Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 13 Jul 2017

Vol. 958 No. 2

Other Questions

Questions Nos. 6 and 7 replied to with Written Answers.

Voluntary Housing Sector

Bríd Smith


8. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government if he will examine the method used by voluntary housing agencies to set the rent levels of their tenants and the rights of tenants in circumstances in which they are faced with substantial rent rises; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33384/17]

Gino Kenny


46. Deputy Gino Kenny asked the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government the steps he will take to ensure voluntary housing agencies that are recipients of State funds do not raise their rents out of line with rents charged by local authorities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33386/17]

I am asking a question on voluntary housing agencies which is being answered along with a similar question from Deputy Gino Kenny. The substance of the question is to find out if the Minister is aware of very serious rent hikes being implemented by voluntary housing bodies because of methods they use to calculate rents, and if the Minister has any intention of investigating this matter or imposing more structures and restraints on how voluntary housing bodies and approved housing bodies conduct their rent regimes.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 8 and 46 together.

The normal legislative provisions of the Residential Tenancies Acts governing rent setting, rent reviews and notices of changed rents for private rented tenancies do not apply to approved housing body tenancies. Instead, these matters are governed by the tenancy agreements, leases or financing arrangements that are in place. When a social housing unit is provided by a housing body under a payment and availability arrangement with a local authority, it is a condition of such funding that rent must be determined in accordance with the differential rents scheme of the housing authority in which the house is situated. This mechanism accounts for a significant element of the housing being delivered by housing bodies at present. When housing is provided by a housing body under the capital assistance scheme, my Department's historical guidance states that rent should be at a level that is reasonable having regard to the tenant’s income and the outlay of the housing body on the accommodation, including the ongoing property management costs. Housing bodies are also required to consult local authorities on the setting of rents.

It should be noted that provision has been made in the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 for the Residential Tenancies Board to have a dispute resolution role in housing bodies' tenancy rent settings and reviews. In summary, a housing body tenant may refer a dispute to the Residential Tenancies Board for resolution on the question of whether the initial rent set for his or her tenancy, or the rent arising from a rent review, is in line with the provisions of any tenancy arrangement, lease or financing arrangement in place. This provides an important protection for housing body tenants when disputes arise regarding these matters. Notwithstanding this provision, it is timely that the overall approach to rents in the housing body sector would be subject to review. My Department will consider this matter later this year in consultation with the housing body sector and the local authorities. It will also take account of the work being undertaken on the development of a national framework of differential rents.

I note that 47,000 social houses are due to be built by 2021 in line with the target set under the Rebuilding Ireland policy. The Minister might believe that this will happen, but I do not. The approved housing bodies and the voluntary housing bodies have quite a central role in that strategy. It is intended that approximately 15,000 houses, or one third of the total, will come from that sector, which is subsidised to a huge degree by the State. The Minister has said that the remit of the Residential Tenancies Board covers rent increases in this sector. However, I have it in writing from the board and from Clúid, which is the voluntary housing body I am complaining about here, that the remit of the board does not cover rent increases in this sector. It covers the setting of rents in this sector, but not rent increases. As the Minister has said, a memorandum of understanding with this sector provides that rents should be reasonable and that lower limits or floors should be set. However, a ceiling is not set.

There will be a problem if one third of the social housing stock comes from the voluntary housing sector, which has always had a great reputation. I have always believed it is a great sector to be housed from. The problem is that all of the tenants are taken from the local authority lists. Like other Deputies, I have constituents whose tenants are paying much higher rents than the local authority because they do not use the local authority method. When I query this, they say that they use a local authority method. It just happens that they do not use the method of the local authority where they are located. A scheme in Chapelizod could be setting rent in accordance with the terms of the local authority in County Kerry, for all I know. Dublin City Council's method for setting the rent is certainly not being used. I have clients whose rent has increased by 38% this month. That is way out of kilter with the national norm. Something needs to be done to address that.

The Deputy has taken enough time to cover both of her supplementary questions.

As I said in my initial reply, I will review and consider the matter the Deputy has raised. I will look at the differential rents under the national framework later this year. The housing bodies are playing a crucial role at the moment. They will continue to do so as we look to develop and supply more social housing to people in this country. We are seeking to provide 47,000 new social housing homes over the course of the Rebuilding Ireland plan. A big piece of work is going to come into the Dáil in September. It relates to the regulation of housing bodies. It will be a very important piece of work. Over 300 housing bodies are dealing with these issues in this State at the moment. We need to find ways of making sure there is a consistency of approach between housing bodies. We need to leverage those bodies to their maximum potential in terms of financing solutions. We need to increase the scale of what those bodies are doing. That will potentially require amalgamations. We will have to see about that. It might require overseas housing bodies that have greater experience of doing this on a bigger scale to come in. There is huge potential here. The most important thing is to get the regulation in place and onto a statutory footing. That will open up avenues for the financing needed to help us to do everything else we want to achieve.

