Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 form a composite proposal and may be discussed together by agreement.
Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2014: Committee Stage
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 6, between lines 2 and 3, to insert the following:
“ “authorised advocate” means an elected public representative, social worker, medical or legal professional or a representative of a tenants or housing rights body recognised by the local authority;”.
These amendments seek to put in place a system whereby local authority tenants will be able to ask a recognised advocate to attend engagements with themselves and the local authority. It will mean the council cannot refuse to allow the advocate to attend and should, in so far as reasonable, engage with the advocate. If an advocate is not present, the council should have no responsibility to provide one, as it should be at the sole discretion of the tenant. This is important given that many tenants find these engagements stressful, feeling ill-equipped and ill-informed about the details of their rights. As public representatives, we all have seen cases where people need advocates across a range of public services. Numeracy and literacy problems for local authority tenants are also an issue with which these advocates could deal.
I hope the Minister of State will consider these amendments.
I believe a blanket provision to permit local authority tenants to have an authorised delegate in all their dealings with the local authority would hinder and delay the normal process of landlord and tenant communications that tenants are generally well able to handle themselves. Housing authorities engage with third parties speaking on behalf of tenants who clearly need assistance in this regard. Extending the practice across the board would formalise tenants’ dealings with housing authorities unduly and depersonalise communications between them to the detriment of the landlord-tenant relationship.
I agree housing authorities need to have good communication with their tenants. In that context, it is much better that, in those cases where local authority tenants clearly need support in their dealings with their landlord, the housing authority intensifies its efforts to communicate effectively with those tenants and persons who are speaking on their behalf.
I will consider whether it might be necessary to issue guidance to housing authorities in this regard but I cannot accept the amendments proposed. I am concerned that if it is included in the legislation as the norm everybody will feel they must have somebody with them. Most people in the House know tenants frequently have an opportunity to speak to housing officials, and generally this is well-facilitated by local authorities. The amendment would unnecessarily formalise it and some tenants may feel they would have to have somebody with them. This would probably make it less easy to arrange meetings for tenants who wish to speak to a housing authority.
The Minister of State said she would consider issuing guidance. I will not press the amendments and will consider resubmitting them on Report Stage. It would be very helpful if the Minister of State gave the House firmer guarantees on any guidance she would issue to local authorities.
I am willing to do so if people feel it is necessary. I will certainly look at it. I know from my experience, and discussions we have had in the Dáil, that public representatives frequently accompany somebody to a housing department, as do people from voluntary housing associations and other people whom a tenant trusts. If there are suggestions this might not be facilitated I am willing to issue guidance to local authorities. I give the Senator an undertaking that I will examine doing so and I welcome the fact that on this basis she will withdraw the amendments.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 8, between lines 14 and 15, to insert the following:
"(iii) the tenancy supports that are available to the tenant from the local authority and other agencies,".
A tenancy warning issued should provide information to a tenant and household on support available which could be utilised to avoid a continuing problem. It is very much in keeping with the reason for a tenancy warning, which is to encourage corrective behaviour by the household and avoid further problems.
The tenancy warning is a formal legislative measure with a particular purpose. In this regard a statement of the supports available to tenants is not appropriate in the statutory warning. I will add to the existing procedures of housing authorities to deal with instances of anti-social behaviour in their housing stock. The purpose of a tenancy warning is to inform a tenant that a condition of his or her tenancy agreement prohibiting anti-social behaviour has been breached; to require the tenant to take steps to prevent a continuation or recurrence of such behaviour; and to warn the tenant of the consequences if the breach of the tenancy agreement is repeated. I encourage housing authorities in their capacity as social landlords to provide all appropriate assistance to a tenant dealing with a household member engaged in anti-social behaviour before the situation gets to the stage of requiring a tenancy warning to be issued. This can be done through the many contacts other than the tenancy warning the authority will have with the tenant in the process of trying to bring an end to anti-social behaviour emanating from a particular household. The formal warning is a particular statutory legislative measure, but there is regular ongoing contact where there is anti-social behaviour during which the tenant is made aware of the various supports which are available.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 11, between lines 4 and 5, to insert the following:
"9. The Minister may by regulations prepare a code of conduct on the management of rent arrears by housing authorities.".
Some local authorities are very good at dealing with rent arrears and work well with tenants to resolve issues fairly and avoid undue hardship and stress. Unfortunately other authorities are not so good at dealing with these problems. One way to solve this and ensure a more uniform and positive approach in these issues is for the Minister of State to provide a statewide framework for how a local authority should approach the resolution of rent arrears. This would be particularly important in the context of the plan to deduct arrears from tenants' social welfare payments without any need for engagement with the tenants.
Housing authorities already manage their rent systems in accordance with existing good practice, the development of which involved the Department and the County and City Managers Association. These guidelines deal comprehensively with the various aspects of rent management through rent assessment, collection and accounting and have a particular emphasis on rent arrears prevention and recovery. The guidelines seek to strike a balance between being overly general and overly prescriptive, with some of the action checklists provided being relevant to larger authorities only and others being more relevant to rural authorities which have a more dispersed stock of dwellings. These guidelines have worked well over the years and I do not see any necessity to place them on a statutory basis.
Recent and proposed legislation significantly improves the framework within which housing authorities deal with rent arrears. Section 38 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 provides for rescheduling arrangements between housing authorities and households for the repayment of rent arrears at a rate which households can afford and, in practice, for revised rescheduling arrangements where households cannot keep up repayments due to circumstances beyond their control. In addition, the proposals in the Bill for direct deduction of rent from social welfare payments, which we will come to later, will significantly reduce the incidence and amount of rent arrears for housing authorities, enabling them to focus resources on helping the much reduced number of households which, for whatever reason, fail in future to keep up with their rent payments. We have a code which operates well. In the new system there will be direct deduction which should largely address most of the problems of rent arrears which exist.
I will withdraw the amendment and perhaps resubmit it on Report Stage. I wish to examine the legislation referenced by the Minister of State during the course of her response and examine the code.
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 11, to delete lines 19 to 22 and substitute the following:
"(c) indicate that, if the breach continues during, or is repeated within, 12 months of the tenancy warning coming into effect, then the authority may either—
(i) apply under section 12 to recover possession of the dwelling, or
(ii) where appropriate, apply to the District Court (under section 3 of the Act of 1997) for an excluding order against the household member who caused that breach, and".
This amendment includes issuing an exclusion order as a possibility for a consideration after a tenancy warning has failed to encourage resolution of a problem. It would give an opportunity to support a household to remove certain elements which might be the root of anti-social issues and avoid an eviction, which should be an absolute last resort.
