Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2008 [Seanad]: Committee Stage.

The purpose of this meeting is for the consideration of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2008, a Bill which was referred to the select committee by order of the Dáil on 30 April 2009. I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Michael Finneran, and his officials to the meeting.

Due to the large number of amendments, we have arranged the following time slots for consideration in terms of booking committee rooms. We have reserved a room on Wednesday, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 2.30 p.m. to 8 p.m. and on Thursday from 2.15 p.m. I suggest that we adjourn no later than 8 p.m. this evening with a break approximately between 6 p.m. and 6.30 p.m. whenever is convenient. We will reconvene tomorrow morning. Is that agreed? Agreed.

A grouping list has been circulated. It is proposed that all amendments that are not grouped will be discussed individually. Is the grouping schedule agreed? Agreed.

Section 1 agreed to.

Amendment No. 1 in the name of the Minister, amendments Nos. 1, 4, 14, 167, 180 and 181 are consequential on amendments Nos. 147 to 165, inclusive. Amendments Nos. 1, 4, 14, 147 to 165, inclusive, 167, 180 and 181 will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 1:

1. In page 6, subsection (1), to delete lines 23 to 25 and substitute the following:

""affordable housing" means affordable dwellings purchased under affordable dwelling purchase arrangements under Part 5 or affordable housing provided under Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000 or Part 2 of the Act of 2002, as the case may be;”.

We are now discussing amendments Nos. 1, 4, 147 to 165, inclusive, 167, 180 and 181. We are not discussing amendment No. 14 which relates to the definition of affordable housing. That is not necessary because of the effect of amendment No. 1.

The substantive amendments provide for the introduction of significant changes in the way in which affordable housing under the various affordable housing schemes is made available for sale. Essentially, from the purchaser's perspective, it rationalises a number of schemes into one affordable housing product.

In basic terms, the amendments provide for an overall shift to a purchase sharing arrangement and away from current procedures which involve a time limited clawback in return for the discounted house. These provisions which were signalled in budget 2009 and are covered under amendments Nos. 147 to 165, inclusive, provide the legislative powers necessary for the purchase sharing arrangement together with enabling powers for an open market component to replace the current shared ownership scheme in due course.

A small number of consequential amendments are also included, providing for a number of minor changes to provisions relating to affordable housing under the Housing Acts of 1992 and 2002 and Part V of the Planning and Development Act, as well as deletions of proposed changes to the provision of the 1992 and 2002 Acts, which the Bill, as it stands, provides for. These are now not needed given the wider changes proposed under the substantive amendments.

I believe that the new arrangements will not only enhance supply but also offer better value for the State and provide a more equitable means of supporting the valid house ownership aspirations of prospective purchasers.

Under these new arrangements, the purchase transaction itself will be largely unchanged from the purchaser's perspective. However, instead of units being sold at a discounted price as they are currently, with the value of the discount being subject to a clawback that reduces over time, the housing authority will take a stake in the affordable units sold.

The purchaser will have the option of either buying out the outstanding stake in steps, or alternatively, at the end of a fixed period. The various affordable housing schemes in existence will continue to operate unchanged as the means of supplying affordable units, but purchasers will have a single affordable housing "product" available to them.

The stake held by the housing authority will be equivalent to the percentage below the market value at which the property is sold to the affordable house purchaser. Generally, affordable housing units are sold at 20% to 25% below the market value, so I would anticipate the housing authority's share will be pitched around this level. The new arrangements do mean that the affordable housing product can be tailored more closely to the individual's ability to pay.

These changes follow on from certain recommendations made in a report on increasing affordable housing supply, which was prepared by consultants for the Affordable Homes Partnership and, subsequently, published for public consultation following Government approval. The report also identified measures that would assist in responding to the ambitious target for affordable housing in Towards 2016. During the consultation process, the shift toward an equity sharing arrangement, as now proposed, was supported by all of the social partners. Undoubtedly the new arrangements are not as financially advantageous to households as the existing arrangements have proven over the years. However, it is important to remember that our basic objective in the provision of affordable housing is to support home-ownership for households unable to purchase in the market without some degree of assistance from the State. It is not about creating wealth. The slightly less financially attractive terms of the new arrangements for households need to be seen against that backdrop.

The various affordable housing schemes in place have provided a welcome means of bridging the affordability gap for households ready to take the step into home ownership but who require a modest level of support. What I am proposing by way of amendment here will not change that. However, the changes will provide a more equitable basis for the operation of the schemes and achieve greater consistency of implementation nationally.

I am more than happy to discuss any of the specific amendments I am proposing in further detail.

Have members any questions on amendment No. 1 and the grouped amendments we discussed?

I thank the Minister of State for bringing this significant legislation which has a number of welcome aspects. I look forward to debating the Government's amendments together with amendments tabled by Deputy Flanagan on behalf of the Fine Gael Party and by me on behalf of the Labour Party.

Will the Minister of State clarify the significance of what he is proposing as to how it will effect the existing clawback provision? Will it have an impact on future clawbacks or on those clawbacks in place? There seems to be a lack of clarity on this matter. I have a reply to a parliamentary question in which the Minister of State states that the clawback system will be changed. A journalist who was speaking to an official in the Department yesterday afternoon was told that there will be no change to the clawback system. Will the Minister of State clarify that?

I am not sure what happened yesterday evening. The position is that the housing authority will take a stake in the house and the major change is that it will take an equity interest in the property.

What is the position of people who have bought homes under the affordable scheme?

There is no change.

For people who are proposing to participate in the affordable housing scheme as it is presently structured, will that change or will the scheme remain in place and will the clawback provision per that scheme also remain in place?

The conditions will not change for the time being, but they will change on the commencement of the enactment of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2008.

That is the issue I am trying to clarify. What are the changes in the clawback arrangement? The standard affordable housing programme has been running for a number of years under Part V of the Planning Act. I envisage that it will continue to be operated by local authorities and that concurrently there will be a new incremental purchase scheme which is a different type of affordable housing, Is that correct? Will there be an adaptation made to the clawback in the long-standing affordable housing scheme?

There are a number of situations. First, the incremental purchase scheme is separate and apart. There is also a variant of that scheme regarding the purchase of flats, which we will come to later in the Bill. The new equity is proposed as an alternative to the existing clawback system. Obviously the clawback system, as we have known it, will no longer be in place for those purchasing affordable properties.

I am aware that the incremental purchase scheme has clawback changes. Will the Minister of State clarify whether the existing clawback provision in Part V relating to the affordable housing arrangements will change for those who buy under the scheme after the Bill becomes law?

There will be no clawback.

The clawback will be abolished.

It will be abolished for new purchases.

In that case those who bought houses at the height of the property market boom will be locked into a clawback, even though it will have been abolished.

I cannot legislate retrospectively.

The Minister of State can do so.

I am streamlining the supports for housing under the loan system. It may not be as advantageous as what was in place.

That is not what I am asking. The Minister of State is proposing that in the future affordable homes will be purchased without a clawback provision.

As the Deputy knows, the clawback withers over time, but under the new system it will not. There is an advantage for those in the existing scheme because the new scheme is equity based.

I understand the issue of the clawback is being considered by the Ombudsman and that a recommendation may be made in the next few weeks that it be taken away.

That is more than I know.

A complaint has been sent to the Ombudsman.

Does the Deputy know what the Ombudsman will recommend?

Perhaps the Minister of State or one of his officials should give her a ring.

I could not operate like that as a Minister of State.

The Minister of State is proposing to abolish the clawback.

I am proposing to replace it with an equity scheme.

The equity scheme is very welcome, but I am trying to clarify a point. If a couple bought their home in June 2008 before the property bubble burst, they would have bought the property with a clawback provision which did not take into account negative equity. If somebody buys a house in 2010, there will be no clawback. Is that the case?

The benefit of the clawback provision is that it withers over time. Under the new scheme one has to buy it back, irrespective of the length of time involved. There is a benefit under the existing clawback scheme, although, as I put it in my opening notes, it may not be as attractive for some. I have good reasons for doing it as we will get money back to be invested in the social housing programme, which makes a lot of sense in the times we are in.

Anybody who purchases a home under the affordable scheme has to be completely insane because the incremental purchase scheme offers a far better package. We are closing down the affordable housing programme. If somebody came into my advice centre this weekend and told me he or she had been offered the opportunity to purchase an affordable home, my advice would have been not to do so. If he or she waits two or three months, the council will sell him or her the property without a clawback. Under the incremental purchase scheme, for every year he or she lives in the house he or she will get back two years' equity. Some 400,000 houses under the affordable homes scheme cannot be shifted and they certainly will not be shifted if this message is sent from this room this evening.

The discounts available under the incremental purchase scheme, under which purchasers buy an equity stake of between 40% and 60% of the construction costs of the dwelling with the remaining equity being released, without charge, over a 20 or 30-year period, are more generous than those that will be available under the affordable dwelling arrangements where initial costs might be discounted by between 25% and 30%. The remaining equity has to be bought out. If the choice was theirs, rational purchasers would opt for the more generous scheme, but they will not be able to plump for one scheme if they do not like the terms of the other.

The target households for the two schemes are fundamentally different. The incremental purchase scheme is targeted at those deemed eligible for social housing. Generally, these are households that need a considerable degree of support from the State to enable them to meet their accommodation needs. Affordable dwelling purchase arrangements are targeted at households that need a more modest level of support to realise their home ownership aspirations. In reality, there is little, if any, possibility that a household eligible for the affordable purchase arrangements would also be eligible for the incremental purchase scheme, or vice versa.

Almost 4,000 affordable homes are vacant. I met the Minister of State's officials and they told me that, for a house worth €200,000 under the incremental purchase scheme, 40% of the equity is purchased, equating to €80,000, and that a mortgage is taken out for this amount over a 30-year period. At 2% a year, the remainder of the equity — 60% — will be returned to the purchaser over that period and there will be no payment at the end of it. Is my understanding correct?

Is the Deputy talking about social housing?

I refer to the incremental purchase scheme.

Does the Deputy refer to social housing applicants?

Yes, social housing applicants and further housing applicants because one can participate in both schemes.

One might be signed up for both but not be eligible.

Those earning between €20,000 and €40,000 a year are eligible for the affordable housing scheme. As the Minister of State said in a previous debate, there are no definitive guidelines on what level of income qualifies people to be on social and affordable housing lists concurrently.

There are different approaches in different areas. Every local authority does not have the same approach.

That is because the Minister of State's Department has not issued any guidelines to them. The only directive issued to local authorities is on the income thresholds for the affordable housing scheme, which are between €20,000 and €40,000 a year and which can increase with a joint application. These are the same people who will qualify for the incremental purchase scheme under the criteria outlined by the Minister of State.

As the Deputy knows, the incremental purchase scheme is aimed at social housing applicants. By and large, those who apply for the affordable housing scheme do not qualify for social housing. There is a clawback scheme, but I am introducing an equity scheme to replace it. The Deputy said those who were in the clawback system were at a disadvantage, but I would argue that those involved in the equity scheme do not get as much benefit because the clawback diminishes over time, while under the equity scheme, one must buy back the share, irrespective of the length of time involved.

One only buys back the remainder of the equity, not all of it. If a person occupies the house for ten years he or she has 20 years' equity. If one reads the Bill, after five years in the property 10% of the equity is released to the person. After five years 2% per annum is released. One is not paying all the equity, only the remaining equity.

I do not want to seem to contradict Deputy Lynch but he is attempting to put the two schemes together, and one cannot do that.

I am comparing the attractiveness of each.

Affordable housing is private housing. In regard to social housing there is an incremental purchase scheme.

Incremental purchase applies exclusively to new build housing. It is not for existing social housing. Somebody living in a local authority house at the moment cannot purchase the house under the incremental purchase scheme.

There is a tenant purchase scheme in existence. I am dealing with the current legislation.

That is what I am dealing with too.

There are two different schemes, two different sets of situations. One is the incremental scheme for social housing and the other is the scheme for affordable housing.

Yes. Both are for new build housing. Affordable housing is for new build housing, and incremental purchase is for new build housing. None of this applies to existing housing stock. The incremental purchase scheme is not available to people who are currently in social housing. They must leave the existing dwelling and move to a new build to avail of the scheme.

The Deputy is trying to tie the two schemes together. I am trying to dissect them because they are two separate schemes.

It is clear the Minister is not up to speed.

I will not accept that type of comment. I am trying to be helpful to the Deputy. I could easily say he does not understand the scheme.

There are two different schemes. One is for incremental purchase for social housing and the other is a scheme for affordable housing. That is what is in the Bill.

Yes. They apply to new build housing. The point I am making, to get back to the Minister's original point, is that the incremental purchase scheme and the existing affordable housing scheme are, by definition, affordable housing scheme routes.

They are because they facilitate——

The incremental purchase scheme does not apply to affordable housing.

It facilitates people on low incomes to purchase——

It does not deal with social housing. Is that clear?

It does. Let me finish. It facilitates people on low incomes who may otherwise qualify for social housing. To be on the incremental purchase list one's income level must qualify one to be on the social housing list, so it does deal with social housing.

One does not get an incremental loan to purchase an affordable house.

It does deal with social housing because to apply for incremental purchase one must be on a social housing list.

It is an assessment matter. I am talking about loans.

That is a fact. To apply for incremental purchase one must be on a social housing list. It is, therefore, a social housing matter. Second, there is an affordability factor. It facilitates those who are on low and modest incomes to make an incremental purchase rather than a total purchase, so there is an affordability factor. It is a different type of affordability, which brings me back to the key point. The income thresholds for somebody applying under the existing affordable housing scheme is between €20,000 and €40,000, so it is likely to be the same people who will be applying under the incremental purchase scheme. The Minister has confirmed that the clawback scheme will be abolished and there is a different type of equity arrangement in place of that. To return to my initial question, will the affordable housing scheme as we know it come to an end when this Bill becomes law? Will that mean that the clawback will no longer exist? Does it mean that people who are currently subject to clawback are locked into that?

The incremental purchase scheme applies to social housing. The current affordable housing scheme is subject to a clawback. It is proposed in the legislation to change that to an equity scheme so that anyone who buys under the new legislation will buy without being subject to a clawback. It should be noted that the clawback applies only if one sells the house. It diminishes over the period if one remains in the house, so there is a benefit. Under the new scheme there is no such benefit. One must buy back the equity whatever length of time one is in the house. There are two separate schemes which apply to two different categories of applicants purchasing houses.

Will the Part V scheme be in place when this legislation is passed.

As a delivery mechanism, yes.

Will there be a stream of affordable housing provided at the commencement of this legislation?

The local authority system is there.

When this Bill, as amended by the Government, comes into effect, will the affordable housing scheme which is currently being rolled out still be in existence? Will it be subject to clawback?

It will be there as a delivery mechanism, but it will be operated according to the new legislation.

Could the Minister clarify that? When this becomes law, will the existing affordable housing scheme under the Part V structure be in place?

As a delivery mechanism, yes.

Will the structure as we know it still exist or will it change?

The new purchase arrangements in this Bill will apply at that stage.

Everything will go over to incremental purchase after this.

Will the Minister clarify that?

The incremental purchase scheme has nothing to do with the affordable housing scheme.

What will happen in regard to the affordable housing scheme when this Bill is passed? That is what I am asking the Minister to explain.

I am calling Deputy Terence Flanagan.

I would like to come back in on this.

I thank the Minister for bringing this Bill before the committee today. Deputy Lynch has asked many probing questions. I seek clarification on the new Government equity scheme. Will the Government take between 25% and 30% of the price of a new home when somebody applies to purchase a new affordable house? When that person sells the property will he or she have to pay that money back to the Government at that stage?

It will be between 25% and 30%.

Is the seller of the affordable house very vulnerable if the price of the house has trebled? Will the claw-back be 25% to 30% of the market value at the time of the sale?

The seller would get 70% and the Government would have 25% to 30%.

Would he or she not be vulnerable, depending on the market price of the house at that stage?

I should not think so. Nobody has a crystal ball, but the person owns 70% of the equity. The scheme facilitates people in buying a home by taking equity of 30% and they can buy that off in smaller bits or buy it all at the end of the time, whatever they want, as long as they are staying in the house. It is an opportunity for people to purchase an affordable house rather than languishing on a housing list. I cannot say for sure what will go up or down. The principle is that the affordable house will be available with the support of a Government equity of 20% to 30%.

Will tenants of these new apartments have the option to purchase them?