Question No. 46, in Deputy Gino Kenny's name, is grouped with Deputy Smith's question.

Do I not get to ask a supplementary question?

I was very generous with the Deputy. I will allow another short question.

Do I not have time to respond to what the Minister has said?

Yes, Deputy Smith does. I have already given her two minutes.

Okay. The voluntary housing sector is due to get approximately €1 billion from the State under the Rebuilding Ireland plan. That is quite a lot of State money. When I referred earlier to "clients", I should have referred to "constituents". I apologise to my constituents for referring to them in that manner. My point is that people have seen rent increases of 38% at a time when there is supposed to be rent control. An increase of €20 a week might not seem like much to people who are paying exorbitant rents in the private rental sector, but it amounts to €1,000 a year, which is a hell of a lot to bear for somebody who is on the old age pension or on disability allowance. When I queried this with the housing body, I appealed to it to take a more incremental approach in light of the fact that the people in question have received increases of just €5 this year. The housing body dismissed this by saying that people who are having difficulty in meeting their heating bills could contact the relieving officer in the Department of Social Protection. This is a flippant, cruel and inconsiderate way for bodies that are receiving State support to behave. It suggests to me that more constraints, structures, rules and regulations are needed in this area of the rental sector. People from the housing list who are given homes are worse off when they go into the voluntary sector than they would be if they went into the local authority sector. There is a real hole here and it needs to be dealt with.

I hope they would not be worse off after going into a voluntary housing body property then they would be if they went into a local authority property. That is not the intention at all. Depending on the type of funding that has been received from the housing body, there is an obligation for it to consult with the local authority on the setting of rents. As the Deputy has suggested, there is also an ability for a housing body tenant to apply for a form of rent supplement if he or she needs such assistance. The Deputy is absolutely right when she talks about the need for stronger regulation in this area. That is exactly what I intend to provide when I bring forward legislation later this year.

I call Deputy Gino Kenny.

The subject of his question has been covered.

In accordance with Standing Orders, I will allow Deputy Ó Broin to ask a supplementary question.

Deputy Smith has raised a very important point. It makes no sense that there are two rental arrangements for the approved housing body sector. The case raised by Deputy Smith arose because capital assistance scheme funding has more flexibility than capital advance leasing facility funding. There should only be one system of rental arrangements in this sector.

I would like to mention two other anomalies. Local authorities do not include family income supplement or carer's allowance in their assessments for rent payment purposes, but some housing associations do in certain kinds of tenancies. That makes no sense whatsoever. Similarly, some housing associations are starting to require deposits from tenants. This is not happening in the case of availability agreement-funded units, but is happening in other cases. Such inconsistencies cause real difficulties for people. I urge the Minister to ensure the same rental systems, and the same calculations for rent, apply to local authority houses and to all approved housing body tenancies. I do not think this necessarily needs to be in the forthcoming legislation.

I take Deputy Ó Broin's point. We need to be sensitive as we approach this because we are talking about voluntary bodies in many cases. We need to make sure they are working together in a consistent and co-ordinated fashion as much as possible. I hope the regulations will help to provide a framework to do that, in the interests of ensuring the type of consistency mentioned by the Deputy is provided to tenants whose housing solutions are being provided by housing bodies. It is very important for tenants to have this kind of consistency and certainty. As we move towards putting the regulation onto a formal footing, we will need to make sure that kind of consistency between the housing bodies can be found, thereby enabling them to deliver what they feel comfortable with in delivering in accordance with their ethos.

Homeless Accommodation Provision

Richard Boyd Barrett


9. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government if he will ensure a place finder team is established in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown as a matter of urgency; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33185/17]

I have told the Minister on several occasions that the housing assistance payment, HAP, which forms approximately three quarters of the delivery of social housing that the Government is hoping to achieve between now and 2021 is a fantasy and a mirage which will not materialise. It is a nightmare for people to try to find HAP tenancies.

I have asked the Minister and tabled parliamentary questions about it, but I have not received accurate answers, or any answer, about where the place finder service is located in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown to assist homeless persons and those in difficulty in seeking housing to find HAP tenancies?

A homeless place finder service is managed by the Dublin Region Homeless Executive on behalf of all four Dublin local authorities. This specific and targeted service provides a housing assistance payment-based support service for homeless households and has been successfully operating in the Dublin region, including the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council area, since 2015. The service has been playing an important and growing role in securing accommodation for homeless households across the Dublin region, including families residing in emergency accommodation, as well as supporting homeless households to avoid having to enter emergency accommodation. 

The place finder service has relationships with local estate agents and property owners and can identify properties quickly. In addition, the service can support homeless households to secure a tenancy by providing upfront payments for deposits and rent. A similar place finding service has recently been made available in the Cork city area.

