Wednesday, 5 May 2021

Questions (32)

Thomas Pringle


32. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if he will consider raising the financial threshold for an applicant to qualify for entry on to the housing list given that it is currently €25,000 for a single applicant or couple in County Donegal which is too low to allow a person to purchase a house; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22676/21]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Housing)

The financial threshold to qualify for entry onto the Donegal County Council housing list is €25,000. That threshold is for a single applicant or couple and, as the Minister knows, there is a small increase for children. It is simply far too low. What can be done as a matter of urgency to raise this threshold, especially given that Donegal County Council has finally received an increase in the funding allocation for housing? It is not enough and it is too little too late, but small increases are welcome. The funding provided to Donegal County Council for the delivery of housing programmes for 2016-20 is set out. How will housing be delivered?

It is a fair question, and one that I have asked. Deputy Pringle will respond to my reply.

Applications for social housing support are assessed by the relevant local authority, in accordance with the eligibility conditions set down under the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 and the associated social housing assessment regulations 2011, as amended. The regulations prescribe net income limits for each local authority in three different bands, as Deputy Pringle will know. The income bands are expressed in terms of a maximum net income threshold for a single person household of between €25,000 and €30,000, depending on the area, with additional allowances for further adults and children.

Given the cost to the State of providing social housing, it is considered prudent and fair to direct resources to those who need social housing support the most. We would all agree with that. 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.

It is important to state that as part of the broader social housing reform agenda, a review of income eligibility for socialising support in each local authority is under way. The review will have regard to current initiatives being brought forward in terms of affordable housing. That will be important because it will deal with the next cohort above the social housing limit and how we can deliver cost rental and affordable housing at scale, which I hope the Deputy will support. We brought forward the terms of the affordable cost rental housing scheme, and the review will be completed when the impacts of these parallel initiatives have been completed. I want to bring it to a conclusion, to be very honest. I expect it to be concluded this year. We will then examine whether there should be a band system into the future and what the levels need to be.

The system needs to fit in with the new cost rental scheme, which is the next threshold for people, and the affordable rental model which deals with people who are just above the social housing income limits. The review is well under way at each local authority level.

It is to be hoped the situation will be reviewed. I would not have much faith in the review and I do not think it will deliver anything further. Last week I had to tell a mother with three children that she could not get on the housing list because her income was far too high, at €26,000 a year. It is ridiculous.

This affects people right across the board. This is a cynical way for this Government and previous Governments to massage the figures for people who depend on social housing. In Donegal there are 1,849 people in HAP tenancies and 510 people in RAS tenancies, yet the Minister has said there are only 926 people on the housing list. It is mental. It is a way of keeping the figures down. That is all it is. The Government is not dealing with the issues. People cannot get houses and they cannot live in these situations.

Deputy Pringle has asked a question and I have answered it straight. The review is under way. The Deputy need not try to make something out of it that it is not. I have said it on the record of the Dáil. I mean it. The review needs to happen, and it is happening. It has to take into account the new measures on affordability we are introducing. I am bringing changes forward for larger families. I have already signed them in respect of the additional income that would be permitted per child. Some of those measures are coming through.

Further social housing reform is required. A lot of work has been done by me and my colleagues in the Department on that issue. I expect in the autumn of this year to bring some of those reforms forward. I intend that the review will be completed this year. I am not trying to massage any figures or anything like it. We have the single biggest budget in the history of the State for the delivery of social housing.

I have been in Donegal with Deputy Pringle and have seen the homes delivered by the local authorities there. There are some fantastic estates. Donegal County Council has more money now than it has ever had to deliver social homes, and I want it to do more. That is the target we have set this year. I assume the Deputy will support us in that endeavour.

The reality is that there were 30 houses delivered in Donegal. I was there on the day the Minister launched the estate. There are 1,600 people on the housing list in Donegal town but only 30 houses. That is shocking. The list is not accurate because it does not take into account the people who are just over the income level to get on the housing list and cannot provide housing for themselves. There is also a ridiculous situation in Donegal whereby landlords will not sign up to HAP or RAS. Applicants are left hanging. It is left to applicants to complain, which would mean penalising themselves further.

The Minister said we will see changes by the end of the year. That is fair enough; let us see the changes. I hope they will be real changes.

I expect to have a full and wide-ranging debate in the autumn when we bring forward some of the changes. A fair bit of work is required. We have not had a review in this regard for well over ten years. It is long overdue.

We face a major challenge in regard to social housing delivery. We have to be ambitious in terms of delivering them, but we also have to be realistic. I think we are. The Government's housing budget alone is over €3.3 billion. That is significant and we need more direct building of social homes all across the country, including the Deputy's county of Donegal. I did not visit just one development on that day, as he knows; I visited a number of other projects. It was fantastic to see the work the local authority is doing there.

It is a challenge in every county to be able to meet the demand from people on social housing lists. We intend to build 50,000 social homes over the term of this Government and deliver affordable homes for the first time, for rental and purchase. We will come back with the review later this year. That is what I intend to do. We will debate it, and look forward to the Deputy's input.