People in receipt of the housing assistance payment, HAP, will not have to have Garda clearance whereas applicants for social housing and the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, do. Does the Minister of State have proposals to introduce Garda vetting to the HAP? Some of those housed by local authorities will have to have Garda vetting but others will not.
The provision proposed by Senator Reilly is similar to the provisions in section 7(3)(c) which states a tenancy warning relating to anti-social behaviour must indicate that if the breach is repeated within 12 months the authority may apply for either a possession order in respect of the dwelling or an excluding order against the person engaged in such behaviour. The reference to an excluding order makes sense in the context of section 7, as such an order can be sought in the case anti-social behaviour. However, a tenancy warning under section 9 relates to a breach of a tenancy agreement other than anti-social behaviour. Therefore, it is not appropriate to refer to the excluding order option in the section. It is a question of which section is relevant.
I can see what the Senator is trying to achieve with the proposed amendment but I cannot accept it because section 9 relates to a tenancy warning for a breach of a tenancy agreement other than anti-social behaviour or rent arrears. There is no logic in referring in such a warning to the option of an excluding order, which relates exclusively to anti-social behaviour. I hope this makes sense. This is why I will not accept the amendment.
With regard to the HAP and Garda clearance, the HAP is taking over from rent supplement, whereby people sourced their own accommodation.
One of the difficulties with seeking Garda clearance in that regard is that it would delay the process, but it is something I will examine because once the tenant is under the local authority, so to speak, the local authority has obligations. The provisions of the private residential tenancies legislation are in place in terms of people who are renting privately, which provides some safeguards, but the Senator makes a fair point and it is something we will examine.
Amendments Nos. 6 to 8, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 6:
In page 28, between lines 16 and 17, to insert the following:
“(c) at the time of making its application for an excluding order, or as soon as possible thereafter, a housing authority shall notify the Child and Family Agency of the nature of the application concerned.”,”.
As they are grouped I will discuss the three amendments. Acceptance of amendment No. 6 means that if an exclusion order is issued, the Child and Family Agency should be notified. This is to ensure any appropriate services needed by the agency can be afforded to the household but also that the Child and Family Agency is aware of the ongoing problem.
Acceptance of amendment No. 7 would mean that the court deciding on an application for eviction must consider whether the local authority followed the proper procedure in terms of trying to deal with and resolve the continuing problems that led it to apply for repossession. This is in keeping with the updating of repossession law in this Bill, which recognises the judgment of the Supreme Court that previous laws did not properly uphold the right of tenants to a fair hearing. Amendment No. 8 is in keeping with the other two amendments.
These amendments would require the Child and Family Agency to be notified of every excluding order application in respect of a person less than 18 years old and multi-agency involvement as a prerequisite for the making of such an order. The granting of every excluding order involves striking a balance between the rights of the respondent and the rights of the local community. The adjudication as to the balance to be struck in an individual case is most appropriately determined by the court, and the court should not be influenced in striking that balance by a statutory provision giving the rights of one party priority over the rights of the other party.
I want to explain exactly what an excluding order for a minor can and cannot do. In the first place, under an amendment to the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1997 included in the Bill, an excluding order cannot exclude a minor from the family home, which is critically important. What it can do is exclude a minor from being in another house or a place, such as a green area or a set of local shops, where anti-social behaviour is known to take place.
It is reasonable for housing authorities, as responsible statutory social landlords, to have a power to exclude minors who have engaged in anti-social behaviour from places in the locality where the opportunity and temptation to repeat such behaviour is greatest. It is not necessary for housing authorities to have to consult a range of agencies to exercise what is essentially an estate management tool, which does not have the effect of removing the minor concerned from either his or her home or locality. I recognise that the minor’s involvement in anti-social behaviour may be symptomatic of deeper problems that are beyond the role or capacity of housing authorities to deal with. That is why I intend to consult the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs about policy alignment of the excluding order provisions with the policies set out in the Children Act 2001 and communications protocols with relevant agencies in the operation of these provisions by housing authorities. We have had some discussion already, and I accept that the Senator's intention is that the problems the young person is experiencing will cross areas other than the particular issue being dealt with in the excluding order. However, I stress that they are not being excluded from their community or their home. This is about the many communities experiencing problems with young people gathering in certain places. That is the intention of it. It does not go any wider than that.
In terms of the consultation with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, does the Minister of State have a timeline for lining up the provisions?
I have had a general discussion with the previous Minister for Children and Youth Affairs and the current Minister on issues to do with young people and housing, for example, young people leaving care when they turn 18 and the specific issues that arise. We have discussed a wide range of issues, but regarding this one, as the Minister is relatively new in the job, the discussions are at a preliminary stage. However, I will convey to him the concerns the Senator has expressed.
Is amendment No. 6 being pressed?
Based on what the Minister of State said, I will not press the amendment.
I move amendment No. 9:
In page 35, between lines 7 and 8, to insert the following:
“(3) For the purposes of this section, regulations made under section 3 must—
(a) only include new revisions directly associated with the revised procedure for repossessing of local authority dwellings, and
(b) not provide less favourable terms than the current agreement with the tenant in any other areas.”.”.
This amendment proposes that every time a new relevant Bill is published, tenancy agreements have to be updated. This amendment allows only for what is revised in terms of repossession to be included in the reviews of the tenancy agreements. The tenancy will then not be left with less favourable terms.
This amendment relates to a new section 29A proposed to be inserted into the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 that empowers the Minister to prescribe amendments to the terms of existing local authority tenancy agreements that are consequential to new or existing legislative provisions. It would not be appropriate to limit the application of this new section to procedures for repossessing dwellings only as proposed by the amendment as there are a range of terms of existing agreements that will need to be updated over time to reflect existing and future legislative changes. Without the proposed section included in the Bill, existing tenancy agreements needing updating to reflect legislative provisions would have to be terminated individually and the tenants offered new tenancy agreements containing updated terms and conditions. This is a very cumbersome way of updating tenancy agreements and could cause unfounded worry for tenants. The section 29A approach is much preferable, involving the Minster prescribing the changes to be made to existing agreements arising from specific enactments and housing authorities inserting the changes into the tenancy agreements and notifying the tenants accordingly.
The second part of the amendment seeks to confine the operation of the new section 29A to changes that are more favourable for tenants than their existing terms. I cannot accept this restriction on the application of the new section because it would rule out using the procedure for estate management changes to existing agreements that might be less favourable for individual tenants but much more beneficial for the residents of an estate as a whole. An example of this would be changes to tenancy agreements for apartments where new conditions relating to household behaviour could improve the quality of life of everyone living in the apartment complex concerned. My concern is that every individual one would have to be changed rather than doing it this way, which may be more efficient.
