Social and Affordable Housing

Question Nos. 332 and 333 answered with Question No. 296.

Questions (331)

Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire

Question:

331. Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the number of persons on the housing list in the Carrigaline, Crosshaven, Passage West local electoral area; and the number of social and affordable houses scheduled to be built in the next 12 months in the area in tabular form. [7069/21]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

My Department publishes details on the number of households qualified for social housing support in the annual Summary of Social Housing Assessments (SSHA). The SSHA provides details of the numbers of households across a number of categories but does not include a breakdown by electoral area. The most recently published SSHA relates to data in June 2019 and shows that the number of households on the housing waiting list for Cork County was 2,533. The report is available at the following link https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/29da7-summary-of-social-housing-assessments-2019-key-findings/

My Department also publishes comprehensive programme level statistics on a quarterly basis on all social housing delivery activity. This is published on the statistics page of my Department’s website, at the following link: https://www.gov.ie/en/collection/6060e-overall-social-housing-provision/ . The most recent data is for Quarter 3 2020. The data for Quarter 4 2020 is being compiled and the report will be published as soon as it is available.

My Department has also published the Quarter 3 2020 Social Housing Construction Status Report, which provides details of all social housing developments under construction in each local authority. The report is available at the following link: https://rebuildingireland.ie/news/minister-obrien-publishes-social-housing-construction-status-report-for-q2-2020-2/. The Quarter 4 2020 report is being compiled and will be published as soon as it is available. The Report identifies the quarter in which local authority social housing construction projects started on site, including those that started in the preceding 12 months. Projects identified in the Report as at 'Stage 4 approved or Final Turnkey/CALF approval' have been approved by my Department and will start on site in 2021 (or may have started in Q4 of 2020), subject to restrictions arising from the response to Covid-19.

In relation to affordable housing, I published the Affordable Housing Bill 2020 on 20 January 2021, which provides for the introduction of three schemes delivering on the Programme for Government commitment to put affordability at the heart of the housing system. These schemes will enhance the supply of affordable homes on local authority lands, deliver a new affordable purchase shared equity scheme and provide for the introduction of a new form of tenure in Cost Rental.

Affordable homes on local authority land are to be made available through the support of the €310 million Serviced Sites Fund (SSF). To date, nine projects have been granted SSF approval in principle in Cork City and Cork County. This includes the development at Boherboy in Cork City which will deliver the first phase of affordable homes later this year. Affordable homes delivered under the SSF will be made available at ‘purchase prices‘ of between 10% and 40% on open market values. The discount provided will remain as a fully-repayable equity charge against the property. All applications from local authorities must demonstrate that there is an affordability challenge in their area and that they can deliver affordable housing at least 10% below market value.

The details of 35 SSF projects that have been granted approval can be found at the following links:

https://rebuildingireland.ie/news/minister-murphy-gives-the-go-ahead-for-ten-local-authority-sites-for-affordable-housing-under-the-serviced-sites-fund/, and

https://rebuildingireland.ie/news/minister-murphy-approves-funding-of-e84m-to-support-delivery-of-1770-affordable-homes-under-the-ssf/.

Question Nos. 332 and 333 answered with Question No. 296.

Horticulture Sector

Questions (334, 340)

Martin Browne

Question:

334. Deputy Martin Browne asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if his Department has carried out an analysis of the impact of replacing Irish horticultural peat with imported peat prior to the end of peat harvesting. [7083/21]

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Martin Browne

Question:

340. Deputy Martin Browne asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage when the working group on the future role of peat in the horticulture sector will be established. [7177/21]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 334 and 340 together.

Action 5 of the National Peatlands Strategy provides for a review of the use of peat moss in the horticultural industry. To undertake the review, the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht established an inter-agency working group. A report on the Review of the use of Peat Moss in the Horticultural Industry was prepared by the working group on the basis of the submissions received in response to an issues paper on the matter. This report was published by me on 7 September 2020.

I am in the process of establishing a working group, to include representatives from relevant Government Departments and State Agencies, Environmental Non-Governmental Organisations and Industry Stakeholders under an independent chairperson, to examine the issues identified during the review, and, in particular:

- Reducing and ultimately eliminating the use of peat moss in the amateur gardening sector in order to leave what remains in use for the industry sector to buy time to develop alternatives, enabling food security and to provide industry surety.

