who are subject to eviction;

(k) a resource plan outlining what resources will be required to service both the housing authority’s capacity and delivery of the anti-social behaviour plan;

(l) a capacity building plan outlining how the housing authority intends to build its capacity to develop and deliver the anti-social behaviour plan;

(m) what services, if any, the housing authority intends to source from the professional or voluntary sector in ensuring the effective implementation of the anti-social behaviour strategy.”.

This is a very substantial amendment which would insert a list of detailed provisions into the existing section 34(3). I regard this as a critical subsection. This provides that the anti-social behaviour strategy shall set out the proposals of the housing authority for achieving the principal objectives in subsection (2). At present there is a list of just three of the sort of proposals the housing authority should provide for in the anti-social behaviour strategy, and these are welcome. However, greater clarity is needed in this provision as to precisely a fuller list. We cannot provide for all the proposals but it would be a good idea to provide for a fuller list to give greater clarity for housing authorities in terms of the content and functions of the anti-social behaviour strategies they must adopt. It would be helpful to set those out in this Bill. I know the Minister of State has spoken of guidelines and I know there are local considerations and so forth, but a fuller list of criteria in this subsection would be helpful for local authorities.

I would like to see, for example, greater emphasis on early intervention and prevention within any anti-social behaviour strategy. I would like to see, as provided for here, that there would be a commitment to a clear, independent and accessible appeals procedure to be available to tenants subject to eviction procedures. Although we all accept that local authorities must have power to evict for anti-social behaviour, litigation has shown and it is clear that there must be due process observed as well as fair procedures. There is a difficulty for housing authorities if they do not have clarity on the way in which they adopt their processes and the way in which they carry out evictions. There is also a difficulty where evictions are carried out if the problem is merely passed on and if innocent members of a household are injured because an entire family is evicted for the behaviour of one member. Clearly all our interests are in trying to prevent this happening and trying to prevent anti-social behaviour. This is the reason I thought it would be useful — the Make Room coalition has informed me that it thinks it would be useful — to include a fuller list in section 34 of the proposals which a housing authority should adopt and should set out in its anti-social behaviour strategy.

The independent mechanism for an eviction process is one thing. Appropriate protocols and procedures for meeting accommodation needs of households which are subject to eviction is another of the specific provisions inserted in the amendment at (j). The reason is that all too often we see evictions occurring with the problem merely being passed on to other areas and not being dealt with. Looking at meeting the accommodation needs of households which are subject to eviction must be included in an anti-social behaviour strategy. I do not think for a moment that this is easy and I am not in any way underestimating the enormous problem this poses for local authorities. It is a very difficult task. However, I think they would be assisted with a clearer set of proposals in the legislation, to which of course they would have to add and which would have to flesh out in guidelines. I do not suggest that one could have comprehensive proposals in this subsection. The three proposals suggested in subsection (3) are almost cursory and it would be helpful to the local authorities to have a longer list and that is what my amendment provides, with the help of the Make Room coalition, which consists of organisations in the day to day business of providing accommodation.

There is a real need for a greater clarity in this provision. There is a need for local authorities to focus on getting expertise from agencies that deal with young people experiencing difficulty and people undergoing anti-social behaviour. I am not suggesting that anti-social behaviour is limited to young people. In England there have been quite high profile anti-social behaviour orders, ASBOs, imposed on older people so I do not wish to tarnish young people by suggesting they are the only ones who might be subject to ASBOs.

When we talk about anti-social behaviour in a housing context, it is important we bear in mind that the anti-social behaviour of one member of a household can lead to serious consequences for the whole household. This is why we must be very careful that eviction procedures and the sort of procedures housing authorities adopt in dealing with anti-social behaviour are fair. We need to provide support and assistance to housing authorities in how they set out their anti-social behaviour strategy. This is the reason I have tabled this rather lengthy amendment. I ask the Minister of State to indicate whether he might consider adopting even some of the proposals I have suggested here.

As I have indicated, the anti-social behaviour strategy provides a framework for action, co-operation between bodies, procedures for the making of complaints and initiatives for the prevention and reduction of anti-social behaviour. These principal objectives are set out in section 34(2). Subsection (3) builds on the principal objectives set out in subsection (2) by requiring housing authorities to detail the manner in which those principles are to be met in the strategy, including procedures for the making of a complaint to a housing authority, initiatives for prevention and reduction, the provision of education and the carrying out of research on prevention and reduction.

Although some of the elements in the amendment are comprehended by this provision, other elements of the amendment look to add to this list in subsection (3) in some detail with a range of items that would require further complex development and interpretation. For example, what is meant by the rights and responsibilities of tenants and landlords in this context? In a broader sense, the tenancy agreement in Schedule 3 is a key document with regard to the obligations of tenants.

I have indicated already that I am discussing some further provisions on anti-social behaviour with the Parliamentary Counsel and I hope to be in a position to bring forward further provisions during the passage of the Bill through the Oireachtas. In those circumstances I ask the Senator to withdraw the amendment.

I am very heartened to hear the Minister of State say he is discussing this issue with the Parliamentary Counsel and in particular discussing whether further detail might be put into subsection (3) as to what should be included in an anti-social behaviour strategy. I note the Minister of State's comments on the rights and responsibilities of tenants and landlords. He might note that I have specified that it should be relevant rights and responsibilities as clearly some will be beyond the scope of an anti-social behaviour strategy. It is really those that are relevant to preventing and reducing anti-social behaviour. Some of the important things that should be included if the Minister of State is reviewing this provision is the need for a capacity building plan as many housing authorities lack the capacity to deal with anti-social behaviour.

A capacity building plan is essential to ensure local authorities will be able to prevent and reduce anti-social behaviour. Included in that is the need for them to consider whether they will have to buy in services from the professional or voluntary sector to implement their anti-social behaviour strategies. This amendment provides for local authorities to think ahead on how they will deal with anti-social behaviour. I am glad the Minister of State said he would consult on this. Might I take it, therefore, that we may see this provision on Report Stage?

While section 34 and other changes to the anti-social behaviour regime set out in the Bill provide an important context for enhanced anti-social behaviour provisions, it has not been possible to include all aspects at this stage. Discussions with the Parliamentary Counsel about strengthening the statutory supports available to housing authorities are continuing. Nonetheless, I will be in a position to introduce further provisions during the passage of the Bill through the Oireachtas. I want to see a robust mechanism in place that will allow local authorities to deal with anti-social behaviour in their housing estates.

Will the further provisions be introduced on Report Stage in the Seanad? If that is the case, I will not press the amendment. I would be grateful if the Minister of State could give some indication on this.

It is unlikely we will be in a position to have these further provisions ready for Report Stage.

In that case I will press the amendment.

Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 19; Níl, 25.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Hannigan, Dominic.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • McFadden, Nicky.
  • Norris, David.
  • O’Reilly, Joe.
  • O’Toole, Joe.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Regan, Eugene.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Twomey, Liam.

Níl

  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Butler, Larry.
  • Callanan, Peter.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Corrigan, Maria.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • de Búrca, Déirdre.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Feeney, Geraldine.
  • Glynn, Camillus.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • McDonald, Lisa.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O’Brien, Francis.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • O’Sullivan, Ned.
  • Ormonde, Ann.
  • Phelan, Kieran.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Ivana Bacik and Dominic Hannigan; Níl, Senators Déirdre de Búrca and Diarmuid Wilson.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 80:

In page 35, subsection (5), between lines 35 and 36, to insert the following:

"(c) relevant residents, community and voluntary sector organisations,”.

This amendment seeks to insert a further list of groups with which there should be consultation by a local authority in the development of its anti-social behaviour strategy. There is already provision for consultation with a number of bodies, including joint policing committees, the Garda Síochána, the HSE and any other person the authority considers appropriate. It would be appropriate to consult local groups. I note that the amendment refers to relevant organisations only and would not be unduly burdensome on local authorities. I ask the Minister of State to consider it.

I acknowledge the intent of the amendment which seeks to ensure consultation with residents and relevant community and voluntary sector organisations in the development of an anti-social behaviour strategy. However, I am satisfied with the extent of consultation provided for and draw the Senator's attention to section 34(5)(a) which requires the housing authority to consult joint policing committees which are representative of councillors, Oireachtas Members, senior Garda officers and community and voluntary interests. Importantly, section 34(5)(d) provides for consultation with any other person as the authority considers appropriate. In the circumstances I ask the Senator to withdraw the amendment.

There is not sufficient consultation provided for with local groups and relevant organisations. It is an important principle but I will not press the amendment at this stage. However, I reserve the right to do so on Report Stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 81 and 82 not moved.
Question proposed: "That section 34 stand part of the Bill."

The Minister said the local authorities should consult with the Garda, the HSE and a number of other bodies on anti-social behaviour. Are they not all formulated on the joint policing committees? When the joint policing committee makes a statement or information available to the housing authority, why would they have to consult again? Are all the relevant bodies not on the joint policing committee?

The functions of the joint policing committees are kept under review on levels and patterns of crime, disorder and anti-social behaviour in their areas and the underlying contributing factors. New guidelines for the joint policing committees established in the Garda Síochána Act 2005 were launched in September 2008. They will enable the committees to establish in all the 114 local authority areas. They are there and have been updated this year. The consultation is with the HSE, local authority and any other voluntary bodies or persons they deem appropriate.

Much reference is made to estates and estate management. Does this section also apply to individual sites owned by local authorities and halting sites for the travelling community that are run by local authorities as well as local authority estates?

Earlier, Senator Bacik alluded to good management of local authority housing estates. I have never heard of local authorities going out to their estates and discussing with the communities how best they can run their estates. Senator Bacik made a very good point that this is where we should begin and that there should be an obligation on the local authority from within to meet the residents of the local authority estates to hear what the community wants done. It would be a good start.

I am grateful to Senator Burke for raising again the issue I raised in amendment No. 80. I have reserved my position on that and we may debate it again on Report Stage. It is an important principle that there would be consultation with local residents in the community, where appropriate, in drawing up an anti-social behaviour strategy. In general, regarding section 34 it is a shame the Minister has indicated it is unlikely we will see the more detailed set of criteria that should be in the anti-social behaviour strategy come before this House on Report Stage. Given how good a debate we have had on this Bill in general and on section 34 in particular, it would be nice if we could have further debate on it on Report Stage, informed by the amendments on which the Minister is working with the Parliamentary Counsel as to what should be in an anti-social behaviour strategy. If possible I would like if we could have that back before this House on Report Stage. Although the vote on my proposed amendment No. 79 was defeated, it would be good if we could have further debate on Report Stage about the sort of considerations that should be in an anti-social behaviour strategy and how it should be drawn up. This principle of consultation with local residents and communities is an important one which the Minister might take on board globally when he examines section 34 before Report Stage.

Section 1 requires all housing authorities to draw up and adopt an anti-social behaviour strategy within one year of the commencement of the section. The strategy would apply to those parts of the area where the authority has dwellings under the Housing Acts, in which relevant purchases, i.e. purchases from the housing authorities, were sold and sites. It is broad. Under section 2 there are many tenant liaison officers who are involved in management initiatives, and we encourage this.

Question put and agreed to.
SECTION 35.
Question proposed: "That section 35 stand part of the Bill."

Senator Coffey mentioned the sale of a local authority house by a tenant. The tenant must get permission from the local authority to sell the house. Councils do not always give permission for the sale of houses but they have done so in some cases. They cause much controversy when some people get permission to sell the house while that is not the case for others. It is entirely at the discretion of the management of the local authority and I ask the Minister to bring us up to date on that within this legislation.

The Senator is addressing section 37.

We are on section 35.

It might be more appropriate to section 37.

Question put and agreed to.
SECTION 36.
Government amendment No. 83:
In page 36, subsection (1), to delete lines 44 to 46 and in page 37, to delete lines 1 and 2, and substitute the following:
"(1) Subject tosubsection (2), this Part applies to a dwelling provided by a housing authority under the Housing Acts 1966 to 2008 or by an approved body with the assistance of a housing authority under section 6 of the Act of 1992 or provided under Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000.”.
Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 84:

In page 37, between lines 13 and 14, to insert the following subsection:

"(2) This Part also applies with necessary modifications to a dwelling provided by an approved body and constructed prior to the commencement of this Part.".

This is to insert the ability to sell houses held by local voluntary housing agencies in the legislative framework. This applies to existing houses as opposed to new houses. It is to provide tenants of these houses, as well as those of future houses, with the right to buy.

This amendment is not necessary. Subsection (1) already provides that this Part applies to dwellings provided by an approved body. In those circumstances I ask the Senator to withdraw the amendment.

Can the Minister confirm whether this refers to houses that are built and occupied, or just future houses?

It applies to all dwellings provided by an approved body. The approved bodies are housing authorities and voluntary bodies.

I will seek clarification of that and may press it on a later stage.

Does the Senator refer to the incremental purchase scheme?

It does not exist. The incremental purchase scheme, whereby people can purchase a local authority house, is part of the Bill under this section.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 85:

In page 37, lines 14 to 18, to delete subsection (2).

This deletion is to allow the provision of flats to be included in the legislation. I can probably guess the Minister will raise the difficulties associated with administrative issues and management companies, but many of these issues will disappear with the forthcoming legislation on management charges. I ask him to delete this clause in order that flats can be also included in the scheme.

