I thank the Senator for raising this issue and the issue of housing in general and for keeping the focus on Rebuilding Ireland and the targets set therein. He is right to say that no single scheme will solve this issue. It will be a number of schemes and we have to keep pushing them and adding to them. We must look at the different opportunities presented in different local authorities in different ways.
When it comes to tackling vacancies, we need to do more. From a social housing point of view, I am happy that we are making great improvements with local authority housing vacancies. However, there are still many private dwellings being left vacant. The local authorities need to take the lead on this to bring them back into use, using all the different schemes such as the repair and leasing scheme and the buy and renew scheme. They can also use a combination of schemes to address voids and they can use funding from Project Ireland 2040 to so do. Local authorities have to lead and drive this effort but I ask Senators, local authority members and everybody else to support that work, to drive it on and to communicate to the people who own these empty buildings that there are a number of schemes funded by the taxpayer that provide solutions to people who own private homes. There is a fear factor that it could be complicated or there could be red tape but there is not. We are trying to reduce all that as well, so there is an opportunity for people who own private properties to bring them back into use. That might also be flagged out of today's conversation.
On the social housing voids programme, which is the local authority housing we own, my Department provides Exchequer funding to support local authorities in the refurbishment of social housing homes that, for a range of reasons, require a significant level of investment before they can be re-let. Ordinarily, responsibility for the management and maintenance of local authority housing stock lies with local authorities themselves, in line with the Housing Acts.
We know that vacancies arise on a daily basis in the approximately 130,000 social homes owned by the local authorities. It is critical to the Government and to Members of this House that such homes are quickly refurbished and re-let to a family or individual on the waiting list. Properties that require little or no cost to re-let need to be returned to use immediately and that is what local authorities are doing on a daily basis. Many of them do that and carry out a quick turnaround. Some are slower and I encourage all local authorities to immediately re-let a property if it is possible to do so and not to let it sit idle for a number of months. Properties that require greater funding should also be attended to swiftly, even if there are a greater level of works, which take longer to complete, with higher costs involved.
This is where the voids programme assists and in addition to the supporting the upgrade costs, the programme also covers costs relating to the insulation and retrofitting of the property. Not only do social homes get remediated through this programme and made available to new tenants in very good condition, the energy efficiency of the homes is upgraded and, consequently, the new tenants will face lower fuel bills. During 2018, Department funding of €26.2 million was provided to bring 1,765 homes back to productive use. In fact, it was far more than we had targeted that year. A total of 1,765 homes were brought back into use and as our Rebuilding Ireland target was about 560, we went far beyond that target, and rightly so, because all of these homes should be back in use. I am on record, as is the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, as saying we want all of the void houses back in use with none left idle, because they have been left idle for too long.
Looking back over the years 2014 to 2018, which were mainly under the scope of Rebuilding Ireland but also stretching back before it, more than €145 million has been provided to support the refurbishment and return to use of almost 11,000 homes, which had been lying vacant for many years.
That probably does not include last year's money.
Earlier this year, local authorities submitted details of their 2019 funding requests for voids to my Department and, as in previous years, work to return these properties is continuing. Under the insulation retrofitting part of the voids work, we claim back 50% EU co-funding, and an important part of this process involves the provision of building energy rating, BER, certificates showing the pre-works rating for each property. To finalise the distribution of the funding for this year across the 31 local authorities, my Department is awaiting the BER certificates for several of the properties, approximately 40%. I can indicate, however, that the funding provision for 2019 will be around the same level as the €26 million provided for 2018. We have asked local authorities to move that work on, and some are carrying it on and will submit the claims afterwards.
It is critical that we incentivise the local authorities to carry out the proper BER assessments to allow the Exchequer obtain the 50% EU co-funding. I ask my colleagues in this House to raise with the councillors in their areas the need for the councils themselves to provide a strong level of local funding for housing maintenance from the significant rental income that each receives. Councils need to support work on repairing their own housing stock, alongside the Exchequer funding that is being provided through my Department. It has been disappointing in a couple of cases to hear of councils actually reducing the allocations they make to maintain their housing stock. We have always said the voids programme will not be there forever. It was intended to tackle a backlog of more than 11,000 properties that needed a great deal of work. We have caught up on a lot of that and I stress to local authorities that, as time moves on, maintenance works have to be done regularly out of the rent they receive, if at all possible. Naturally the State will step in for deep retrofitting that needs to be done.
The voids programme has moved quite well. I am happy that most local authorities are doing a good job bringing them back into use. Some are lagging behind but the message is clear that we do not want long-term voids. Every local authority will be written to next October and told to bring forward extra voids if they have them and bolster their allocation for last year. No doubt the same will happen this year because a void is the quickest way to solve a housing problem for somebody.