Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 15 May 2014

Vol. 841 No. 3

Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2014: Second Stage (Resumed)

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Táim buíoch don Leas-Cheann Comhairle as ucht an deis a thabhairt dom labhairt ar an ábhar tábhachtach seo. Tugaim faoi ndeara go bhfuil an t-ábhar seo tar éis a bheith ardaithe ar an Ordú Gnó le míonna beaga anuas agus tá go leor de Bhaill an Tí ag tnúth leis an bpíosa reachtaíochta seo le tamall anuas. Fáiltím roimhe agus gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire agus le gach duine a bhí páirteach i gcur le chéile na reachtaíochta.

In addressing this particular issue I must admit that for me one of the reasons for being involved in politics is social housing, and its importance to the well-being of Irish society, the impact it has on individuals and families, the manner in which the quality and nature of the housing we provide for our people impacts on their health and general well-being and the way in which housing influences the extent to which people can benefit from the educational opportunities and, very often, the employment opportunities which exist. It is a key plank, or should be, of public policy and an area which ranks in importance together with education, health and employment.

I commend the Minister of State on many aspects of the Bill. She has a strong social conscience and I see her personal influence at play in some aspects of the Bill. There are aspects of the Bill about which I am less enthusiastic and I will come back to them. Deputy Heydon referred to the visits of the Minister of State to Kildare South and I know she has been in other constituencies.

It is quite clear the Minister of State has taken on board her experiences in Limerick and what she has heard from people throughout the country on the particular problems which confront communities with regard to anti-social behaviour. It is a plague on estates throughout the country and it happens in private estates just as it happens in local authority provided estates. The activity of a small number of people in these estates, and the pressure that a small number of totally irresponsible and remiss individuals place on ordinary decent citizens who are trying to live their lives, is quite intolerable. All of us as public representatives, when we go among the people and do our clinics, meet on a weekly basis people who are harassed and whose lives are being made a living misery by the problem of anti-social behaviour. I am glad the legislation sets about tackling this particular issue. I am also glad in doing so it also seeks to protect the complainant or whistleblower. The whistleblower, however, is not always right. In some cases the whistleblowers may themselves be perpetrators of anti-social behaviour, but none the less it is important that anonymity is available to them.

Addressing the business of anti-social behaviour raises the responsibilities of local authorities which, in my view, have not taken adequate action within the powers available to them to address the issue. We should have a multiagency approach, including the local Garda committees, and other efforts should be made to deal with this particular issue. It is particularly important where the State aids people, through the provision of housing or subsidies or subvention for the acquisition of housing, that some vetting takes place. It is not right that local authorities allocate properties in estates to people who have a track record in the sale and distribution of drugs. People who give the fingers to society and who inflict lasting damage on communities should not be rewarded by the State or local authorities through having the benefit of housing made available to them. They should know that if they engage in these types of practices the State will address the particular challenge they pose and they will not be rewarded.

I commend the Minister of State on addressing the issue of social segregation. She knows there are areas in the country where a disproportionate number of people have participated in anti-social behaviour and have had the capacity in this way to make life for other residents in these estates extremely difficult in many respects. She also addresses the plight of separated individuals. Over several months many Deputies have raised the difficulties of separated people trying to get on local authority waiting lists. I am particularly conscious of people who have been the subject of domestic violence and the plight in which they find themselves as they try to get on a local authority list. I commend the officials in Kildare County Council on being very sympathetic in how they try to deal with these situations. The overall body of regulation and legislation surrounding this particular area has made it inordinately difficult for such people to access housing in the past.

The Minister of State is also to be commended on the announcement of the new incremental purchase scheme. I must admit I wonder about this. I am struck by the fact that since it was first introduced several years ago, I have not been inundated by people seeking to avail of it. The old traditional method of the sale of local authority houses at a discount where such houses had been tenanted for a considerable period of time was a good system. I welcome the fact there is a purchase scheme. It remains to be seen whether it will be as effective as it might be. There is a major shortcoming in what is proposed, in that the moneys realised by local authorities are not to be ring-fenced for the provision of housing or housing-associated facilities, and this is a serious shortcoming in the legislation.