I cannot accept this amendment. No framework for the sale of local authority apartments is in place. Previous efforts to introduce tenant purchase for local authority apartments was thwarted by the difficulties associated with the scheme. Work is continuing on a model for the sale of apartments to tenants which addresses those difficulties. We are determined, however, to pursue an initiative in the area as quickly as possible, but we must also get it right. Our aim is to establish a robust legislative framework that would stand the test of time for all stakeholders, namely, apartment buyers, apartment tenants who choose not to buy, and local authorities.

As I outlined on Second Stage, we have made significant progress in dealing with the complex legal and policy issues arising from the tenant purchase of apartments but it was not possible to finalise the necessary provisions in time for the inclusion in the published Bill. I am determined, however, to continue work to finalise proposals for a viable sales scheme. In light of that and in advance of experience dealing with the sale of apartments under any future legislative model, it would be premature to consider the sale of apartments in this manner. In those circumstances I ask the Senator to withdraw the amendment.

Would the Minister of State consider a different form of wording such as "subject to arrangements being put in place to deal with issues relating to apartment complexes", which would ensure they would be included in this Bill? Currently, the clause specifically prohibits them. I accept the Minister of State has not quite reached that point in terms of the legislation but would he consider inserting a clause that recognises that when he manages to sort out the legislative issues, he will include them in the scheme?

As the Minister of State said on a previous occasion, this is legislation in motion, so to speak. We could introduce an amendment on Report Stage to address that issue. The Bill has to come back before this House anyway because many amendments, both Government and Opposition, have been accepted in the House.

If it is not the Minister of State's intention to include it in this Bill, when does he envisage further legislation being brought forward and how does he intend bringing that before the House? If he does that, will this be the end of bed-sits as we know them? We all know of Georgian houses in Dublin that are divided into individual bed-sits. In terms of this legislation, what is the difference between a bed-sit and a one bedroom apartment? The Minister of State is doing away with the bed-sit under this legislation. Is it his intention to do away with the one bedroom apartment or what is the difference in terms of what will be included in the Bill?

Will people currently renting bed-sits come under the new environment rules on heating and so on? Will tenants be required to leave them? What will be the position in regard to those bed-sits? Many of them do not come up to the new building regulation standards brought forward by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. Will there be a lead-in time in that regard or how does the Minister of State see that being brought about?

The Senator probably read recently that I have signed regulations regarding the private rented sector and the elimination of the bed-sit as we know it but this legislation is concerned with the sale of local authority apartments, which is a different issue. For information purposes, on the timeframe I can tell the Senator that we are allowing a four-year lead-in for structural works and major alterations that have to be made in that area.

Regarding the issue we are dealing with in this legislation, efforts were made in the 1980s and the 1990s to introduce tenant purchase of local authority apartments and they were thwarted by difficulties associated with the scheme. We are now working on a model for the sale of apartments to tenants that addresses those difficulties. The model is based on the long-standing arrangement in the private sector for the ownership and management of multi-unit residential developments.

The transition from a rented social housing complex to a mixed tenure of privately owned and socially rented accommodation adds an extra dimension to the legal and practical problems that can arise. Any model leading to a viable scheme for the tenant purchase of apartments must address the following issues: the need to establish fair, equitable and proportionate arrangements to give tenant purchasers and the local authority advice on the management of the apartment complex; the role of a management company representative of all apartment owners, including the local authority, in managing and maintaining the common areas and services in the complex; the need for the tenant purchasers to contribute through service charges towards the ongoing maintenance of common areas and services; arrangements for sharing of costs of insurance covering the entire complex; and the need to create a reserve fund to pay for major improvement works required into the future. That is the type of scheme on which we are working. We have not completed our deliberations on that but I am determined to bring in a scheme for the sale of local authority apartments.

I want to comment on the sale of the apartments. I welcome the Minister of State's comments that he intends to work on that aspect because it is disappointing that citizens in local authority apartments do not have the same rights as those in dwellings. That is an issue that should be addressed in the interest of equality across all tenancies run by housing authorities. It should be treated as a matter of urgency by the Minister of State in terms of dealing with this issue.

I want to raise another issue that is not directly related to incremental purchase arrangements but is one that has arisen with various local authorities. It concerns voluntary housing associations where the tenants do not have the option of purchasing the houses they have let, despite those housing schemes being financed by the public purse. Did the Minister of State give that issue any consideration in this Bill? I became aware in recent years of many motions from local authorities that were passed, almost unanimously in many cases, requesting movement on this issue. They concerned tenants in long-term tenancies in housing associations requesting the option to purchase the house they lived in. If it had been a council housing estate, they would have had that option, but in housing associations they do not, and that is an issue. Has the Minister of State or his officials considered that issue in the Bill?

The voluntary housing associations own those properties and while we have included in this legislation, under the incremental purchase scheme, the opportunity to purchase in the voluntary sector, that does not apply to existing local authority houses. It is for properties in place after that. A review of the voluntary side is taking place but I want to make it clear that those voluntary housing associations own those properties. That is the current position.

I accept the Minister of State's comments but I remind him they are financed by taxpayers' money, with the approval of the relevant local authority and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. I raise the issue because tenants in these houses do not understand why they do not have the same rights to purchase when the voluntary housing associations have received their funds directly from the Department, which essentially is taxpayers' money. I ask the Minister of State to consider that issue.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 36, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 37.
Government amendment No. 86:
In page 38, lines 22 and 23, to delete subsection (5) and substitute the following:
"(5) Section 211(2) of the Planning and Development Act 2000 and section 183 of the Local Government Act 2001 shall not apply to the sale of a dwelling to an eligible household under this section.".
Amendment agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 37, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

I tried to raise this issue on section 35 but the Minister of State and the Cathaoirleach pointed out I was on the wrong section. I have come across tenants who found it difficult to sell their local authority home. In the past ten years, the value of such houses has greatly increased and, for one reason or another, the circumstances of the tenants may have changed and they wanted to sell their homes and move on. In some cases, they found it difficult to obtain permission from the local authority to sell the house even where they have been tenants for the previous 20 or 30 years. Will the Minister of State clarify whether the legislation provides only for the sale of such houses to people on local authority housing waiting lists or whether the house can be sold to anybody? There is ambiguity about who can sell the house and to whom the house can be sold among local authorities.

Senator Coffey made a good point regarding the purchase of houses under the shared ownership scheme. The value of houses has reduced considerably. Has the value of houses provided under this scheme reduced accordingly? If an individual is buying a shared ownership house from the local authority, will market value determine its price?

I am not sure I fully understand the Senator. Is he saying local authorities, in some instances, are refusing to sell to tenants in their houses?