The homeless place finder service can also utilise the HAP inter-authority movement protocol which was introduced in April to allow eligible households to avail of the HAP in any local authority area, subject to the current social housing eligibility income bands. Under the inter-authority movement protocol, households identified with a housing need in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown can access the HAP in other areas such as south Dublin or Wicklow and retain access to the transfer list in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown.  This is a significant benefit to households in areas where the shortage of rental accommodation is particularly acute. 

There are more than 1,600 formerly homeless households whose needs are being supported by the homeless-specific HAP supports across the four housing authorities in the Dublin region, including Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. I am satisfied that the HAP scheme is generally working well, but I will keep its operation under ongoing review.

This is where scripted answers really are exposed. This is the same answer I received from the Minister on 27 June, in which it was stated the place finder service had been operating in the Dublin local authority areas since 2015. He went on to say they included Dún Laoghaire, but that is not true. This is a fact and it is referred to on the websites of the Dublin homeless executive and the Citizens' Information bureau, but I asked a member of my staff to ring the number. When one rings the number of the Dún Laoghaire branch and asks for the place finder service, one is asked, "What is place finder?" They do not even know what it is. We rang the homeless section directly in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown and were told clearly that there was no place finder service in Dún Laoghaire. We then emailed the central service on 14 June but received no answer. I wrote to the Minister about a week ago detailing all of this information, but there has been no answer. Whoever wrote his answer is wheeling out stuff that is just not true. If that is what I get when I telephone the place finder service, what must it be like for somebody who is homeless with kids who is in and out of a hostel and is given the run-around as he or she looks for something that does not exist?

I know that the Deputy is not a fan of the HAP scheme and says it is not working, but some 300 tenancies are being created every week. There were 24,000 people under the scheme, of whom 23,000 found accommodation without the need for a place finder service. The Dublin Region Homeless Executive operates the place finder service for people on the housing list in the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council area. I have not seen the correspondence the Deputy said he sent to me and I know that he raised the issue of the phone number at the committee a couple of weeks ago. I raised it with officials who said it was the correct number. To be quite honest, I am not sure where the problem is.

I wrote to the Minister on 6 July, detailing the problem and received a response yesterday from Luach Hardiman who I presume works in the Minister's office conveying apologies for the delayed response and saying he would bring the matter to the Minister's attention. I assume he still has not done so. I have detailed how we go through all of the instructions for the place finder service which is supposed to help homeless persons find HAP accommodation, but it is not available in Dún Laoghaire. That has been confirmed by the homeless section in Dún Laoghaire which has also confirmed that it goes through the central placement services which are located in Dublin. When we rang them, we were told the Focus Ireland workers could hardly find any HAP accommodation because landlords were not interested.

That is not consistent with the facts.

It is very important, if the Minister gives me two parliamentary responses to the effect that there is a place finder service operating in Dún Laoghaire, but when I ring the county council the staff have to ask what it is before the homeless section tells me there is no place finder service. People in trouble need a place finder service which we want. Will the Minister set up a dedicated place finder service in Dún Laoghaire to assist people find the HAP accommodation he believes is available?

Did the Deputy ring the housing section in Dún Laoghaire and ask if it had a place finder service, or did he ask if people in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown were able to access the place finder service in the Dublin Region Homeless Executive? I am not sure what he has been doing, but I know that what is behind his frustration is the fact that he does not believe in the HAP scheme, even though there are 18,000 landlords providing HAP tenancies for 24,000 people. Approximately 1,000 people have used the place finder service in Dublin to access HAP tenancies.

I am saying there is no place finder service in Dún Laoghaire.

Tenants on the lists in Dún Laoghaire can access the place finder service for the four Dublin local authorities.

They are told to ring Dún Laoghaire County Council.

Local Authority Housing

Gino Kenny


10. Deputy Gino Kenny asked the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government his views on whether the crisis in housing shows the need for a massive programme of social and public house building funded by the State and local authorities in view of the failure of the market and various incentives to deal with the crisis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33385/17]

The Government's Rebuilding Ireland Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness is focused on increasing housing supply across all tenures. I believe this is the key to tackling the housing challenge in a sustainable way. The aim is to achieve total housing output of at least 25,000 homes per year by 2020 and all of the available indicators point to a significant increase in activity towards that target. Good progress is also being made in delivering social housing units through build, refurbishment, acquisition and leasing, alongside an accelerated roll-out of the housing assistance payment scheme to meet the needs of some 80,000 households. This activity is being supported through a significantly increased investment programme of €5.35 billion.

While still at an early stage of implementation, there is already strong evidence that the focus on increasing and accelerating social housing delivery is yielding results.  In 2016, the housing needs of over 19,000 households were met through a range of social housing programmes, supported by expenditure of over €935 million.  A further €1.3 billion has been provided in 2017 to support the accelerated delivery of social housing and the achievement of the 2017 target to meet the housing needs of over 21,000 households.  