- Graduating the elimination of the use of peat moss in the horticultural industry over an agreed period of years with an agreed end date.

- Finance and support for those workers whose skills cannot be accommodated in proposed alternative industries.

- Investment in further research into the development, education and use of alternatives to peat moss, such as bark, wood fibre, coir, biosolids, bracken and green compost, perlite, vermiculite, rockwool, and horticultural clay and in new methods of farming such as paludiculture and sphagnum farming.

- Up-skilling the existing workforce to regenerate the existing bogs for use in paludiculture, eco-tourism, carbon farming, and tree farming as appropriate to optimise environmental outcomes.

- Quantifying the value of the existing viable peat lands as carbon sinks and then determine a carbon market to incentivise owners and operators of peat lands to preserve, rewet or restore their assets.

- Educating the public to the benefits of what would be proposed to include the climate and environmental benefits, the economic, social, cultural and public health benefits.

I hope to be in a position to appoint a chairperson to the working group shortly. Thereafter, invitations to nominate representatives to the working group will issue from my Department.

Housing Issues

Questions (335)

Francis Noel Duffy

Question:

335. Deputy Francis Noel Duffy asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if his attention has been drawn to the purchase of property (details supplied) by foreign investors; the tax rate investors will pay on rental income; the impact these foreign investment firms' block purchases have on housing affordability; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7087/21]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

The Programme for Government, ‘Our Shared Future’, commits to putting affordability at the heart of the housing system, which the Government has prioritised in Budget 2021 by providing for a suite of affordable housing measures totalling €468 million. This will be utilised across two new programmes announced in Budget 2021 to deliver affordable homes to purchase or rent, as well as the existing Serviced Sites Fund, the Local Infrastructure Housing Activation Fund, the Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan, and through the Land Development Agency.

Government approved the priority drafting of the Affordable Housing Bill 2020 on 22 December 2020, and I published the General Scheme on 20 January 20 last. The Bill includes provisions to underpin three schemes delivering on the Programme for Government commitment to prioritise the increased supply of affordable homes through (1) affordable homes delivered by local authorities (2) a new affordable purchase shared equity scheme for private homes and (3) the introduction of a new form of tenure in Cost Rental.

Taxation policy in general is a matter for my colleague the Minister for Finance.

Irish Water

Questions (336)

Francis Noel Duffy

Question:

336. Deputy Francis Noel Duffy asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if his Department will transfer all wastewater treatment plants to Irish Water including those owned by an organisation (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7088/21]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

Section 12 of the Water Services (No. 2) Act 2013 provides for the transfer, by Ministerial Order, of the property of a water services authority (a city council, county council or city and county council) to Irish Water. This transfer of assets arises solely in the context of the establishment of Irish Water which, since 1 January 2014, has assumed statutory responsibility for all aspects of the planning, delivery and operation of the public water systems for which local water services authorities were previously responsible. Other entities do not come within the scope of the Act.

Housing Data

Questions (337)

Francis Noel Duffy

Question:

337. Deputy Francis Noel Duffy asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the breakdown of housing delivery targets for 2022; the projected number of units provided by approved housing bodies, local authorities and under Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7089/21]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

Increasing the supply of housing, particularly new build social and affordable is a priority for me and for this Government. The Programme for Government commits to increasing the social housing stock by more than 50,000, with an emphasis on new builds. Budget 2021 provides €3.3 billion for the delivery of housing. Subject to the impact of the Covid related restrictions on the construction sector, the available funding will deliver 12,750 new social homes through build, acquisition and leasing. A major focus of this investment is the delivery of new build, with an overall target of 9,500 new homes and the increased build targets will see increased local authority build on local authority land.

The Government will be publishing a new housing strategy this year, which will set out details of social housing delivery for 2021-2025, including social housing targets for 2022 onwards.

Departmental Expenditure

Questions (338)

Eoin Ó Broin

Question:

338. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the amount spent by his Department in responding to the collective complaint brought to the European Court of Human Rights, Strasbourg regarding conditions in local authority properties; and the breakdown of those costs by type including legal fees, communications, research and any other category that may be relevant. [7133/21]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

The response to the collective complaint brought by the International Federation for Human Rights to the European Committee of Social Rights in relation to a number of articles of the Revised European Social Charter was led by the Department of Foreign Affairs. Any legal costs arising from the complaint are dealt with by that Department. Any staffing or resource costs arising for my Department in providing material responding to the complaint have not been separately itemised or costed.