No, I am delighted the Minister of State does not fully understand because many councillors do not either. If a tenant in a local authority house wants to sell, it is difficult in some circumstances to obtain permission to do so. The local authority sometimes wants to take the house back. However, if the house is being disposed of, must it be sold to a person on the housing waiting list or can it be sold on the open market if the tenant has permission to sell it? There is a little ambiguity about this and I hope the legislation will address it.

Is the Senator referring to a tenant purchase at that stage?

The purchasee does not need to be on the housing waiting list. A provision is in place whereby one cannot sell one's house to somebody who engaged in anti-social behaviour, which is a protection. I am not aware of other restrictions.

If a person buys a house under the tenant purchase scheme, can he or she dispose of it on the open market?

Yes. The purchasee does not need to be on the housing list. There are categories of people to whom houses cannot be sold and I have mentioned one.

Question put and agreed to.
Section 38 agreed to.
SECTION 39.
Government amendment No. 87:
In page 40, subsection (3), lines 42 and 43, to delete "or an approved body".

The amendment is required to delete the first reference to "an approved body" in section 39(3) because, unlike housing authorities, approved bodies are not mortgagees, that is, they do not extend house purchase improvement loans. The second reference to "an approved body" in the subsection stands, that is, an approved body that sold a dwelling under incremental purchase may purchase the remaining interest in the mortgage advanced for that dwelling where the lender other than the housing authority proposes to exercise his or her powers of sale under the mortgage.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 88:
In page 40, subsection (3), lines 44 and 45, to delete "or approved body" and substitute "or an approved body, as the case may be,".

The amendment is necessary to make it clear that a housing authority or an approved body may purchase the remaining interest in a mortgage only where the authority or the body concerned sold by way of incremental purchase the house the subject of the mortgage.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 39, as amended, agreed to.
Sections 40 and 41 agreed to.
SECTION 42.
Government amendment No. 89:
In page 44, subsection (2), line 35, to delete "value" and substitute "market value".

The amendment is required to insert the expression "market value", the meaning of which is defined in section 41, in regard to a site in the calculations set out in subsection (2) of the amount of the clawback payable on the first resale of a housing site grant aided under section 41 within 20 years of the site purchase.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 90:
In page 45, lines 6 to 9, to delete subsection (5) and substitute the following:
"(5) Where the amount payable undersubsection (2) would, if subtracted from the market value of the site at the date of its resale, result in an amount that is less than the price actually paid for the site, the amount payable shall be reduced to the extent necessary to avoid that result.”.

The amendment substitutes a new subsection (5) for the existing subsection and clarifies that the amount of the clawback must be calculated in such a way that the net proceeds, that is, after clawback is discounted, from reselling the site are not less than the price originally paid for the site by the vendor. In other words, the amendment provides that the clawback cannot operate to leave the seller with an amount from the resale of the site that is less than what he or she originally paid for the site.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 42, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 43.
Government amendment No. 91:
In page 46, subsection (1), line 33, to delete "before" and substitute "after".

The amendment is necessary to clarify the clawback under the section will apply to grants paid on foot of an application on or after a date to be prescribed by the Minister. This clawback relates to resales of dwellings with extensions designed to facilitate people with disabilities who are grant aided within the previous five years.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 92:
In page 46, subsection (2), lines 39 to 47 and in page 47, lines 1 to 6, to delete paragraph (b) and substitute the following:
"(b) The percentage referred to in paragraph (a) is—
(i) 85 per cent of the grant paid where less than one year has passed since the date of payment of the grant,
(ii) 70 per cent of the grant paid where one year or more but less than 2 years has passed since the date of payment of the grant,
(iii) 50 per cent of the grant paid where 2 years or more but less than 3 years has passed since the date of payment of the grant,
(iv) 35 per cent of the grant paid where 3 years or more but less than 4 years has passed since the date of payment of the grant, and
(v) 20 per cent of the grant paid where 4 years or more but less than 5 years has passed since the date of payment of the grant.".

The amendment is required to clarify the percentage reduction of the clawback that applies on the second, third and fourth anniversaries of the grant payment, which is not covered by the existing provision. The amendment does not change the rate of reduction in the clawback payable in the case of sales over the five years following the payment of the grant. The wording has been amended to ensure it covers the entire five-year period without any gaps.

We welcome this amendment because the experience of many local authorities that have paid adaptation grants in the past is that when the resident died, they could not recoup the money, despite a great deal of investment in the houses. This is a good provision, which I welcome.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 93:
In page 47, lines 47 and 48, to delete subsection (11).
Amendment agreed to.
Section 43, as amended, agreed to.
Schedule 1 agreed to.
SCHEDULE 2.
Government amendment No. 94:
In page 48, Part 1, between lines 20 and 21, to insert the following:
"

1

Section 90

Insert the following after subsection (4):

“(4A) Section 211(2) of the Planning and Development Act 2000 shall not apply to the sale of a dwelling under subsection (1)(a)(i).”

".
Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 97 and 98 are related to amendment No. 95 and all may be discussed together.

Government amendment No. 95:
In page 49, Part 4, between lines 13 and 14, to insert the following:
"

1

Section 1(1)

Insert the following definitions:

”‘improvement notice’ has the meaning given to it by section 18A;

‘prohibition notice’ has the meaning given to it by section 18B;”

".

Amendments Nos. 95, 97 and 98 provide, by way of amendment to the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 1992, for the introduction of a new inspection and sanctions regime in regard to private rented accommodation. The new regime is one element of a package of measures recently approved by Government that will radically improve standards in rental accommodation. The other major element of the package is new regulations providing for a phasing out of the traditional bed-sit by insisting that each rental unit shall have its own sanitary facilities; an end to open fireplaces as the sole means of room heating; and modern facilities for cooking, food storage and laundry in all rental accommodation.

For the information of the House, I would like to deal in some detail with these amendments. Amendment No. 95 is a technical provision inserting "signposting" in section 1 of the 1992 Act as to the meaning of the expressions "improvement notice" and "prohibition notice". Amendment No. 97 inserts two additional items in Part 4 of Schedule 2.

Item No. 3 amends section 18 of the 1992 Act and item No. 4 inserts two new consequential sections, 18A and 18B. Under item No. 3, subsections (3) to (6) of section 18 are being deleted, following on from the proposed introduction of improvement and prohibition notices, which oblige the landlord to carry out remedial works to comply with standards. A clearer and stronger definition of "proper state of structural repair" is being introduced into section 18(8), making it easier for housing authorities to prosecute in cases of substandard accommodation. Under the proposed amendment to subsection (7)(b), I will be able to set down specific standards that landlords must meet in regard to the external condition and appearance of rental accommodation. A new subsection (9) in section 18 introduces a definition of “common areas”, which clarifies that standards will be prescribed only for common areas that the landlord owns or controls.

