Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2014: Report and Final Stages

I welcome the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Kelly, back to the House. He seems to have been living here for the past day or two.

Before commencing, I remind Members that a Senator may speak only once on Report Stage except for the proposer of an amendment, who may reply to the discussion on the amendment. Also on Report Stage, each amendment must be seconded.

Amendments No. 1, which arises out of committee proceedings, and No. 2 form a composite proposal and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

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;".

I discussed most of these amendments on Committee Stage with the then Minister of State and current Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan. I will go over some ground again with the new Minister, Deputy Kelly, to get further clarity, having reviewed the legislation.

These amendments relate to the issue of advocacy and the requirement for an authorised advocate. On Committee Stage, the then Minister of State suggested that an advocate would have to be arranged for in all dealings with the authority, but that is not the case. No tenant who is reasonably able to deal with an issue would want the delay caused by arranging for an advocate. As such, the amendment places the onus for arranging an advocate on the tenant. If he or she cannot do so at the appropriate time, it should not delay anything.

These amendments are meant to ensure that, should a tenant request the presence of an advocate, the authority cannot refuse, which may have happened in some cases. As the then Minister of State mentioned on Committee Stage, this requirement would not change matters for some councils. For others, though, tenants could not be denied advocacy if they could arrange for it.

I cannot accept these amendments, as a blanket provision permitting a local authority tenant to have an authorised delegate in all dealings with the local authority would hinder and delay the normal process of landlord-tenant communications that tenants are generally well able to handle themselves. It should be noted that housing authorities engage with third parties speaking on behalf of tenants who need assistance in this regard, but extending this 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.

As explained on Committee Stage, housing authorities need to have good communications with their tenants. In cases where tenants clearly need support in their dealings with their landlords, the housing authorities intensify their efforts to communicate effectively with them and persons speaking on their behalf. It is my understanding that this represents current good practice.

I will consider whether it may be necessary to issue guidance to housing authorities in this regard, but I will not accept the amendment now.

I accept the Minister's response.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 2 not moved.

Amendment No. 3 arises out of committee proceedings. Amendment No. 4 is a logical alternative to amendment No. 3. Amendments Nos. 3 and 4 can be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 3:

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 amendment goes over ground covered on Committee Stage.

The amendment means that any money raised under the tenant purchase scheme would be used to improve and replenish existing stock and provide new housing. During the debate on Committee Stage the Minister made a point about section 13 of the 2009 Act, but I do not have confidence that it is a strong enough provision. The section states money may be used for housing and maintenance works, but my amendment states it would have to be ring-fenced and used for housing. This could be a better way of doing things, by encouraging local authorities to invest in their housing stock.

In respect of amendment No. 3 and the second part of amendment No. 4, as has been explained at every stage of consideration of the Bill in the Houses, in accepting the amendments we would duplicate an existing provision in the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009. I will, therefore, not accept the amendments.

Section 13 of the 2009 Act provides that the capital moneys accruing to a housing authority from a number of sources, including the sale of dwellings under the old tenant purchase scheme provided for in the 1966 Act or the 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 the refurbishment or maintenance of existing houses or related purposes. Such provisions relate to local authorities' internal capital receipts.

Furthermore, section 34(a) of the 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, local authorities are required to submit an annual programme of works to be funded from 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 internal capital receipts funds to augment the revenue funding used to finance the funding, from their own resources, of the suite of grants for older people and people with a disability.

I cannot accept the first part of amendment No. 4 to the extent that it proposes to insert a new subsection (1A) into section 44 of the 2009 Act in what appears to be an attempt to extend the incremental purchase arrangements for newly built local authority and approved body houses in Part 3 of the 2009 Act to existing local authority and approved body housing. The proposed amendment is unnecessary in so far 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' stock, under the terms of the various funding schemes under which AHBs make accommodation available, they are the de facto owners of the properties and 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 my predecessor introduced a voluntary regulatory code for this sector as a precursor to a statutory regulatory framework to support the voluntary sector’s long-term growth. In February she appointed an interim regulatory committee to oversee implementation of the voluntary code and advise on the development of statutory regulation. Regulation is an important element in providing for 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 in this process.