I move amendment No. 10:
In page 35, between lines 7 and 8, to insert the following:
“Reallocation of repossessed dwellings
21. The local authority on successful repossession of a dwelling will as far as is practicable ensure that:
(a) any refurbishment works required will be tendered for within 1 month of repossession date,
(b) in the case where only minor refurbishment work is required the dwelling must be reallocated within 3 months of repossession date,
(c) where substantial refurbishment is required the dwelling will be reallocated for habitation not more than 1 month from the completion of refurbishment works.”.
A large number of voids have been building up and, until recently, there were approximately 1,800 long-term voids. We need to be sure that when units are repossessed, they are tendered within one month of repossession. The amendment also proposes that in cases where only minor refurbishment work is required, the dwelling must be reallocated within three months of the repossession date. Where substantial refurbishment is required, the dwelling must be reallocated for habitation not more than one month from the completion of refurbishment works. It is important we have targets. The natural progression that occurred over the years when people either died, left tenancies or the tenancies were repossessed was that they went by the wayside due to lack of funding. That is the reason we have been left with a build-up of voids. In some areas they have been left sitting for three to six months, and we would all agree that is not acceptable in the current crisis.
I want to ask the Minister of State a question on this amendment and on the section. Does she have any statistics that would back up the suggestion that houses in local authority areas are lying idle and have not been refurbished? Any houses that become available in my part of the country are immediately refurbished and allocated simply because there is pressure on the local authority to provide such housing. The problem might arise in some instances where there is an insufficient number of dwellings for specific family configurations, for example, two bedroom apartments or something of that nature, which may be delayed for some reason or other. Does the Minister of State have statistics showing that this is an issue?
I want to put on record that the Minister of State announced a second tranche of funding for housing voids today. That means 1,000 houses will be refurbished and let which is in addition to earlier funding for 900 houses. I pay tribute to her for putting the funding in place and hope that she will continue to do so.
Subject to those accolades the Minister of State can respond.
I will respond to the general issue first. Senator Reilly is right to be concerned that local authority houses are allocated as quickly as possible after they become vacant.
With regard to Senator Mooney's request, I will get the figures for him. There is a significant number and there are big variations among local authorities. Some local authorities leave houses idle for more than a year and do not allocate them but others do the work more rapidly while some authorities have a lot more empty vacant houses than others. As Senator Moloney has said, I have allocated funding from the stimulus package. The first stimulus package allocated €15 million for this purpose under which over 900 empty vacant and boarded up houses will be refurbished. The second €15 million will refurbish over 1,000 houses and the final figure depends on how much work needs to be done. There are some valid reasons that local authority houses are empty, such as a fire or because significant work needs to be done and the local authority has found it difficult to find the funding. Some authorities are very good and work very fast while others leave houses vacant for very long periods for no good reason that I can see.
About a month ago I had a meeting with the directors of services responsible for housing in all of the local authorities. I made it clear to them that I want good practice to be mirrored in all of the local authorities so that they stop leaving houses vacant for long periods. I wish to also mention an issue that happens, particularly in the Dublin area, which was raised with me. I refer to cases where a perfectly good kitchen has been thrown out and replaced by a totally new one. All of those areas are being examined and best practice is what we are trying to achieve. I have told the authorities that if encouragement and giving money for voids does not work then the stick will be the next approach. There is evidence of improvement and I will publish statistics again soon. I will forward the number of vacant houses in the local authorities to the Senator.
I thank the Minister of State. I wish to tease out the matter briefly.
I must respond to the comments made by Senator Reilly, specifically on her amendment.
I wish to comment further on the point the Minister of State responded to. Why is there a discrepancy and variation between local authorities? I assumed it was due to resources. Clearly that is not the case and instead it is due to competence and administration. Why is there a wide variation in the way local authorities treat such housing? Is the Minister of State, in her capacity as housing minister, not able to wield a big stick over local authorities? She should insist that they adhere to a uniform set of principles and guidelines rather than allow a laissez-faire attitude because there is a housing crisis. I am sure she is the last person who wants to have the type of dwelling she referred to boarded up and shut down in local authority areas, particularly where there is not a resource issue but an administrative reason. It is clear she needs to urgently address the issue.
I read the figures that were published recently on the NAMA properties available in some local authorities nationally which had not been taken up by local authorities. Is there a reason for that situation? The issue is allied to what we are talking about here because it relates to dwellings that are available or have been made available - in this instance by NAMA - yet have not been allocated. Is there a reason that has not taken place?
There has been progress with the NAMA properties. Local authorities have said that some of the NAMA properties were unsuitable but we have asked them to look at them again because times have changed and there is a different type of person who needs housing. In the past that person might have thought certain properties were unsuitable but he or she may think otherwise now. We have asked the local authorities to look at those properties again to see if any of them might be suitable. For example, families are becoming homeless now, which was not so prevalent in the past.
A discrepancy in the way local authorities treat vacant units is precisely why I met the directors of services for housing. I made it very clear to them that leaving empty properties for longer periods will not be tolerated in the future, that they will have to report back to me and that we intend to ensure we get an improvement in the way these things are done. Local authorities have a certain delegated responsibility. Most Senators want a local authority to be responsible for the maintenance of its housing stock. In terms of driving efficiency and making sure best practice prevails, I am determined, as Minister of State with responsibility in this area, to ensure that happens. I have already started the process and intend to keep it monitored to make sure it does happen.
I shall respond specifically to Senator Reilly's amendment. Responsibility for ongoing and cyclical maintenance programmes for all local authority stock is a matter for each housing authority in the context of availability of their own resources. Housing authorities have had delegated sanction to use their internal capital receipts for housing purposes since 1 January 2007, subject to certain terms and conditions. I am not minded to change that arrangement at this time.
Notwithstanding the general principle of delegated function that I am keen to preserve, it is unclear from the amendment proposed whether the Senator is referring to private houses repossessed by a local authority as the lender, or houses repossessed by the local authority that were originally sold under tenant purchase or incremental purchase arrangements. In whichever case this was aimed at, the amendment proposed by the Senator is very prescriptive in terms of defining timelines for housing authorities in respect of certain actions, some of which may be impossible for the housing authority to comply with. The extent of refurbishment works required for a property should be the measure that determines the timeline as to when the property might be available for reallocation to a new tenant. This is somewhat reflected in the Senator's text but it does not take account of the availability, or lack thereof, of resources to finance the refurbishment works. In some cases where these works are extensive funding may be required from my Department which may not fit in with the timelines set out in the proposed amendment.