Item No. 4 involves adding two new sections, 18A and 18B, to the 1992 Act providing for the issue by housing authorities of improvement notices and prohibition notices on foot of breaches by landlords of regulations made under section 18 of the 1992 Act. Section 18A sets out the detailed procedure in regard to the issue by a housing authority of an improvement notice to a landlord in respect of alleged breaches of the standards regulations. The notice may specify the works that the landlord must carry out to remedy the identified contravention of the regulations and must specify the period following the coming into force of the notice within which the remedial works must be carried out. The section provides that where a landlord carries out necessary works on foot of an improvement notice before the notice comes into force, the housing authority must confirm in writing that the contraventions of the regulations specified in its improvement notice have been remedied.

In addition to giving a landlord the right to appeal against the notice to the District Court, section 18A gives the landlord an initial right to object to the authority about the notice. The submission of such an objection will be an essential prerequisite to appeal proceedings in the District Court.

In the interests of equity and transparency, section 18A provides that the tenant of a rented accommodation must be kept informed of each step of the improvement notice procedure. The section also provides for the notice to come into force on different dates, depending on whether the landlord has availed of his rights initially to object to the notice and ultimately to appeal against the notice in the District Court. Once the notice comes into effect, if the landlord fails to carry out the necessary remedial works within the period specified in the notice, he or she is liable to prosecution for an offence under the Act.

The new section 18B provides for the issue by a housing authority of a prohibition notice in the case of a landlord's failure to comply with an improvement notice. A prohibition notice directs the landlord not to re-let the house until the contravention of the regulations specified in the improvement notice has been remedied. While the section 18B procedure includes a right of appeal to the District Court, it does not repeat the improvement notice right of initial objection to the notice. By the time a prohibition notice issues, a landlord will already have had the opportunity to object to the improvement notice and to appeal to the courts. In other respects, the prohibition notice procedure mirrors the procedure for improvement notices.

Section 18B(10) contains a policy provision that I consider to be very important. A housing authority may, in the interests of public health and safety, make whatever arrangements it considers appropriate or necessary to bring the contents of a prohibition notice to the attention of the public. I envisage this power being exercised in extreme cases where the breach of regulations in a particular rented unit poses a risk to the health and safety of tenants.

Amendment No. 98 relates to section 34 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1992, which specifies offences under the Act. The amendment substitutes a new subsection (1), which expands on the offences in the existing provision to specify that failure to comply with an improvement notice or a prohibition notice issued under the new sections 18A and 18B of the 1992 Act shall be an offence. The new subsection (1) also increases the fines payable in respect of offences under the section from €3,000 to €5,000 and from €250 to €400 for each day of a continuing offence, and introduces an alternative or additional penalty of up to six months' imprisonment. Similar fine levels are already contained in other legislation such as the Water Services Act 2007.

The amendment also inserts a new subsection (3) into section 34 of the 1992 Act, which provides that, except where there are special and substantial reasons for not doing so, the court shall order a person guilty of an offence under the section to pay the housing authority's costs and expenses incurred in prosecuting the offence.

Overall, I am satisfied that the legislative amendments that I have brought forward today will strengthen substantially the regulatory and enforcement regime for improving and maintaining the standards of private rented accommodation. I commend them to the House.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 96:
In page 49, Part 4, line 22, to delete "in accordance with" and substitute "under".

This is a textual amendment to bring into line with other similar provisions of the Bill the phraseology of the reference to social housing assessments under section 20 of the Bill, which Part 4 of Schedule 2 proposes to insert into section 5(2)(a) of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1992.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 97:
In page 49, Part 4, between lines 28 and 29, to insert the following:
"

3

Section 18

(a) In subsection (1), delete “, works and services appurtenant thereto and enjoyed therewith”.

(b) Delete subsections (3) to (6).

(c) In subsection (7)(b), insert “and any common areas” after “house”.

(d) Substitute the following for subsection (8):

“(8) For the purposes of subsection (7)(b) ‘a proper state of structural repair’ means sound, internally and externally, with roof, roofing tiles and slates, windows, floors, ceilings, walls, stairs, doors, skirting boards, fascia, tiles on any floor, ceiling and wall, gutters, down pipes, fittings, furnishings, gardens and common areas maintained in good condition and repair and not defective due to dampness or otherwise.”.

(e) Insert the following after subsection (8):

“(9) In this section and sections 18A and 18B—

‘common areas’ means common areas, works and services that are appurtenant to houses and enjoyed therewith and that are in the ownership or under the control of the landlord;

‘landlord’ means the person for the time being entitled to receive (otherwise than as agent for another person) the rent paid in respect of a house by the tenant thereof;

‘tenancy’ includes a periodic tenancy and a tenancy for a fixed term, whether oral or in writing or implied;

‘tenant’ means the person for the time being entitled to the occupation of a house under a tenancy.”.

4

New sections

Insert the following new sections after section 18:

“Improvement notice.

18A.—(1) Where, in the opinion of a housing authority, a landlord is contravening or has contravened a requirement of a regulation made under section 18, the authority may give notice in writing (in this Act referred to as an “improvement notice”) to the landlord of the house concerned.

(2) An improvement notice shall—

(a) state that the housing authority is of the opinion referred to in subsection (1),

(b) state the reasons for that opinion,

(c) identify the provision of the regulation concerned in respect of which that opinion is held,

(d) direct the landlord to remedy the contravention within the period specified in the notice commencing on the date specified therein, which date shall not be earlier than the end of the period within which an objection may be submitted under subsection (6),

(e) include information regarding the submission of an objection and the making of an appeal in relation to the notice, specifying—

(i) the form and manner of an objection,

(ii) the form and manner of an appeal, and

(iii) the address of the housing authority for the purpose of submitting an objection under subsection (6) or notifying the authority of an appeal under subsection (7), as the case may be,

(f) contain a statement that if an objection is not submitted in accordance with subsection (6) and within the period specified in that subsection then—

(i) the notice will be treated as not disputed, and

(ii) the landlord will be deemed to have accepted the notice and to have agreed to comply with the direction within the period specified therein,and

(g) be signed and dated by the housing authority.

(3) An improvement notice may include directions as to the measures to be taken to remedy the contravention to which the notice relates or to otherwise comply with the notice.

(4) Where an improvement notice is given under subsection (1), the housing authority shall give a copy to the tenant of the house concerned.

(5) (a) A landlord to whom an improvement notice has been given who is of the opinion that the improvement notice has been complied with shall, before the expiration of the period specified in the notice for the purpose of subsection (2)(d), confirm in writing to the housing authority that the matters referred to in the notice have been so remedied and shall give a copy of the confirmation to the tenant.

(b) Where a landlord confirms to the housing authority in accordance with paragraph (a) that the matters referred to in the improvement notice have been remedied, the housing authority, on being satisfied that the matters have been so remedied, shall, within 28 days of receiving such confirmation, give notice in writing to the landlord of compliance with the improvement notice and shall give a copy of the notice to the tenant.