The need for the earliest possible delivery of social housing is understood by all concerned and this is reflected in the expansion of the social housing construction programme across the 31 local authority areas, by both local authorities and approved housing bodies. There has been an escalation in the social housing build programme and more projects are being added on an ongoing basis. I have, of course, also initiated a focused review of Rebuilding Ireland which I will be aiming to conclude in September to identify what further measures may be necessary to build on the progress already made and underpin momentum in the months and years ahead.

I genuinely wish the Minister good luck in his new position. I said the same to his predecessor because this issue transcends any individual or party represented in this House and we have a crisis beyond a crisis. We have a crisis because social, public and community housing have become dirty words. Social housing has come to mean dysfunctional housing, which is bad. The public housing programme has been a huge success overall. There have been projects that have failed, but housing projects across the State have largely been a success. I am from one in Clondalkin. My family moved from Islandbridge flats to Neilstown which is a huge council estate. It had its problems at the start and still has some, but it is an amazing community that grew together and got out of certain situations.

We can have these great plans, but the reason we have this housing crisis is that, ultimately, social housing has become a dirty word and is being ideologically driven down.

I thank the Deputy for his good wishes. I do not disagree with anything he said. The history of how we have come to this crisis is that the Government of the time essentially outsourced its responsibility to the private sector for social housing and then, when the market and the sector crashed, people and their needs crashed with them. We are still dealing with the legacy of this and we see it in every new homeless family that presents itself because they cannot, unfortunately, find a solution in the private rental sector today. Many have, but not everyone can. This is why there has been a change by this Government to make sure we are putting more money into social housing delivery, and that is the important thing. That capital funding that has been put in place over the course of the Rebuilding Ireland plan has been ring-fenced for protection. Next year, more than €1 billion will be spent on delivering on and meeting the social housing needs of our people.

The Deputy spoke about social housing being a dirty word. I hope this is not the case because there is a responsibility on the part of Government to make sure that the taxes of every person in this State are spent in a way that can deliver for the needs of people who need our help the most. That is what we must achieve. This does not just mean social housing in the strictest sense; it also means co-operative housing models and the like, and some very successful schemes are already up and running in that regard.

I hope the action plan is a success but I highly doubt it will be. I am trying to be an optimist, not a sceptic. One thing that has been flagged in Rebuilding Ireland is a parcel of land in Clondalkin, where I live, that is owned by the council. It is an 80-acre site and the plan is to sell it off to a private developer. Anyone in this House who thinks it is logical to sell public land to a private developer during the worst crisis in the history of this State would want to get his or her head seen to. Most of these houses will go to the private market. It really does not make sense to sell off land at the height of the worst crisis in the history of the State to a private developer. This land should be for public housing, affordable housing, cheap rental housing and social housing. It is quite simple, and I am sure the Minister will agree with what I say, but I think Rebuilding Ireland, unfortunately, will just be another dead end.

Eighty acres is a not insignificant amount of land, so I would like to hear more details of the matter after we have finished in the Dáil this evening. What I have seen so far since I began the review are ways in which the local authorities have been quite clever in using land, which is a very valuable asset and can be very expensive, to deliver things like co-operative housing models and affordable buy models for people. I have already referred to the example of Ballymun this evening and the great work that was done there by Ó Cualann and the local authority with financing support from AIB to deliver what will be 47 or 49 A2-rated family homes at affordable prices between, I think, €150,000 and €180,000, depending on the size of the house, the number of rooms, etc.

It is very important we, as a State, make sure we use our resources in the smartest way possible to get the best results for our people. To respond to a question from Deputy Cowen earlier about an affordable rental scheme, this is one of the reasons we decided not to opt for a subsidy model with the €10 million, which we then diverted into other areas, but rather to use land as leverage to get those affordable models in place. We are talking about a range of different measures. There is no one single measure. It is not just about building social houses; it is about affordable buy, affordable rent, co-operative housing and that whole mix of possibilities on a given site.

Question No. 11 replied to with Written Answers.

Homelessness Strategy

Jan O'Sullivan


12. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government when he expects the target of taking all homeless families with children out of hotels except in exceptional circumstances to be met; the indicative length of time such families are expected to stay in family hubs; the arrangements made for children to get to school, after-school programmes and so on while they are in hubs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33377/17]

My question is in a couple of parts. First, when does the Minister expect the target, which has not yet been met, to take families out of hotels to be met? Second, how long does he expect families in hubs will be there? I also ask him about arrangements for children getting to school and other activities.

As part of the response to the commitment contained in Rebuilding Ireland - Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness that, by mid-2017, hotels would only be used as emergency accommodation in exceptional circumstances, housing authorities are delivering a number of family-focused, supported temporary accommodation facilities, also called family hubs.

