I propose to take Questions Nos. 668 and 669 together.
The right of local authorities to set and collect rents on their dwellings is laid down in section 58 of the Housing Act 1966. The making or amending of a rent scheme is an executive function and is subject to broad principles set out by my Department including that –
- the rent payable should be related to income and a smaller proportion of income should be required from low income households;
- provision should be included for the acceptance of a lower rent than that required under the terms of the scheme in exceptional cases where payment of the normal rent would give rise to hardship;
- appropriate local factors should be taken into account including the costs of the maintenance and management of the stock of rented dwellings and the adequacy of the rental income to meet such costs.
Since 1986 when rent setting was devolved to individual local authorities, different approaches have been taken to rent charging and setting across the country. There are currently 36 differential rents schemes in operation nationwide. While local authorities generally follow the Household Means Policy (which applies for assessment of eligibility for social housing) there is variation in the extent to which they apply the income disregards set out in that policy in their Differential Rent Schemes and differing approaches are taken to, for example, Working Family Payment and Carers Allowance.
Considerable work has been carried out by my Department in developing a draft national differential rents framework for the purposes of section 31 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009. Such a framework has as its main aim the harmonisation of local authority rents, including a set of standardised income disregards, whilst retaining the general principle of rents related to household income.
This work is now being examined further in the light of the broader commitment given in the Rebuilding Ireland Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness, to review the disparate systems of differential rent for social housing in place across local authorities. The overall objective is to ensure that housing supports are fair and sustainable and prioritise those on lowest incomes. I expect that the review will be completed in the near future.