(c) The notice under paragraph (b) does not preclude any inspection which the housing authority considers necessary in relation to the house concerned or the service of a further improvement notice which the authority may consider necessary.

(6) A landlord aggrieved by an improvement notice may, within 14 days beginning on the day on which the notice is given to him or her, submit an objection to the notice in the form and manner specified in the notice, and the housing authority shall consider the objection and, as it sees fit, vary, withdraw or confirm the notice and shall notify the landlord in writing of the decision and the reasons for the decision within 14 days after receipt of the objection.

(7) (a) The landlord may, no later than 14 days after the decision under subsection (6) is notified by the housing authority to him or her, appeal the decision to a judge of the District Court in the district court district in which the notice was served.

(b) A landlord who appeals under paragraph (a) shall at the same time notify the housing authority in writing of the appeal and the grounds for the appeal.

(c) The housing authority shall be entitled to appear, be heard and adduce evidence on the hearing of the appeal.

(d) In determining an appeal under paragraph (a), the judge of the District Court may confirm, vary or cancel the improvement notice if he or she considers it reasonable to do so.

(8) Where an objection is submitted under subsection (6) and no appeal is made under subsection (7) against the decision of the housing authority and the improvement notice is neither withdrawn nor cancelled, the notice takes effect on the later of the following:

(a) the day after the day on which the notice is confirmed or varied;

(b) the day after the objection is withdrawn by the landlord;(c) the date specified in the notice.

(9) Where an appeal is made under subsection (7) and the improvement notice is neither withdrawn nor cancelled, the notice takes effect on the later of the following:

(a) the day after the day on which the notice is confirmed or varied on appeal;

(b) the day after the appeal is withdrawn by the landlord;

(c) the date specified in the notice.

(10) Where no objection is submitted under subsection (6) the improvement notice takes effect on the date specified in the notice.

(11) The housing authority may—

(a) withdraw an improvement notice at any time, or

(b) where no objection is submitted or appeal made or pending, extend the date specified in the notice for the purposes of subsection (2)(d).

(12) Withdrawal of an improvement notice under subsection (11) does not prevent the giving of another improvement notice, whether in respect of the same matter or a different matter.

Prohibition notice.

18B.—(1) Where a landlord fails to comply with an improvement notice in accordance with section 18A, the housing authority may give notice in writing (in this Act referred to as a “prohibition notice”) to the landlord of the house concerned.

(2) A prohibition notice shall—

(a) state that the housing authority is of the opinion that the landlord has failed to comply with an improvement notice,

(b) direct that the landlord shall not re-let the house for rent or other valuable consideration until the landlord has remedied the contravention to which the improvement notice relates,

(c) include information regarding the making of an appeal in relation to the notice, specifying—

(i) the form and manner of an appeal, and

(ii) the address of the housing authority for the purpose of notifying the authority of an appeal under subsection (4),

and

(d) be signed and dated by the housing authority.

(3) Where a prohibition notice is given under subsection (1), the housing authority shall give a copy to the tenant of the house concerned.

(4) (a) A landlord aggrieved by a prohibition notice may, within 14 days beginning on the day on which the notice is given to him or her, appeal the notice to a judge of the District Court in the district court district in which the notice was served.

(b) A landlord who appeals under paragraph (a) shall at the same time notify the housing authority in writing of the appeal and the grounds for the appeal.

(c) The housing authority shall be entitled to appear, be heard and adduce evidence on the hearing of the appeal.

(d) In determining an appeal under paragraph (a), the judge of the District Court may confirm, vary or cancel the prohibition notice if he or she considers it reasonable to do so.

(5) A prohibition notice shall take effect—

(a) in the case of an appeal under subsection (4), on the later of the following:

(i) the day after the day on which the notice is confirmed or varied on appeal;

(ii) the day after the appeal is withdrawn by the landlord;

(iii) the expiry, whether by termination or otherwise, of the tenancy existing on the day on which the prohibition notice is given to the landlord,

(b) in any other case on the later of the following:

(i) the day after the expiry of the period allowed by subsection (4)(a) for making an appeal;

(ii) the expiry, whether by termination or otherwise, of the tenancy existing on the day on which the prohibition notice is given to the landlord.

(6) A landlord to whom a prohibition notice has been given who is of the opinion that the matters to which the notice relates have been remedied shall confirm in writing to the housing authority that those matters have been so remedied and shall give a copy of the confirmation to the tenant.

(7) Where a landlord on whom a prohibition notice has been served confirms in writing to the housing authority in accordance with subsection (6) that the matters to which the notice relates have been remedied, the housing authority, on being satisfied that the matters have been so remedied, shall, within 28 days of such confirmation, give written notice to the landlord of compliance with the prohibition notice and shall give a copy of the notice to the tenant of the house concerned.

(8) A housing authority may at any time withdraw a prohibition notice by notice in writing to the landlord to whom it was given.

(9) Withdrawal of a prohibition notice under subsection (8) does not prevent the giving of another prohibition notice.

(10) A housing authority shall, in the interests of public health and safety, make such arrangements as they consider appropriate or necessary to bring the contents of a prohibition notice to the attention of the public.

".
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 98:
In page 51, between lines 15 and 16, but in Part 4, to insert the following:
"

4

Section 34

(a) Substitute the following for subsection (1)—

“(1) Any person who—

(a) by act or omission, obstructs an authorised person in the lawful exercise of the powers conferred by, or contravenes a provision of, or a regulation made under, section 17, 18 or 20, or

(b) fails to comply with an improvement notice, or

(c) re-lets a house in breach of a prohibition notice,

shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable, on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding €5,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or both and if the obstruction, contravention, failure to comply or re-letting is continued after conviction the person shall be guilty of a further offence on every day on which the obstruction, contravention, failure to comply or re-letting continues and for each such offence shall be liable, on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding €400.”.

(b) Insert the following subsection:

“(3) Where a person is convicted of an offence under this Act, the court shall, unless it is satisfied that there are special and substantial reasons for not doing so, order the person to pay to the housing authority, the costs and expenses, measured by the court, incurred by the housing authority in relation to the investigation, detection and prosecution of the offence.

".
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 99:
In page 52, Part 5, line 37, after "of" to insert "Part 3 of”.

This amendment is necessary to clarify that the expression "eligible household" in the amendment to section 14 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1997, set out in Part 5 of the Schedule, is to be read within the meaning of Part 3 of the Bill. This is because the expression "eligible household" is defined in the Bill for the purposes of Part 3 only.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 100:
In page 52, Part 5, line 40, after "household" to insert "or any member of the tenant's household or of the eligible household".