I also cannot accept the arbitrary procurement requirements that this would impose on housing authorities. Almost all housing authorities have frameworks in place, under the new centralised local authority office for procurement, for small retrofitting jobs. This would negate the need for the usual tendering arrangements that this provision would now impose on housing authorities, with the possible outcome of delaying the making of minor refurbishment works.
Finally, I would find it difficult to provide in legislation for a situation where a repossessed house would be treated differently to any other housing in the possession of the housing authority. We have referred generally to voids. This amendment specifically refers to the repossession of a dwelling but we have had a wider discussion on empty houses generally. In view of this I cannot accept the amendments for the reasons I have outlined.
Before Senator Reilly responds to the Minister of State, and in light of the discussion we have had on this matter and the fact that some local authorities do not discharge their responsibilities along the lines desired by the Department, I wish to comment further. I have been informed that Cork County Council has left some houses vacant for between two and three years, which is totally unacceptable. I appreciate that the Minister of State will not accept the amendment. However, I ask her to consider introducing something on Report Stage that would place an obligation and responsibility on local authorities. This would help to obviate the housing Minister calling in the various factions and saying if they do not do such and such, action will be taken. If the Minister of State does not spell out what would be done if the authorities do not discharge vacant houses, I suggest that she starts from a baseline by calling on them to act on these dwellings within a certain specified time.
Notwithstanding what the Minister of State has explained about the nature of refurbishments, can a timeline and model be imposed on local authorities that will not allow them to wiggle out of their responsibilities? I only pose these questions in order to be helpful. A huge number of people are on housing lists but a significant number of dwellings seem to have been left vacant for long periods. The root cause is not just resources but the administration and competence of the housing sections in various local authorities.
Can we be assured that the Minister of State will be more proactive in this regard? I am not reflecting on the excellent work being done by the Minister of State but it appears there is a gap that needs to be addressed urgently.
I will press the amendment for the reasons the Minister of State outlined. The previous speaker mentioned some of what I was going to say. The Minister of State mentioned the carrot versus stick approach. It is important that we have a little more of a stick approach. As mentioned earlier, a model is imposed on local authorities with which I concur. I would encourage a more proactive approach in that regard in order that it is not left to the discretion of local authorities to decide when the refurbishment works are carried out.
I would say I have been more proactive than any Minister before me on empty houses. This practice has been going on for years. For the first time, we have decided to tackle the issue and to allocate specific amounts of money for those requiring major works. Significant work has to be done on some of those houses, some of which have been lying there for years and are a blot on the landscape of very good housing estates. For example, there is an empty house in the middle of a block and people have to live with it. That is why we specifically provided this funding, despite the constraints of the capital budgets for these void houses. We are tracking them. We know which houses will be refurbished in each local authority. We will have before and after information. We know the money will be spent on refurbishing those houses and that they will have to be allocated within a particular period, once they have been refurbished. That is dealing with the past, so to speak.
For the future, there will be specific guidelines on how quickly they will have to be turned over. If that is put into legislation, the problem is that one is including the house that Senator Kathryn Reilly might leave tomorrow in perfectly good condition, which can be allocated immediately to another tenant, with the house in which somebody else had a fire that simply cannot be allocated in that length of period. Therefore, it cannot be put into legislation and we cannot have a one-size-fit-all in terms of how quickly each house will be turned over. The Senator is correct that we must have a good practice that turns them over as quickly as possible and provides homes for families who are on the waiting list. I am in the process of doing that. We are some way along the line. We are monitoring the situation and considering the possibility of some kind of regulations that will oblige the local authorities to move them quickly.
Some of the local authorities have got legal advice in respect of certain things that have to be in a house before it can be assigned to a new tenant. We are looking to the County and City Managers Association for best practice so that local authorities, who feel that everything must be perfect before a next tenant moves in, may be given an assurance that they may not necessarily have to do that. We are applying the legal advice that we have across the board. I assure Senator Paschal Mooney we have done a great deal. I am determined to get to the bottom of this because many people in desperate situations are waiting for houses and we simply cannot stand by and houses vacant. I feel strongly about this issue and would welcome ideas and support from Senators on how to bring good practice into all local authorities with a view to ensuring that funding is provided for those vacant houses which have boarded-up for many years in some authorities' areas.
I am assured by the Minister of State's comments. I had no wish, as I mentioned, to cast any reflections whatsoever on the excellent work the Minister of State is doing in the housing section. I applaud, as Senator Marie Moloney has done, the Minister of State for the financial incentives has offered to local authorities considering the restraints on her budget. I am sure she would love to give much more. It seemed to me that it was not just a resource issue but that something else was going on. From her own experience, which is much greater than mine will ever be, in dealing with the city and county managers there appears to be something going in some local authorities that the Minister of State finds unacceptable and which any of us would find unacceptable. In terms of responding to her suggestion about proposals, certainly it would be helpful to hear what the County and City Managers Association is saying in the various areas where the Minister of State is aware, taking the Cork example, of two to three years in some instances. I would ask why they have left them closed for two or three years. What is the problem? Can we fix the problem? If that was to be done across the country - perhaps it is being done already - a meeting of minds between the Department and those recalcitrant local authorities might result in some of those dwelling coming on stream much quicker than up to now. I compliment the Minister of State on everything she is doing in that regard.
Amendments Nos. 11 and 13 are related and may be discussed together, by agreement.
I move amendment No. 11:
In page 37, between lines 16 and 17, to insert the following:
"Replenishing and refurbishment of housing stock
23. All proceeds from the sale of local authority housing stock must be ring fenced by the local authority concerned for use in the replacement of said units or, in the case where demand is not present, for the maintenance of existing local authority housing stock.".
This Bill reintroduces the incremental tenant purchase scheme which over time will mean an increase in the number of local authority tenants buying their own homes which will result in a decrease in the social housing stock. My amendment, if accepted, would mean that any money raised from the sale of local authority housing stock would be used to improve existing stock or, where a need exists, replenish stock and provide new housing. It is a short amendment but is direct and ties in with the provision of social housing and what the Government wants to do.
These amendments duplicate an existing enactment in the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009. Section 13 of the 2009 Act provides that capital moneys accruing to a housing authority from a number of sources, including the sale of a dwelling under the old tenant purchase scheme provided by the 1966 Act, or the two incremental purchase schemes provided for in the 2009 Act, will be ring-fenced in a separate account and, subject to the Minister’s prior approval, used for the provision of housing or for the refurbishment or maintenance of existing houses, or related purposes. Such provisions refer to a local authority’s internal capital receipts. Furthermore, section 34(a) of this Bill amends section 13 of the 2009 Act to provide that moneys accruing from the sale of a dwelling under Part 3 of the Bill will also be subject to the provisions of section 13.