Among the other problems I identify is that housing is not a priority in the Custom House, it has not been a priority for many years for county managers, and it is not a political priority. We all stand indicted for the fact that in recent years not enough priority has been given to this issue, given its importance to society. I take no great pride in the fact that my party, while having a proud record in the past on the delivery of social housing, in recent years has not done enough.

I acknowledge Deputy Willie Penrose as an expert in this area. When I was a member of Kildare County Council, I had the privilege of working with the late Joe Bermingham, a character in many respects, but a man who was absolutely committed to the role of the local authority as a housing authority, and was committed to the fact the local authority should have a continuous house building programme.

I assume my colleague, Deputy Wall, subscribes to the same position. However, the problem we now face is the absence of a serious construction programme. There are 90,000 people on the housing list, of whom 6,000 are in County Kildare. The housing officer could tell me today that in respect of County Kildare this year, 20 new houses will be built in Kilcock and ten houses will be renovated or reconstructed in Newbridge. In other words, while there is a waiting list of 6,000 people, 30 units will be provided for those people over the next year or so. This is a pretty pathetic effort.

I do not blame the Minister of State alone in this regard because this has not been a priority in recent years. I suggest to the Minister of State that one of the reasons it has not been a political priority is because many of those who are on the social housing waiting lists do not appear on the register of electors. They move around from place to place and do not vote very often. This is understandable because they are excluded in Irish society. They are not a factor for county managers because the number of council houses one succeeds in building during one's tenure in a particular area is not something that will particularly advance one's case for achieving a managership somewhere else. However, there are many other fancy sexy projects in which county managers could be involved that will garner positive press for them and will help their career paths. County managers are unable to further their case and career paths, which are very important to those gentlemen - unfortunately they mainly are gentlemen - through the building of council houses.

I was struck this week by the real impact on individuals of the lack of progress in this area. A young woman who has two children came to see me. She has been on the local authority waiting list for eight or nine years. Her daughter is 12 years old and during that period, they have been in nine different homes. The woman is on anti-depressants because she is distraught that she is unable to provide some sort of permanent home and security for her child. That is why I was appalled by what the media reported as a discussion in the Government recently on whether there should be a local authority purchase scheme. The tradition in Ireland was for local authorities to build houses, for purchase schemes to be introduced and for people to be able to buy them out. This was the way in which individuals progressed and communities developed. There is a right-wing attitude abroad now, which I must note is reflected in the actions of the Government. Perversely, if the media reports of what was going in government are correct, it appears as though Fine Gael, which obviously is the most right-wing element of the Government, was advocating a purchase scheme while the Labour Party was opposed to it.

Three areas are of concern to me. The Minister's housing assistance payment, HAP, proposal has many positive aspects. It makes a lot of sense to integrate the supports for housing within the local authority. However, it will not work unless the local authority provides the staffing to support the initiative. Down through the years, I have observed county managers making provision for road-building projects when such projects arose. They recruited engineers and various other specialists to build the roads but when housing construction programmes were under way, I never saw housing departments being augmented by additional draftsmen, engineers or architects to help in that system, although I must accept the standard of council housing improved enormously.

However, what worries me in particular, apart from the staffing issue, is that in Part 4 of the legislation, which pertains to housing assistance, the Minister of State proposes that when clients get their HAP payments, their housing needs will have been deemed to have been met. I understand from officials to whom I have spoken that this means people who get the old rent supplement, the new HAP payment, will be taken off the local authority waiting list. I understand the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government has been telling local authorities that people who have been accommodated in the short-term schemes, such as the RAS units, five-year tenancies or the leasing tenancies of ten and in some cases 15 years, also are to be taken off the list. If this is the direction the Minister of State is taking, it constitutes a sad and sorry indictment of what her Department is about because a person who accepts a housing assistance payment is doing so because he or she has no other choice. However, the ambition of such people still is to get a home that will be their permanent place of accommodation.

If, as it appears, it is the Minister of State's intention to remove HAP recipients from the housing list, she will have achieved something for the Government by massaging and manipulating the figures, whereby the number of people on waiting lists will appear to have reduced dramatically. However, their housing need will remain and that girl about whom I spoke earlier, who has been in nine different properties over 12 years, will still be in that situation. She will be forced out when private landlords do as they inevitably do, that is, pass the property to someone who can pay a higher rent or sell it when its value increases on the open market.