We will get to that section later.

I just want to know for clarification purposes.

That is a separate issue and it will be dealt with during the course of the debate.

Which amendments deal with the Government equity scheme?

We are discussing amendments Nos. 1, 4, 14, 147 to 165, inclusive, 167, 180 and 181. The grouping schedule was handed out and the amendments are listed there.

All new affordable purchases will be carried out under the new arrangements. All delivery mechanisms that existing affordable housing schemes secure will continue, including the Part V mechanism.

Assuming that this Bill will be enacted in the summer, if somebody on 1 September buys an affordable house under the Part V scheme through the local authority, will there be a clawback provision for that person in the future?

No. If the legislation is in place, the equity scheme kicks in. However, the delivery mechanisms for the existing houses — about 3,700 — will be the same. Believe it or not, these houses are being sold. In fact, the affordable homes partnership is having great success in County Meath and there are other successes as well. We are encouraging local authorities to engage with people who want to buy out this scheme.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 2, 16, 18, 25, 26, 29, 38, 80 to 86, inclusive, 173 to 178, inclusive, 184 and 185 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 7, subsection (1), between lines 2 and 3, to insert the following:

" "homelessness action plan" has the meaning given to it by section 37;

"homelessness consultative forum" has the meaning given to it by section 38;

"homeless person" means a person who is regarded by a housing authority as being homeless within the meaning of section 2 of the Act of 1988 and "homeless" and "homeless household" shall be construed accordingly;

"joint homelessness consultative forum" shall be read in accordance with section 38;".

The placing of homeless action plans on a statutory basis has been the subject of considerable debate in the Seanad and on Second Stage in the Dáil. I am pleased to be in a position today to bring these amendments before the committee. The amendments are another important step on the ongoing progress being made to address homelessness. "The Way Home — A Strategy to Address Adult Homelessness in Ireland", which I published last August, sets out the key objectives of the policy on homelessness, which are to eliminate long-term occupation of emergency accommodation and the need to sleep rough. The strategy also contained a commitment to put homelessness action plans on a statutory basis. As signalled on Second Stage in the Dáil, I am bringing forward these amendments to make good on that undertaking.

Amendments 80 to 86 contain the substantive provision and insert a new Chapter 6, with seven sections, in Part 2 of the Bill, which deals with the functions of local authorities. The provisions establish a structured process involving homelessness consultative forums, management groups and the making and adoption of homelessness action plans by elected councils. The plans will specify the actions to be undertaken by the various stakeholders to meet broad objectives, including the prevention and reduction of homelessness and the promotion of effective co-ordination between the various bodies involved in the provision of homeless services.

The homelessness consultative forum will bring together the key players in the provision of homeless services, both statutory and non-statutory. Its structure mirrors at local level the cross-departmental team and the national homeless consultative committee, which provide the platform for consultation nationally. The forum will play a key role in the homelessness action plan structure as a forum for discussion and debate on homelessness, for inputting to the preparation of a homelessness action plan, and for the provision of views, reports and so on about the subsequent operation of a plan. The management group will complement the work of the homelessness consultative forum, but with functions separate from those of the forum, including a remit to make recommendations to housing authorities, the HSE and other relevant bodies in relation to homeless services, the preparation of a homelessness action plan, and the making of recommendations regarding funding for homeless services.

In addition to the substantive provision, there are a number of other related amendments in this grouping which have an important bearing on the issue. A number of new definitions are required in the main interpretation provision of the Bill in section 2, following on from the placing of homelessness action plans on a statutory basis. Amendment No. 2 provides for this with definitions of some of the main terms including “homelessness action plan”, “homelessness consultative forum”, “homeless person”, and “joint homelessness consultative forum” .

Amendment No. 16 seeks to provide for a more comprehensive listing of housing services in section 10 by including support, other than the provision of accommodation of financial assistance, to households that were formerly homeless or to tenants of dwellings of which the housing authority is the owner, or dwellings which are provided under a rental accommodation type of arrangement. The type of assistance envisaged is that which helps formerly homeless tenants to sustain and continue with their tenancies and supports for tenants of local authority-owned dwellings. The type of supports would include settlement services, outreach, advice, tenant training in estate management, research support, production of tenant handbooks and the employment of tenant liaison officers.

Amendment No. 18 is related to amendment No. 16 and reflects the need to fund the support services provided for in the newly inserted paragraph (b) in section 10. The amendment to paragraph (g) in section 12 is a technical amendment to allow for the inclusion of a new paragraph (h) to provide specifically for the financing of measures to be undertaken in accordance with the new section 10(b)(i). Amendment No. 26 provides for the inclusion of a new paragraph (e) in subsection (1) of section 15. It makes the necessary link between the new statutory function of making and adopting a homelessness action plan and the consideration of that plan by the housing authority in making a housing services plan. It will help to integrate the issue of homelessness and the measures to address it into the overall strategic planning effort for the delivery of housing services.

Amendments Nos. 173 to 178, inclusive, amend section 23 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1992, which sets out the functions of the Housing Acts to be performed by different classes of local authorities. In accordance with Chapter 6 of the Bill, it is proposed that county and city councils only will have responsibility for the preparation and adoption of homelessness action plans. The remaining authorities, such as borough councils, former UDCs, former town commissioners, and the towns of Bray, Athlone and Dundalk will not have responsibility in this area. Finally, amendment No. 185 amends the Long Title to the Bill to take account of the proposed statutory provision for the making of homelessness action plans.

Homelessness has been a priority of mine since becoming Minister of State with responsibility for housing, and the Department is doing its utmost to provide clear guidance and direction to local authorities and other bodies to address the issue. I have recently published a detailed national implementation plan for the homeless strategy, which will guide the action required at national level to promote and support the implementation of the objectives of the strategy locally. We also hope to finalise the details of new arrangements for moving persons out of long-term emergency accommodation into mainstream accommodation with supports to assist them in maintaining their tenancies.

Our ability to achieve our aims in this area is crucially dependent on local authorities, other statutory agencies and NGOs. Therefore, it is important that a purposeful and efficient structure is in place to translate national objectives into actions which can make a difference to the lives of individuals. The arrangements I am providing for in these amendments will play a key role in achieving these aims. I thank the Opposition for its amendments in this area, but I ask members opposite to withdraw them in favour of the substantive change that I am bringing forward which has been strongly endorsed by the MakeRoom Alliance, together with important associated amendments. I am happy to discuss in detail as many of the proposals as the members wish.

Are there any questions as regards that group of amendments?

I thank the Minister of State for introducing this section as regards the homeless, which was originally omitted in the Bill that went through the Dáil. Fine Gael very much supports the MakeRoom Alliance campaign. With more than 5,000 people homeless countrywide, this is a major issue that needs to be dealt with.

I agree with most of the amendments, although I realise most of them are very technical. We support amendment No. 38, as regards action plans for homelessness. We have called previously for homelessness to be part of the Bill, but workable policies must be put in place to ensure homelessness is eradicated. I am aware that the Minister of State is very committed to dealing with this area, so perhaps he might expand somewhat further on the policy and how it will operate in each local authority.

I thank the Deputy for his comments. I am very committed to the issue of homelessness. I put my money where my mouth was, in effect, in the Estimates where I increased the amount of money by 5% and I do not believe there were many such increases across Departments in 2009. I started out in August with the launching of the strategy. There was a good deal of consultation, we had three different reports and we met with all the different stakeholders. I gave a commitment in the Seanad to the effect that I would give legislative support to the provisions of the implementation plan. Deputies can see from what we have before us today that I am keeping my word in that regard. I am grateful to the MakeRoom Alliance for the support it has shown. I met its representatives last week and they issued a public statement that evening, even though I had told them privately, but I am thankful for that and we have kept them in the loop all along. A considerable body of work is under way in the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government at the moment to help achieve the key strategic aims of the new homelessness strategy. These include the following: the new implementation plan that was launched recently as regards the homelessness strategy; the development of a new scheme to provide supports for persons leaving homes; implementation of recommendations; and the Dublin evaluation of services report, which mirrored the strategy and indeed was fed into the national implementation plan.

There was also the preparation of the homelessness provisions in the housing Bill. I do not have a date, as yet, for when the services will be advertised, but I believe it will be pretty soon. Perhaps by the end of June we will advertise publicly for the support services. It is then a matter of dealing with the issues, and at this stage I believe everybody knows what we want. We do not want anybody in emergency accommodation for longer than six months. We want people to implement the strategy over a two-year period and we want to eliminate totally the need for anyone to have to sleep rough.

While a good deal of money has been put into homelessness over the years, perhaps some €800 million in recent years and some €90 million this year alone, between my Department, the local authorities and the HSE, nonetheless I do not see value for money being delivered as regards the clients in terms of the desired outcomes. I certainly should like to see people being able to live independently and rebuilding their lives. While not everyone will be able to achieve a mainstream lifestyle, those who cannot should be catered for in an assisted living situation where they can have independent lives with some supports. We are going to do that practically for everybody at the start, but some will need this on a long-term basis. Obviously the whole care element is to a great extent a matter for the HSE, which is financially committed to the scheme as well.

The local authorities are obliged to deal with action plans on this issue, as provided for in this legislation. As I told the MakeRoom Alliance last week, with everybody on board and given the goodwill that exists, we can make considerable progress in this very difficult area.

When does the Minister of State expect the local authorities to report back to him on their action plans and does he expect his 2010 target to be achieved for the eradication of homelessness?

They have eight months, I am told. However, I expect they will proceed at once, since there is no impediment to local authorities to deal with this matter as and from today. The support services will be advertised by the end of the month. Even in recent years, some local authorities such as Dublin City Council, have committed themselves to a certain percentage every year. Some local authorities are better than others as regards providing a percentage figure in terms of homeless people, but without any legislation at all, some have dealt with this issue in a supportive manner.

Will the HSE still fund emergency accommodation, or is that all in the past?

For the benefit of the House I am told that Cork City Council has already produced an up-to-date plan, so local authorities are moving ahead and that is good to see. Because the HSE is involved in the care area, this is within its remit. The HSE has the expertise, whereas we do not have care staff. A good deal of discussion has taken place as to whether this should all come under one Department, but I still believe that health-related matters should be the remit of the HSE. In our discussions with the HSE it has been supportive of our strategy and it has nominated somebody to deal with my Department as regards the overall situation.

I welcome the Minister of State and his officials and I compliment them on the work they are doing as regards homelessness. I welcome the progress that has been made to date. On the question of homeless officer appointments by the local authorities I compliment those employed by Meath County Council for the tremendous work they do. They are always available, on Friday evenings in particular, when I hold my clinic and people come in who might have been thrown out of accommodation because of drink or drug-related difficulties. The homeless officers are always available at weekends to help public representatives get emergency accommodation for such people. Great progress has been made over the years in this regard and I welcome it very much.

I welcome the inclusion of this issue in the Bill. The Minister of State's experience in this regard is probably somewhat similar to mine in that the MakeRoom campaign did not leave too much room in my e-mail box. In fairness to the alliance it ran a very good campaign. I got MakeRoom to send my secretary a box of chocolates, so inundated was she as regards responses.

The Deputy is showing me up now.

The MakeRoom campaign showed the geographic extent of concern regarding homelessness across the country. It is not just an issue that relates to major urban areas. It is something right across the country even though it is more visible in urban areas. I welcome the major movement the Minister of State has made on this issue since the Bill was first published. It reflects his change of portfolio, which coincided with the issue coming on to the agenda.

I agree with the Minister of State in that I had some experience in a previous occupation of working with homelessness agencies. It requires a multi-agency and a multidisciplinary approach. It requires specialised skills that the local authorities often do not have. They may be able to provide the bricks and mortar, but may not have the day-to-day skills when they get people into those housing units. The amendments before us this afternoon are pushing us in the right direction on that road.

Unfortunately the figures show that between 60% and 70% of homeless people are homeless for more than three years. They are caught in that sheltered housing loop. There is a need to move people out of sheltered housing into more sustainable accommodation as a long-term answer to the problem. One of the main points of the MakeRoom campaign was to give some definition to the issue of homelessness. How is it proposed that homelessness will be defined from now on?

I agree with the Deputy that a multidisciplinary team approach is necessary. Homelessness arises for a variety of reasons. It may be addiction problems with alcohol or drugs. It may be mental illness. It may be family break-up. It is not confined to cities, despite the myth that it is. Homeless people drift towards the centres and put pressure on them, which suits some local authorities because they then do not need to deal with it. Sometimes people who become homeless hide in the centres and disappear, meaning that they are not as conspicuous to other people. Recognition of what is involved is important in addition to a multidisciplinary approach.

It is unhealthy for people to be in shelters for a long time. Some people have been in emergency accommodation for up to eight years. There is no possibility of those people rebuilding their lives independently or entering into relationships when they are required to leave their accommodation at 9.30 a.m. or 10 a.m. and roam the streets, returning in the evening. We need to change that.

The issue of the definition will arise in a later part of the Bill and we will discuss it at that time.

I thank the Minister of State for addressing the problem of homelessness in the Bill. As he said, someone from a rural area who becomes homeless does not stay in that area and moves into the city to move away from neighbours or friends in the area. They just want to move away from the problem of being identified as being homeless. By and large these are single people. It is about time the issue was really tackled. I welcome the concern shown by the Minister of State and the way he is addressing it in the Bill. I hope what he is proposing will work and this long-standing issue will finally be addressed.

It will be addressed if, as I hope, there is a co-operative approach. Our Department, the local authorities, the agencies or the HSE cannot deal with it on their own. It requires a multidisciplinary, co-operative approach and I thank the Deputy for his supportive comments. If that happens — I am pretty certain it will because it has been debated for long enough — we will then see important progress that will give people a chance to rebuild their lives.

Is the amendment agreed to?

I assume we are taking amendment No. 38 as part of this group.

We are not voting on amendment No. 38. We are just discussing it and it will be moved separately later.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 3 and 43 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 7, subsection (1), to delete lines 3 and 4 and substitute the following:

" "household" means, subject to sections 20 and 76, a person who lives alone or 2 or more persons who live together;”.

This amendment substitutes a new definition of household in section 2 to qualify further its meaning by reference to a new section 76 of the Bill which deals with the assessment of the eligibility of a household under the affordable dwelling purchase arrangement. Household is defined in section 2 for the purposes of the Act in its entirety. This extension of the definition is needed to allow, for example, two individuals in a relationship who are currently living separately, perhaps with parents or other relatives, owing to being unable to provide accommodation that would enable them to live together, to be considered as a single household for the purposes of evaluating their eligibility for housing support and housing need.

Deputy Lynch's proposed amendment No. 43 essentially seeks to insert something into the definition of household that it already contains. The definition used under section 20 extends the definition set out under section 2 so that, for the purposes of evaluating their eligibility for housing support and housing need under section 20 and their eligibility under the new affordable dwelling purchase arrangements, a household includes: a person who lives alone; two or more persons who live together; and two individuals in a relationship who are currently living separately owing to being unable to provide accommodation that would enable them to live together. In those circumstances, I ask the Deputy to withdraw his amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 7, subsection (1), between lines 19 and 20, to insert the following:

" "material improvements" means improvements made to--

(a) a dwelling sold under an incremental purchase arrangement under Part 3, or

(b) subject to section 70(3), a dwelling, sold under an affordable dwelling purchase arrangement under Part 5,

whether for the purposes of extending, enlarging, repairing or converting the dwelling, but does not include decoration, or any improvements carried out on the land including the construction of the dwelling;"

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 5 and 39 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 5:

In page 7, subsection (1), between lines 21 and 22, to insert the following:

" "persons with a disability" shall mean persons with a disability within the meaning of section 2 of the Disability Act 2005.".