Having regard to work under way on the regulation of the voluntary sector and the fact 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 - the Housing Act 2009 - I ask the Senators to withdraw their amendments.

Seeing that the Minister asked so nicely, I will not press the amendment.

This is my first opportunity to welcome the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly. As I said on the Order of Business, he is one of four former Members of the last Seanad and we hope to have some influence on him in his decision-making. I hope he will not let us down. It is good to see four former colleagues as senior Ministers and I wish them well. The amendment proposes the following:

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 would like to hear what the Minister has to say.

With regard to one aspect of the Minister's response on approved housing bodies, it is the scenario that tenants of local authorities have the option to purchase properties under various tenant purchase schemes and now under the incremental tenant purchase scheme. Tenants of approved housing bodies do not have that option. There are legal issues relating to schemes to allow approved housing bodies sell properties to tenants. I welcome the Minister to his new brief. What measures can be taken to put in place a voluntary scheme for the sale by approved housing bodies of housing stock to tenants? Tenants have a natural aspiration to own their homes over time. This aspiration is satisfied for the tenants of local authorities but not those of approved housing bodies. Among certain approved housing bodies there is a willingness to consider a sales scheme and such schemes have been put in place in the United Kingdom. Perhaps it is something the Minister might consider.

I have little else to say. To respond to Senator Aideen Hayden, it is a point we can consider in the future. In many ways, it is aspirational, but it could be welcomed. A voluntary code, in moving to a regulatory framework as regards AHBs, is something that is necessary. A huge volume of work has been done, but there is a necessity for it to move into a regulatory process in order that we can ensure there is finance into the future and that there is a code by which these bodies which are doing fantastic work can continue it into the future.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 4 not moved.

Amendments Nos. 5 and 6 have been ruled out of order because they are in conflict with the principle of the Bill.

Amendments Nos. 5 and 6 not moved.

Amendments Nos. 7, 9 and 11 to 18, inclusive, form a composite proposal and may be discussed together. I welcome the new Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Paudie Coffey. It is not his first time in the Seanad where he has previously spent a very fruitful period, but he is very welcome back in his new role.

I do not intend to move the amendments in the grouping.

Amendment No. 7 not moved.

Amendment No. 8 is out of order as it conflicts with the principle of the Bill as read a Second Time.

Amendments Nos. 8 and 9 not moved.

I move amendment No. 10:

In page 50, line 27, after "period" to insert "not less than 2 months".

I welcome the Minister of State and look forward to working with him in the future. The amendment was discussed on Committee Stage, but we now have a new Minister of State and I seek clarity on it. It would provide that inspections of HAP homes must take place at the latest within two months of a tenancy commencing. I note what the previous Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, said on Committee Stage. Perhaps the Minister of State might comment briefly.

I second the amendment.

I thank the Cathaoirleach for his kind welcome. This is a very familiar setting to me as I spent over four years here. I enjoyed every moment of it and see many familiar as well as some new faces. I look forward to working with Members in my new capacity.

I cannot accept amendment No. 10. The purpose of prescribing the appropriate period by way of regulations as opposed to primary legislation is to create flexibility to change the period set if it becomes impractical. While I accept that the Senator's purpose is to ensure minimal disruption and confusion for the households concerned, this must be balanced against what is practical for housing authorities. The period that will be prescribed under the section will be set in consultation with housing authorities and can be the subject of review once the scheme is operational to ensure the correct balance between consideration of HAP recipients and housing authorities' practical requirements has been struck. Prescribing the period as suggested by the Senator would make it more difficult to follow through on the outcome of any review in the period set. In that context, I ask her to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 11 to 18, inclusive, not moved.

I move amendment No. 19:

In page 54, line 30, after "offers" to insert "not less than 3".