This came to my attention recently when I was addressing the issue of the RAS and leasing with my local authority. Given that local authorities can now only offer casual vacancies in terms of council stock, my thinking was that rather than giving such casual vacancies to people off the list, they should be given to those who have a proven track record in the RAS or the leased accommodation in order that they could progress from a short-term provision into long-term provision, having proven themselves as tenants. However, this is not the case. Furthermore, a predicament has arisen whereby the fluctuations in rents to which many of Members have referred mean many local authorities can no longer get landlords to provide units to them to enable RAS contracts to be renewed. The local authorities have a statutory responsibility to accommodate people who, through no fault of their own, find that their contract has ended. This applies both to RAS and to leasing. Due to the timing of the scheme's commencement, the issue in respect of RAS now is becoming a problem. Many people are challenged and are finding it very difficult, as are local authorities, to secure premises. In ten years' time, when large numbers of people begin to come out of leasing arrangements, the same problem will present itself to whoever is in government at that time and it will be a major problem.

The Minister of State has not included the issue of voluntary housing in this Bill, which is a weakness. What is needed in respect of voluntary housing is a purchase scheme for those who are in the voluntary housing-provided units. I am familiar with many of the voluntary organisations in Ireland, although to describe them as "voluntary" is something of a misnomer because they are large enterprises that depend in large measure on the rental income they receive from those properties. However, the people who live in those units are not there by choice. They are living in those units because there was no other choice. The units were paid for in full by the Department and by the Government through the capital loan subsidy scheme, CLSS, system. I do not refer to specialist housing built under the capital assistance scheme, CAS, but to the mainstream housing units in which people were accommodated because they had no choice. They came from the local authority waiting list, as did local authority tenants.

I must admit an interest in this regard because I have established and am actively involved in voluntary housing. In my constituency, there is an estate in Monasterevin called Millstream Avenue where the voluntary housing association acted as agents for the council and built both voluntary and council units. The people who live in the council units can avail of the proposed incremental purchase scheme, as they could of its predecessor, but their neighbours, who had the initiative to establish the voluntary housing association locally in the first instance, cannot buy. One reason they cannot do so is because, as the Minister of State and I are both aware, the Irish Council for Social Housing and some of its participant bodies are opposed to a purchase scheme. I believe it is fundamentally unfair to deprive such families, who had no choice at the time they availed of these offers, of the opportunity of buying.

I will conclude by noting that some Members have made reference to the Part V provisions. In particular, I have heard my colleague and good friend from Kildare North, Deputy Lawlor, speak frequently about Part V.

I would disagree with many of the initiatives in which my former colleague, Noel Dempsey, partook but it was an inspired initiative when he brought forward the Part V legislation. Ideally, that legislation was going to force the creation of a degree of social integration which it had not been the practice to provide in this country. The Minister of State knows that parts of towns and cities had swathes of local authority housing on one side while the other side had bungalow bliss and private accommodation and there was no social integration. I say to the Minister of State, for the love of God, to please protect Part V and to please make it work. In my view a lot of local authorities need a kick in the backside because of how they dealt with the very important Part V provision.

I am concerned about the level of homelessness. Local authorities are now struggling to deal with the homelessness challenge. In my own constituency, the funding available to agencies such as Michael Garry House and Youth for Peace is hopelessly inadequate. The Minister, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, as the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, opened a women's shelter which was built at a cost of a couple of million euro. However, only two of the units in the shelter for women and their children fleeing domestic violence can be opened and this situation needs to be dealt with urgently.

Like other speakers, I welcome the opportunity to discuss this Bill and as part of that discussion to talk about the housing situation. We have raised this issue on a number of occasions in the House by way of Private Members' motions, for example. The discussion of this issue is also happening in communities. We all accept that there is a problem that needs to be fixed. Sinn Féin would describe it as a crisis and I do not know what words the Minister of State would use to describe it. There is a need for urgent action to deal with a significant issue which has been raised by constituents.

This Bill has been three years in the making. Like others, I have waited three years for the Government to take action to deal with this crisis. I question whether the Bill is fit for purpose and suitably radical and whether it will deal with the problems in the system or will merely tinker with them. I note the positive elements in the Bill which are welcome such as the recognition of the need to act on the provision of housing. However, the Bill will do very little in response to the crisis.