We just spoke about the homelessness strategy. The purpose of these amendments is to ensure that every local authority also has a strategy for dealing with disability and a forum to deal with disability issues regarding the structure of houses and how we proceed in the area of housing development. Every year local authorities spend considerable sums of money on the disabled persons grant scheme. Particularly in these straitened times we need to evaluate the scheme. Significant sums of money are spent on adapting houses. If housing development were targeted to incorporate particular measures we would assist people with disabilities to get into mainstream houses in housing estates so that they would not need to use specialised housing removed from mainstream communities. We would also save ourselves considerable money in the long term. People with a disability on the housing list would be identified and allocated a customised house to rent or buy on the housing estate. I think my amendment covers a scenario that was not envisaged and gives recognition to an unmet need which adds to the Bill. That is not a criticism of the Bill, as it is miscellaneous by nature and covers a range of issues. I ask the Minister of State to accept these amendments

The Deputy's amendment No. 39 suggests that each local authority must establish a disability housing forum on a statutory basis with the overall aim of providing for the understanding of the needs of people with a disability within a wide range of housing and related services. I welcome the Deputy's clear intention to ensure that the housing support requirements of people with disabilities are at the centre of the wider social housing support response of housing authorities. The committee will be aware that my Department is currently endeavouring to address the wide range of often complex housing issues experienced by people with disabilities of various kinds in the context of the ongoing preparation of a national housing strategy. A national advisory group established under the aegis of the Housing Forum headed by my Department and involving the Department of Health and Children, the HSE, social partners and other relevant stakeholders, including the National Disability Authority, has been tasked with providing input and support in the development of the new national housing strategy. Among the issues being addressed in this context are a number of options to assist local authorities in identifying the housing and support needs of people with disabilities and to assist in addressing those needs through a range of approaches. These approaches are being explored by the national advisory group and the most appropriate advice and actions will be included in the new strategy which is due for completion at the end of the year.

Upon the completion of the strategy, it may prove necessary to incorporate some specific recommendations into law but it would not be appropriate to do so at this time. I would therefore ask the Deputy to withdraw his amendment as his intentions have been provided for in the context of the work of the national advisory group. It would be inappropriate to pre-empt the group's important deliberations.

Similarly I do not propose to accept amendment No. 5. This amendment would be necessary if other amendments proposed by Deputy Lynch were to be accepted. However, I do not propose to accept them for the reasons I will set out when we come to discuss them. As a result, the definition for a person with a disability will not be required in the Bill. I therefore ask the Deputy to withdraw this amendment.

I take on board that an examination is taking place in this area, but ultimately we end up with guidelines or legislation. I can assure the Minister of State that the outcome of the examination that is taking place will make this recommendation. We are discussing the Bill and I propose that we move this amendment because it will come up at some stage, and we should take the opportunity to deal with it now. The working group will draw up conclusions which will form the basis of the guidelines at a later date. We have the opportunity now to legislate and I propose we take it.

We must strive to accommodate the needs of disabled people. I see a problem with Deputy Lynch's proposal in so far as meeting the needs of different disabilities. Several disabilities have to be catered for so I can see a problem with including such housing in a housing scheme. I would prefer that we address each person's disability individually. We must address the needs of the disabled in a different manner and for that reason it could not be included in the Bill.

Specific reference has been made to the homeless and the significant new provisions that are being included in that regard. It should be noted that these provisions are being put on a statutory basis almost a year after the publication of the homeless strategy. I complimented Deputy Lynch on his intentions which are very much my own intentions. Work is ongoing on the development of a similar strategy for people with disabilities and I think we should allow the work on the strategy to continue. Once that is finalised we will put in place the necessary measures to respond to whatever recommendations may be contained in the final strategy. If that means legislative provision, I am prepared to do it, but I await the report. Deputy Lynch, among others, would want the same but I do not want to pre-empt those important discussions. The group is to report by the end of the year.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Section 2, as amended, agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 19, 20, 169, 183 and 187 are related to amendment No. 6 and consequential on amendments Nos. 119 to 146, inclusive. Therefore, amendments Nos. 6, 19, 20, 119 to 146, inclusive, 169, 183 and 187 will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 6:

In page 8, subsection (2)(b), line 11, after “areas,” to insert the following:

"apartment complexes (within the meaning of section 42),”.

I am delighted to bring before the select committee these significant amendments to facilitate the introduction for the first time of a scheme of tenant purchase for local authority apartments that will protect the interests of purchasers, continuing tenants and the housing authority. The proposed scheme would deliver on a commitment outlined in the Government's housing policy statement and remove the most glaring anomaly in the existing tenant purchase scheme, namely, that a household allocated a local authority house has the right to buy it but those allocated a local authority apartment would never be able to purchase it.

We have all seen the positive impact that tenant purchase schemes have had. They have offered lower-income households the opportunity to put long-term roots in their areas, creating sustainable communities and social stability by giving them that first step on the home ownership ladder. Tenants in apartments deserve the opportunity to enjoy these same benefits for themselves.

Previous attempts to extend the tenant purchase scheme to apartments were somewhat simplistic and the most recent proposals were ultimately abandoned in 1994 with very few apartments sold. The main difficulties identified in the proposals at that time were the very high level of service charges to meet the maintenance and management costs of apartment complexes and to build up a reserve fund, the high cost of obtaining public liability insurance and the impact those difficulties would have on the future saleability of purchased apartments and their suitability as security for a mortgage loan on resale.

A significant effort has gone into delivering on these commitments in a way that will minimise the difficulties associated with the past attempts to introduce the scheme. Past proposals did not envisage a housing authority selling the apartments but retaining ownership and responsibility for the common areas and services in the complex until sometime in the future when all or nearly all of the apartments in the complex were sold to tenants. This would have created an uncertain hybrid model of apartment complex ownership and management which would have led to serious difficulties for purchasers and for housing authorities in the long run.

The tenant purchase model I am now proposing is based on long-standing arrangements in the private sector for the ownership and management of multi-unit residential developments. Of course, the transition from a rented social housing complex to a mixed tenure privately owned and socially rented accommodation adds an extra dimension to the legal and practical challenges that can arise. Nonetheless, the best chance of an assured future for a tenant purchase apartment complex is to give purchasers the right and the responsibility to manage their own affairs from the outset with the appropriate support from the housing authority in its early years. The model, therefore, is based on ownership of an apartment complex being transferred from the housing authority to a management company representative of apartment owners before the first sale of an apartment in the complex. I am more than happy to go into the provisions in far greater detail but I would like, for the moment, to give the committee a general flavour of how the provisions would work in practice.

Under the proposed scheme housing authorities will be required to conduct a tenant plebiscite in individual apartment complexes comprising five or more apartments proposed for designation by a housing authority for the incremental purchase scheme. Where the plebiscite shows a minimum number of tenants are in favour of the designation and that a minimum number of tenants are willing to serve as directors of the management company if they propose to buy their apartments, the housing authority may designate the complex. The authority will transfer ownership of each designated complex to a new management company established for the purpose which will immediately lease all apartments back to the authority while retaining the ownership of the common areas and services. The authority will continue to let apartments to the existing tenants who, subject to meeting the prescribed minimum tenancy requirement, will have the option of buying them from the authority under incremental purchase arrangements provided that the first sale of apartments takes place within a specific period after designation and that a minimum proportion of all apartments in the complex are to be sold. The housing authority will continue to be the landlord to the tenants in the apartments that remain unsold in the complex and will continue to pay the annual service charge for each such apartment to the management company.

In its capacity as an apartment owner the authority will be a member and participate in the affairs of the management company. The authority will maintain a level of board representation equivalent to the proportion or number of apartments it owns in the complex. Thus, according as it sells apartments, the housing authority will reduce its level of representation on the management company's board. The authority may cease to be represented on the board where it owns less than 20% of the apartments in the complex.

The incremental purchase arrangements proposed for the sale of apartments are modelled on the ones already provided for in Part 3 of the Bill in relation to certain new social housing provided by local authorities or approved housing bodies. Tenants of local authority apartments will thus be able to purchase their homes for a proportion of the market value with a charge being placed on the property in favour of the authority or the body concerned for the proportion of the equity not paid for, declining over time until the charge is eliminated. The charge share will fall in equal annual equity releases over 20 to 30 years occupancy of the property unless, as is also provided under amendments for Part 3, the housing authority invokes provisions allowing for the suspension of the leases in cases where the purchaser breaches the terms of the lease. If the tenant purchaser wishes to resell the apartment during the charge period the authority has first refusal in buying it. If the authority declines to buy the apartment the tenant purchaser may sell it on to the market, in which case, he or she must pay the authority the value of the outstanding charge on the property. The housing authority will retain a certain proportion of sale receipts in the fund which it will release to the management company as needed to contribute to the cost of major refurbishment and improvements that the company will pay from its sinking fund.

The Bill provides for a framework for arrangements allowing some of the terms, such as the proportion of the purchase price to be paid by the purchaser and the duration of the charge, to be addressed in the secondary legislation.

This is just a very brief overview of the main elements. The amendments I bring forward today to extend the benefits of tenant purchase to local authority apartment tenants are not the most straightforward ones but they are the right ones. Given the complexity of the issues that had to be overcome to get to this point, I am sure Deputies will appreciate that I will have to bring forward some Report Stage amendments to deal with the points in detail in the proposals. I am prepared to endure a little complexity if it ensures that the interests of the State, the housing authorities and, above all, tenants who wish to buy and tenants who wish to remain tenants, are protected. The scheme I propose will, I hope, achieve that, and I hope the committee will support it.

Does this include currently occupied local authority flats? Will tenants of these flats be able to buy their homes under these provisions? There are two sections of the Bill I would like clarified before I proceed.

It applies to existing tenants.

It gives existing tenants the right to buy their homes.

Existing tenants, yes.

Will future tenants be able to buy their homes as well?

This is for existing tenants.

If there was one thing I hoped would be in the Bill it was this. I know it has taken a long while to get there. I certainly welcome the Department's efforts in this. I agree with giving scope to this on Report Stage. It is something we all want to move towards. I would, therefore, appreciate it if the Department could give us an updated memorandum on this issue because it was not in the initial memorandum and it contains much detail relating to sinking funds, service fees, management companies, leasehold versus freehold and many other issues that need to be examined. I will accept these amendments this evening so I will not get into a full debate on them now. We will examine them in greater detail on Report Stage.

The Minister of State referred to management companies and equity release. As I interpret the issue of State, the management companies will be the local authorities until the purchasers want to step out into a new management company structure. Is that the case?

As the Deputy will know, legislation on management companies is currently going through the Oireachtas. In this case we want to have the structure in place in advance of any sale or purchase. As the Deputy has probably gathered, there will be a plebiscite and the people will decide whether apartments or flats can or cannot be sold. It will be necessary for 65% of the people to agree to allow sales in their complex, but they do not have to buy their flats. If 65% and the authority involved go along with the proposal, at that stage, and in advance of any sales, the management company will be put in place. That is important from an administrative perspective. It will involve people who are there already and the local authority will play its part and become part of the management company. Apart from that, people will have to be nominated and be prepared to act as directors of the company. I am sure it is something people will want to do so that they will have a say in how their complex is run and so on.

Some of these flats and apartments have been bought in recent years. Where do the owners of these stand in terms of a plebiscite?

There is none. Any attempts that were made over the years fell through.

There are apartments that have been bought.

A few were sold in different places 12, 14 or 15 years ago.

There are more than a few. In Cork city it runs to dozens. I imagine the case is similar in Dublin. What would be the legal standing of somebody who is already a purchaser in one of these complexes?

The advice available to me is that the fact that they are not tenants means they would not have a vote.

There will obviously be a new service charge. Tenants who have already bought their homes pay a service charge. One could say the service charge is nominal because it is much less than service charges in the private sector. Will the fact that the whole building will come under the one management structure, which will be the local authority, create a change in the service charge arrangement that applies to the earlier purchasers?

No. It is not intended that that should happen.

The old service charge rate will continue to apply in their case. The Minister spoke about equity release. Is there an equity purchase?

Yes. There will be an incremental purchase scheme for these. As in the case of purchasing a new local authority house, the equity part of it will diminish over the 20 or 30 years. That is the benefit of this particular scheme.

Does the equity purchase apply to new build homes or to existing apartment complexes?

Existing apartment complexes.

Is this an incremental purchase scheme for flats?

Will the incremental purchase programme facilitate people already residing in local authority flats?

I welcome that because in earlier discussions the perception was that incremental purchase applied exclusively to Part 3.

No. The incremental purchase scheme for new build homes refers to local authority houses. This is an incremental purchase scheme for tenants in existing flats with a release of equity over 20 or 30 years.

That is a very wise decision by the Minister. I welcome it. The earlier position was that incremental purchase was exclusively for new build homes. This is quite a significant piece of information to be getting this afternoon. It may also to some extent deflate a legal difficulty that a number of local authorities have where offers for sale of these apartments were made and then halted half-way through the process and class actions are being taken against a number of local authorities. Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown has been to court on the subject of mid-1990s values. This could certainly create a situation where somebody could arrive at mid-1990s values through a back door arrangement. If the Minister of State is now saying that the incremental purchase arrangement is now going to be made available to existing tenants in existing local authority flats I would welcome that as a very positive development. This is something I pursued with the Department and I see that as a great breakthrough.

The Deputy will appreciate that it will only apply where 65% decide that sales can take place. The plebiscite kicks in first and if the plebiscite is in favour of it the scheme will be open to people who want to purchase.

People will also have the choice not to purchase.

Exactly. The local authority will look after them as it always has by becoming part of the management company. Further, although it is not in this legislation, it is my intention to extend the current tenant purchase scheme through the equity scheme. We will make available to spokespersons in particular any necessary briefings. This is a new scheme which has fallen flat a number of times previously. As I said in my statement, I am prepared to listen to views on the issues and deal with them on Report Stage. If any of the spokespersons need to discuss the matter with my officials they are more than welcome to do so.

I welcome that. The Minister of State will acknowledge that there was an inherent unfairness up to now. Many people were prohibited from purchasing their homes. Even though the property market is now dropping, it will never drop to the level it was at, maybe €15,000 or €16,000, when those people were prohibited from buying their properties. I will certainly take the Minister of State up on his offer of a briefing and particularly on the offer of a memorandum because I would like to see a unified approach on this on Report Stage.

I welcome the provision that will allow local authority tenants in flats complexes to purchase their homes. I would like to tease out a little further the plebiscite whereby 65% of the remaining local authority tenants where some have already bought or all the local authority tenants where no flats have been purchased must agree to allow sales to take place. Some 65% seems a very high figure. It is unlikely that 65% of people in flats complexes would want to buy their home. There is a danger they would misunderstand the plebiscite and take the view that if they vote in favour of having an option to purchase they will be obliged to purchase. Why has the Minister fixed a figure of 65%? That means that if only 5% want to buy 65% would have to agree to it. If only 5% or 10% of the people in a flats complex wish to purchase their flats they should have the opportunity to do so and should not be denied the right to do so simply because only 50% of the tenants voted in favour of the scheme. Perhaps the Minister would tease that out a little more.

The Deputy will appreciate that it is a substantial development to transfer ownership of a local authority flats complex to a management company and lease back to the local authority in respect of the tenants who are not buying their property. It is a serious development and it would be inappropriate for us to deal with it on the basis of anything less than 65%. Voting in favour of having the option to purchase flats puts no obligation on anybody to buy his or her flat.

I understand that perfectly. However, some of the tenants might not.

It will also be the case that we will not proceed with any of those unless a minimum of 25% of tenants in a complex decide to buy. That may be an incentive in itself. People may see that maybe not now but down the road I will allow it to go ahead. It is their call. We are facilitating the sale of apartments. We are not imposing it. We must put in structures. We could not let it happen willy-nilly on the basis of a small percentage.

I appreciate it is intention of the Minister of State to facilitate the tenants, but we are now down to two different figures. We are down to 65% agreeing in a plebiscite and then if only 15% of the people want to purchase they cannot go ahead. It is very discriminatory against people who would be in a position to and want to purchase their apartments that they will be debarred from doing so by the fact that fewer than 65% voted in favour in a plebiscite or that fewer than 25% are willing to purchase their apartments. It is quite restrictive. Irish people are slow to change, except in the past week. What I mean is that people are afraid of the unknown. Therefore, I would imagine it would be hard to get 65% and say "we will give the opportunity". It might be hard in complexes with many elderly people mixed with some young families. It is fairly restrictive and it could be difficult to get 25% of them to purchase their apartments.

I wish to clarify a couple of things. First, we will not sell complexes for elderly people; EPDs are not sold by local authorities.

There are mixed developments.

Second, it would be inappropriate to impose a new structure on 85% of people when only 15% have decided they want to change. That 85% of people would be under a new structure for the sake of the 15%. We must give entitlement to people who do not want to change. This must be done on the basis of a substantial majority so we have set the level at 65%. The scheme will not go ahead unless a certain percentage of people buy because setting up a management and having people serve on it as directors is important.

Schemes failed previously because relatively few people decided to buy and I do not want to go down that road. I want to allow the scheme to work so we are setting a level of 65% for the plebiscite to take place and a level of 25% with regard to purchasing.