This amendment seeks to provide that the limit set for the number of offers a social housing applicant can refuse would be no less than three. We discussed the matter with the previous Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, on Committee Stage and the issue was around allowing for flexibility and not wanting to specify the number in primary legislation. The Minister of State referred to "reasonable offers" and mentioned that there were criteria as to what constituted a reasonable offer which a tenant could turn down. I make the proposal again as it is important to provide for it. Perhaps the Minister of State might discuss again the issue around reasonable offers and the guidelines on them. The previous Minister of State stated that two refusals was the number. I retabled the amendment to facilitate a little further discussion.

I second the amendment.

This is an important way of allocating houses. Many offers are made by computer and one signs up for this, that and the other on the system. There should be a process of pre-consultation before offers are made to find out if there are children in school in an area, for example. There is no way they would move to a school that is miles away or to a location where the children could not get into a school. Offers must be realistic to ensure refusals are guaranteed to be reasonable and not just because someone does not want to live in a particular area. I ask the Minister of State to ensure the preparatory work is focused on before offers are made.

I am happy to clarify the matter for Senators. As I said in respect of amendment No. 10, the purpose of prescribing an appropriate number in regulations as opposed to primary legislation is to allow for flexibility if needed to change the number set where it becomes impractical. Two refusals is a reasonable number so as not to disadvantage other households on the waiting list in being offered available accommodation by a housing authority where a household with a higher priority continues to refuse reasonable offers of accommodation. A reasonable offer from a housing authority is one of a house in the household's area of choice which meets its housing needs. It is difficult to see how a household could reasonably refuse an offer that meets both of these criteria. I remain of the view that permitting two refusals of reasonable offers of accommodation by a household maintains the appropriate balance.

I am happy to take on board the views of Senators on the interaction between local authority housing offices and tenants prior to the making of offers. Unfortunately, I cannot accept the amendment and ask the Senator to withdraw it.

On the basis of what the Minister of State said, I will withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment No. 20 is out of order as it involves a potential charge on the Exchequer.

Amendment No. 20 not moved.

I move amendment No. 21:

In page 72, after line 31, to insert the following:

"Transferral of tenancy within social housing

59. Within 6 months of the commencement of this Bill the Minister with approval of the Oireachtas Committee will publish guidelines for housing authorities to implement a tenancy transfer system for all tenants within the social housing system.".

The amendment brings us back to the issue of the HAP. It seeks to provide that within six months of the commencement of the legislation, the Minister would publish with the approval of the joint committee guidelines for housing authorities to implement a tenancy transfer system for all tenants within the social housing system. The issue of removal from waiting and transfer lists has been a bone of contention and discussed in great detail in the context of the legislation here and in the other House on all Stages. The thrust of ministerial responses around the HAP and removing tenants from waiting lists is that they can transfer. If so, there should be transfer lists in all local authorities. This is not provided for in legislation, but it should be. We cannot accept a provision which removes people from a list on the premise that they will be provided for in a local authority policy as opposed to legislation. The amendment of itself does not seek to define a transfer scheme. The Minister's guidelines could provide local authorities with a great deal of discretion. If we are to protect the rights of tenants which is critical, we must ensure a transfer list is put in place for them.

I second the amendment.

The ongoing piloting of the HAP will include as part of the national roll-out of the scheme a review of the current allocation and transfer policies of housing authorities to give appropriate weight to households on the transfer lists in the allocation of available social accommodation. It is intended to provide that where a HAP recipient who has come off the waiting list applies to go onto the transfer list, the transfer list will reflect the specific priority and previous position of the recipient on the waiting list. HAP recipients will, therefore, be placed on the transfer list on no less favourable terms than if they had remained on the waiting list. This maintains the principle of preserving the recipient's reasonable expectations in relation to being able to obtain local authority or approved housing body accommodation.