Since 2007, local authorities have had delegated sanction to use their internal capital receipts for housing purposes, subject to certain terms and conditions. Under these procedures authorities are required to submit an annual programme of works to be funded by their internal capital receipts, primarily for the planned maintenance and improvement of their existing housing stock, for approval by my Department. It has also been agreed that local authorities can use their ICR funds to augment and oversee the implication of the voluntary code and to advise on the development of statutory regulation.
Regulation is an important element in providing the conditions necessary for the growth and development of the sector. Financing that growth is equally important and the question of how best to utilise the existing asset base, including the option of selling existing stock to tenants, is a factor to be considered under this particular process.
In the context of work under way regarding the regulation of the voluntary sector and that the principle of what is proposed in respect of the use of capital moneys accruing to local authorities from sales is already provided for in primary legislation, that is, the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009, I suggest the two amendments are unnecessary because they are duplicating provisions already in place.
Is amendment No. 11 being pressed?
Based on what the Minister of State has said, I will not press it but reserve the right to resubmit it on Report Stage.
I move amendment No. 12:
In page 40, between lines 2 and 3, to insert the following:
"(5) Where a tenant has carried out material improvement works to their dwelling or extended it at their own expense, the value of these improvements will be deducted from the sale price to the tenant.".
What this amendment seeks to achieve is clear. Many tenants who worked hard to improve their homes while renting found they had made the purchase price of their homes more expensive when they sought to buy them. That is unfair. A tenant's work on their home should be recognised and it should not mean they have to pay twice when seeking to buy it as their right. Tenants who are waiting to buy their house look at it for dampness and other repairs but are afraid that if they improve it, the price will be increased when the house is valued.
This would encourage tenants to invest in maintenance of their homes. When they want to purchase their homes later on, they should not be punished for having maintained them and kept them in good working order.
Section 25 provides for the sale to a tenant by a housing authority of a house under Part 3, which includes the determination of the purchase price of that house. That sale is subject to certain terms and conditions, including conditions relating to occupation of the house as the normal place of residence of the purchaser or a household member, proposed changes to the status of the house in the future that require the prior consent of the housing authority and prohibitions relating to anti-social behaviour.
In conjunction with this, section 30 provides that I as the relevant Minister can make regulations to determine the method for calculating the purchase price of a house under the scheme. The methodology that I set in these regulations can differentiate between classes of houses and can take account of the age of the house and the estimated cost to the housing authority of providing a replacement house on the same site that would accommodate the same type household for which the house being purchased was designed.
In that context, there is ample legislative scope to determine the most appropriate method for housing authorities to calculate the purchase price for the purpose of this scheme. While I have not yet taken firm decisions as to the exact terms of the scheme that will be set down in regulations, I envisage that the purchase price of the house under this scheme will be based on its market value and its existing state of repair and conditions, but subject to a minimum price that takes account of the cost to the housing authority of replacing the house being sold.
It would be under the regulations that all of the various detail with regard to the sale price of the house would be determined. Previous tenant purchase schemes would facilitate the issue Senator Reilly raised. It would be under the regulations that all of those various elements of the price will be included.
Amendment No. 13 in the name of Senator Wilson, a new section, was already discussed with amendment No. 11.
I move amendment No. 13:
In page 48, between lines 27 and 28, to insert the following:
"Amendment of section 44 of the Act of 2009
35. Section 44 of the Act of 2009 is amended by the insertion of the following subsections after subsection (1):
"(1A) Subsection (1)(a) does not apply in circumstances where a local authority and an approved body agrees that to dispose of a dwelling to a tenant that was constructed prior to the enactment of this Act would be in the best interests of—
(a) the tenant, and/or
(b) the local community in which the particular dwelling is situated.
(1B) The proceeds of sale of any disposal under subsection (1A) shall be ring-fenced for the purposes of—
(a) provision of additional housing by approved bodies in the local authority area in which the particular dwelling is situated, and
(b) to upgrade existing housing stock in the local authority area in which the particular dwelling is situated.".".
I seek clarification. If memory serves me correctly, the Minister of State responded to amendment No. 11 and did not address the first half of amendment No. 13. I wonder whether she might be able to do so. The first part states:
(1A) Subsection (1)(a) does not apply in circumstances where a local authority and an approved body agrees that to dispose of a dwelling to a tenant that was constructed prior to the enactment of this Act would be in the best interests of—
(a) the tenant, and/or
(b) the local community in which the particular dwelling is situated.
Is it in regard to the last two amendments?
Amendments Nos. 11 and 13 are related.
Only one half of amendment No. 13 relates to amendment No. 11.
Senator Mooney is saying there has been overlapping.
There is an overlap. The Minister of State would have only addressed the issue of the ring-fencing of the money from the sale of local authority houses.
Which amendment is it?
Amendment No. 13.
It is related to amendment No. 11 and the Minister of State probably has the same reply.
I replied to the two of them together at that time.
I understand that.
The first half of the amendment does not relate to ring-fencing investment. It is about agreeing to dispose of a dwelling to a tenant.
I am sorry. This is to do with where a local authority agrees to the disposal. I think I did reply to that.
Yes. The amendment states:
"(1A) Subsection (1)(a) does not apply in circumstances where a local authority and an approved body agrees that to dispose of a dwelling to a tenant that was constructed prior to the enactment of this Act would be in the best interests of—
(a) the tenant, and/or
(b) the local community in which the particular dwelling is situated.
It is somewhat confusing in that the other half of the amendment relates to amendment No. 11, to insert a new section 23. I wonder whether the Minister of State has any response on that.
The first part of amendment No. 13 proposes to insert a new subsection (1A) into section 44 of the Act of 2009 in what would appear to be an attempt to extend the incremental purchase arrangements for newly-built local authority and approved body houses of Part 3 of the 2009 Act to existing local authority and approved housing bodies. The proposed amendment is unnecessary insofar as it applies to a housing authority as it is already encompassed by the provisions in Part 3 of the Bill underpinning a purchase scheme for existing dwellings along incremental purchase lines.
In respect of extending purchase provisions to encompass existing approved housing bodies, AHBs, stock, under the terms of the various funding schemes under which AHBs make accommodation available, AHBs are the de facto owners of the properties and are required to make them available for social renting for the duration of the mortgage or, as the case may be, the availability agreement. My Department cannot unilaterally make provision for their sale to tenants. Any such decision would have to involve the AHB and have regard to the mortgage on the property.