I am not sure what the Deputy said about people being worried but if members of a complex indicate they wish to enter discussions before a plebiscite takes place there will be individual engagement with each local authority attendant.

Is the Minister of State referring to 65% of all of the tenants or 65% of those who respond to the plebiscite?

All local authority tenants.

Some of them may not participate in the plebiscite.

That is the same as voting against it.

How will the Minister of State deal with situations involving maisonettes or "one up, one down" buildings? I am not referring to flat complexes. There could be a row of maisonettes in one area and another row 500 yards down the street with private houses between them. Is each block taken individually or where are the boundary lines drawn for maisonettes?

The Law Reform Commission recommended that we should not deal with blocks of fewer than five units.

Let us take the example of Merview on St. James's Crescent off St. James's Road. There are 25 units in one part and 35 in another; would they be taken as a single block?

The local authority will have to get involved in such situations. Individual decisions must be accepted by the local authority and designation can take place without the involvement of the local authority. The local authority is the landlord.

The local authority will decide which group must comprise 65%; I understand now.

How will a management company operate where 30% of people have purchased their properties and 70% have not? Will the management company serve both private and local authority accommodation?

The local authority must play its part and it will still be responsible for 70% of the tenants. The local authority will have to be part of the management company and be represented like those who privately own their properties. The local authority will also have to pay the relevant service charges.

What of the people who remain as tenants?

The local authority must pay the service charge for its tenants to the management company.

If it is anything like service charges in private developments it will be a severe penalty for tenants in local authority apartments.

The tenants will not pay it; they are on differential rent. Responsibility for service charges for remaining tenants will be a matter for local authorities.

Who will pay the service charges?

The local authority.

Will the local authority pay the management company?

At the moment local authorities are maintaining entire complexes; this will see 30% of the cost dealt with privately but local authorities must pay for their tenants. Local authorities will have the responsibility of paying service charges for their tenants to management companies.

Will the management company be privately run?

Yes, under the company legislation that will be so.

What restrictions will be on management companies and who will set charges?

The directors of every company make decisions.

I know from private apartments that difficulties arise because of the cost of accountants, roof maintenance, the management company and so on. It will be more expensive for local authorities if the route taken in the private sector is followed; it would be cheaper for local authorities to continue maintaining apartments.

Individual apartment owners will have a vote on the matter, as in any company. Service charges cover maintenance and one would hope a reserve might be built up. The legislation provides that when the local authority sells a property a proportion of the price realised will go into a fund towards——

One never knows what might happen; structural work could be required, major painting of a whole block could be needed.

I know that. To what proportion does the Minister of State refer?

I do not know as I have not yet decided. I will take advice when the time comes and it will be specified in a regulation. I intend that there should be a fund for rainy days, though insurance will cover some events.

That is a welcome measure and it should be clarified on Report Stage.

I will do it by regulation.

It is not part of the Bill if it is done by regulation. I am putting down a marker now that the way the legislation has been drafted in addition to the information given by the Minister of State today will make it difficult to reach the 65% and 25% levels. The scheme will fail and people who genuinely want to buy their local authority apartments will be barred from doing so.

We have not made an uninformed decision to sell apartments; we are responding to representations that have gone on for some years. If 65% of people do not want to be involved we must accept that democratic decision.

I know. My point is that if 65% do not agree in the plebiscite the scheme will not proceed. If the scheme proceeds 25% will have to agree to purchase; if only 20% wish to purchase they will not be able to do so.

I have been advised that it would be impractical to set up a management company where less than 25% of tenants have decided to buy and I agree with that.

I do not suggest that we impose anything; I only wish to give every tenant an opportunity.

The levels are 65% for the plebiscite and then 25% regarding purchasing. This is a fair balance.

I anticipate that the balance will not be struck.

How long will the cooling off period be? In other words, how long will a tenant have to wait to purchase an apartment having decided to do so? I think the period is three years. The Minister of State mentioned that the houses of old age pensioners would not be up for purchase; I know many people who are in their 40s and live in such houses. They may not have special needs but they have needs. This legislation could give such persons an opportunity to purchase. Are private co-operative housing schemes covered by the scheme? Has a local authority any say in who may purchase after the first sale? This would help solve the problems mentioned by the Deputy. If a tenant buys a house and seeks to sell it on to another purchaser, will the local authority have a say in who the new owner will be?

First, the local authority will have a right to purchase the property back — it will have first option. If a person sells such a property, he or she will have to pay equity.

I accept all of that, but will the local authority have a say in who the new purchaser will be?

It will have the discretion to stop the sale of the property to a person involved in anti-social behaviour.

That is the point I am making.

The local authority will have such discretion and first option on buying back the property.

On co-operative housing, the incremental purchase scheme will apply to new developments and be an option in the voluntary housing sector.

Is there provision made in the Bill for the purchase of houses by people already in that sector? In recent years such persons have come to us seeking to purchase their houses.

No, they are not covered by the Bill.

It seems unfair that people living in such houses who wish to purchase them are being barred.

The advice available to me is that there is an ownership issue involved in such cases. In the voluntary housing sector we cannot compel people to sell houses.

The Minister of State will be aware that in County Kildare we have many such developments. Many people living in these developments wish to purchase their houses; they may live alongside former local authority tenants who have purchased their houses already. They are still paying substantial rent because their incomes have decreased; it is a serious anomaly in the legislation that they will not be allowed to purchase their houses.

I said on Second Stage in the Dáil that a review was being conducted in the voluntary body housing sector. I wish to add a health warning because I do not think we will be able to compel voluntary bodies to sell existing houses. That is how I see things.

I have always been of the opinion that people living in these flats should be allowed the opportunity to purchase them. However, I can foresee problems. Have surveys been conducted of the likely level of interest among people living in such accommodation? Can the Minister of State give figures indicating how many would partake of the scheme?

Obviously, there has been a long-standing demand because several of my predecessors have had a go at this. It has not materialised for a number of reasons, which is why we are imposing a tight structure on it. Demand has been well documented in the Department, although I do not know of recent surveys. Once the legislation has been passed there will be an opportunity to evaluate the scheme; if complexes show an interest, there will be engagement with individual households.

For this to succeed it will be crucial to have the correct structures in place.

I agree with the Deputy. There is no point saying everything is rosy in the garden. There will be an opportunity to hold a plebiscite with discussions preceding it. We are prepared to examine this issue on Report Stage; therefore, we are open to ideas. However, we are committed to this scheme which will not be imposed. If, after preliminary discussions and a plebiscite, only 50% of tenants wish to sell, that will be their democratic decision which will be respected.

Will this matter be revisited?

One can never say never in this business. We are setting down parameters and hope they are correct.

I hope so too because I am worried that such schemes do not work smoothly.

There was one further question from Deputy Fitzpatrick related to how long one had to be in residence to qualify. The tenant purchase scheme states one must be in residence for one year. We have not yet decided on the duration, but it may be longer than this. We will take advice, hold discussions and address the issue by regulations. The period may be longer than one year, but we have not yet made a final decision.

Ultimately, this legislation is trying to correct the fact that there is no legislative framework in place for the sale of flats. The devil will be in the detail. For a scheme to work and be attractive to a purchaser it must be simple, particularly in terms of caveats. This is a caveat-loaded type of purchase, which we accept. There are different complexes, but the smallest tend to comprise six units. In such a case a level of 25% would mean a minimum of two units for purchase after a plebiscite, after which the whole complex would come into play. A complex of 12 units might comprise a block of four by three and so on. In some cases two or three of the occupants have already purchased and the 25% factor will not work, despite the fact that more than 25% of the occupants of such complexes are homeowners. Does the Minister of State understand?

I understand. The Deputy is speaking of a level of 25%, excluding the units already sold.

If one excludes them, the figures are distorted. I am trying to iron out problems now to ensure we will not have to deal with difficulties later. For example, if three homes were bought some years ago in a 12 flat development, purchases by one or two more occupants could raise the level of owner occupancy towards 50%.

One would only need three of the other nine to purchase.

Regardless of that, if the three earlier purchasers were to purchase today, the plebiscite threshold could be reached. An anomaly will be created, whereby these owners will not be included in a plebiscite and 25% of the remaining tenants will be needed to get the scheme up and running.

In discussions between the Department and Dublin City Council it was suggested the local authority could act as the de facto management company until every unit was bought and owner-occupied. An auction could mean the setting up of a new management company. I requested a briefing on this part of the Bill because it concerned me, but it has become more opaque this evening. Will the local authority be the management company when flats are purchased, or will local authorities engage private management companies to act on their behalf?

They will not engage anyone. A management company will be set up with directors and the local authority will have a responsibility to play a part in it.

There are two concurrent relationships in that scenario and they come together in the common areas, be they gardens, driveways or hallways. A tenant might live on one side of a hallway with a private resident on the other. The management company will maintain common areas; therefore, it will have a relationship with both occupants. The local authority will still have a relationship with the building, but will the management company be part of the local authority structure, or will we advertise on the open market for management companies for these apartments?

I am advised that they can actually use the local authority for five years to get over the earlier problems and then advertise.

Therefore, it will be put out to tender after five years. Imagine that at the end of that five year period Mr. and Mrs. A on one side of a corridor are local authority tenants and that Mr. and Mrs. B on the other side are engaging with this new structure. Now imagine that there is a hole in the roof along the gable between the two flats. In the past Mr. A would have telephoned the maintenance department of the local authority to have the roof fixed, but Mr. B will now telephone a management company. Who will fix the problem?

The local authority tenant will contact the local authority which, in turn, will get the management company to deal with the matter.

Will the management company contract repairers?

Yes. It is hoped a certain amount of the money generated through property sales will be held, apart from the service charge, to deal with matters that may arise.

It is like a sinking fund. I would appreciate a memorandum on this issue, with a briefing.

We are not proceeding with what was discussed with the Deputy some time ago. We are trying to align this with what people in the private sector know, rather than create something through the local authority system. It is best that people can identify with what is happening in many private complexes today.

I thought we were changing that.

We are legislating in that regard, but I am talking about the principle of a management company. The legislation in question is before the Seanad.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 3, as amended, agreed to.
Sections 4 to 9, inclusive, agreed to.

Amendment No. 7 is in the name of Deputy Ciarán Lynch. Amendments Nos. 7 to 12, inclusive, are related and will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 7:

In page 9, before section 10, to insert the following new section:



10.--In this Act, "the Principal Act" means the Residential Tenancies Act 2004.".

The way deposits are currently managed in the private rental sector means a person can ring a letting agency or visit a property and pay a month's deposit of between €500 and €1,000. There is no legislation covering how the deposit is to be retained; a landlord can put the money in his or her bank account, use it to book a holiday or buy a sofa. What I am proposing is a win-win for everyone. The key point is money handed over as a deposit would legally belong to the tenant, not the landlord. Around €1,000 may be handed over, yet no legislation governs how it is to be held. The series of amendments proposed aim to create a national deposit scheme; this would not be a new development as such schemes already work effectively in the United Kingdom, New Zealand and other countries.

Following a series of parliamentary questions to the Minister of State and the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, I have learned that at any given time between €500 million and €750 million is held on deposit for accommodation. Were the State to amend the Residential Tenancies Act and keep these deposits in its accounts it would comfortably create a holding of between €500 million and €750 million. If I had mentioned such figures two years ago, I might have been on the front page of The Irish Times, but now we give such moneys to the banks in an afternoon and they return the next day seeking a further €500 million. It may be a sign of the times that a sum of such significance is regarded as a small potato, but where I come from €500 million is a big potato. I suggest the Minister of State take this on board and pass the amendment.

The Minister of State's familiarity with the Private Residential Tenancies Board, PRTB, means he will be aware of the massive backlog of disputes which cost the Exchequer around €700 a day. Perhaps only one will be dealt with on a given day. It is good money if one can get it, given that conflict resolution is an acquired skill that is taught; a person with such skills should get through two or three cases a day. Regardless, many of the disputes dealt with by the PRTB involve landlords holding on to deposits at the end of tenancies and refusing to hand back the money. The tenant may complain to the PRTB, but it can take the board between 12 and 18 months to make a ruling which may not secure the return of the deposit. In such circumstances the board may take a court action and eventually perhaps €300 or €400 will be handed back after two years of work by civil servants. I dealt with a case where it took 18 months to get €340 back. It beggars belief that it cost €680 and took a court order issued by court clerks to recoup €340. Given that arguments can develop over deposits, it is unfair that one party can hold the money during the dispute. This puts the other party at a disadvantage, particularly as the party that does not own the money holds on to it.

I ask the Minister of State to accept the amendment as it would help to place between €500 million and €750 million in a holding account for the State. It would also help to clear a backlog that the PRTB faces due to conflicts over deposit retention, something the Minister of State's Department will be aware of because State-funded agencies such as Threshold are also affected in their case loads. We could ensure that when a tenancy is registered with the PRTB, the deposit will also be left with that body as part of the process; it could be held in the likes of a national treasury account. At the end of the process it could be returned or speedily addressed.

There are around 250,000 private residential tenancies and around 80,000 are involved in the rent allowance scheme. Each tenancy under the rent allowance scheme requires a deposit of between €800 and €1,000; therefore, the State is also a player in this field. It has between €180 million and €200 million of its own money on deposit at any given time. By accepting this proposal the State could allow community welfare officers to issue notional deposits, which would create an immediate saving to the State of at least €80 million. The community welfare officer would lodge a notional deposit and pay it only if the tenant failed to look after the property properly. This would tidy up an area of legislation because the rent allowance scheme does not cover anti-social behaviour or any aspects of monitoring. The amendment would provide for direct monitoring; tenants who forfeited deposits could be held to account.

I thank the Deputy for tabling the proposed amendments and his continued interest in issues relating to the private rental sector. I recognise much of what he has raised from the Private Members' Bill he initiated some months ago——

I could not resist it — I am sorry.

——namely, the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2009. The amendments would significantly amend the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 by requiring all private residential rental deposits to be paid to the Private Residential Tenancies Board which would then be responsible for holding and paying back deposits, as well as dealing with disputes. The amendments would prevent the Health Service Executive from paying rent supplement in the case of a tenancy that had not been registered with the PRTB. While I see a good deal of merit in the amendments, it would be premature to advance them now. A mandatory requirement to place deposits with the PRTB would impose a significant additional organisational burden on that body, with an additional regulatory burden on the private rental sector. Nonetheless, I see positive aspects of the proposal and have asked my officials to examine the issues surrounding the retention of deposits in the context of the review of the Residential Tenancies Act which my Department is progressing. That review will consider the scope for further improvements to the legislative framework within which the PRTB operates to support the achievement of additional operational efficiencies by the board in the delivery of its functions. A public consultation process is under way and I hope the review will yield preliminary outcomes by the autumn.

It should also be noted that the PRTB has been examining issues around the retention of deposits, including an assessment of a mandatory deposit model. I understand the board hopes to conclude its research in this regard in the coming months. I expect that it will result in policy advice from the board to me and my Department.

In terms of ensuring value for money, I can see the attraction of the Deputy's proposal relating to the non-payment of rent supplement in the case of properties not registered with the PRTB. The suggestion is also attractive in that it could help to ensure the various policy aspects affecting the private rental sector dovetail well. However, the rent supplement payment is primarily a matter for the Minister for Social and Family Affairs and I intend to raise the Deputy's proposal with the Minister in the coming months. I, therefore, ask the Deputy to withdraw the amendments in order that the full examination I have outlined can be carried out. As always, I welcome any input and invite Deputies to become involved in the consultation process under way.

I hope to bring forward a small number of amendments on Report Stage to provide for changes to the Residential Tenancies Act. These amendments relate to the flow of information from the PRTB to the Revenue Commissioners. An issue that was helpfully raised by the Committee of Public Accounts and to which I am happy to respond is the resolution of disputes by the PRTB between management companies and owners of units in multi-unit developments over service charges. I am interested in addressing the Deputy's amendments and open-minded in that regard. I ordered a review in February and want to give the board time to report. Perhaps when the review is concluded, we will make changes to the Residential Tenancies Act that will satisfy everyone but I feel we should wait a couple of months before doing so.

