In April 2018 the Department of Finance published the Stability Programme Update for 2018 which was the first set of fiscal projections produced by that Department to incorporate the CSO decision to reclassify the majority of Tier 3 Approved Housing Bodies (AHBs) as part of the local government sector. This was an important first step in the Government's assessment as to the impact of the Eurostat decision. The Department of Finance undertook an analysis of the implications for General Government Expenditure and General Government Debt and concluded that there are no direct Exchequer implications and the projections do not present any particular issue in the context of the fiscal rules.
In addition, my Department has been engaging with AHB sector representative bodies (namely, the Irish Council for Social Housing and the Housing Alliance) and examining, in detail, proposals, including proposals which were presented by those bodies, as a possible means to achieve reclassification. The proposals are complex as they cut across a wide range of social housing policy issues and require extensive analysis.
An important part of this exercise is to examine the feasibility of measures which can be taken to develop the AHB sector in such as way so that it could be reclassified as being 'off-balance sheet', without undermining the foundations of social housing policy. In this context, it must be accepted that this will more likely be a more longer term objective.
Constructive discussions have taken place with AHB representative bodies on a number of occasions and are informing a pathway for dealing with the issues involved. It was agreed that a working group would be established to consider these issues further.
Although that group has not yet had the opportunity to formally meet, work is continuing on this matter and my Department continues to engage with all stakeholders and to liaise with the Department of Finance and the Central Statistics Office to ensure any new or additional information can be brought forward for consideration.
Notwithstanding the decision by Eurostat, the Government continues to see a central role for the voluntary housing sector in contributing to the delivery of social housing under Rebuilding Ireland. It is committed to using all mechanisms and schemes, including through the AHB sector, to ensure that we maintain the momentum towards meeting the ambitious 50,000 social housing target under the Action Plan. I have communicated to both the local authorities and the AHB sector that this statistical classification will not affect ambitious plans under Rebuilding Ireland.