While this was an ambitious target, at the end of May over 830 homeless families had indeed exited commercial hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation since the publication of Rebuilding Ireland in July 2016 and 405 families had been prevented from entering them. While 647 homeless families were still being accommodated in such facilities at the end of May, all of these have been advised in writing of their pathway to alternative, more sustainable accommodation. My primary target now is to prevent homeless families from entering hotels and to find them more secure accommodation, including in family hubs.

Family hubs are an important first response for families who become homeless and who have no alternative other than commercial hotels. They are not a long-term housing solution but these custom-developed facilities offer family living arrangements with a greater level of stability than is possible in hotel accommodation, while the relevant housing authorities identify and secure move-on options to long-term independent living as quickly as possible. Furthermore, such arrangements will facilitate more co-ordinated needs assessment and support planning, including on-site access to required services, welfare, health, housing services, cooking and laundry facilities and appropriate family supports, such as the after-school programmes referred to by the Deputy.

For the 2016-17 school year, my Department provided funding to facilitate Leap cards being made available, via the family homelessness action teams, to all homeless families residing in commercial hotels in the Dublin region, allowing for free public transport for school journeys for school children and, where necessary, accompanying adults. My Department is considering the arrangements that will apply for homeless families accommodated in enhanced supported temporary accommodation and family hubs for the 2017-18 school year.

The Minister said people were advised of pathways but will he follow up to ensure that those pathways deliver and that we do not find families still in hotels by the end of the summer?

I wish to concentrate on the hubs. Deputy Ó Broin referred earlier to the report yesterday from the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission in which it specifically recommends that families should not be in hubs for longer than three months and makes a very strong family welfare case in this regard. Earlier today, I was at a conference organised by Senator Colette Kelleher at which we again heard about the effect on children of being in such situations, not having their own homes, not being able to bring their friends home and all the things that go with having a home. Will the Minister consider Emily Logan's recommendation that families should not have to stay any longer than three months in hubs?

To clarify, the original target for moving homeless families out of hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation in Rebuilding Ireland always referred to exceptional circumstances. We must recognise that there are certain situations in which a family may have a particular need or difficulty that would require a tailored solution and we must be sensitive to those needs. Different families have different needs. We discussed this previously at a committee meeting at which I think Deputy Boyd Barrett said that in certain circumstances the hotel would be a better option than the hub. I fundamentally disagree with that. Hotels are an absolutely inappropriate place for a homeless family to have to live because they are not necessarily safe spaces for children at all. They do not have the kinds of facilities, such as play space, that children need and they do not have cooking or laundry facilities and also because a family living in a hotel could find themselves having to leave the very next day. We know this is happening because we know that families are presenting again the morning after each time. That is absolutely not what we need to do. The hubs are there as a response but, as I have said, they are a first response. They are not meant to be a permanent solution or a second solution. This is why we have the policy in place for the hubs that we have and why I hope very soon, because the new hubs are coming on stream, that new families presenting as homeless will not have to go into hotels or bed and breakfast accommodation.

I am still concerned. The Minister said particular arrangements are needed for particular families that have particular difficulties but I want to ensure that he will track this and that these families will not still be in hotels when we come back here in the autumn. He said there are exceptional circumstances but leaving a family for a very long period, no matter what the exceptional circumstances are, in a hotel is not appropriate. I would like a more specific answer to this.

Second, last year, the Leap card arrangements for schools came into place much later than was intended. Can the Minister give us an assurance that this year homeless families will have their Leap cards, or whatever other arrangement is made, when the children go back to school in September?

I am afraid that when we come into September, some families will still be in hotels or bed and breakfast accommodation because of exceptional circumstances, which was signalled when the target was first put in place last year. They may have particular needs of which we must be very mindful, and for which we must find a tailored solution. I wish it were not the case but that is a situation we will have in September, unfortunately.

The comments on the report from yesterday are welcome, as are the recommendations. Many of the recommendations are already in train, and when one has the opportunity to go to the Crosscare, Mater Dei, facility one will see that in action.

On the issue of the Leap cards, my understanding is that an agreement has already been reached for the school year, so there should not be any delay in making sure that families have those by the beginning of the school term in September.

Water and Sewerage Schemes Status

Aindrias Moynihan


13. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government if funding in addition to the NTICI measure 2 funds already committed to will be provided to Cork County Council in order to advance the Crossbarry sewerage scheme. [33119/17]

I congratulate the Minister and wish him every success with the position.

This time last year, when the taking in charge initiative announced €180,000 funding for Crossbarry, there was a very real expectation that works would get under way and that the issue with the sewerage plant would be address. The situation in Cluain na Croise, Crossbarry, is replicated right across the country. There is a new estate with a treatment plant and the developer is gone. It needs to be upgraded as it is causing difficulty for residents. The idea of the pilot programme was that a solution would be put in place for Crossbarry but also that lessons would be learned for the future for many other estates around the country.