In July 2013, I introduced a voluntary regulation code for this sector as a precursor to a statutory regulatory framework to support the voluntary sector's long-term growth. In February 2014, I appointed an interim regulatory committee to oversee the implementation of the voluntary code and to advise on the development of statutory regulation. Regulation is an important element in providing the conditions necessary for the growth and development of the sector. Financing that growth is equally important and the question of how best to utilise the existing asset base, including the option of selling existing stock to tenants, is a factor to be considered under this process. The context of this is the work underway in regard to the regulation of the voluntary sector and that the principle of what is proposed in respect of the use of capital moneys accruing to local authorities from sales is already provided for in primary legislation, that is, the Housing Act 2009. It is on this basis that I ask for the amendment to be withdrawn.
Senator Mooney's question relates specifically to the approved housing bodies. The fact that they are the de facto owners of the properties means that they would have to agree to any sale of the property.
Is the Minister of State saying that the other element of the amendment, the ring-fencing of investments, is already covered by the 2009 Act?
I thank the Minister of State.
Amendment No. 14 in the name of Senator Wilson is out of order. It is a direct negative of section 37. Amendment No. 15 in the name of Senator Reilly is also out of order. It is also a direct negative of section 37.
Section 37 agreed to.
Amendment No. 16 in the name of Senators Zappone and Mac Conghail is out of order as it is in conflict with the principle of the Bill as read a Second Time.
Amendment No. 17 is in the name of Senator Reilly. Amendments Nos. 17, 20, 22 to 25, inclusive, and 27 to 30, inclusive, form a composite proposal and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 17:
In page 49, to delete lines 32 and 33 and substitute the following:
"(a) the housing authority concerned shall source dwellings in respect of which they will seek to place people under the housing assistance scheme,".
These amendments that have been grouped together merely seek to place the onus of finding housing for the HAP on the local authority. This would mean that these tenancies will run more smoothly for both tenants and landlords and it would also mean the local authority would have more of an ability to properly negotiate terms and rents, and a better idea of the local stock that is available.
The Senator is seeking to ensure that the local authority would source the houses for the HAP, and the consequential amendments are all related to that. That would be difficult for the local authorities to do insofar as at present those who are on rent supplement source their own accommodation. It would result in potential HAP recipients not being able to avail or take advantage of opportunities in the private rented sector to secure accommodation.
The HAP represents a shift to a more dynamic system whereby flexibility and choice are important considerations.
One of the objectives in designing the housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme has been the requirement to be as efficient in respect of providing a HAP payment to a recipient as is the rent supplement scheme at present. The administrative burden that would be placed on housing authorities by requiring them to source all accommodation under the scheme would make the scheme unmanageable and unworkable. In providing for both efficiency and relevance, it is important to note the housing authority is responsible for ensuring that accommodation sourced by HAP recipients under the scheme meets the relevant accommodation standards and that the landlords of these properties are tax-compliant. It also is important to remember that under the HAP scheme, the housing authority will make a rental payment to the landlord on behalf of a HAP recipient. The housing authority is not entering into a rental contract with the landlord for the ongoing availability of the property. In that context, section 40 of the Bill underlines that even though the housing authority is making a rent payment to the landlord on behalf of a HAP recipient, this does not mean there is any contractual liability on the housing authority to continue paying rent to the landlord if the HAP recipient leaves the property or if that recipient becomes ineligible for a HAP payment.
Since the inception of the rent supplement scheme, tenants have been sourcing their own accommodation, in respect of which they receive a rent supplement payment and this will be replicated under the HAP scheme. The latter will form one of a suite of social housing supports, some of which the housing authority will provide directly, thereby providing an integrated and progressive selection of social housing support mechanisms with which housing need can be met. While the housing needs of a person or household in receipt of HAP will be met through the provision of HAP, such a person or household will have the option to apply for a transfer to a more traditional form of social housing support or to avail of certain incremental purchase options if the person or household so chooses. Within the general operation of the scheme, there is nothing to stop a housing authority from providing advice on where appropriate properties might be available. However, the onus is on the household to secure such a property. Furthermore, if a household has qualified for social housing support but cannot source appropriate accommodation in the private rented sector under HAP, then the relevant housing authority, within current supply constraints, retains a general level of responsibility in respect of providing an appropriate form of housing support for the particular household concerned.
It is really continuing the practice in the rent supplement system whereby the person finds his or her own accommodation. However, there are situations in which the housing authority will help if it is aware, for example, of housing that is available. As for the sections of housing authorities that deal in particular with people who are trying to find accommodation but are finding it difficult, certainly from my experience if they are aware of housing that is available, they will advise and help people. However, were they to have the obligation to source the housing, I genuinely believe they simply would not be able to do it and it would put a huge additional burden on housing authorities. The practice, as it exists at present, is that people find their own accommodation. Under the HAP scheme, this is by and large will continue to be the practice.
While I will not press the amendment at this stage and will withdraw it, I reserve the right to resubmit it on Report Stage. I wish to have more consultation on the amendments.
As all those amendments are being discussed together, by agreement, I understand that is fine.
I would be greatly concerned by the inclusion of this amendment to have local authorities sourcing the houses. I have come across a case in which a tenant in a private house was in receipt of rent supplement and the landlord agreed to enter the leasing scheme in respect of the house. However, the local authority told the tenant that even though she was living in it, she might not be the person who would get the house because she was not next on the housing list or her priorities were not as high as those of someone else. Were the local authorities sourcing the houses, I would be anxious that it would take too long to get to the applicant and people would be left homeless unless the authorities could act far quicker. Consequently, I believe tenants should continue to be allowed to source the houses.
Amendments Nos. 18, 39, 40 and 43 are related and may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 18:
In page 50, between lines 11 and 12, to insert the following:
“(4) The Minister shall, following consultation with the Joint Oireachtas Committee responsible for housing, by regulations make provision for a housing authority to amend an allocation scheme to individual households, which would enable housing assistance recipients to access other forms of social housing support through a transfer list policy that will reflect the specific priority that the household had on the main waiting list within the authority area in which they are resident, and for related matters.”.
Senator Mac Conghail and I tabled this amendment on the foot of concerns Senator Mac Conghail raised in particular during his Second Stage speech with regard to section 37 and a lot of the kerfuffle surrounding it, which of course raised the issue of clarity as to whether people who were moved to the HAP scheme still would be able to access social housing should they so need. We have read carefully the back-and-forth regarding many of the Minister of State's comments in this regard, both in the Dáil and her response in her Second Stage speech. To clarify, the Minister of State has stated people will be moved from the housing list to a transfer list and still will have the potential to access social housing, should they require it.