I thank the Minister of State for his comments in support of the amendments. I know he is conducting a review of the PRTB and the Residential Tenancies Act and thank him for the correspondence and the invitation to participate in the review. I will participate, although, like the Minister of State, I have been busy in recent weeks with other matters. My personal assistant has reminded me to deal with this matter as soon as I get back to my office. I understand what the Minister of State said about the Department of Social and Family Affairs and the rent allowance scheme. Ultimately, whether it is a question of providing rent allowance or a private tenancy agreement, it ends up at the door of the PRTB. This is because we do not facilitate the operation of a private residency agreement without it being within the scope of the PRTB. It is illegal to do so; therefore, they are all PRTB registrations at the end of the day.

I will certainly take up the Minister of State on his suggestion that I withdraw the amendment. I am not sure when we will reach Report Stage, but I may table this series of amendments again. I envisage tabling this amendment again because we are dealing with the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2008. If the Minister of State comes forward with an alternative amendment in that time, I will be only too happy to look at it as we have waited a very long time for this Bill to be brought to the House. I have been tabling questions asking when we would see it since my first day in the Dáil in May 2007. It is now June 2009; therefore, it has taken two years for the Bill to be brought onto the floor of the House. When I was raising the issue of the right to buy campaign at Cork City Council, colleagues of mine in the parliamentary party were tabling questions for me here as far back as 2005 and were told the Bill was to be brought before the House. I am fearful that were I to withdraw the amendment and not table it again on Report Stage, it might never see the light of day as we have waited so long for the Bill to be brought before us. It might take a change of Government to secure a new Bill and by all accounts that will not happen before 2012.

I ask the Minister of State to ask his officials to take a look at this amendment. I would like to take credit for the idea behind it, but it is not mine. I have witnessed it operating in other countries. The Minister of State is right that it is a copy from a Private Members' Bill I have tabled, but the Bill before us provides with a perfect opportunity to move it. It would be remiss of him and his Department not to seize that opportunity, because we really cannot afford to wait for another housing (miscellaneous provisions) Bill to address this matter. I will withdraw the amendment, but I hope the Minister of State will come back on Report Stage with something similar. If not, I will reintroduce my amendment.

I understand a review of the functions of the PRTB is taking place. Is there any new information on the backlog of cases at the PRTB? I read in the newspapers that it was dealing with many dispute resolution cases involving people in apartment complexes.

I suggest that, if the Minister of State does not have that information, a parliamentary question might be the appropriate way to obtain it. I do not think it is related to this amendment.

The Residential Tenancies Act 2004 allowed for a review after four years. I moved quickly and signed an order in February and the review is ongoing. I would like to be able to obtain the recommendations from that review before I table an amendment, which is why I have not yet tabled one. It is also the reason I cannot accept Deputy Lynch's amendment and I thank him for withdrawing it. I do not know when I will have the information, but if we receive the report from the PRTB, we will certainly work towards that aim. However, I will not put forward something until I receive it. I am very keen to implement whatever changes that are deemed necessary.

About 1,500 dispute applications were received in 2007 and that number rose slightly in 2008, although I do not have the exact figures. Due to the quasi-judicial role of the PRTB, dispute resolution cases take a long time to resolve. Less than 1% of tenancy disputes are the subject of any type of dispute resolution procedure. There is a solid, ongoing relationship between tenants and landlords, but the disputes make the headlines.

I received complaints from landlords about the delay in processing applications. When they send in cheques for new tenants, it takes a long time for the agreements to be registered.

I do not have accurate information in that regard. We can send a note to the Deputy when we obtain it.

It seems there are inefficiencies in the processing of applications, especially where tenants——-

Is this regarding disputes?

I am referring to simple registrations.

We will provide the Deputy with an update.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 8 to 12, inclusive, not moved.

I move amendment No. 13:

In page 9, before section 10, but in Chapter 1, to insert the following new section:

10.—Any communications to a tenant or applicant in relation to any service or requirement under this Act shall be so communicated in writing and by electronic form where the tenant or applicant has provided a valid electronic address for receipt of such communication.".

This is a simple amendment which tries to ensure e-mail would be used in the communication process rather than post in order to save on costs.

I appreciate the intention behind the amendment, as it is important to use information technology to the greatest extent possible. Local authorities are very proactive in this regard, with many services now being provided electronically and more are planned. However, the electronic exchange of information is not risk free and there are good reasons it should not become a statutory feature of the formal interaction between housing authorities and householders availing of services.

The effect of the amendment would be to require a housing authority, albeit with the agreement of the household concerned, to send and receive electronically detailed personal and potentially sensitive information on a household's need for social housing support. This could include information on household income, medical circumstances of members of the household, contact details, including telephone numbers, and personal public security numbers. Given the risk to the security of information transmitted electronically being compromised, it would not be in the best interests of either the housing authority or the household seeking its services to have all such information sent in electronic form. It would be far better to leave administrative flexibility with the housing authorities and households to agree on how information may be exchanged. These are matters which are best left to local arrangements, rather than providing for them nationally in legislation. Therefore, I do not intend to accept the amendment.

Having said that, I understand the Deputy's point. It seems to be a modern view, which I accept. The aspect with which I have a problem is the supply of delicate information, in particular medical information. When I was a member of a local authority, we would often only submit such information through the county manager, as we did not want it to pass through the housing system; therefore, he would deal directly with the housing officer.

There are situations where electronically providing all information may contain a risk factor as regards important sensitive data being widely available, which the households may not want. If the households indicate to the local authority that they want all their business done electronically, then this should be accommodated in every possible way.

Is the amendment being withdrawn?

The Minister of State's response seems reasonable enough. From what he says it is a question of encouraging local authorities to use e-mail on a regular basis. The HSE seems to communicate directly. I know it is a different type of information as regards parliamentary responses, which it will e-mail rather than post to Deputies. That should be looked into to save on costs and for value for money purposes as well. Perhaps the Minister of State could give a directive to the local authorities to encourage them to use e-mail more regularly.

I am certainly prepared to do that. I will indicate to the local authorities that requests involving household data should be processed electronically and that this useful technology should be availed of as much as possible, other than in cases where sensitive information might be compromised.

There is an additional aspect to what Deputy Flanagan proposes. One could send e-mails to the local authorities until the cows come home, letters and even pigeons. The important thing is to get a response. It is not what is sent in but what comes out that is the issue.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 14 not moved.

Amendment No. 15 is in the name of Deputy Lynch and amendment No. 40 is related. Amendments Nos. 15 and 40 will be taken together.

I move amendment No. 15:

In page 10, paragraph (a), between lines 10 and 11, to insert the following:

"(xi) the provision, adaptation or improvement of housing for persons with a disability,".

These relate to the Part 2 functions of housing authorities in Chapter 1. Ultimately, this section provides that in performing its functions under the Housing Acts 1966-2008, "a housing authority may provide housing services, including, but not necessarily limited to all or any of the following——". It suggests that there is a range of services under that definition. I am aware that in broadening definitions, the broader and more specific the intention the more exclusionary can be the effect. There are two issues here. To come back to my point, earlier, it needs to recognise disability and furthermore include a provision to promote the independence of persons living with a disability. There is therefore the issue of somebody having a disability as well as the aspect of moving such a person towards some degree of independent living within the local authority structure.

These amendments relate to the provision of specific housing services for people with disabilities. While I share the Deputy's commitment to ensuring that the housing support needs of people with disabilities are a key component in the overall effort to meet wider social housing need, I do not believe these amendments are necessary as their effect is essentially already comprehended by the Bill as it stands.

On amendment No. 15, subsection 10(a) lists the housing support services provided by the housing authorities to individuals and households and covers a range of supports including: at subparagraph (i), social housing support, which includes housing provided directly by local authorities or voluntary and co-operative housing bodies, to people with disabilities; and at subparagraph (viii), grants and other assistance for the provision of works to houses under section 6 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1979 which include grants for the adaptation of houses for persons with a disability.

On amendment No. 40, section 19 provides a comprehensive and updated power for housing authorities to provide what is now a broader range of social housing supports. Social housing support has not previously been defined in housing legislation and traditionally local authority housing was considered to be the only social housing support. The number of supports that are considered to be social housing supports has increased over time and this subsection sets out the supports which are deemed to be social housing supports and which, as a consequence, are subject to the assessment and allocation criteria set out in sections 20, 21 and 22.

The underlying philosophy of the assessment and allocation provisions is to provide a framework whereby a housing authority must carry out a social housing assessment on applicant households to determine their eligibility for social housing support and the most appropriate form of support that suits the needs of that household.

There are strong regulatory powers on how this assessment is to be undertaken including how need is to be determined and how housing authorities will decide the most appropriate form of housing support for an individual household. Regulations will provide for a description of the specific housing requirements of households based on a prescribed categorisation of housing need such as, for example, the requirements which arise from those households which include members with a disability.

In conjunction with new assessment provisions, the reform of allocation policy is also crucial to improving service and ensuring that social housing is delivered in a way that is fair and efficient. Again, strong regulatory powers will help to develop a robust framework. Allocation schemes, made by the housing authorities, will include provisions to allow for a proportion of dwellings to be reserved for several purposes. This will give authorities flexibility to take account of particular groups, within their overall housing need, that have specific housing requirements, for example, people with disabilities.

The provisions of the Bill need to be read together as part of a coherent structure. Crucial to matching the appropriate service to the needs of a person with a disability is defining what we mean by housing services; planning the delivery of those services; and having a consistent and accurate system for assessing the type and severity of need and ultimately matching need to available support.

I believe the Bill contains these elements and, in the circumstances, I do not propose to accept the amendment.

I had the misfortune to be on the "Late Late Show" a couple of weeks ago with Nell McCafferty and Fintan O'Toole, when the latter was talking about Dáil reform. If there was ever a case for Dáil reform it was the response I have just got from the Minister of State. Two very short amendments required about 500 words to explain why they should not be taken. All the Minister of State had to say was that these amendments made the Bill better or worse. A good deal of time was spent this afternoon in writing a response that did not address the intent of the two amendments. I am a new Deputy in this House and God knows, I have a great deal to learn, but what I have just witnessed is an example of how time is misspent within the Oireachtas.

I did not hear a word the Minister of State said. It was the usual Civil Service response to the effect that the Minister of State should just drone on for a few minutes without addressing the issues. I am not pointing a finger at the Minister of State in particular, since this is common practice in this House and is a clear indication why the Dáil should be reformed, when we are debating legislation.

These are two simple amendments probably only amounting to ten words, and they required a five minute response. Either these amendments make the Bill better or not. I do not want a written script from the Minister of State but I want to hear why the amendments do not improve the Bill. They merely suggest a broader definition. If they do not, I shall withdraw them or rather I shall press them because I believe they do.

I am, perhaps, trying to explain too lengthily that they are not necessary.

I believe they are necessary because it was an oversight. Without any finger wagging, the homeless issue was very much absent in the earlier drafting of the Bill. Similarly, disability is absent from the Bill. This is an opportunity to give disability significance in our housing policy and strategy and in the approach of local authorities to social housing. We have inserted a section on homelessness which has been welcomed this evening. Disability needs to be included not as part of a catch-all area but as a matter that has significance within social housing provision. I will be pressing the amendments.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 16:

In page 10, between lines 10 and 11, to insert the following:

"(b) assistance, other than financial assistance or housing support, provided——

(i) in accordance with a homelessness action plan to households that were formerly homeless before their occupation of their current accommodation and, in the opinion of the housing authority, such assistance is necessary for the purposes of supporting those households in remaining in occupation of that accommodation, or

(ii) to tenants of dwellings to which section 31(1) applies,”.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 10, as amended, agreed to.

I move amendment No. 17:

In page 10, subsection (1), line 18, after "shops," to insert the following:

"facilities for the benefit of the community (including health and leisure facilities),".

This amendment provides explicitly for ancillary services that housing authorities may provide in conjunction with the provision of housing, including community facilities. The amendment is to section 11, which is an updating order provision to section 56(2) of the Housing Act 1966. On examining the updated provision I felt that while the ancillary services set out in the provision are worthy in themselves, they do not fully reflect the range of ancillary services that housing authorities and approved bodies are now providing in their new housing developments. I propose, therefore, to expand the non-exhaustive listing of ancillary services in the provision to include a reference to community facilities, including health and leisure facilities. This amendment does not represent a change in policy. Rather I am codifying existing laudable practice.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 11, as amended, agreed to.

I move amendment No. 18:

In page 11, subsection (1)(g), line 12, to delete “housing services.” and substitute the following:

"housing services;

(h) such measures as may be taken by the housing authority pursuant to its homelessness action plan relating to the provision of assistance under section 10(b)(i).”.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 12, as amended, agreed to.

I move amendment No. 19:

In page 12, paragraph (a), line 8, after “Part 3” to insert “or 4”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 20:

In page 12, paragraph (b), line 9, after ”section 40“ to insert ” or 68”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 21:

In page 12, between lines 11 and 12, to insert the following:

"(d) payments in respect of any amounts outstanding under section 40 or 67, as the case may be,”.

This amendment brings housing authorities' receipts from particular transactions under the incremental purchase scheme, the proposed section 40, and the scheme for tenant purchase of apartments, section 67, within the scope of section 13 of the Bill which provides that local authority receipts from a range of housing transactions must be paid into a single fund and used for housing purposes with the prior approval of the Minister.

The transaction to which this amendment relates is the payment by the purchaser under either scheme of outstanding charges on a property at the expiration of the charge period arising from the suspension of annual reductions in the charge share during the charge period because the purchaser breached the terms and conditions of the sale. Essentially the breach by the purchaser of the condition of the purchase of the dwelling ultimately gives rise to the outstanding charge at the end of the charge period. The housing authority suspends the reduction in the charge share for as long as the breach continues. The result is that at the end of the period not all of the charge has withered away and the purchaser is liable to pay the outstanding charge to the housing authority. The authority must place these payments in the special funds for receipts of this nature and use them for the approved housing purposes.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 13, as amended, agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 22 and 37 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 22:

In page 12, subsection (3), line 33, to delete "make" and substitute "adopt".

These amendments make clear in section 14(3) that the housing service plan must be adopted by the council rather than made by the council not later than six months after the date on which the development plan is made, and in section 16(6)(a) that a copy of the plan should be provided to the Minister as soon as practicable after it is adopted rather than made.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 23:

In page 12, between lines 35 and 36, to insert the following subsection:

"(4) Local authorities shall review housing services plans on a six monthly basis.".

This amendment would ensure that the housing service plans are reviewed more regularly — on a six-monthly basis — so that they can be checked to see if targets are being met, problems are being identified and basically that plans are being adhered to.

This amendment relates to the timing of reviews of a housing service plan. Section 14 provides that the housing service plan must be adopted within six months of the adoption of the development plan and will relate to the remaining period of the development plan. Given the specific link to the development plan, the timespan for a housing service plan will be between five and a half and six years. As we have all learned in the course of the past 18 months, this is a long time in any area of life, particularly housing.

I agree with the Deputy that it would be unrealistic to imagine that a housing service plan made for a housing authority area today would be fully relevant when we reach the end of 2014. Equally it would not be practicable to require all housing authorities to undertake formal reviews of their housing service plans on a six-monthly basis. These plans will not be in substantial documents. To prepare them, housing authorities will be required to undertake a comprehensive analysis of a wide range of interacting factors and plan for the provision of housing services on the basis of this analysis over a medium-term period.

The matters to which housing authorities must have regard in preparing a plan are set out in some detail in section 15. Extensive consultation is also provided for. I am not convinced of the benefit of requiring authorities to revisit this work twice a year unless there are good reasons for doing so. Instead we need flexibility. Circumstances will change. Patterns of need will grow and contract according to how they are met by the supports put in place by the housing authorities. Housing markets will vary. They will rise and fall. They will impact on the scale and nature of response required from housing authorities.

The Bill as it stands will provide for the flexibility required to take account of this just as the Planning Acts provide for flexibility in the timing of variations of local authority development plans. Section 17(1) provides that where the manager of a housing authority is of the view that there has been a significant change in the circumstances, which helped shape a housing service plan originally, he or she may submit a report to the elected members recommending that the plan be varied to take account of the change. In addition, section 17(2) gives power to the Minister to instruct a housing authority to vary a housing service plan where he or she feels there are significant changes to the circumstances affecting the plan. Broadly similar plans have been afforded to the Minister for some time under the Planning Acts in respect of the development plan process.