The national taking in charge initiative, NTICI, for residential estates was launched in April 2016 to support and accelerate overall national action on the taking-in-charge process for housing estates, including estates with developer provided water services infrastructure. A specific focus of the initiative was to expedite progress by local authorities and relevant stakeholders, including Irish Water, in addressing a build-up of pending cases relating to housing developments not yet taken in charge.

Cork County Council was allocated funding under measure 2 of the initiative in relation to a number of proposed schemes to resolve developer provided water services infrastructure, including €90,000 towards estates in Crossbarry in County Cork.

A report on the 2016 NTICI programme is currently being finalised by my Department and it is intended to publish the report shortly. The report will include findings and recommendations on sustaining progress on the taking-in-charge issue, including in respect of the resolution of developer provided water services infrastructure in housing estates such as those in Crossbarry village.

When the funds were allocated the expectation was that works would be carried out on the ground. A year on that has not happened, and we understand that the cost is now estimated to be much greater than what was originally thought and that further funding is going to be needed for it. When the initiative was put in place the idea was that the pilot scheme would inform an ongoing, year on year multi-annual programme. That needs to start providing funding now for the likes of Crossbarry, because the works have not been done, the sewers continue to block and residents are left in a distressed situation. This situation is replicated right across the country in many other housing estates. Will there now be additional funding for the multi-annual programme that was envisaged when this pilot was put in place last year?

The report is being finalised at the moment with recommendations about sustaining progress on the taking in charge issue, and Crossbarry will be included in that. In late 2015, there was a national survey of housing developments that were not taken in charge which indicated that there were 5,655 completed housing developments nationally which were not taken in charge by local authorities, and we are all familiar with different examples across the country of estates that were unfinished. This lead to the launch of the national taking in charge initiative, which was a pilot scheme funded to the tune of €10 million of taxpayer's money. Seven local authorities were chosen for the pilot scheme, including Clare, Cork, Donegal, Galway, Kerry, Tipperary and Wexford. In total, 68 developments were submitted by the seven local authorities, and funding was provided for 44 of them initially. There were three steps involved. Some €5.5 million was provided for housing estates not containing developer-provided water services infrastructure. Another €3.5 million was made available for measure 2, which applied to similar estates, and €1 million was provided for measure 3, for technical assistance to advance knowledge for the delivery of the taking in charge process.

I will find out where Crossbarry stands. The Department is of the view that works are progressing. That might well mean that the works are at a planning stage rather than actual work on the ground, but if I discover further information I will pass it on to the Deputy.

When those funds were allocated for the taking in charge initiative last year, there were several counties involved. Each of those have taken up their allocation and carried out physical works on the ground. Cork County Council and Crossbarry is the only one, I understand, which has not gone ahead with a build. Survey work was done and reports were presented on it, but aside from the surveys no physical work on the plant has taken place. That is where the focus needs to be. The plant needs to be upgraded to ensure the residents in Crossbarry have a reasonable quality of life and that they will not have trouble with blocked sewers.

Is the Minister of State in a position to put in place that multi-annual programme that was originally envisaged as part of the original taking in charge initiative? Will it be in place over the next couple of months so that Crossbarry and many other estates like it will be able to benefit from it?

We are going to wait to see the report on how the pilot programmes worked first. It is estimated that the number of housing developments that are unfinished and not taken in charge with water services issues will mean a total cost of €300 million. That is a considerable amount of money and will have to be found somewhere to complete some of the sewerage schemes such as Crossbarry. The Department is clear that some works have taken place, and once the report on the review of progress is submitted, the case of Crossbarry will be pursued further to make sure that money is actually spent on the ground.

Approved Housing Bodies

Eoin Ó Broin


14. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government the status of the ongoing discussions within his Department and the approved housing bodies, ABH, sector on the forthcoming housing (regulation of approved housing bodies) Bill 2015. [33144/17]

I am looking for an update on the ongoing discussions between Department officials and the approved housing bodies in terms of the forthcoming regulations for the future of the approved housing body sector.

The Rebuilding Ireland Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness recognises the key contribution that approved housing bodies, AHBs, make to the delivery of social housing. It is estimated that AHBs have the capacity to contribute around a third of the new social housing units that are currently targeted over the period to 2021.

The housing delivery capacity of AHBs will need to expand greatly and they will require significantly increased external investment. AHBs that have statutorily regulated standards of governance and management capacity will be better able to access private or loan finance.

The proposed housing (regulation of approved housing bodies) Bill and the underlying policy, which was formulated in consultation with the sector, intends to establish a regulator to oversee the effective governance, financial management and performance of voluntary and co-operative housing bodies. The Bill aims to safeguard public and private investment in the social housing provision sector, to rationalise and enable increased supply from the voluntary and co-operative housing sector and to ensure that the assets built through investments in the sector are managed sustainably.  The statutory regulatory framework will provide further assurances to investors, tenants, the Government and to the sector itself that social housing providers operate in a well-regulated and stable environment.