The intention is to revise the social housing allocation regulations in order to ensure that all social housing recipients, including those in receipt of HAP, who wish to do so will still be able to access other local authority housing options through the transfer system. They will, therefore, remain in a position to apply to transfer to other social housing options such as those provided by local authorities or authorised housing bodies, AHBs. Pending the drafting of the required regulations, a commitment was previously given in this House to the effect that ministerial powers under section 22 could be used to issue a direction to the local authorities involved in the pilot scheme in order to ensure that HAP recipients, during that phase, can be afforded the same access to other forms of social housing support via the existing transfer lists, if that is their choice. The guidelines will form part of this process in any event.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment No. 22 arises out of Committee proceedings. Amendments Nos. 22 and 23 are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 22:

In page 72, after line 31, to insert the following:

“Amendment of Domestic Violence Act 1996

59. The Domestic Violence Act 1996 is amended by inserting the following section after section 8:

8A. An applicant shall not, by virtue of the applicant’s legal or beneficial interest in the residence in which the applicant resides or previously resided with the respondent, be prohibited from consideration for social housing by a local authority.”.”.

I resubmitted these two amendments because I am of the view that it is only right to ensure we obtain a reaffirmation from the Minister of State of the commitment provided on Committee Stage by his predecessor, the new Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, to the effect that she intended to enter into consultations with the Minister for Justice and Equality on what can be done about domestic violence. I will not go into too much detail because the issue in question has been discussed by most Members of the Seanad on several previous occasions, including Committee Stage. I accept the fact that this matter is also relevant to the Department of Justice and Equality and other Departments and that, as a result, a cross-departmental approach is required in respect of it. However, amendments Nos. 22 and 23 deal exclusively with housing issues and the ability of survivors of domestic abuse to access housing. Amendment No. 23 is extremely simple in nature and requires that the Minister, with the consent of the relevant Oireachtas committee, publish a framework for housing authorities to deal with domestic abuse in social housing. Perhaps the Minister of State could provide a commitment that work on such a framework could be commenced in conjunction with groups such as SAFE Ireland and Women's Aid.

I second the amendment. I warmly welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Coffey. Both the Cathaoirleach and I had the privilege of serving with him in this House prior to the most recent general election. His contributions were always genuine, heartfelt and in the best interests of the country. He looked somewhat hesitant when he first entered the Chamber and left again briefly.

Second thoughts.

The Minister of State saw Senator Wilson and went back out.

He probably wanted to pinch himself. The Minister of State is welcome and I wish him well.

These are both sensible amendments and it would be extremely worthwhile if a framework were put in place in order to allow housing authorities to deal with domestic violence. It is a fact that such violence occurs, in the case of males as well as females. A framework such as that proposed should be put in place in order that victims or potential victims of domestic violence might be offered the possibility of being rehoused. I support these very worthy amendments.

I expressed my support for the general thrust of these amendments on Committee Stage. There is no doubt that there is a major issue here, particularly for women who experience domestic violence and who are disqualified from access to social housing because they may already be the joint owner of a property, although this may be in substantial negative equity. The Minister of State's predecessor, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, indicated that she was willing to consider the situation of persons experiencing domestic violence. I request that the new Minister of State follow up on that commitment, because this is an extremely serious issue and many women find themselves with no option other than to spend time in emergency shelter accommodation, which, in many instances, is by no manner of means desirable.

I have been provided with quite a detailed response which I will read into the record and which, I hope, will reassure Senators. Before I do so, I reiterate the commitment given by my predecessor to follow up on this issue. While I agree with the general thrust of the amendments, I certainly cannot accept them.

In specific reference to amendment No. 22, the Domestic Violence Act 1996 comes under the stewardship of my colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald. While I am happy - as was my predecessor on Committee Stage - to discuss what is proposed in this amendment with her, I will not accept an amendment to the legislation without consulting the Minister in advance and giving due consideration to the complex legal matters involved. I reaffirm the commitment to the effect that we will follow up on this matter in view of the genuine sentiments expressed by Senators.

Is the amendment being pressed?

In view of the commitment the Minister of State has given, it is not being pressed.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 23:

In page 72, after line 31, to insert the following:

“Code of conduct for domestic violence in social housing

59. The Minister with the consent of the Oireachtas Committee will publish a framework for Housing Authorities to deal with domestic violence in social housing which shall include provisions for rehousing a social housing tenant who has been the victim of domestic violence or is likely to be the victim of domestic violence in their current residence.”.