Over €1 billion has been cut from the housing budget since 2008 and currently 90,000 people are on the housing waiting lists in all parts of the State while a total of 293 local authority houses have been built. The waiting list is growing and the problem of homelessness is escalating. Homelessness is a problem which affects the cities in particular. There is a general acceptance that there is a dearth of housing in the Dublin area and the problem of homelessness is getting worse rather than better. The cost of rented accommodation in the Dublin area has increased by 40% since this time last year, a pattern which has been established over recent years. It has been noted that many private sector landlords are not prepared to take tenants in receipt of rent supplement. Discrimination on grounds of race, colour and creed is forbidden but I suggest that discrimination against individuals on the basis of their economic need should also be forbidden by law, which would be a progressive step.

I refer to the lack of housing stock and the discrimination practised by some landlords against some of the 78,000 households in receipt of rent supplement. In many cases it is impossible to find a landlord who will accept rent supplement or else tenants are forced to pay illegal top-up payments in order to keep a home, following the introduction of two separate cuts to the rent supplement rate and the new rent thresholds which we have discussed in this House. Many of us believe these thresholds are unrealistic.

Many people who have lost their home through no fault of their own will go on a local authority housing list. There is a nine-year waiting list in many areas, and even longer in some cases. It is difficult for single persons as well as for large families to find suitable accommodation. I have raised the issue of people with large families who have not been permitted to take a three-bedroom house because it would result in overcrowding. In some cases they have not been permitted to avail of the RAS scheme even though their only other option is to go to one bedroom in a hotel.

I wish to highlight some of the cases of homelessness which I have dealt with in recent months. I had a case two weeks ago concerning a young pregnant woman who had fled domestic violence. When her baby was born, she was asked to leave her accommodation and she was put out on the street. She looked for emergency accommodation. Her baby is three weeks old and she is walking the streets and has no secure accommodation. I was informed by South Dublin County Council that the emergency accommodation list that day had accommodation for four people, three males and one female. Applicants were advised to ring a central office at 4 p.m. to know if accommodation was available that night. Dublin City Council is able to provide information at 2 p.m.

I usually get telephone calls on a Friday. I know that a Member of this House accommodated a family of five in a local hotel for one night but that is no solution to the general problem. Part of the problem is that many of the hotels that traditionally provided accommodation for homeless people are not prepared to do so. Hotels are not ideal accommodation for families as facilities for washing clothes are limited and there are added costs.

This is an increasing problem across Dublin city.

Some hostels are better than others. I have spoken to homeless people with addiction problems who were off drugs and alcohol but had no alternative other than to use what are known as wet hostels. This creates difficulties for them as they come under pressure. I spoke to one pensioner, a man in his late 60s or early 70s, who had been assaulted in a hostel by another hostel resident wielding a hammer. I am not sure of the circumstances of this individual, other than that his marriage had broken down and he ended up in hostel accommodation. The person in charge of the hostel was asleep upstairs when he was attacked. Had it not been for two young people staying in the hostel who took the hammer from the attacker, the man would have been killed. He telephoned me asking where he could go the following night and it transpired that the only option available to him was to sleep in another hostel. He was too terrified to do so and the marks on his body and head showed clear evidence that he had been attacked. Unfortunately, I could not offer him another solution.

When people put their names forward for public office they believe they will improve or change people's lives. For years, public representatives found ways around the system and means of helping people here and there. Increasingly, however, and despite the growing number of people who contact us, we are unable to offer any solutions. Some of the problems we encounter are connected to the recession, while others are related to the length of the housing waiting lists. I no longer have answers for people nor do colleagues inside and outside the House to whom I have spoken.

My local authority, South Dublin County Council, took an initiative on homelessness with which I am proud to have been associated. Councillors are seldom congratulated but councillors in south Dublin recognised the problem of homelessness by collectively deciding to donate their conference fees towards the budget for delivering a 16 bed unit for the homeless that was opened in Tallaght last year. While the initiative was launched by the alliance group on the council, namely, Sinn Féin, the Labour Party and a number of Independents, councillors from the Fianna Fáil Party subsequently joined. This is an example of councillors responding to the housing crisis. I thank and congratulate the individuals in question, especially as they do not receive a substantial salary. They took a brave decision and showed leadership on this issue and deserve the congratulations of the House. I urge members of other local authorities to take similar initiatives. This year, councillors in South Dublin County Council are considering donating their conference fees to the budget for housing adaptation grants, which are being cut by central Government. These grants support the increasing number of people who wish to stay at home and live independently and save the State substantial sums of money.