Heritage Sites

Question No. 340 answered with Question No. 334.

Questions (339)

Christopher O'Sullivan

Question:

339. Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if consideration will be given to allocating funding for protected structures, giving due regard to the number of protected structures within County Cork; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7167/21]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

My Department provides financial support for the protection of heritage buildings and historic structures through two grant schemes which are, in the main, administered by the local authorities. These are the Historic Structures Fund (HSF) and the Built Heritage Investment Scheme (BHIS).

The HSF is for conservation and enhancement to heritage structures and historic buildings, in both private and public ownership, for the benefit of communities and the public. This scheme operates across all counties, including County Cork. The allocation for the HSF in 2021 is €3 million, against €1.8 million in 2020.

The BHIS is a scheme for the repair and conservation of structures on the local authority Record of Protected Structures (RPS). It is designed to leverage private capital for investment in small scale conservation projects across the country and to support the employment of skilled conservation professionals.

The allocation for the BHIS in 2021 is €3 million, against €2.5 million in 2020. The allocation for Cork City Council is €114,000 and €94,800 for Cork County Council. The annual funding allocated to each City and County Council under the BHIS is based on the number of protected structures in the geographical area of that local authority, having regard to the population of that area on a ratio of 80/20 pro-rata. Where a local authority underspends in a particular year, that money can be reallocated to another local authority, ensuring that funding is directed to where it is most needed.

The operation of the scheme is kept under review and the method of allocating funds, including the number of structures on the RPS, will be among the matters to be considered in the next review, which is due to take place this summer.

Last year I also introduced the Community Monuments Fund (CMF) for conservation and other works at our national monuments, many of which are protected structures. It is administered by the National Monuments Service of my Department through the local authorities. The CMF for 2021 is due to be launched in the coming weeks. It will invest essential funding in our valuable archaeological heritage and help the owners and custodians of archaeological monuments to safeguard them into the future for the benefit of communities and the public. The core aims of the CMF are the conservation, maintenance, protection and promotion of local monuments and historic sites and will:

- enable conservation works to be carried out on monuments which are deemed to be significant and in need of urgent support;

- encourage access to monuments and improve their presentation;

- build resilience in our monuments to enable them to withstand the effects of climate change

Question No. 340 answered with Question No. 334.

Rental Sector

Questions (341)

Emer Higgins

Question:

341. Deputy Emer Higgins asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the person or body that pays the management fees for properties in private developments let through HAP and RAS. [7230/21]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

The Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) is a flexible and immediate housing support that is available to all eligible households throughout the State. Under HAP, a tenant sources their own accommodation in the private rented market. The tenancy agreement is between the tenant and the landlord and is governed by the Residential Tenancies Acts.

Under the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2014, HAP provides for the payment of rent for a dwelling to a landlord on behalf of a qualified household. HAP support, therefore, would not extend to additional costs such as management fees.

The Rental Accommodation Scheme (RAS) places responsibility on local authorities to meet the accommodation needs of people who are in receipt of Rent Supplement for 18 months or longer, and who are assessed as having a long-term housing need. The scheme is delivered by local authorities who source accommodation from the private market and Approved Housing Bodies.

Where a property is sourced, the local authority enters into a contractual arrangement with the Approved Housing Body or private landlord to make the property available to RAS for an agreed term at an agreed monthly rent. Recoupment is made to local authorities, by my Department, to cover only the contracted rents due to private landlords and Approved Housing Bodies.

Local Authority Housing

Questions (342)

Cian O'Callaghan

Question:

342. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if local authority council housing tenants are permitted to make complaints to the Residential Tenancies Board given that social housing tenants of approved housing bodies are permitted; if not, if he will consider amending the relevant legislation to permit council tenants to take complaints to the RTB; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7334/21]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

The Residential Tenancies Acts cover tenancies in the private rental sector. The Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Act 2015 amended the 2004 Residential Tenancies Act and brought tenancies of Approved Housing Bodies under the remit of the Residential Tenancies Board.

The Housing Acts 1966 to 2019 govern local authority housing tenancies. Local authority social housing tenants can avail of the Customer Complaints Procedure that is in place in all local authorities and can be availed of regarding any issues they may have in dealing with their local authority related to their housing situation.