This amendment is required to clarify that the housing authority, in considering whether to refuse or to sell a dwelling under tenant purchase or incremental purchase, may take account of anti-social behaviour by a member of the tenant's household or of the eligible household, as well as the anti-social behaviour by the tenant of the eligible household concerned.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 101:
In page 53, Part 6, to delete lines 30 to 48, and substitute the following:
"

(3) Before making an assessment under this section, a relevant housing authority shall give one month’s notice of their intention to do so to—

(a) every local authority whose administrative area adjoins, or is contained in, the functional area of the authority preparing a programme under section 7,

(b) the Health Service Executive,

(c) approved bodies engaged in the provision of accommodation or shelter in the functional area concerned,

(d) any local consultative committee in the functional area concerned, and

(e) such local community bodies in the functional area concerned and any other person, as the housing authority considers appropriate.

".

Part 6 of Schedule 2 makes amendments to the Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Act 1998, necessitated by the provisions in the main body of the Bill. Section 6 of the 1998 Act deals with periodic assessment of the accommodation needs of travellers and section 6(3) deals with consultation with the bodies specified in paragraphs (a) to (d) of section 9(4) of the Housing Act 1988. Section 9 of the 1988 Act is repealed in Schedule 1 of the Bill. Part 6 of Schedule 2 makes a consequential amendment to section 6(3) of the Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Act 1998 which specifies the bodies which must be consulted in carrying out an assessment of the accommodation needs of Travellers.

The proposed amendment also recasts section 6(3) to refer to the functional area of a housing authority carrying out the assessment rather than its administrative area. This is because section 5 of the Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Act 1998 gives a particular meaning to the expression "functional area" in the context of responsibilities of housing authorities under the 1998 Act. Therefore, this expression is appropriate to use in any amendment of section 6(3) of the Act.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 102:
In page 54, Part 6, line 8, to delete "subsection (7)" and substitute "subsection (6)".

This amendment is required to refer to the correct provision in an amendment to section 6 of the Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Act 1998 set out in Part 6 of Schedule 2.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 103:
In page 54, Part 7, between lines 41 and 42, to insert the following:
"

2

Section 96(13)

In paragraph (a), substitute “required for households assessed under section 20 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2008 as being qualified for social housing support” for “for persons referred to in section 9(2) of the Housing Act, 1988”.

".

Part 7 of Schedule 2 makes amendments to the Planning and Development Act 2000 necessitated by the provisions in the main body of the Bill. I propose this amendment to make a further consequential change to section 96(13) of the 2000 Act, as amended. Section 96(13) refers to the provision of housing for persons referred to in section 9(2) of the Housing Act 1988. Section 9 of the 1998 Act is repealed in Schedule 1 of the Bill. This amendment substitutes reference to section 20 of the Bill for the reference in section 96(13) to section 9(2) of the 1988 Act.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 104:
In page 54, Part 7, line 44, to delete "housing authority" and substitute "planning authority".
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 105:
In page 55, Part 7, to delete lines 14 to 21 and substitute the following:
"

3

New section 101A

Insert the following section after section 101 but in Part V:

“Non-application of certain provisions to sale or lease of affordable housing under this Part.

101A.—Section 211(2) of this Act and section 183 of the Local Government Act 2001 shall not apply to the sale or lease of affordable housing to eligible persons under this Act.”.

".
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 106:
In page 57, Part 8, to delete lines 54 to 61 and substitute the following:
"

5

New section 10A

Insert the following new section after section 10 but in Part 2:

“Non-application of certain provisions to sale of affordable house.

10A.—Section 211(2) of the Planning and Development Act 2000 and section 183 of the Local Government Act 2001 shall not apply to the sale of an affordable house to a purchaser (within the meaning of section 9 and 10, as appropriate).”.

".
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 107:
In page 58, between lines 10 and 11, to insert the following new Part:
"PART 10
AMENDMENTS TO RESIDENTIAL TENANCIES ACT 2004

Item(1)

Provision affected(2)

Amendment(3)

1

Section 3(2)

(a) In paragraph (c)(ii), substitute “a household within the meaning of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2008 assessed under section 20 of that Act as being qualified for social housing support” for “a person referred to in section 9(2) of the Housing Act 1988”.

(b) Substitute the following for paragraph (d):

“(d) a dwelling—

(i) the occupier of which is entitled to acquire, under Part II of the Landlord and Tenant (Ground Rents)(No. 2) Act 1978, the fee simple in respect of it, or

(ii) which is one of a number of dwellings comprising an apartment complex, the occupier of which would be so entitled to acquire the fee simple in respect of it but for the fact that it is such a dwelling,”.

2

Section 12

(a) In subsection (1), insert the following after paragraph (b):

”(ba) provide receptacles suitable for the storage of refuse outside the dwelling, save where the provision of such receptacles is not within the power or control of the landlord in respect of the dwelling concerned,”.

(b) In subsection (4)—

(i) in paragraph (a), substitute the following for subparagraph (i):

“(i) the payment of rent, or any other charges or taxes payable by the tenant in accordance with the lease or tenancy agreement, and the amount of rent or such other charges or taxes in arrears is equal to or greater than the amount of the deposit, or”,

and

(ii) substitute the following for paragraph (b):

“(b) where, at the date of the request for return or repayment, there is a default in—

(i) the payment of rent, or any other charges or taxes payable by the tenant in accordance with the lease or tenancy agreement, or

(ii) compliance with section 16(f),

and subparagraph (i) or (ii), as the case may be, of paragraph (a) does not apply, then there shall only be required to be returned or repaid under subsection (1)(d) the difference between the amount of rent or such other charges or taxes in arrears or, as appropriate, the amount of the costs that would be incurred in taking steps of the kind referred to in paragraph (a)(ii).”.

3

Section 135

(a) Delete subsection (2).

(b) In subsection (5), substitute “that the application is incomplete and invalid and shall return the application, any other information submitted with the application and any fee paid” for “of the omission concerned and afford him or her a reasonable opportunity to rectify the matter”.

".

I propose this amendment to insert a new Part 10 in Schedule 2 of the Bill to make a number of changes to the Residential Tenancies Act 2004. The 2004 Act provides for a measure of security for tenants of private dwellings, amendment of landlord and tenant law with regard to the basic rights and obligations of each of the parties, arrangements for disputes between such parties to be resolved in a cost effective and timely manner and the establishment of a Private Residential Tenancies Board. The principle activities of the board include resolution of disputes between tenants and landlord, the registration of private rental tenancies and the provision of information, assistance and advice to the Minister on the private rental sector.