My constituency office is contacted daily by families who have been forced into homelessness or are on the verge of losing their home. Every citizen should have a right to housing and the position in which some families find themselves is unacceptable.

I have addressed positive and negative aspects of the Bill. The legislation takes a positive step forward in terms of improving the wholly inefficient procedure that applies to the summary conviction of tenants. It improves tenants' rights by providing that the local authority must give a tenant ten working days' notice before beginning an eviction process in the District Court. Many individuals and organisations will argue that this period is too short and eviction should be used as a last resort as it is not a solution to anti-social behaviour. That position is a given. Nevertheless, evictions are one of the few means of protecting communities as they provide a lasting solution in many cases of bad behaviour. Previous speakers alluded to drug dealing and intimidation. I am aware of cases where people were threatened with guns, burned out of their homes and had windows smashed. Many of the victims are left to fend for themselves. Sometimes the only option is to remove from the relevant community the individuals who are engaged in these types of behaviour. While I accept that a multi-agency approach is required, especially where the individuals involved are young, if entire families are creating hell for their neighbours or intimidating people on the basis of their race, colour, country of origin or accent or because they wear glasses, they should be evicted. I could list hundreds of cases involving people being intimidated from their homes. The positive and negative aspects of the use of eviction need to be teased out on Committee Stage.

On the issue of succession where a tenant dies, the Bill provides that the occupier must be given ten days' notice of a District Court hearing on a repossession application. If the application is granted, the local authority may then proceed with the repossession. Some local authorities act quicker than others in securing possession. We must establish parameters in this regard. One has cases where a daughter or son moves into a local authority house to look after a parent who has been ill. Such persons do not have succession rights and if the parent dies, they should be given time to grieve. Local authorities must show flexibility and common sense when families experience a tragedy. Some people will argue that a six month stay on repossession is too long and three months would be sufficient in cases where the occupier does not enjoy succession rights or does not have a recognised housing need. People must be given an opportunity to find alternative accommodation because in nine out of ten cases, the person will be unable to secure private rented accommodation, particularly in the Dublin area. The unfortunate consequence of this will be that local authorities will put people out on the side of the road. This issue should be discussed on Committee Stage.

The Bill provides for a new tenant purchase scheme similar to that introduced in 2009. I referred to the ongoing debate on this issue in the Fine Gael Party and Labour Party. Most people are in favour of tenants being allowed to buy their homes. Nevertheless, there is a concern that selling off local authority housing will shrink the stock of social housing if local authority housing construction is not increased. The option of using the proceeds of sales to tenants to upgrade the remaining social housing stock should also be considered. The tenant purchase scheme will not work if it results in the depletion of the social housing stock. An incremental increase in the number of local authority houses is required. While Sinn Féin supports the provision, the State must concurrently implement a significant house building initiative as a matter of priority.

The provision allowing rent arrears to be taken from source is worrying. Many years ago, people in the North engaged in a rent strike.

Flexibility has to be shown by local authorities because there are many good reasons, whether through illness or other pressures, that people cannot pay their local authority housing rent. I am also aware of some cases where local authority tenants have not paid their rents because they are looking for basic repairs and maintenance to be carried out on their homes. It is not so clear cut that the last people to pay their rent are local authority tenants.

I congratulate MABS, the Money Advice & Budgeting Service, on the positive work in which it has been involved in helping people who have fallen behind in paying their rent. In many cases, it was because the tenant had not budgeted correctly, which MABS has been able to assist. On this idea of local authorities being allowed to siphon off rent arrears from people’s bank accounts, are we in favour of private landlords doing the same to tenants who fall behind?

Community welfare officers have told me there is no mechanism for them to enter into their record systems information on repeat offending anti-social tenants due to data protection issues. I have also raised this with the Minister of State. I know of a case of one tenant involved in anti-social behaviour in an estate who did not pay rent for one year but when he was eventually put out of the house, he was moved only two doors away. Those community welfare officers are paying their taxes, like everyone else, and are as frustrated by the system. We need to examine this on Committee Stage, as we do not want serial anti-social behaviour offenders as tenants. If we do not tackle them and their bad behaviour, we are only rewarding them by giving them other local authority housing.