Following the making and processing of any such complaint, if a local authority tenant still considers that they have been adversely affected by a local authority's action, or lack of action, that they consider to be unfair or unreasonable, it is open to them make a complaint to the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman can examine complaints about how local authorities carry out their everyday executive and administrative activities. These include complaints about delays or failures to take action.

I have no plans to extend the provisions of these Residential Tenancies Acts to local authority tenants to enable them to make complaints to the Residential Tenancies Board at this time.

Housing Assistance Payment

Questions (343, 344)

Cian O'Callaghan

Question:

343. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if his attention has been drawn to the increased waiting times to access homeless HAP; the steps taken to reduce these waiting times; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7337/21]

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Cian O'Callaghan

Question:

344. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the current waiting times for access to homeless HAP; the way in which these waiting times compare to 2018, 2019 and 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7338/21]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 343 and 344 together.

The Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) is a form of social housing support for people who have a long-term housing need. In order for a household to qualify for HAP, they must first be assessed as eligible for social housing support by their local authority. Any household assessed as eligible for social housing is immediately eligible for HAP.

Under HAP, households at risk of homelessness may be eligible for additional supports. To qualify for specific additional supports available to homeless households, a household must have been determined by the relevant local authority to be homeless within the meaning of section 2 of the Housing Act 1988. The operation of local homeless services, including the Place Finder Service, is a matter for each local authority.

Despite the challenges faced throughout 2020 due to the Covid emergency measures, local authorities and the Housing Assistance Payment Shared Service Centre (HAP SSC) have continued to provide a critical service to all HAP customers. This is evident in the high number of HAP tenancies that continued to be set-up. The 2020 HAP target was 15,750 additional tenancies and, at the end of Q3 2020, 11,887 HAP tenancies (76% of target) had been established.

Measures that were required to be taken in the context of Covid-19, however, have had an impact on processing times for HAP applications, including Homeless HAP Applications. The average processing time at end Q2, 2020 was 40 days. An analysis of more recent data from the HAP SSC indicates a reduction on that average processing time at end Q3, 2020 to 38 days.

The HAP application form comes in two parts, Section A to be completed by the applicant tenant and Section B to be completed by the landlord or agent. An application for HAP will only be accepted by the local authority when both Section A and Section B are completed, signed and returned, along with the required supporting documentation. Any delay in tenants and landlords supplying this information will impact on the processing time of the HAP application. The earliest date a HAP payment to the landlord will apply from is the date a complete and valid HAP application has been received by the local authority.

Once a HAP application has been received and confirmed as valid by the relevant local authority, it is entered on the system by the local authority and then submitted for processing and payment by the HAP Shared Service Centre. HAP application processing times within local authorities may vary. If there are delays at the processing stage within a local authority, payment to the landlord may be backdated to the date on which a complete and valid application form was received by the local authority. The landlord is therefore not penalised for any delay.

Limerick City and County Council provide a highly effective HAP transactional shared service on behalf of all local authorities. The HAP Shared Services Centre (HAP SSC) manages all HAP related rental transactions for the tenant, local authority and landlord. Once a HAP application has been received and confirmed as valid by the relevant local authority, it is then processed by the HAP SSC. Any rental payment arising for a given month will then be made to a landlord on the last Wednesday of that month.

The average processing time of a HAP application, including Homeless HAP applications, is provided in the following table:

Average for the Quarter

Q4 2018

27 days

Q4 2019

34 days

Q3 2020 *

38 days

*Q4 2020 HAP data is not available at this time.

Through our ongoing engagement with local authorities my Department has stressed the need to minimise delays in processing these vital applications to ensure the social housing needs of tenants can be met through the HAP scheme where required. My Department is closely monitoring this situation and will continue to do so over the coming months.

Housing Data

Questions (345)

Cian O'Callaghan

Question:

345. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the per-person cost of Housing First; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7339/21]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

Housing First enables homeless individuals with high levels of complex needs to obtain permanent secure accommodation with the provision of intensive housing and health supports to help the individuals concerned maintain their tenancies.

The National Implementation Plan for Housing First, published in September 2018, which puts the programme on a national footing, is designed to provide this response, by delivering permanent housing solutions and associated supports for rough sleepers and long-term users of emergency accommodation. It extends the delivery of Housing First nationally, with the introduction of targets for each local authority. The Plan includes an overall target of 663 tenancies in the period 2018-2021. The implementation of the Plan is a joint initiative of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, the Department of Health, the HSE and the local authorities.