I second the amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Bill received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I welcome the Minister of State. I was not here when he served in this House but his reputation indicates that he is a sincere and hard-working individual. I hope I and others can live up to the example he set during his time here. The Minister of State and I were colleagues on the Joint Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht and I offer him my heartfelt congratulations.

I wholeheartedly support the Bill. However, we had some concerns on Committee Stage with regard to transfers and waiting lists, and the Minister of State's predecessor, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, assuaged these and gave a commitment to the effect that if any delays occur - particularly in the context of the six pilot schemes - secondary legislation will be introduced. I wish to read what she said into the record because the new Minister of State has probably not been bought up to speed on this matter. What the former Minister of State, who is now the Minister for Education and Skills, said on Committee Stage is extremely important in the context of reassuring all of those who are in receipt of HAP that their positions on the transfer and waiting lists will not be affected. Deputy O'Sullivan stated:

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.

That certainly assuaged my concerns. My motive for quoting what the Minister of State's predecessor said is to make him aware of the fact that quite an amount of debate took place in respect of this issue on Committee Stage.

I wish to highlight three issues in respect of this legislation. The first of these relates to the various orders which will be put in place in the context of tenancy warnings, etc., and which will replace the summary procedures for which provision is made under section 62 of the Housing Act 1966. The measures contained in the Bill are definitely a considerable improvement on what is currently in place. I am of the view, however, that we will ultimately be obliged to bite the bullet in respect of the manner in which local authorities deal with their tenants. As matters stand, those authorities still act as judge and jury in respect of their tenants. In the context of various items of European legislation on human rights, I do not believe that is acceptable. We should consider the possibility of eventually bringing local authority housing disputes within the remit of the Private Residential Tenancies Board, as happened in the case of disputes relating to the voluntary housing sector. It is important that there would be an independent dispute resolution body for local authority tenants.

The second issue to which I wish to refer is that of tenant purchase. This matter is very close to my heart and I have done a considerable amount of research in respect of it. The new scheme is extremely positive in terms of retaining tenant purchasers within their local communities.

There is a lot of evidence to show that in the past, people were taking the discount, turning the houses around very quickly, making substantial profits and moving out of their communities, particularly during the Celtic tiger era. This measure will go a long way towards stopping that practice.

I have two concerns that I ask the Minister of State to take on board. The first concerns older tenants. The incremental purchase system very much favours younger tenants who may have 20 years in which to have a mortgage arrangement. Many local authority tenants are older tenants. I am concerned that schemes such as this would not be in their interest because they would not be in a position to see through 20 years of a future charge on their property.

A promise, dating back to the 1980s, was made to tenants of flats that they would be in a position in which they could purchase their homes. This promise was also made to tenants of maisonettes. I am concerned that many people will never have this aspiration realised. We need to address this. Although the measure before us on tenant purchase is positive, a number of people have been left behind and they need to be considered.

The most important aspect of this Bill relates to the HAP scheme. The payment will replace rent supplement for people who have been getting that payment for over 18 months. I am the chairman of an organisation called Threshold, which works primarily in the private rented sector. Therefore, I note that the vast majority of people who receive rent supplement are either single or lone parents. Their position on the social housing waiting list is incredibly low. In the vast majority of cases, their chance of ever getting a social housing unit within any reasonable period is severely restricted. The vast majority are and have been trapped in the rent supplement system for decades. The housing assistance payment gives them, for the first time, a real chance to move on with their lives and get back to work. I am thinking in particular of a case I am dealing with which concerns a single parent who is trapped with rent supplement and cannot take up work to any reasonable extent because she will lose her entitlement to the supplement. There are thousands of people in this position today. The HAP scheme, which will replace the rent supplement scheme, will allow them to pay rents in accordance with their incomes and move forward with their lives.

The emphasis that has been placed on eligibility, the housing waiting list and one’s position thereon has been an enormous distraction in considering this legislation. It has long been the case that RAS tenants have been eligible to be on the transfer list. Last year in the Dublin area alone, 50% of all allocations were made on the transfer list. That HAP tenants will now be eligible to go on the transfer list will improve their position to a point at which they will have a realistic chance of being housed. This contrasts with their position as rent supplement tenants in circumstances where, let us face it, even talking about waiting lists is quite often utterly meaningless.