As Senators are aware, the amendment before the House is a substitute for the original amendment dated 19 November 2008. The original amendment contained four items and I am withdrawing No. 3 from the principal list and the substitute amendment before the House today is re-numbered accordingly. The item withdrawn was a technical amendment to allow for the codification of tax legislation where the existing statutory references in section 25(4) were repealed and the repealed provisions were consolidated in Chapter 11 Part 10 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997.

The amendment sought to ensure that certain third level student accommodation remained outside the scope of Part 4 of the Act relating to security of tenure. However, the amendment went beyond what was required and the provision requires further examination by my Department in conjunction with the Parliamentary Counsel to ensure it achieves its objective. I will re-introduce the necessary amendment on Committee Stage in the Dáil and revert to this House in the normal way.

I will now deal with the remaining three items in amendment No. 107 in detail. No. 1 of the Part 10 insertion makes two changes to section 3(2) of the 2004 Act. The first amendment is to section 3(2)(c)(ii) which excludes from the terms of the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 dwellings let by the voluntary sector to persons qualified for social housing support. Following the repeal under the Bill of section 9 of the Housing Act 1988, referred to in the existing exclusion in the 2004 Act, the first amendment updates section 3(2)(c)(ii) to refer to section 20 of the Bill instead of section 9 of the 1988 Act. A previous amendment was made to section 20 on this point. However, there is no change to the thrust of section 3(2)(c)(ii) of the 2004 Act. Dwellings let by the voluntary sector to persons qualified for social housing support will continue to be excluded from the terms of that Act.

The second amendment in No. 1 relates to an exclusion from the terms of the Act set out in section 3(2)(d). The amendment puts beyond doubt the fact that the 2004 Act does not apply to owner-occupied leasehold dwellings and in particular that the Act does not apply to owner-occupied apartments.

No. 2 of the Part 10 insertion makes two amendments to section 12 of the 2004 Act which imposes certain obligations on landlords of private rental accommodation. The first amendment provides that the landlord must provide receptacles outside the dwelling for the storage of refuse. This provision will not apply where the provision of such receptacles is outside the power or control of the landlord. This could arise where it is the function of a management company to provide such a service. The purpose of this amendment is to ensure the landlord makes the necessary arrangements to enable the tenant to store refuse appropriately and in such a way that it does not attract pests or vermin or become a hazard or eyesore to the public.

The second amendment in No. 2 relates to section 12(4) which deals with the obligation on landlords to repay promptly the deposit paid by a tenant on entering into a lease or a tenancy agreement for the dwelling concerned. The amendment to section 12(4) is twofold, the net effect of which is to provide that on the termination of a tenancy or lease, some or all of the deposit paid by the tenant on entering into the tenancy or lease may be withheld by the landlord in respect of outstanding rent, charges or taxes that were the responsibility of the tenant under the lease or tenancy agreement. The existing provision refers to outstanding rent only whereas the amendment refers to outstanding rent, charges and taxes as appropriate. The amendment also makes it clear that it is outstanding charges or taxes provided for in the original lease or tenancy agreement that are at issue here. It remains the position that any disputes arising on the matter may be referred to the board under dispute resolution procedures.

No. 3 of the Part 10 insertion is a twofold amendment to section 135 of the 2004 Act which sets out supplementary provisions with regard to obligations on landlords to apply to the PRTB to register tenancies. The first part of the amendment proposes the deletion of section 135(2) to remove the necessity for the landlord and the tenant or tenants to sign an application form for the registration of a tenancy. This will enable the PRTB to accept on-line tenancy registration applications and thus speed up the registration process. The second part of the amendment to section 135 of the 2004 Act involves an amendment to section 135(5) that will ease the administrative burden in the matter of tenancy registration applications.

The effect of the amendment is that the Private Residential Tenancies Board will be able to treat an incomplete application as a non-application to be returned to the landlord. This approach parallels that which applies to electronic applications, which cannot be submitted unless they are completed properly. An incomplete application would include one with no fee or a late application with an insufficient fee.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 108:
In page 58, between lines 10 and 11, to insert the following new Part:
"PART 11
Amendment to Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005

Item(1)

Provision affected(2)

Amendment(3)

1

Section 265(1)

Substitute the following for subparagraphs (i), (ii) and (iii) of paragraph (b) of the definition of “relevant purpose”—

“(i) carrying out a social housing assessment undersection 20 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2008,

(ii) allocating a dwelling undersection 22 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2008,

(iii) determining rent or any other charge undersection 31 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2008,”.

".

This amendment is required to update references in section 265(1) of the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005 to statutory provisions in the housing code that are being repealed in this Bill. The new references are to provisions in the Bill that will replace the repealed items of legislation.

Amendment agreed to.
Schedule 2, as amended, agreed to.
SCHEDULE 3.
Amendment No. 109 not moved.
Government amendment No. 110:
In page 59, to delete lines 10 to 17 and substitute the following:
"(ii) prohibiting the tenant from knowingly permitting a person, against whom an excluding order under section 3 of the Act of 1997 or an interim excluding order under section 4 of that Act is in force in respect of the dwelling concerned, to enter the dwelling in breach of the excluding order or interim excluding order, as the case may be.".
Amendment agreed to.
Schedule 3, as amended, agreed to.
TITLE.

Amendments Nos. 111 and 112 are related and may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Government amendment No. 111:
In page 5, line 18, after "ARRANGEMENTS;" to insert the following:
"TO MAKE FURTHER PROVISION RELATING TO STANDARDS FOR RENTED HOUSES AND TO PROVIDE FOR THE GIVING OF IMPROVEMENT NOTICES AND PROHIBITION NOTICES TO LANDLORDS; TO PROVIDE FOR THE PAYMENT OF A GRANT TOWARDS THE COST OF PROVISION OF AFFORDABLE HOUSES; TO PROVIDE FOR THE REPAYMENT OF CERTAIN AMOUNTS THAT MAY BECOME PAYABLE TO HOUSING AUTHORITIES ON THE SUBSEQUENT PURCHASE OF THE PURCHASER'S INTEREST IN A SHARED OWNERSHIP LEASE OR THE SALE OF THAT INTEREST;".

These amendments are required to amend the Long Title of the Bill to reflect the inclusion of amendments to existing legislation on standards of private rental accommodation and the insertion in the Bill of amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 and the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005. The amendments to these Acts are set out in the proposed new Parts 10 and 11 of Schedule 2 to the Bill.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 112:
In page 5, lines 22 and 23, to delete "AND THE CIVIL REGISTRATION ACT 2004" and substitute the following:
", THE CIVIL REGISTRATION ACT 2004, THE RESIDENTIAL TENANCIES ACT 2004 AND THE SOCIAL WELFARE ACTS".
Amendment agreed to.
Title, as amended, agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments.

When is it proposed to take Report Stage?

Report Stage ordered for Tuesday, 9 December 2008.
Sitting suspended at 4.45 p.m. and resumed at 5 p.m.