I propose to take Questions Nos. 62 and 94 together.
Applications for social housing support are assessed by the relevant local authority, in accordance with the eligibility and need criteria set down in section 20 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 and the associated Social Housing Assessment Regulations 2011, as amended.
The 2011 Regulations prescribe maximum net income limits for each local authority, in different bands according to the area concerned, with income being defined and assessed according to a standard Household Means Policy. Under the Household Means Policy, which applies in all local authorities, net income for social housing assessment is defined as gross household income less income tax, PRSI and the universal social charge. The Policy provides for a range of income disregards, and local authorities also have discretion to decide to disregard income that is temporary, short-term or once off in nature.
The income bands and the authority area assigned to each band were based on an assessment of the income needed to provide for a household's basic needs, plus a comparative analysis of the local rental cost of housing accommodation across the country. It is important to note that the limits introduced at that time also reflected a blanket increase of €5,000 introduced prior to the new system coming into operation, in order to broaden the base from which social housing tenants are drawn, both promoting sustainable communities and also providing a degree of future-proofing.
Given the cost to the State of providing social housing, it is considered prudent and fair to direct resources to those most in need of social housing support. The current income eligibility requirements generally achieve this, providing for a fair and equitable system of identifying those households facing the greatest challenge in meeting their accommodation needs from their own resources.
However, as part of the broader social housing reform agenda, a review of income eligibility for social housing supports in each local authority area is under way. The review will also have regard to current initiatives being brought forward in terms of affordability and cost rental and will be completed when the impacts of these parallel initiatives have been considered.
The Government has introduced a number of affordability measures to support people who wish to purchase their own homes. In particular, following a review of the previous two existing local authority home loan schemes, the House Purchase Loan and the Home Choice Loan, a new loan offering, known as the Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan, was introduced with effect from 1 February 2018. The loan enables credit worthy first time buyers to access sustainable mortgage lending to purchase new or second-hand properties in a suitable price range. The low rate of fixed interest associated with the Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan provides first time buyers with access to mortgage finance that they may not have otherwise been able to afford at a higher interest rate.
As with previous local authority house purchase loan finance, the Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan is available to first time buyers only. This is to ensure the effective targeting of limited resources.
My Department publishes information on the overall number and value of (i) local authority loan approvals and (ii) local authority loan drawdowns for the RIHL. Local authority approval means that an official letter of offer has been sent to a borrower (and therefore relates to a specific property and loan amount). Information on the RIHL up to Quarter 2 2019, including in relation to the number and value of mortgage approvals and drawdowns and also average loan amounts, is available on the Department's website at the following link:
Additionally, the Help To Buy (HTB) incentive, announced in Budget 2017, is designed to assist first-time buyers with the deposit required to purchase or self-build a new house or apartment to live in as their home. The incentive provides for a refund of Income Tax and DIRT paid over the previous four tax years, limited to a maximum of 5% of the purchase value. The HTB refund is capped at €20,000. As of 30 November 2019, 15,903 HTB claims had been approved, to a value of €236m.
The Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure extended the initiative in its current form in Budget 2020. This means that the HTB initiative will remain in place for another two years until 31 December 2021.