The Bill as it stands provides the right balance between the enabling housing authority to plan strategically for the provision of housing support services in the medium term while also giving sufficient flexibility to housing authorities to respond to whatever slings and arrows might be thrown at the plan. It is also important to have the contingency of ministerial direction to ensure that in the unlikely event of inaction on behalf of a housing authority where its plan might no longer be relevant, the necessary steps can be taken. For those reasons I do not propose to accept the amendment.

As the Minister of State said in his response, housing plans are only published every six years. While there is an opportunity for housing authorities to review them, they are not obliged to do so. The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that they are obliged to review the housing plans and targets. However, six-monthly reviews are too regular. Can the Minister of State suggest another time period in which to review the plans? To create a plan and forget about it and return to it in six years' time or whatever is too long. Local authorities have not been living up to their side of the plans and the targets are pie in sky unless there is a mandatory obligation to review the plans. Not enough is being done and the provision is too loose.

I understand the Deputy's intention. There is flexibility in that the manager can review the plans. If he or she fails to do so, I have the flexibility of telling him or her to do so, as provided for in section 17. If local authority members are unhappy with what is happening they know this provision enables the Minister to intervene.

Local authorities have a responsibility to review their housing strategies every three years as part of the plan. We have a check and balance. The reason I mentioned every six months is that the administrative work is substantial. If a new factory comes to an area or something major is being built, there is a variation in the plans. I would expect at that stage that the housing strategy would be looked at in the same way and, if not, I would be amazed. If it came to my attention I would say to the county manager that, of course, there is a need for a review at this particular time. Rather than being obliged to carry out a review every six months, I would prefer if the work was done properly and if a review was needed that there was the flexibility to do it. I would prefer it that way rather than creating work every six months, thus using up much resources and staff.

I would be flexible in regard to changing the six-monthly review and could table another amendment on Report Stage. I want to ensure there is a review and that it is not allowed slip for the six-year period. At a minimum, the review should take place every two years. Perhaps we could have a mid-term review.

I understand where the Deputy is coming from but I do not want to introduce structures rather than flexibility. It is an onerous task to bring forward and review a plan. If it is not necessary it is an imposition I would be reluctant to impose on local authorities. If there is a change in an area and if something were to happen, the local authority members could ask the county manager for a review of the housing plan for that area. If the manager was not prepared to do it, I would probably indicate to him or her, from a developing areas perspective, that the review should take place. I would prefer to leave it flexible as provided for, rather than impose extra administrative work, resulting in extra costs and perhaps a waste of resources, and a commitment to use resources for a review that may not be necessary in all circumstances. I would prefer if there was flexibility for the manager and for me, as Minister, to instruct the manager to carry out the review.

Is the Minister of State leaving it to the councillors rather than making it mandatory?

The manager has flexibility but the elected representatives in the electoral area where the plan needs to be reviewed will raise these matters. If the manager does not go along with it and the issue comes to my attention for good reason, I would certainly instruct the manager to carry out the review.

It is almost 6 p.m. I agree with the Minister's response in terms of six-monthly reviews. If there were six-monthly reviews one would get nothing done because the reviews would be just reviews. However, there is merit in what Deputy Flanagan has said. An issue that has arisen at this committee recently, with which the Chairman will concur, is the developing view that we are locked into five-year cycles of elections for local and central government, and that the sequencing and timing of county development plans, city development plans and other reviews should take cognisance of that five-year period because a council could end up taking on board the plan of a previous council. It may be that the majority of people who agreed the plan are no longer sitting in the council chamber.

Returning to my earlier days in the voluntary sector, one way of getting people to buy into a plan is to give them some ownership of it. The best way to get ownership of a plan is to be part of the design process. The six-year cycle is problematic. Technically that plan could have been designed last year whereas there may be a new local authority now and its ownership of the plan may be much less. At the most, the review should be on a four or five-year cycle.

A six-year plan is too long and it should be drawn up in less than five years.

In regard to the role of local authorities across the country, a lot of duplication is taking place in the work of SPCs. There are functional housing committees and housing SPCs almost operating the same agenda. The agenda goes from one SPC to a function committee and back. This would be an opportunity for housing SPCs to do some meaningful work. Perhaps the review could be built into the SPC structure as opposed to having a review. I understand Deputy Flanagan is withdrawing his amendment. I suggest the scheduled review should take place at less than six-yearly intervals and that the SPCs be looked at as the review mechanism if that is agreeable to Deputy Flanagan.

That is an interesting issue that has been raised by Deputy Lynch and it belongs in local government planning laws. A new planning Bill is coming down the tracks, the Second Reading of which may take place in this session. There is merit in much of the Deputy's comment. However, while is not my area of responsibility I am au fait with the Deputy’s suggestion and I see merit in it. During the Second Stage debate this issue could be explored.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 14, as amended, agreed to.

It is now 6 o'clock and the committee agreed earlier to suspend for half an hour to give people a break. We will resume at 6.30 p.m. Is that agreed? Agreed.


Amendment No. 24 is in the name of Deputy Ciarán Lynch.

I move amendment No. 24:

In page 13, subsection (1), lines 8 and 9, to delete paragraph (b) and substitute the following:

"(b) the demand for social housing as outlined in the assessment of need in its administrative area conducted in accordance with section 21;”

I was surprised that amendments Nos. 24 to 26, inclusive, were not taken together because they relate to the same section of the Bill.

We can discuss them together.

The amendment refers to section 15, which relates to a housing services plan and states that "a housing authority shall, in particular, have regard to the following:" Then there is a list of items. Amendment No. 24 talks about social housing and its assessment in the need of an administrative area. Amendment No. 25 talks about a "homeless action plan in its administrative area". Amendment No. 26 goes on to talk about "the homeless action plan adopted in accordance with Chapter 6 in respect of its administrative area”. I am sorry, but that is actually the Minister of State’s amendment. Amendment No. 27 refers to “the needs of persons with a disability in its administrative area”. Amendment No. 28 says that a housing services plan “shall also have regard to the following and shall include such further information and priorities related to the following as the Minister may direct”.

Once again we are itemising things and as the Bill is progressing I am particularly conscious of the area of disability. I have one further note as regards amendment No. 29, which says, "including but not limited to, tenancy services, supported housing, tenancy sustainment, tenancy support and settlement, advice, advocacy and mediation services". As the Bill was devoid of any recognition of homelessness in its earlier drafts, so too, its recognition of disability, is wanting. Is this a deliberate position being taken by the Minister of State or just oversight? It appears that disability, given its importance, does not have the same significance as that being given to homelessness. I will be pressing all of these amendments, particularly those that relate to disability.

As regards amendment No. 29, there is a requirement for tenancy services, support and advice as well as advocacy and mediation services. As regards many of the complaints people bring to their local public representatives, it would be far more efficient and cost effective if the local authorities were to deal directly with these themselves. There should be less of an ombudsman service available within the local authority than a customer relations mechanism for tenants. Ultimately one could define local authority tenants as customers of the particular council, yet the level of support and information available to them is limited. In some council areas the tenants in local authority houses, other than paying their rent, are often seen as a nuisance if they make any further contact with officialdom. Amendment No. 29 specifically seeks to address this, where local authorities are required to take a proactive role in dealing with tenants' issues. I realise there is movement towards having staff designated to particular roles, but the local authorities need to be far more proactive in this area.

The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, is at present talking about a White Paper on local government reform. Many aspects of that will deal with the structure of local government and the differences between representative and elective officialdom. I would ultimately see the outcome of local government reform as aiming to serve the citizen much better. In this case the citizen is not only a resident in the local authority area but also a recipient of its services. If one were living in the private rented sector with a housing agency which was dealing with the same housing volume as a local authority, one would expect such an entity to have a customer relations section. Local authorities do not seem to provide these and that is something amendment No. 29 seeks to deal with.

We have discussed amendments Nos. 25, 26 and 29 already. As regards amendment No. 24, section 15(1)(b) already requires housing authorities to have regard to the details of social housing assessments prepared under section 21 and to make a housing services plan. Summaries in question will identify the need for social housing as aggregated from a much more refined assessment process under section 20, which provides for a more detailed matching up of resources with the identified needs of the individual.

I am satisfied that section 15(1)(b) as drafted adequately reflects the demand for social housing and the assessment process and the subsequent aggregation of those assessments, and I do not propose to accept the amendment. I response to Deputy Lynch, I stated during the discussion on amendments Nos. 5 and 39 that while “homelessness” had been introduced and its distribution and implementation plan dealt with on a legislative basis, there was an ongoing discussion of a similar strategy, which I am sure the Deputy is aware of, for people with disabilities. We should allow the work of this strategy to continue and once it is finalised we shall put in place the necessary measures to respond to whatever recommendations it contains. My bona fides has been pretty good, I believe, as regards the homeless issue.

We also have discussed the matter of the tenancies board and I have said I shall examine the situation when the review is finished. I am saying the same in this regard. It is not a question of my wanting to exclude disability but rather the fact that I would like to have the back-up information from those who have been charged with doing the job. I believe they would be insulted if I were to move today on issues that I have asked them to make recommendations on. It is not that I do not want to, or that I am not interested. I want to see the recommendations first.

I am not pointing a finger at the Minister of State because I know the Bill was in progress before he arrived in his current portfolio. However, there is a sequencing issue involved and it is regrettable that many of the recommendations and reports were not concluded by this stage. As I mentioned earlier, this Bill has been waiting in the wings for a significant period of time, and it is unfortunate that the opportunity being presented as the Bill moves through the Oireachtas in the coming weeks is not being availed of to the maximum. As with the deposits retention scheme, I have no difficulty in withdrawing the amendment, but it would be remiss of this committee if these issues were not actually addressed in the Bill as it is being enacted and left for amendment by secondary legislation or ministerial directive at some time in the future.

My communications with the disability agencies have revealed that they want to see the issue of disability addressed in the legislation itself. The only way it can be addressed is by inclusion, not by intent. The Minister of State is aware that the legislation provides for the intent, enactment comes afterwards. What I am proposing implies intent. It would not tie the Minister of State's hands in a particular fashion but recognise the fact that this issue needs to be addressed. Its omission would be regarded as unfortunate. I am prepared to withdraw the amendment at this stage but will press it on Report Stage.

As I said, it would not be appropriate and I am not in a position to give a commitment to bring forward an amendment on Report Stage in advance of receipt of the necessary recommendations. I understand they may not be received until later in the year. It is our intention to finalise the Bill this session. If recommendations are made later, as there may be in the case of the PRTB, I will be prepared to look at them. However, I can only do this when proper recommendations are made. My bona fides have been established by what I have done on the homelessness issue. As soon as I received the implementation plan, I included it, but it took a long time. I gave that commitment in the Seanad on Second Stage. I do not wish to give the impression today that I will be in a position to bring forward an amendment on Report Stage in advance of receiving the necessary recommendations made in the review of the strategy for people with disabilities.

If I can be of assistance to the Minister of State, any amendments I have tabled on the disability issue have been devised in consultation with agencies representing that sector. I would have no difficulty if the Minister of State was to bring forward his own amendments following consultation with them prior to Report Stage.

I am sure that when they come to me with recommendations, they will indicate whether these amendments have been discussed. I do not know whether they have or not. The recommendations will be submitted to me and I will formulate my considered opinion with my officials. I will be as up-front as I possibly can. A pre-emptive decision by me on the issue while somebody else is engaged in a review would be inappropriate. I do not like to do things in that way.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 25 not moved.

I move amendment No. 26:

In page 13, subsection (1), between lines 14 and 15, to insert the following:

(e) the homelessness action plan adopted in accordance with Chapter 6 in respect of its administrative area;”.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 27 to 29, inclusive, not moved.
Section 15, as amended, agreed to.

I move amendment No. 30:

In page 14, subsection (1), line 11, after "to" to insert "and seek responses from".

This is a technical amendment.

Section 16(1) requires circulation by a housing authority of a draft housing services plan to the Minister, specified bodies and other persons. It is clear from subsection (2) that written submissions or observations are anticipated from persons and bodies listed. The amendment would not add to the provision. I, therefore, ask the Deputy to withdraw it.

While much information is requested from local authorities, the amendment would reinforce the fact that a response is also requested. One can ask a local authority to look at certain plans, but we would also like to receive a response from it. I will withdraw the amendment, but I am sure the Minister of State and his officials will agree that it would simplify the language and make the section clearer. I have no doubt the Minister of State will table an amendment on Report Stage to resolve the issue.

I do not wish to give that impression, as the amendment is not necessary. It is clearly set out in the legislation that written submissions and observations are anticipated from persons and bodies listed.

I am acceding to the request that I withdraw the amendment. However, I know the Minister of State's officials will attend to its intent on Report Stage because it is an obvious omission.

I will not be Chairman on Report Stage.

I will keep an eye on it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 31 to 35, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 31:

In page 14, subsection (1)(d), line 17, after “bodies” to insert the following:

"or other bodies including community based organisations, networks, fora or other representative bodies; voluntary service providers, housing or homeless networks and fora; or any other body".

Similar to the last series of amendments I asked that these amendments be discussed together. A housing authority will prepare a draft housing services plan and send a copy to the Minister, each local authority whose administrative area adjoins such as Cork City Council and Cork County Council where there is mixed housing, approved bodies engaged in the provision of accommodation, any local Traveller accommodation consultative committee and any local community bodies in the administrative area concerned. The amendment would make this more specific in that it seeks to include "other bodies, including community based organisations, networks, fora or other representative bodies; voluntary service providers, housing or homeless networks and fora; or any other body". There would be a double benefit in that a local authority would work hand in hand with a broad range of agencies. Also, there would be a greater input into how housing strategies are designed within five year cycles. There are many agencies which support the work of local authorities, particularly in housing, by giving them ownership of difficulties in communities.

A long overdue major regeneration programme is taking place in the Glen in Cork city. I visited the scheme recently as I used to work in the area and was pleased to note that massive improvements had been made. It is an area that has suffered from significant disadvantage; even in the heady days of the Celtic tiger, it never took off. There is a series of local groups, including the Image of the Glen which is conscious of the need for landscaping works, including the planting of flowers, in the area. It is a bigger concept than that behind the Tidy Towns competition. If these agencies were consulted in drawing up a housing development plan, they would have ideas on how the landscape should be laid out, but they may also be prepared to participate in the maintenance and protection of works done under regeneration programmes. There is nothing worse than a local authority spending millions of euro regenerating an area, followed by a period during which there is a lack of maintenance which sees the area in question fall into a dilapidated state.

This amendment provides that local stakeholders, in co-operation with the local authority, by being part of the plan get some ownership and as a result play a more active and vibrant role in local authority estates and housing management. It is not that any control is being handed over to them but they get to play a more participative role. That is why I see that being enacted. On that basis I propose amendment No. 31.

Amendment No. 32 is a technical amendment and I could copy and paste what I said a while ago on technical amendments. The Minister's departmental staff can examine them in their own time. Amendment No. 33 inserts a reference to "the joint homelessness consultative forum in its administrative area, or joint homelessness consultative forum, as the case may be." This is just a correction——

That is my amendment. I am glad Deputy Ciarán Lynch is supportive.

I apologise. I need to go to Specsavers. I am happy with that. Amendment No. 34 refers to "Any voluntary or statutory body concerned with the housing needs of persons with a disability in its administrative area," likewise referring back to my earlier point. Amendment No. 35 specifies that "Any recognised association under section 128 of the Local Government Act 2001" would also be taken into consideration.

Section 16 deals with the preparation of a housing service plan and requires circulation by the housing authority of a draft plan to the Minister and specified bodies and persons for their observations. I will move amendment No. 33 to provide that the homelessness consultative forum or joint forum, which will play an important role in the new arrangements for the development of homelessness action plans, will form part of the consultation process with a housing service plan that is being drafted to ensure the issue of homelessness is fully integrated into the overall strategic approach.

The Opposition amendments Nos. 31, 32, 34 and 35 seek to further expand the lists of bodies and persons with whom the housing authority formally consults on the housing service plan. The combination of these amendments would not add to the provision. I am satisfied that the formulation of paragraph (f) is sufficiently broad to cover the groups referred to in the proposed amendments.

On amendments Nos. 31 and 32, subsection (1)(d) provides that approved bodies must be consulted. Such bodies must have, as primary objects, the relief of housing needs, poverty or hardship. It is also relevant in the context of the proposed amendment to say that they receive their approved status for the purpose of, inter alia, the provision of housing accommodation for homeless persons. The use of the phrase “approved bodies engaged in the provision of accommodation or shelter” in subsection (1)(d) is sufficient to cover the work engaged in by the approved bodies and any additional phraseology proposed is not necessary in this instance.