While there are welcome elements in the Bill, the housing crisis is getting worse. I do not see the radical approach required to tackle this problem in this legislation. Sinn Féin has identified sources of funding that could be used for the housing market. Will the Minister of State examine our proposals in this regard?

Deputy Mattie McGrath is scheduled to speak now but he is not in the Chamber. I call on the Minister of State.

I thank all Members - at least 25 - who have contributed to this debate. As usual, there was great passion and knowledge about housing provision.

Deputy Browne suggested there was not enough time for the debate. We did not guillotine it, however, and every Member who wished to speak on it was given the opportunity to do so. There were some interesting suggestions such as the use of bonds, building social housing off the State’s balance sheet and bringing back schemes that worked in the past. I will examine all of these. Other points were made about housing supply which is not strictly related to the Bill. Some Members opposite claimed we were re-announcing stimulus packages, etc. The package announced this week is new, not a re-announcement. It will provide an extra €20 million for new builds, €20 million for restoring empty local authority housing and €10 million for dealing with homeless people and families, a total of €50 million.

On the termination of local authority tenancies, we needed to respond to the court’s decision that we needed to bring the legislation in line with the European Convention on Human Rights. I agree with Deputies Crowe, Heydon and Ó Fearghaíl on the need for a multi-agency approach to anti-social behaviour by local authority tenants. Deputies Clare Daly, Stanley, Maureen O’Sullivan, Dowds, Naughten and Heydon raised the issue of anti-social behaviour and private-rented accommodation. Side by side with this legislation, there is a Bill going through which will amend the Private Residential Tenancies Board and how it deals with anti-social behaviour in privately rented houses.

Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan spoke about a particular investigation which revealed the poor quality of private-rented accommodation in Dublin. To be fair to private landlords, that was a targeted examination of a particular part of Dublin where we felt there was an issue in the standard of accommodation on offer. It would not be fair to say that it was a reflection of all private-rented accommodation in the Dublin area.

Regarding excluding orders in respect of anti-social behaviour and their application, concern was expressed that these should not just apply in respect of a person's home but more particularly to the area in which they are carrying on the anti-social behaviour. Deputy Catherine Byrne and Deputy Calleary raised this issue. As well as prohibiting a respondent from entering or being in a particular house, the existing excluding order legislation allows a court to prohibit a respondent from entering or being in the vicinity of any specified area containing at least one local authority house. Section 19(4)(c) of the Bill extends this prohibition to cover a specified place or area where there is at least one local authority house. Therefore, it can be used if people go into another area and cause problems.

Concern was expressed by Deputies Catherine Byrne and Calleary that the application of excluding orders should not just apply in respect of a person’s home but more particularly to the area in which they are carrying out their anti-social behaviour. As well as prohibiting a respondent from entering or being in a particular house, the existing excluding order legislation allows a court to prohibit a respondent in the vicinity of any specified area containing at least one local authority house. Section 19(4)(c) extends this prohibition to cover a specified place or area where there is at least one local authority house. It can be used if anti-social tenants are causing problems in other areas.

Deputies Broughan and Shortall raised the issue of excluding orders being used against minors under the Bill. My Department is liaising with the Department of Children and Youth Affairs on this.

The two parties in government are in favour of a tenant-purchase scheme. It will provide an opportunity for tenants who have put down long-term roots in a community to purchase their accommodation. We also want to ensure, however, there is a fair return to the local authority and that tenants are not put into financial difficulties by being offered a tenant-purchase they cannot afford. If someone makes a profit on a subsequent sale of a house they bought out from a tenant-purchase scheme, the State can claw-back some of that.

Some Members suggested using the proceeds of a tenant-purchase scheme to build more housing units. This is provided for under the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009. Deputy Kitt asked what properties would be excluded under the scheme. Regulations will be introduced on the exact operation of the scheme which will outline the excluded properties. For example, it will include dwellings designed for elderly persons, affordable housing and properties shared in a building. There is already an incremental purchase scheme for flats. Some Members claimed it is not operating very well. If it is necessary to amend it, we can examine it in the context of this legislation.