My Department is working with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel to finalise the text of the Bill for publication as soon as possible.  I had hoped that the Bill would be published during this current Dáil session.  However, the complex nature of some of the issues related to transitioning from voluntary to statutory regulation has required additional time. Notwithstanding this, I expect the Bill to be published in time for early consideration in the autumn Oireachtas session. Until such time  as the legislation is  enacted and the statutory system of regulation is put in place, the interim regulatory arrangements in operation since 2014 will remain in place.

This is legislation which most in this House will welcome, and we will certainly collaborate with the Minister to ensure the regulation is fit for purpose. There are three concerns I want to flag at this stage. One is the fact there is very significant variance in the size and capacity of the approved housing bodies in the sector.

While greater regulation is going to be needed for the tier 3 approved housing bodies, particularly because they will be carrying the extra burden of unit delivery, it is important that we do not squeeze out the small, local tier 1, and bottom end of tier 2, bodies which have units, are not looking to expand and need to be encouraged and supported to continue to do what they are doing.

The second issue arises in the context of the EUROSTAT and Central Statistics Office, CSO, review of the status of the approved housing bodies. One of the issues that caused real difficulty and eventually forced approved housing bodies on balance sheet across the water was a view of too much Government control of the sector. While the review taking place of our approved housing body sector is on the basis of the current regulations I would urge the Minister to be cautious about following the heavy-handed regulatory approach in Britain that has caused such difficulty for the designation.

Finally, there is a need to ensure the increased level of financial risk that those tier 3 approved housing bodies are being expected to take on, a result of the increased stock, and low in finance, is adequately provided for in the regulations.

I spoke at the recent annual general meeting in the Ashling Hotel about making sure that as we move forward with this new regulation we do so in a way that is mindful of the different sizes and capacities of the housing bodies. I absolutely want to see how we can get some of the large tier 3 housing bodies, with 300 units or more, to increase their ambitions and scale. I am not sure whether that would require amalgamations. We might have to bring in a housing body from abroad that has more experience of working on a bigger scale such as those in the United Kingdom to help.

I completely take the Deputy's point about the good work being done by the tier 1 and 2 housing bodies that are dealing with few units but with people who have very particular needs. We want to make sure they can continue to deliver their supports. I also take the Deputy's point about making sure the regulation is not going too hard as the UK regulatory system did. We are considering other models.

Following meetings with the Housing Finance Agency, the Housing Agency and others I know there is a need to leverage more finance into this sector. We can only do that with appropriate regulations but we can only do that in a way that will not undermine these housing bodies in the long term.

I fully support all of those sentiments. In respect of the level of risk that they will increasingly carry, there is a need to ensure there is a good solid, off-balance sheet vehicle through which credit union or private finance can deliver increased approved housing body units. That would be one mechanism to protect them against some of that risk. Given the difficulties that the approved housing body sector has had through the redesignation process in Britain, if such a redesignation were to take place here that would have a very significant impact not just on the sector but on the targets for the delivery of units within the Government's current plan. Any new borrowing by the approved housing body sector would be on-balance sheet and have an impact on the expenditure ceilings and cause real difficulty for us. I am not against regulation. Good quality, strong regulation is needed and I support the Minister in that but I ask him to be mindful of the line that Britain crossed and that it is really important we do not cross it here.

I am aware of that risk and it is important that the Deputy recognises and raises it again because we will have to keep it in mind as we approach this in September. I hope we can move quickly with this legislation because it is very important.

Getting off-balance sheet financing or finding other financing vehicles, for example, private money, pension funds, or credit union funding are options that are being explored. A couple of suggestions have already been put to the European Investment Bank, EIB, as well. We can find the financing solutions. The responsibility we will have in bringing the legislation through will be to put those safeguards in the regulations to make sure we do so in the right way.

Social and Affordable Housing Eligibility

Brendan Smith


15. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government his plans to improve the income eligibility limits for social housing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33117/17]

Brendan Smith


21. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government if a review of income eligibility limits for social housing has been carried out; if so, the outcome of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33118/17]

I raised with the Minister's predecessor, through oral and written questions, the urgent need to improve the income eligibility limits for social housing in Cavan and Monaghan. As the Minister is aware there are different zones throughout the country and Cavan-Monaghan has a very low income limit. Every week people come to my clinics who are on low incomes but are denied the opportunity to go on the social housing list. These people have no chance whatsoever of getting a loan to purchase or build their own homes. I asked the Minister and was informed that a review would be carried out. What was the outcome of that review and what proposals does the Minister have to make the income limit realistic for people in the Cavan-Monaghan area? There are probably similar problems in other parts of the country.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 15 and 21 together.