Over the three years between 2018 and 2020, my Department has provided some €9m in funding to local authorities to accelerate the roll out of the Plan nationally. This does not include the cost of providing the units, which are delivered under the social housing programme. Due to the tailored response to individual circumstances of each Housing First client, my Department is not in a position to specify a single representative figure for the cost of a housing first tenancy.

Planning Issues

Questions (346)

Steven Matthews

Question:

346. Deputy Steven Matthews asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the position regarding the roll-out of a nationwide e-planning system. [7347/21]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

The ePlanning project which is currently being developed seeks to integrate the IT systems of the 31 planning authorities using a single online portal allowing for the online submission of planning applications, appeals, submissions and associated fees. Once fully rolled out, ePlanning will provide an online option for the public to engage with the planning system, in addition to the paper based system.

The Local Government Management Agency (LGMA) is managing and co-ordinating the development of the ePlanning project on behalf of the Department. The experience of operating the planning system during the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance role that online technology would make in the future. Consequently, the ePlanning Project Board has been requested by my Department to consider the acceleration of the development and rollout of ePlanning nationwide with a view to bringing the system onstream as speedily as possible. The proposed system is now in its final stages of development and testing further to which it is envisaged that the LGMA's rollout of ePlanning nationwide to all local authorities will be completed on a phased basis by Q2 2022.

Local Authority Staff

Questions (347)

Cian O'Callaghan

Question:

347. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if recently retired and resigned local authority planning officials are subject to a cooling-off period after they retire or resign before they can go out on their own as private sector planners; if so, the length of the cooling-off period; if there is an enforcement mechanism in circumstances in which there is a suspected breach; if so, the body which holds the enforcement powers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7367/21]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

The Code of Conduct for Employees in a Local Authority, which issued under Section 169 of the Local Government Act, 2001 deals with these matters.

An employee intending to accept an appointment that could give rise to a conflict of interest should inform the appropriate authority of such intention. An employee below Director of Services level should inform or apply, as appropriate, to the Chief Executive of the local authority in which he or she is serving.

Also, employees to whom Part 15 of the Local Government Act, 2001 (Ethical Framework for the Local Government Service) applies shall not, within twelve months of resignation or retirement, accept an offer of employment or consultancy engagement where the nature and terms are such that the question of a conflict of interest could arise without obtaining the approval of the appropriate authority. The twelve month period applies to an employee to whom Part 15 of the Local Government Act, 2001 applied at any time during the six month period immediately prior to retirement or resignation.

This is a matter for the Chief Executive of the relevant local authority.

Natura 2000

Questions (348)

Cian O'Callaghan

Question:

348. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if consideration will be given to providing public information signage at appropriate locations for a European Natura 2000 site (details supplied) to ensure better public understanding of the site and the reasons for its designation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7368/21]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

The special area of conservation site referred to in the Deputy’s Question is not in the ownership of the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage. Accordingly, the issue of signage at the site would be a matter for the local authority concerned.

Housing Provision

Questions (349, 350)

Neale Richmond

Question:

349. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if his Department has programmes in place to assist single parent families to access housing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7369/21]

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Neale Richmond

Question:

350. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the priority given to single parent families when accessing social housing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7370/21]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 349 and 350 together.

It is open to anyone to apply for social housing support, applications for which 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.

Section 22 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 requires all local authorities, as a reserved function, to make an allocation scheme determining the order of priority to be accorded in the allocation of dwellings to households qualified for social housing support and to households approved for a transfer, the allocation of which would, in the opinion of the authority, meet the accommodation needs and requirements of the households.

It is the local authority which assesses housing applicants, taking into account factors such as the condition and affordability of existing accommodation, medical and compassionate grounds, etc. The authority then prioritises the needs of approved applicants in accordance with its allocation scheme.

The Programme for Government commits to putting affordability at the heart of the housing system. To this end programmes are in development which will be specifically aimed at supporting middle income earners. The Affordable Housing Bill 2020 which I published in January provides for new affordable purchase and Cost Rental Schemes and it is intended to see the first homes delivered under the schemes in 2021. The schemes will complement other existing initiatives such as the Rebuilding Ireland Home loan and Help to Buy Scheme.