There were a couple of issues raised around the resources of housing assistance payment, HAP, the business plan and how exactly it will work, and whether it will be affordable. It is a commitment in the programme for Government and we have put quite a lot of preparatory work into getting it to this stage, both in my Department and in working with the Department of Social Protection. That work is continuing also with the housing authorities. It includes the design of the necessary IT and business process solutions that are required to facilitate the implementation.

The HAP is essentially new business for local authorities, with consequent decisions required as to how best to deliver the service in the local government sector. In that context, and in the context of the wider local government reform agenda, Limerick City and County Council, as the lead local authority on the implementation of the HAP, has prepared a business case examining a number of options for service deliver, ranging from a devolved model delivering most of the service in each local authority to a centrally shared model of service delivery, and this is being given careful consideration in all quarters to ensure that we provide a sound delivery mechanism for local authorities to succeed in the roll-out of the HAP. The piloting has begun in Limerick. It will roll out in six further local authorities this year, beginning in July, and then, gradually, in the local authorities. This gives us an opportunity to learn as we go along, from what is happening now in Limerick and what will happen in six other local authorities, so that we will be able to develop it and ensure that it will work properly. It is a significant change, in terms of new business for local authorities and bringing over all of those who are currently on long-term rent supplement into the local authority system.

There were a number of other points raised with regard to the housing assistance payment. I want to touch on one or two, particularly the issue of separated persons because that has been brought up by a number of Members. I direct the attention of Members to section 46 which provides for a number of amendments to section 20 of the Housing Act 2009. Subsection (2)(e) of that section deals with the case of households seeking social housing support whose qualification for housing support under section 20 of the 2009 Act cannot be determined because the household member who is separated but not residing in the family home still has an interest in that home. This amendment will allow that where the household member would otherwise qualify for housing support, the housing authority may determine the person qualified for support in the form of the HAP or the RAS. This determination will be reviewed at certain intervals and when the interest of the separated household member in the family home has been resolved, if that person then qualifies for social housing support his or her time in the RAS or the HAP will be reckonable if that person or household applies to transfer to another form of social housing support. That is a question many Members raised in various contexts. We can clarify that as we go along with the legislation, but we have taken the opportunity to address that issue in the legislation.

There was also an issue around the responsibility for the house or apartment. In terms of the landlord's responsibilities, they will be covered under the PRTB. Under section 43(6) a housing authority will be empowered, amongst other matters, to refuse to provide or to cease providing housing assistance in respect of a qualified or benefiting household where the authority considers and has evidence that any household member is or has been engaged in anti-social behaviour. That is how that relationship will work.

I refer to the direct deduction of local authority rents. In the debate, there has been some strong support for that and some concern expressed about it. At the end of 2011, the extent of the accumulated rent arrears across all housing authorities was €53.25 million. There is clearly a problem with rent owed to local authorities. The system we are putting in place will transfer upwards of 60,000 households from rent supplement to HAP and we want to ensure that we can do that in a smooth way that will work for everybody. The mandatory rental deduction facility will ensure that households do not fall into arrears and do not have the problem of considerable arrears that they then have to try to pay back. That is the purpose of the measure.

For the purposes of clarification, it is my intention that those on the HAP will be eligible to transfer into local authority tenancies and it will not mean that they will never be able to get a tenancy. That is my clear intention. It is also important to note that the rent contribution that a HAP recipient will pay to the local authority will be calculated in accordance with that authority's differential rent scheme, which is, as the House will be aware, an income-based rental scheme. All in all, that is a fair system, both to the local authorities and to the tenants, and will, I hope, address issues around tenants falling into arrears.

From the point of view of the current system of rent supplement, many Members referred to the fact that sometimes the tenant is paid directly and does not pay the money to the landlord. In the system here, as Deputy Joe O'Reilly pointed out, there will be a safeguard for landlords as well in so far as they will get a monthly payment, it will be the entire payment and it will come from the local authority which will have taken the tenant's portion and will pass on the whole payment to the landlord. There have been fears suggested, and I am aware there is a problem with landlords pulling out of rent supplement and the RAS, but there is a security for the landlords in this which, I hope, will encourage them to become involved, or if they have been involved in rent supplement to remain involved in the HAP.

There were a number of issues raised and I hope I have addressed some of them, at least the ones that are directly related to the three elements of the Bill. We will have opportunities for further debate at Committee and Report Stages and I look forward to that discussion.

Question put and agreed to.