I have concerns that in trying to draw out the provision, and this applies to each of the Deputy's specific suggestions here, there is a danger of excluding a group which had been covered by a more general term. This is especially the case for amendments Nos. 34 and 35, which propose including bodies concerned with a housing need or a person with a disability and recognised associations under section 128 of the Local Government Act 2001. I am satisfied that section 16(1)(f), which already specifies that the draft plan may be made available to local community bodies or any other person, as the housing authority considers appropriate, is sufficient to cover any groups that are active locally and relevant. In those circumstances I ask the Deputy to withdraw amendments Nos. 31, 32, 34 and 35 and I ask the committee to support amendment No. 33.

The Minister of State's reply says a housing authority shall prepare a draft of the housing services plan and shall send a copy of the draft housing services plan to the Minister, every local authority, the HSE, approved bodies, local traveller accommodation consultative committees and local community bodies in the administrative area concerned. The Minister of State said he is fearful of excluding anybody, but he could add further amendments to broaden that scope on Report Stage. As Deputy Terence Flanagan said earlier, most agencies send reports by e-mail. There is no cost to it. This is a cost-neutral proposal. People can subscribe to the mailing list and the documentation comes to them as a result.

Having grown up in one of the most successful local authority housing estates, the reason it became so successful is because to this day, 50 years after it was built, there is a strong sense of place among the residents of the area. People such as me, who have not lived there for 20 or 30 years, still identify themselves as coming from that area. It is like people from Liverpool saying they come from Liverpool rather than England. I am from Ballyphehane rather than Cork. The reason for that is the very strong sense of community association in that parish.

Ballyphehane was one of the first parishes in the county to have a credit union, community centre and community development project. The reason for this is the strong tradition of voluntarism in that parish going back over the decades. That works by inviting people into the process and giving them some sense of ownership. It is not just a case of looking at housing as bricks and mortar but in the context of creating communities. The best way to create communities is to facilitate participation. While I understand where the Minister of State is coming from, I will press these amendments because they are to the betterment of community development and the sustainability of communities.

In my reply I referred to local organisations that are active. I compliment the parishes involved on what they have done in the areas about which the Deputy speaks. We need to be careful to leave it broad so it does not exclude anybody. It is a matter for local bodies to indicate to the local authority if they feel their views are not being asked for or taken on board. They can go on the local authority's mailing list and there is no problem with that. I want this to be flexible as we do not know what will be set up in the future.

Local organisation that are hands-on in their parishes know what is going on and can easily be in touch with the housing section of their local authorities to tell them they want to be involved, consulted and included on the mailing list. They are then in a position to respond or not, but they are informed. We should leave it at that. This is the advice I receive and I am very much in favour of it. If we tie things down too much people may say the law does not allow certain groups to be there. I prefer to be able to say the law accommodates practically anybody who is organised to make a submission to this type of plan or strategy.

I take on board what the Minister of State is saying about becoming too specific to the exclusion of other groups, but the difficulty is the way the Minister has the amendment structured. Section 16(1)(f) specifies “such local community bodies in the administrative area concerned and any other person, as the housing authority considers appropriate.” The housing authority determines who gets the information. If an agency wants this information, it should get it. It should not be a matter of subjectivity on the part of the local authority to decide whether the agency warrants receiving it.

The Minister's structuring of the legislation is restrictive, not the way I am presenting it. It leaves a value judgment in the hands of a local authority and some local authorities are more co-operative than others. There is an opt-out here whereby a local authority can say under the legislation it did not consider it appropriate to give a body the information.

Section 16(1)(f) reads: “such local community bodies in the administrative area concerned and any other person, as the housing authority considers appropriate”. It does not even have to be a body.

My concern is not with the first part of the text but with the last six words, "as the housing authority considers appropriate". There is an opt-out. This is legislation, not a guideline, we are issuing to local authorities. In writing this legislation there is a legal opt-out, whereby a local authority may refuse to give information to a body because it does not deem it appropriate.

I do not want to have a situation where the local authority has to send information to every person in its catchment area. That would exercise every authority to such an extent that they would waste resources. If a person says he or she is entitled to this as a person, even though he or she might have no interest in it or make no submission, I should not accommodate this in law.

I will restate the point. The difficulty we will run into——

We shall have a look at it, but I do not want to have a situation where a local authority has to circulate information to 5,000, 6,000 or 20,000 people. The Deputy does not want that either.

I have probably spent much less time than the Minister of State in local government, but I know that at times it is difficult, even for local councillors, to get information from council staff before council meetings. I see the Chairman is laughing at my comments and assume that he agrees with me. When the general public tries to get information from local government officials, it can be like pulling fingernails. I am concerned that since we are writing legislation, not a guideline, a clause is being included in the Bill to provide for an opt-out from providing information. Local authorities might state they referred to the Bill and determined it was not appropriate for them to give information. There is no clause in the Bill that states what is or is not appropriate.

There is public consultation and notification on the housing strategy and any interested person can make a submission. Housing authorities are obliged to send a draft of the housing services plan to the Minister, every local authority whose administrative area adjoins, or is contained in, the administrative area of the authority preparing the draft plan, the HSE, approved bodies engaged in the provision of accommodation or shelter in the administrative area concerned, any local Traveller accommodation consultative committee in the administrative area concerned appointed under section 21 of the Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Act, any such local community bodies in the administrative area concerned and any other person as the housing authority considers appropriate. Barring picking up the voting register I could not extend it much further.

It is not accurate; therefore, the Minister of State would be wasting his time.

I would expect local authorities to act reasonably in this area. As I said, I am concerned about excluding somebody by including some type of——

For the sake of advancing the Bill, I ask that the Minister of State's officials examine the issue.

I am not giving any commitments, but we can have a look at it.

I would imagine Deputies for the local authority area would receive a copy of the report.

There was a provision in legislation that when people were forced off local authorities there was to be a procedure for a consultative process with Deputies. Not alone do they receive documentation, but they have a meeting at least once a year with senior management of local authorities.

I assume that would also be included in the criteria.

Will that not kick in one way or another?

I do not know. The Minister of State might examine that matter.

Under section 5, I can issue guidelines if there are difficulties.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 32 not moved.

I move amendment No. 33:

In page 14, subsection (1), between lines 18 and 19, to insert the following:

"(e) the homelessness consultative forum in its administrative area, or joint homelessness consultative forum, as the case may be,”.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 34 and 35 not moved.

I move amendment No. 36:

In page 14, between lines 25 and 26, to insert the following subsection:

"(2) Where the proposals submitted by bodies referred to in subsection (1) are not incorporated into the housing services plan, the housing authority shall furnish outline reasons for not incorporating those proposals.”.

It is timely that this amendment should come after the discussion we have just had. It proposes that where the proposals submitted by bodies referred to in the subsection we have just discussed are not incorporated into the housing services plan, the housing authority shall furnish outline reasons for not incorporating them. This puts a double or triple lock on the consultation process. The Minister of State will be familiar with the Part 8 planning process, whereby submissions are made, the planning department looks at them and is or is not influenced by them but is required to restate all the points made in the submissions as to why they do or do not agree with them. While there might be criticisms of the Part 8 system, at least members of the public receive some explanation as to why what they said was not taken on board.

Likewise with the new formulas and reporting systems that will be part of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, if we are going to be in the business of inviting proposals and submissions from interested groups which are deemed to be appropriate, we should, in turn, have the good grace to respond to them and give them some indication as to why what they had to say was not deemed worthy. The message could be sent clearly that there is no point in sending proposals to Dublin City Council because it never takes them on board and never reads them. What I am suggesting provides only for outline reasons, not paragraphs or chapters, but people who make submissions should receive some response from the individual local authority stating why their submissions were not incorporated.

The addition of a statutory requirement on housing authorities to supply explanations why they might not have fully taken on board proposals submitted during the consultation process on a housing service plan would not be appropriate, nor would it serve any useful purpose in this instance. It is the role of the housing authority to plan ahead for the provision of housing supports in its administrative area, on which I assume we can all agree. While we must provide for maximum transparency in our strategic planning process and seek to input a wide range of important voices in the housing sector, we must be careful not to erode or over-complicate the ability of a housing authority to plan ahead. The important characteristic of this provision is that the process is to be undertaken in a public way with an appropriate opportunity to engage in consultation, for an executive assessment by the manager and debate and adoption by the elected members of the council. Importantly, the Minister may for stated reasons require the housing authority to amend the draft plan so that the adopted plan takes full account of the matter specified in section 15(1). The adopted plan must be made available for public inspection, including publication on the Internet. Therefore I ask the Deputy to withdraw the amendment.

The manager is required to prepare and submit a report to the elected members, which will include any submission or observations from the parties consulted. This report will be available for discussion by the elected members in the context of adopting the plan and it will be a matter for individual housing authorities to decide whether to make the manager's report publicly available. It is much the same as in the development plan. There is an executive side and a reserve side in local councils and both have authority. Following the consultation process the decision rests with the representatives and the manager and I do not want to erode that. In fact, I would like to strengthen their authority.

I will use the example of Part 8 to illustrate my point. As the Minister will be aware, a Part 8 notice is posted in a particular location and submissions are invited from the public. Local public representatives do not always have time to read through all the submissions so a summary of the Part 8 report is brought before a committee and there is an explanation of why the senior planner took some submissions on board but not others. That informs the public representatives and enables them to make a decision at the end of the process. My amendment mirrors a process that is already in place.

There is a statutory requirement in Part 8 for reasons to be given for not incorporating a proposal and there should be a similar requirement in this section.

Under section 16(4) the manager is required to prepare and submit a report to elected members which will include any submission or observation from the parties consulted. This report will be available for discussion by the elected members in the context of adopting the plan. It will then be a matter for the housing authorities to decide whether they make the report publicly available.

The decisions are made at public meetings of the council by elected members following a report from the manager. The manager's report includes the observations and submissions of the bodies which have made submissions. I do not want to diminish the authority of elected members. The submissions are for their purpose and the bodies in question are based in local areas. It is a matter of supporting the democratic decision of the elected members of a council following a transparent process.

I do not disagree with the Minister of State's last comments but what I propose would enhance the public representative in doing his or her job and would provide a rationale for the report. If we applied the Part 8 processes to these provisions a report would come before public officials with an appendix which would include details of any reports which the representatives did not have time to read. The statutory obligation on officials under Part 8 to provide a rationale for decisions helps inform the public representatives and enables them to make their decision. There is a statutory requirement on officials to read every report put before them. A synopsis would advise on what was good in a report and what was not so good. I propose that this information be copied and pasted into the report.

That is not what is in the Deputy's amendment.

If the Minister of State sends a report in that format he will have referred to the submissions of the agencies.

The Deputy's amendment refers to outline reasons for not incorporating the proposals. We envisage the manager preparing and submitting a report to the elected members which will include any submissions or observations from the bodies consulted. The report will be available for discussion to elected members in the context of adopting the plan. It is then a matter for individual housing authorities to decide whether they wish to make the manager's report publicly available. If it is discussed at a public meeting of the council it will be available anyway. It is no different from what we do for a county development plan. Submissions come in, they are looked at, a report is prepared and the councillors make the decision.

Deputy Lynch's amendment would oblige councils to provide a reason certain submissions were not taken into consideration. There may be good reasons local authorities might not wish to do this, such as a pre-planning issue which might expose a local authority to a purchase of land. We must leave it to the local authority to do its duty to consult bodies. The manager must submit a report including any submission or observation. We should have to give reasons where submissions are not taken on board as there may be good reasons. Elected representatives make decisions that may not be implemented for some time.

I have no difficulty in withdrawing the amendment as the Minister of State's response makes sense. I will reintroduce it on Report Stage, having taken on board what he has said. However, I ask him or his officials to have a look at the fundamental principle. If somebody made a submission on a report there is an obligation on the local authority to send him or her the finalised report, whether or not it incorporated the contents of the submission. If an individual participates in the process he or she should be able to see the outcome of the process.

The Deputy's amendment suggests that when proposals submitted by the bodies referred to in subsection 1 are not incorporated in the housing service plan the housing authority shall furnish outline reasons for not incorporating them.

I will withdraw the amendment and reshape it but there is a fundamental principle.

I am not able to accept it, in any event.

I will withdraw it, but I will reintroduce an amended version on the basis of what the Minister of State has said. The Part 8 structure on when submissions are invited from the public creates a very good precedent that could be used in this area. It removes the laziness aspect from local government. When an official has to write a report weighing up the positives and negatives, he or she is more attentive to the issue. The secondary benefit is that local officials get to see the pros and cons of proposals before they are voted on. There is an opportunity here to do something similar. I ask the Minister of State and his officials to look at that. I have no difficulty in withdrawing it this evening, since I accept the weaknesses in the amendment, as proposed. However, the intent of what is being proposed is something the Minister of State should take back to his Department.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 37:

In page 15, subsection (6)(a), line 10, to delete “made” and substitute “adopted”.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 16, as amended, agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 17 stand part of the Bill."

There are no amendments to section 17, but I am calling Deputy Flanagan because he has indicated he has a proposal for this section.

Thank you. Section 17 states that the manager or the Minister has the power to change housing service plans and we oppose this section as the manager or the Minister should not have sole powers to change a housing service plan. This should be a joint venture comprising all local authority housing staff and councillors as well. There should be more ownership of the plan among local authority members. This is necessary to create unity so that everyone can agree and be happy with the housing service plan.

Amendment No. 23 makes section 17 null and void in the sense that if the members get an opportunity to look at housing service plans on a more regular basis, even within the month time period, there will be no need for the Minister or the manager to change a housing service plan.

Section 17(1) provides that where the manager of a housing authority is of the view that there has been a significant change in the circumstances that helped shape the housing service plan originally, he or she shall submit a report to the elected members recommending that the plan be varied to take account of the change. In addition section 17(2) gives the power to the Minister to instruct the housing authority to vary the housing service plan where he or she believes there has been significant change in the circumstances affecting the plan. Broadly similar powers have been afforded for some time to the Minister under the planning Acts in respect of the development plan process. The Bill as it stands strikes the right balance between enabling a housing authority to plan strategically for the provision of housing support services over the medium term while giving sufficient flexibility to the housing authority to respond to criticism of the plan.

It is important to have the contingency in place of the Minister's direction to ensure that in the unlikely event of inaction on the part of the housing authority where the plan might no longer be relevant, that steps can be taken. We had an earlier discussion on this and I said that flexibility lay with the manager, and that the Minister would have flexibility in the event of inaction, to intervene. That is where I would like to leave it.

If the plan were to be reviewed more regularly, would it be necessary for the Minister to change it? Should there be more ownership and buy-in among elected officials and local authority staff, rather than the Minister having to intervene?

It is a question of flexibility. If something new happens or a new development arises, the manager has the flexibility to come forward with a variation of the plan to elected members. I hope a case will not arise whereby the manager does not come forward, even though the members want him or her to do so. In the event, I would like the Minister to have the authority to intervene. That is what is here and I want to hold on to that, so that the Minister may insist, if necessary, where there is a variation, that a response can be made to the new circumstances. The two types of flexibility cover these contingencies. The Deputy's original proposal was that matters should be reviewed every six months. I consider that, perhaps, not to be a good use of resources as it would entail constant reviews, as Deputy Lynch said earlier. The flexibility model is the better way and that is how I would like to leave the legislation.

Would the Minister of State not consider a mid-term review of the housing service plan?

That is already there under the housing development plan, which provides for a three-year basis. The purpose of this is just to deal with a new situation and ensure it is not left for five or six years. It is a type of safety valve. The manager has the authority and the flexibility to bring a report. If he or she does not, the Minister will have the authority or the flexibility to intervene. It is important to have that precaution in place, and it may never be exercised if the manager and elected members can get on with the business themselves.

Question put and agreed to.
Section 18 agreed to.