That comment is by way of preface but having said all that and being at this point in moving towards the passage of the Bill, I still have received many statements of concerns from people with whom I have worked in Tallaght. At this stage, it appears as though there still is confusion with regard to whether people still will be retained on some list - in this case it obviously is the transfer list the Minister has indicated - and in being so retained, whether people somehow still will have a similar place within that list as they had on the original housing list. These concerns were submitted to me in respect of a document from that community, from which I wish to read one or two things that indicate what I am saying here. The Minister of State first should be aware that people perceive many benefits to what is happening here and it is not all negative or criticism. According to the document given to me, the benefits include that full benefit will be paid by the local authority directly to the landlords and not by welfare. People perceive this to be a benefit, as is the fact that the tenant will pay the differential rent directly to the local authority and will be able to work full-time while in receipt of housing assistance. That is all wonderful and great. However, the negative aspects reported are that the tenant will be removed from the housing list, will be denied secure long-term housing and will be left at the mercy of the private rental market. Moreover, it also is noted that tenants will lose their place on the housing list, which could provide them with a home for life together with a possibility to buy property if one's circumstances change and that some tenants have been on an housing list for years and that this will be wiped clean once the Bill comes into play.
I have heard the Minister of State saying this is not the case, that she is guaranteeing it will not be the case and that she will make regulations subsequent to the passage of this Bill to assure people they still will have a similar place on a transfer list. The amendment Senator Mac Conghail and I tabled and I now have moved is simply to suggest the Minister of State would place within the Bill her commitment to make those regulations that would enable the housing assistance recipients to access other forms of social housing support through a transfer list that will reflect the specific priority the household had on the main waiting list. In this amendment, we took some of the language the Minister of State used in her speeches where she stated she would do that and wished to do that. Our amendment proposes that this be inserted into the Bill as it stands, as well as adding that aspect to act with consultation with the appropriate Oireachtas committee.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I support the amendment of my colleague, Senator Zappone. I seek clarification as this is one of those issues in debate where one must separate the Minister of State's bona fides as a politician and her bona fides as a legislator. She might not be in this position, as she might be elevated or certainly have her workload increased, over the next 48 hours. Consequently, I must divorce the Minister of State's bona fides as a politician from the legislation before Members. On Second Stage, I sought clarification regarding section 37 and the Minister of State went some way, albeit not far enough in my opinion, towards trying to appease Members' concerns. She suggested that under the 2009 Act, she can direct a housing authority to amend an allocation scheme in the manner specified. In my Second Stage speech, I asked the Minister of State to examine why this could not be included in the current Bill. During this Committee Stage debate, the Minister of State should try to clarify for Members her process in this regard. There is genuine concern, although some of it is mischievously exacerbated in the media.
There is, however, a concern about which we want to speak plainly to the Minister. At present, section 37 clearly - I am about to be paradoxical - leaves an ambiguous sense in stating:
Subject to regulations made for the purposes of subsection (4)(f) of section 20 of the Act of 2009, the provision of housing assistance under this Part shall be deemed to be an appropriate form of social housing support for a household that is determined by a housing authority under the said section 20 to be qualified for such support.
One could argue this provision is not as well written as it could be and that it needs clarification. That the Minister would make a direction subsequent to the enactment of this Bill suggests there is a bureaucratically or technocratically cumbersome process when it should be stated clearly that there will not be unequal treatment of future tenants through the transfer system. I ask the Minister of State to tease out those anxieties and to be as clear and unbureacratic as possible in her response.
Before I address amendments Nos. 39 and 40, I want to reiterate the concerns expressed by other speakers in regard to this section and the assumption that people's housing needs will be met through HAP. People will be removed from local authority waiting lists regardless of whether they may wish to enter into a short-term arrangement as a step towards being accommodated on a more permanent basis in local authority housing. There are fears that what is proposed might distort the figures and may not allow people to understand the real issues at hand. Currently, a large number of landlords are withdrawing from schemes like RAS, which means that families who thought they may have able to make their lives in the same location could be on the verge of becoming homeless and councils will be obliged to find alternative accommodation for them.
Amendment No. 39 provides that tenants housed under an assistance scheme run by the State through local authorities shall receive priority for housing should they lose their homes because of unaffordable rents. This is a fair recognition of responsibility authorities bear to people which they may have failed to house securely. It also gives an impetus to the authorities to ensure there is as much security as possible in the private tenancies they oversee.
In regard to amendment No. 40, the Minister of State indicated that HAP tenants who are removed from housing waiting lists and lose their status of having a housing need will be allowed to put their names on a transfer list. However, people could languish on transfer lists for years. Some local authorities do not even maintain transfer lists, while the transfer lists maintained by other authorities contain conditions that would cause problems for HAP tenants who simply want social housing. The amendment would require the Minister to introduce guidelines for housing authorities on the operation of a transfer system to ensure the system operates as smoothly as possible and that the tenants are not put out in any way.
I appreciate that Senators expressed genuine concerns. Similar concerns were expressed in the Dáil regarding people on HAP not losing their position on local authority waiting lists. I want to be as clear as I can with regard to that issue. Senator Reilly's first amendment deals with particular situations, such as where somebody is evicted due to unaffordable rents, and her second amendment is related to the amendment proposed by Senators Mac Conghail and Zappone. The Fianna Fáil amendment deals specifically with people on the rental accommodation scheme and the issue of responsible tenants. The substantive issue is to ensure people do not lose their place on the waiting list and that they are given the same priority as they were originally given.
The powers available to me in respect of allocations and transfers, and for social housing support generally, are contained in the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009. This Bill establishes the housing assistance payment but it is not the legislation in which allocations are determined. This is why I intend to use the powers under the 2009 Act rather than make specific provision in the Bill. With regard to HAP being a social housing support, section 19 of the 2009 Act sets out the supports considered to be social housing supports, as well as giving housing authorities the power to provide, facilitate or manage the provision of that support. Section 49 of this Bill provides for an amendment to section 19 of the Act to include HAP as a social housing support. Whereas previously rent supplement was under the Department of Social Protection, it is now under the remit of local authorities and it comes within the social housing area. Due to the provision in section 37 of the Bill, which deems HAP to be an appropriate form of social housing support for households determined to be qualified under section 20 of the 2009 Act, HAP households are covered by the provisions of section 22 of the Act in so far as they apply to those already in receipt of social housing support. By making HAP a social housing support under the law, it can come under a housing authority's allocation and transfer policy.