The Social Housing Assessment Regulations 2011 prescribe maximum net income limits for each housing authority, in different bands according to the area, with income being defined and assessed according to a standard household means policy.

It should be noted that the income bands and the authority area assigned to each band are 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. The limits also reflect 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 and thereby promote sustainable communities. This increase also had the effect of future-proofing the income limits to a certain extent.

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. As part of the broader social housing reform agenda, a review of the income eligibility limits for social housing supports is scheduled to commence later this year.

I thank the Minister for the reply but it is basically the same as the reply I got several months ago. The review was to take place much earlier than "later this year". Will the Minister ask his officials to review this? Officials from Cavan County Council have spoken to officials in the Department.

I can cite a few cases I know of. A young lady came to me. She is a lone parent with three children, two at second level school and one at primary level. She works in a factory, in a low-paid job. She is on the family income supplement, FIS. She cannot qualify for social housing. By definition the fact that she is on FIS means that her income is not sustainable to support her family. How could she get a loan in her own right on an income that is not sustainable? The Minister is new to the job but will he ask his officials to try to bring some equity into this system? He said it is an "equitable" system. It is not equitable. I cited another case the last time I spoke to the Minister's predecessor, Deputy Coveney, of a young apprentice fitter and his partner, who had lost her job and is on jobseeker's allowance, and who have a child but do not qualify for social housing.

Mention was made earlier of the good history of social housing in this country and the good mix of people in communities where social housing was the predominant vehicle for providing housing but there will not be people in employment in social housing in the future if we continue the present policy. That would be disastrous for communities.

I apologise that the review has not yet commenced but it will commence later this year and we will get that done as a priority for exactly the points the Deputy makes about the circumstances facing his constituents in respect of eligibility for social housing or other supports they might need. This review will be important but we are also reviewing other measures in place, for example, the home choice loan for first-time buyers that people can avail of from their local authority, and the local authority mortgage scheme. We need to make sure that people can afford to live, without paying a disproportionate part of their income on their rent. We will consider the eligibility criteria for social housing to see what exactly may need to be done in that area.

In respect of the new schemes we are bringing online, we are considering ways to find an affordable buy model that will work in other parts of the country. It is already working in Ballymun, where a housing co-operative works with the local authority and AIB. Ó Cualann helps deliver that. We are also considering affordable rental models. This all has to be part of the picture, including the review that will happen later this year.

I ask the Minister not to have a long-term review. He should get his officials to speak to good officials in the housing sections in local authorities. They know the difficulties that arise every day. I know from speaking to officials in my local authorities that they are refusing people the opportunity to join the social housing list but they know these people have no chance of getting a mortgage or a loan to buy their own premises or build their own house. This situation needs to be addressed and a review should be very short. Perhaps Cavan-Monaghan has particularly low income eligibility limits. If the Minister could ask his officials to ask about the Cavan-Monaghan situation I hope we could get the income limits increased.

There is a need to do this. The people involved in the cases I have cited are being denied a right to even be considered for social housing. I appeal to the Minister to deal with it urgently.

The Deputy is right that the knowledge is there and the review can be targeted and can use the resources and knowledge that is already there. The figures in respect of the bands that are already there show that Cavan-Monaghan is lower than Dublin city, for example. Obviously, there would be a reason for that. If we were to move the band in one area it would have an impact across the whole country. We must bear this in mind as we do the review. I have committed to doing the review and we will do it as quickly as we can.

I urge the Minister to consider two other issues in the review.

The first is that, traditionally, local authorities were able to apply a certain level of flexibility for households that were just above the income threshold at their existing limits. In the housing needs assessment guidance note from the Department that was issued to local authorities last year, they were told to no longer apply that flexibility. A family could, for example, be €500 a year over the threshold and would be excluded from the list.

The second issue relates to family income supplement, FIS. This payment is made because the State recognises that household earns an income that is too low to sustain itself. Local authorities do not include FIS or carer's allowance in their assessment of the rent so it makes no sense that they would take FIS or carer's allowance into account for the assessment for social housing in the first instance. Whatever about the bands, and I have a second opinion to Deputy Smith on that, I strongly urge the Minister to remove FIS and the carer's allowance from the housing needs assessment. This would mean that anybody who is in receipt of FIS would not have the FIS payment used against them for the purposes of being deemed eligible for social housing. That would equally solve the problem for some of the constituents that Deputy Brendan Smith has spoken of.

I thank Deputy Ó Broin. I will consider that in so far as flexibility has changed the situation for households that might find themselves just above a threshold. Even though it might only be €500 in a year, it is not an inconsequential amount and in the scheme of things it makes a difference. I am not against flexibility in Government programmes and schemes as long as they are not open to abuse or attempted abuse by elected representatives who try to do something where they should not. We shall review this later in the year and I hope to come back as quickly as possible to the Deputies on the outcome of that review when it is completed.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.