I move amendment No. 38:

In page 16, before section 19, but in Chapter 3, to insert the following new section:

19.—Each housing authority shall establish a process (in this section referred to as a "local homeless forum") within its administrative area for the purposes of developing and implementing a local homeless action plan. Each local homeless forum shall include approved bodies involved in the provision of housing and homeless services within the administrative area. Within 12 months of the passing of this Act and every 3 years thereafter, the local authority shall adopt a local homeless action plan. The plan shall be produced by the local homeless forum in each administrative area and shall:

(a) contain measures for the prevention of homelessness; the elimination of rough sleeping; the elimination of long term homelessness; the meeting of long term housing needs; the provision of effective provision of services for homeless people; co-ordinated funding arrangements;

(b) contain an overall vision, objectives, actions, output targets, timescales for achievement, indicative costs and proposed funding arrangements;

(c) be formally reviewed by the homeless forum on an annual basis;

(d) cover a three year period;

(e) in its preparation, approval, purpose, scope and structure be consistent with policies aimed at: eliminating long term homelessness; minimizing the risk of a person becoming homeless through effective preventative policies and services; ensure when a person becomes homeless they are assisted into appropriate long term housing.”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 39:

In page 16, before section 19, but in Chapter 3, to insert the following new section:

19.—Each housing authority shall establish a disability housing forum within its administrative area for the purposes of developing and implementing a local disability housing action plan. Each local disability forum shall include approved bodies involved in the provision of housing and housing support services within the administrative area. Within 12 months of the passing of this Act, the local authority shall publish a local action plan for housing people with a disability. The plan shall be produced by the local disability housing forum in each administrative area and:

(a) have four key aims; comprehensive assessment of the extent and nature of housing need; the meeting of unmet housing need, including support needs; the effective provision of services for persons with a disability in housing need; co-ordinated funding arrangements;

(b) contain an overall vision, objectives, actions, output targets, timescales for achievement, indicative costs and proposed funding arrangements;

(c) be formally reviewed by the disability housing forum on an annual basis;

(d) cover a three year period;

(e) take into account the national housing strategy for people with disability when that strategy comes into operation.”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 40:

In page 16, subsection (2), between lines 22 and 23, to insert the following:

"(c) ensure adequate provision of housing to promote the independence of persons with disability;”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 41:

In page 16, subsection (4)(a), line 44, after “social” to insert “(including economic, cultural, ethnic or other)”.

This amendment once again seeks to provide a definition. Section 19(4) states:

In performing its functions under subsections (2) and (3) a housing authority shall have regard to its housing services plan and the need to——

(a) counteract undue segregation in housing between persons of different social backgrounds, and

(b) ensure that a mixture of dwelling types and sizes and of classes of tenure is provided to reasonably match the requirements of households.

The amendment proposed reflects the modern Ireland which calls for broader diversity and a wider cultural basis. In the UK there is a high level of cognisance within local government of racial and social inclusion policy issues dealing with new communities and the types of ethnic and cultural diversity that exist in modern societies. The amendment proposed is to mirror very much what is happening in the UK and incorporate that into the legislation.

This amendment, or one like it, got much debate on Committee Stage in the Seanad and we went through it a good bit. I do not propose to accept the Deputy's amendment. The use of the word "social" here is the phraseology used in Part 5 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 and similar to the term "social inclusion" reflected in local government legislation. While I respect the Deputy's intention, I am satisfied the word "social" in its normal usage pertaining to society is sufficiently broad to encompass economic, cultural, ethnic and other issues. I would prefer to follow, in so far as possible, phraseology that is well established. Therefore I do not propose to accept the amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 42:

In page 17, subsection (5), line 5, to delete "with a person".

This is a straightforward drafting amendment to clarify that a housing authority is not confined to entering into a public private partnership only with a person. The amended text will provide that a housing authority may enter a PPP arrangement generally.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 19, as amended, agreed to.

I move amendment No. 43:

In page 17, subsection (1), line 15, to delete "including a reference to" and substitute the following:

"meaning a person who lives alone, 2 or more persons who live together or".

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 44:

In page 17, between lines 17 and 18, to insert the following subsection:

"(2) (a) For the purposes of this Act a “homeless person” shall be defined as—

(i) a person who has no accommodation available to them other than a night shelter, a public place or external space,

(ii) a person who has no accommodation available to them other than a homeless hostel, transitional or temporary accommodation, sheltered accommodation; a person who has been released from state institutions such as penal, medical or care institutions; a person who has had to leave or cannot remain in their home due to domestic violence,

(iii) a person who has no accommodation available to them other than temporary accommodation with family or friends; illegal occupation of land; subject to legal orders to quit rented accommodation or repossession orders of privately owned accommodation; temporary structures, dwellings unfit for habitation or dwellings deemed by the housing authority as overcrowded, or

(iv) a person who in the opinion of the authority, is unable to provide accommodation from their own resources or is occupying accommodation which is inadequate or insecure.

(b) For the avoidance of doubt it is hereby declared that a person who had to leave or cannot remain in the home because of domestic violence is considered homeless.

(c) A person homeless by reason of domestic violence is eligible for the Priority Housing List under Exceptional Social Grounds.”.

This amendment places the definition of a homeless person in the Act. Earlier today the Minister made great mention of the Make Room campaign and the work it has done in assisting his Department in the preparation of this Bill. This amendment has been informed by my meetings with the Make Room campaign and it sets out very clearly, eventually and at long last, for the purposes of the Act, a definition of a homeless person. This definition of homelessness is agreed to by all the stakeholders in the Make Room campaign, including the Simon Communities, Focus Ireland, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and other agencies representative of that sector, which, the Chairman will recall, came before us four or five months ago and discussed this issue. Paragraph (a)(ii) of the amendment was formulated following discussions with agencies that do daily work in combatting domestic violence. I updated the initial draft of that amendment following discussion with Make Room and domestic violence agencies.

Deputy Lynch's proposed amendment seeks to insert a new statutory definition of homelessness. The Government has decided in the context of the new homelessness strategy that the statutory definition of homelessness is adequate and does not need to be changed. Rather than get bogged down in the semantics of how homelessness is defined, providing a consistent basis for the practical implementation of the definition across all local authority areas is a more meaningful goal in terms of delivering the necessary supports to homeless people.

We have made clear in the homelessness strategy and in the course of our engagement with representatives of the service providers in the Make Room alliance that we will be reviewing how the definition is applied operationally. Work is being undertaken by the Homeless Agency in partnership with the Centre for Housing Research to develop a position paper on the common operational definition for the Dublin area. This paper will input into a review to be undertaken by the cross-departmental team on homelessness in consultation with the NHCC.

As I am sure the Deputy is aware, FEANSTA has devised a typology and title ethos to assist in the understanding of issues of housing exclusion and the risk of homelessness. To ensure awareness of groups that may be at risk of homelessness, reference is made to the wider ethos typology by the Homeless Agency and by non-governmental bodies. This is relevant to the planning and implementation of the effective responses to homelessness, particularly in the context of prevention.

On paragraphs (b) and (c) of the Deputy’s amendment, under section 11 of the Housing Act 1988 housing authorities must make a scheme of letting priorities to determine the preferences to be afforded to persons in the letting of local authority dwellings. Section 11(2)(c) provides that priority may be afforded under the scheme to emergency cases and such cases could include cases where domestic violence is an issue. The Bill before the committee provides for the repeal of this section but maintains a similar provision at section 22(7)(b) whereby a dwelling may be allocated outside the scheme of letting priorities to a household where there are exceptional compassionate grounds.

I am satisfied that the housing authorities in prioritising households and allocating dwellings have sufficient flexibility under existing and planned legislative provisions to take account of the difficult circumstances that can arise in cases of domestic violence. As I have indicated, I do not propose to amend the definition of homelessness and I ask the Deputy to withdraw the amendment.

For several years I did substantive work on domestic violence. I have been published in European journals on the matter and I have an expertise in this matter, on which one would not like to have any expertise. The Domestic Violence Act was introduced in the early 1990s, overseen by then Minister Deputy Mary Wallace, and it was fine legislation. The critical aspect of the Act was to provide a definition of domestic violence. That allowed the key stakeholders — the police, Judiciary, shelters for the homeless and hostels that deal with women who were abused and assaulted — to interpret and respond to the problem.

For the Minister to say we must not get bogged down in the semantics of a definition is a poor response. The outcome the Make Room campaign wants from this Bill is a definition of homelessness. It was the key point repeated in thousands of e-mails the Minister of State, I and others received requesting such a definition. Rather than getting bogged down in it, we should resolve it.

I have listened to the Minister of State speaking about reports and working groups, but it is like being in a parallel universe. There are all these committees operating outside which will come back with reports. In addition, we have legislation before us that should incorporate those reports. The first time I spoke in the Dáil was to ask when this Bill would come before the House. I asked that question almost monthly since then whether by written, oral or priority parliamentary questions and on the Order of Business. I would almost concede that I should have asked for the Bill to be delayed to have all these reports, to which the Minister of State referred, incorporated in it. We are moving significant legislation while all these reports remain out in the ether. What will happen when all these reports are concluded because by then the Bill will have been enacted? Is there a timing issue here? It may be best to put the Bill, or some aspects of it, on ice to allow these reports to come in. I do not know. Perhaps some correspondence could have been sent to those working groups to say that the Bill will be completed in July and asking them to fast-forward some of their recommendations so they could be incorporated in the Bill. It is not acceptable for the Minister of State to say that he will not place a definition of homelessness in the Bill.

The amendment as presented was given to me by the Make Room campaign. It is their amendment. They are the people with whom the Minister of State is in consultation. They want this amendment accepted, so the stakeholders are in agreement with it. The Minister of State should not worry about it because there is no consultation difficulty whereby we are doing something blind concerning the relevant agencies. They are on side with the amendment. We can drive this matter on until the cows come home, but the idea that we will not have a definition of homelessness in the Bill beggars belief. I ask the Minister of State to accept the amendment as it stands and to ensure that a definition of homelessness is inserted in the Bill before Report Stage.

I absolutely reject the notion that there is any outstanding matter regarding homelessness. We dealt with it and waited until Committee Stage to introduce amendments for the implementation plan. I am glad to say that the MakeRoom Alliance has agreed to that. Only last week, on 3 June, it issued a statement as follows:

On behalf of the MakeRoom Alliance I want to welcome the content of a new chapter of amendments published today by Minister Finneran's office. They are important amendments to an important piece of legislation. We will be urging all TDs to support these amendments and ensure that the Housing Bill 2008, with these amendments, is passed by the Houses of the Oireachtas before the summer break. MakeRoom has had ongoing and positive dialogue with Minister Finneran and his Department officials on this issue and we are pleased the amendments published today are reflective of that dialogue.

I waited until we had the implementation plan because that is where the meat of the implementation was to be. Last week, we met the Make Room Alliance and that is its response. I accept that some time back, on Second Stage, a letter or e-mail was circulated to Deputies. I responded and had my response published on its website, for which I thank it. I do not want to speak for the MakeRoom Alliance here but I have quoted what it said. Since then I have had the implementation plan and have put the necessary provisions into law. That is what we are dealing with today in the first part of our debate. As I have read out, those amendments were accepted. That press release is a public document which was issued on 3 June. Therefore I am not doing something that is half-baked or should be left aside. These are concrete legislative proposals that will put into law the provisions of the implementation plan. I indicated to the MakeRoom Alliance that I was not prepared to redefine homelessness. It knows my position on that and generally accepted that would be the case. It issued the press release after that meeting in the Custom House.

On the Minister of State's response, I am not asking him to redefine homelessness. I am asking him to define homelessness because the current legislation, as drafted, does not do so. One of the difficulties of which the Minister of State is aware concerns the true extent of homelessness. Some of the Minister of State's predecessors and colleagues have disputed the homelessness figures as issued by the relevant agencies. The agencies say that several thousand people are homeless, but Government spokespersons dispute those figures. Providing a definition of what homelessness is would be of benefit to us all in determining how many homeless people are in the country. It would also allow local authorities to define how many homeless people are in their regions. As the Minister of State said earlier, homelessness may originate in rural areas but it gravitates towards highly populated urban areas. The problem can often disappear into little alleyways, such as we see outside Leinster House every night when we leave.

I welcome the fact that the Minister of State has covered ground in dealing with homelessness since he took over from his predecessor. When his predecessor held the baton on this matter there was nothing at all there, so I welcome what he has done since assuming his current portfolio. I find it hard to figure out, however. On my earlier point, an entire Act — the Domestic Violence Act — had to be built around a definition and that Act could not proceed without such a definition being given. How can we ultimately resolve the plight of homeless people in society when we do not have a definition of homelessness? If we do not have such a definition, how will we know when the problem has ended?

I want to be very clear on this. We do have a definition of homelessness. It is important to put that on the record. Section 2 of the Housing Act 1988 defines a person as homeless if, (a) there is no accommodation available which, in the opinion of the authority, he, together with any other person who normally resides with him or who might reasonably be expected to reside with him, can reasonably occupy or remain in occupation of, or (b) he is living in a hospital, county home, night shelter or other such institution, and is so living because he has no accommodation of the kind referred to and he is, in the opinion of the authority, unable to provide accommodation from his own resources. That is the provision in law. This definition is generally interpreted as including people living in temporary or insecure accommodation, emergency bed and breakfast accommodation and hostels or HSE accommodation because they have no other accommodation available to them. Those sleeping rough and victims of domestic violence are also included.

The Government decided, in the context of the homelessness strategy, that the statutory definition of homelessness would not be changed. However, a review is under way to see how the definition is applied operationally, for example, to ensure consistency in practice across local authorities. The position has been made clear in the homelessness strategy and also in the course of engagement with representatives of service providers in the MakeRoom Alliance. There is a definition of homelessness and the alliance is aware of our position on it. We have indicated to the alliance that we are investigating how the definition is applied on an operational basis. It is important that this be stated because I would not want it thought that there is no definition of homelessness or that we are ignoring the matter. I appreciate the Deputy's involvement and expertise in this area. He has also spoken of domestic violence. However, there is a definition in the 1988 Act and we have committed that it will be applied consistently across local authorities. The definition referred to in section 2 of the 1988 Act does not prevent homeless services from being provided. That is a crucial point.

A further crucial point is that there is no consistency across local authorities under the current definition. There is certainly no consistency when it comes to counting the number of homeless people in the State. I have heard that predecessors of the Minister of State came into conflict with homeless agencies over whether figures were exaggerated. That is neither here nor there.

It is a credit to the Minister of State and the officials in his Department who drafted the legislation that for the first time in the history of the State homelessness is being taken seriously on a legislative basis. It is also a credit to the people who campaigned to ensure this issue was on the table in the first place. However, there will be difficulties if homelessness is not redefined so the counting of homeless people by local authorities can be made consistent. Everyone knows that the solution to homelessness is to get rid of it, rather than deal with it. The definition given in the amendment will add to the value of the work the Minister of State wants to do in this area. We all want to see this work accomplished so I will press the amendment because it will be of benefit in abolishing homelessness, once and for all.

As I said in my initial response, work is being done by the Homeless Agency, in partnership with the Centre for Housing Research, to develop a position paper on a common operational definition for the Dublin area. The paper will inform the review to be undertaken by the cross-departmental team on homelessness. We want consistency across the local authority system.

My final point relates to the scale of homelessness. Figures are thrown around quite a bit but the three-yearly Counted In report on the number of homeless people in Dublin by the Homeless Agency is generally accepted as accurate. The report published in December 2008 indicated that 1,436 households, involving a total of 1,634 individuals, were homeless in 2008. These figures compare with 1,361 households in 2005. There has been an increase of around 5% but when allowance is made for the population increase of 5%, the real position is unchanged. A further 708 households were recorded as residing in long-term or traditional accommodation. It would not be correct to regard all of these as homeless because some are in suitable accommodation that is likely to provide an appropriate home in the long term and some have begun to make the transition from homelessness.

By nature, homelessness is difficult to quantify. Counted In helps by including people who, due to their circumstances, might not have registered as needing housing and might not have been included in the statutory assessment. Counted In is widely accepted, including by service providers in the area of homelessness, as the most accurate measure of homelessness. The number of people reported as sleeping rough in Dublin has fallen considerably from 185 in 2005 to 110 — this is a reduction of 41%. The most recent count of people sleeping rough was undertaken in April 2009 and indicated 98 people were sleeping rough.

The Counted In figures for Cork, Limerick and Galway cities indicated a total of 767 households were homeless in 2008. It should be noted, however, that these figures include households in long-term and traditional accommodation. A figure of 5,000 homeless people has been mentioned on several occasions in the course of debates recently but the basis for that figure is not clear. The figure has not been substantiated and is likely to include many people who should not be classified as homeless.

Amendment put and declared lost.

As it is now after 8 p.m. I propose to conclude business for the day.

Progress reported; Committee to sit again.
The select committee adjourned at 8.10 p.m. until 9.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 10 June 2009.