As I have noted previously, section 22 of the 2009 Act provides that a housing authority can determine the order of priority in which it makes allocations to individual households in accordance with its allocation scheme. This includes reserving dwellings available for allocation in its area in respect of households transferring from other forms of social housing support, of which HAP will now be one. In that regard, in 2011, I issued social housing allocation regulations, which commenced on 1 May 2011, setting out the conditions that housing authorities must take into account when making their allocation schemes. All housing authorities were required to make an allocation scheme under these regulations on or before 13 June 2011. The regulations require authorities to set out the manner in which they will allocate dwellings to households on the waiting list and households that have been approved for transfers. They have to put in place a transfer policy as well as a waiting list policy. During the debate on the Bill in the Dáil, some speakers indicated that their respective local authorities did not maintain transfer lists but they are required to put in place a transfer policy. I can direct them with regard to their transfer policies.
I am committed to putting in place the statutory framework under section 22 of the 2009 Act to provide for a robust transfer policy in every local authority, which would afford HAP recipients and other social housing tenants equal opportunity to access other forms of social housing support, including incremental purchase schemes. This list, while a transfer list, will reflect the specific priority and previous position occupied by the household in question on the main waiting list in the authority area in which it is resident. Households will, therefore, be placed on a transfer list with no less favourable terms than if they had remained on the main housing waiting list. They will keep their time accrued.
It is my preference to achieve this through comprehensive regulation but if the regulations are not ready in time for the statutory pilot phase for HAP, which is due to begin shortly, I will use my powers under section 22 to issue a direction to local authorities involved in the pilot to ensure HAP recipients are afforded the same access to other forms of social housing support via their existing transfer lists, if that is their choice. In other words, my preference is regulation but, if necessary, I will be able to use powers for the preliminary phase involving six local authorities. The Limerick authority has already started to operate HAP and six more are due to come on stream before the end of this year. I can use my powers to issue a direction to them, and I am giving a commitment that I will do so. We will have to draft the regulations after the legislation has passed through both Houses of the Oireachtas and has been signed by the President.
We are already working on the drafting but we cannot publish those regulations until the legislation is complete - in other words, until HAP actually exists as a form of social housing. I want to give the House an absolute assurance that that is what I intend to do. There will be no disadvantage to anybody who has an existing build-up of years or other elements that have given them priority on the housing waiting list. That will be done by way of secondary legislation when we draft the regulations. In the meantime, I will use directions to ensure people in the next wave of six local authorities are not in any way disadvantaged. I hope that gives the clarification the Senators require.
I thank the Minister of State very much. It is absolutely clear what her intention is in terms of the policy objective, that is, that in transferring from one list to another they will not be at a disadvantage. Everybody should have a transfer policy and if there is not a list, I presume the policy will mean that perhaps they do need a list if they move on to HAP. Perhaps the Minister of State could answer that point concerning authorities where there are not transfer lists. It is clear what the Minister of State's objective is and I accept that is a good thing.
Our amendment sought to insert a commitment in the Bill whereby the Minister of State would undertake those regulations. In her response, however, I did not hear exactly why she would reject that or why she would not put such a commitment in the legislation. Perhaps she could clarify that because I did not understand it.
Does Senator Mac Conghail wish to speak on the same point?
Yes, I wish to extend that point. The Minister of State has been clear but she must bear with us because we are not experts. It is important that we should talk this through with her a bit more. My understanding is that the Minister of State is making a commitment to issue a direction, particularly on the pilot ones. She has said that Limerick is already in the starting blocks. That city has a transfer policy and list so there is a direction there.
I want to unpick the stages. The reason the Minister of State would direct local authorities concerns the time lapse between the enactment of this Bill and the secondary legislation. What would be the normal gap between the enactment of this Bill and issuing the regulation? At what point in that gap would the Minister of State consider pre-empting that delay and issuing a direction? I want to examine the timing sequence of that also.
I will answer Senator Zappone's question about the transfer list first. It was indicated to me in the Dáil that County Kildare does not have a transfer list. It is the only such local authority I know of but there may be others. If one applies for a transfer in Kildare, one is on the housing list in some way. It seems to me to make more sense that there would be separate transfer and housing lists. That seems to be how most local authorities operate.
With regard to the clarification sought, the reason it is not in the primary legislation is that the direction is in secondary legislation. In that sense it is part of the statute, although it is not in the primary legislation. It is a regulation that relates to the primary statute and I will draft it as soon as I can.
In terms of the timing, we expect that those six local authorities will move quickly. We expect that they may well move before we have the regulations fully drafted, so that is why I will issue the direction if necessary. If the regulations are in place, then we will not need to do so. I want to ensure people who have been on a waiting list for five years do not suddenly end up falling through a crack because no statutory mechanism or direction can be used. That is why we are putting that intermediary step in place. It may not be necessary to use it. I wanted to give a reassurance that we will use it, however, if the regulations are not finally drafted and agreed by the time the next phase starts after Limerick. That is its intention.
Secondary legislation will be there by way of regulation, so it is legislation in that sense, albeit secondary. In the same way that any future Ministers could introduce a new housing Bill and change everything, they could also amend the regulations but no more easily. They would still have to do so formally but I would not envisage any Minister wishing to do that. It makes sense not to disadvantage people who have built up time on a housing waiting list. I am confident that no future Minister would want to disadvantage those people in any way. I do not see why a Minister would do so.
During these lengthy debates I have been clear about the intention that will pertain. I am giving the House an assurance that, as far as I am concerned, we will draft those regulations to ensure people will not lose any of the priority they have had.
Does Senator Zappone wish to comment further?
I thank the Minister of State. What she has said is certainly clear to me. Senator Mac Conghail always speaks well for himself, but it is clear to me what the Minister of State has said. I expect that it should also be clear to local authorities and those who will ultimately be the recipients of this. It is also clear that the Minister of State has taken an additional step in responding to us. If there is any lack of clarity concerning the pilot phase, the Minister of State will also issue a direction on that.
In one sense, people are already protected by the 2009 Act and the 2011 regulations. The Minister of State is now making a commitment that the regulations are being drafted. It should be perfectly clear to local authorities that, even if there is a movement from one list to another, people will not be disadvantaged. That is the intention of those regulations.
Given the manner in which the business was ordered, we have to complete the debate.
Can I say a few words?
I am under instructions that another Minister is waiting.
It is Committee Stage.
Another Bill is due before the House. The Bill before us is due to resume later today. The Senator will be in possession when the debate resumes.
For the sake of efficiency, I want to wrap up quickly.
On this occasion, I would accept that Senator Zappone can speak on my behalf. We will not press the amendment but we reserve the right to return to it on Report Stage. As I said in my preface to this discussion, if the current Minister of State is still in that position on Report Stage, we will not press it. However, we would like to hear the same commitment from the succeeding Minister, although we hope that will not be the case.
In view of what the Minister of State said and what my two esteemed colleagues have said, may I take it that amendment No. 18 is being withdrawn?
They can re-enter it on Report Stage. Is that agreed?