I very much welcome the introduction of the HAP scheme. It will level the playing field for those in need of housing support. It is vital that the scheme be rolled out as quickly as possible. There are people literally waiting for it to come into existence so as to improve their lives.

I ask the Minister of State to make the rolling out of the HAP scheme a priority for his Ministry. It is essential if we are to remove the poverty traps, particularly for single people and single families with one child.

I will be brief because I spoke at length on Committee Stage. I welcome the Minister of State. I worked with him for many years as a member of the Joint Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht. He will make a fine Minister of State and I look forward to his deliberations.

In the media, the debate on the Bill has been dominated by the HAP scheme. Senator Aideen Hayden, chairperson of Threshold, has put it very succinctly. The Minister repeated three to five times in the Dáil the position on transfers and eligibility for transfers. As the Senator stated, the legislation will result in very many positive developments in social housing.

The issue of domestic violence needs to be accorded significant priority. It always amazes me that it is very often the woman who leaves the house where there is domestic violence, only to discover that she is ineligible for another house. Something needs to be considered in this regard.

Single men should not be forever on a housing list without any right to go up the ladder.

The issue of disputes and mediation needs to be examined. I refer to cases in which the defenceless tenant is being judged only by the local authority. A good submission has been made by the community law and mediation centre on an independent system that could be examined in this regard. I am not saying it should be achieved immediately, but we should work towards it. It should be considered, particularly in respect of mediation. Both councillors and Senators will know that many of their discussions are on anti-social behaviour. I welcome the changes in the Bill in this regard. We want to ensure that rights and responsibilities are safeguarded for both tenants and the local authority.

The HAP scheme will help to take people off the live register. It will ensure people can have their housing needs met through the system. I welcome it.

I thank Senator Fiach Mac Conghail for his kind comments and I note his views. I have already spoken about the transfer policies and how they will be dealt with. My remarks are on the public record. I appreciate the Senator's having raised this issue with me.

I acknowledge Senator Hayden's vast experience in this area as chairperson of Threshold. She has brought great insight to the entire debate. I note her views on disputes and how they are dealt with, and also her view on the disadvantage older tenants might feel they are at under the current system. We must try to improve the system continuously to try to give everybody a chance to gain access to housing.

Senator Hayden described the benefits of the HAP scheme and clarified the matter. I could not do so any better. There was some controversy about the scheme initially but the points of contention have been clarified very significantly by the Senators and my predecessor, now the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O’Sullivan, on a number of occasions. The scheme will certainly enhance access to quality housing for those who might not have had it previously.

Senator Cáit Keane also referred to the HAP scheme. I note and support her comments. Addressing domestic violence is a complex legal matter. The Senator heard my comments on it earlier. Anti-social behaviour is always a challenge and will remain so. We all need to work together with communities, local authorities and tenants to ensure we tackle it as much as possible.

I thank the members of the Opposition for their contributions on the Bill. All views are valued and need to be taken on board. We will not always agree but it is important that we listen to one another. This is an important Bill that provides for innovative and necessary changes to social housing supports and assistance. It has been a challenging task to make progress on the legislation, particularly in respect of the ambitious timelines set for implementing the new HAP. In that context, I wish to express gratitude to all who have been involved in the process. I thank in particular my predecessor Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, the Minister for Education and Skills, for the work she has done in seeing this Bill most of the way through the Houses of the Oireachtas. I thank all Senators for their views and insights during the consideration of this necessary legislation.

I wish to reassure further those who have raised concerns. With regard to the seven local authorities and the pilot scheme, there will be a review at the end of the year and a full evaluation of how the processes involved are working. Any deficiencies or shortcomings will then be identified and addressed as soon as possible.

Question put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 32; Níl, 13.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D'Arcy, Jim.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Heffernan, James.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Mac Conghail, Fiach.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Brien, Mary Ann.
  • O'Keeffe, Susan.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.

Níl

  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Crown, John.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden; Níl, Senators Kathryn Reilly and Diarmuid Wilson..
Question declared carried.