Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Approved Housing Bodies

Brian Stanley

Ceist:

25. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the terms of the payment and availability scheme for approved housing bodies; and the amount paid out to housing bodies under the scheme. [8289/19]

The payment and availability scheme for approved housing bodies is one of the schemes introduced by the Government to try to increase housing supply. Little is known about it, but it has been in operation for some time. It would be useful for the House to examine the scheme, how it is working and its terms.

Approved housing bodies, AHBs, are making an important contribution to the supply of new social housing homes under Rebuilding Ireland. Since 2009, homes built, purchased or leased by AHBs are made available for social housing support under a payment and availability agreement with the local authority. For each property or group of properties, the payment and availability agreement sets out the details of the properties, details in respect of nomination rights of the local authority, the payment that will be made to the AHB, how that payment will be periodically reviewed, how the tenant’s rent will be charged in accordance with the relevant differential rent scheme, and the conditions in regard to the maintenance of the properties and the provision of services to tenants. The agreement also sets out that payments may be withheld if the terms are not complied with by the AHB or, if necessary, the agreement can be terminated.

Payment and availability agreements are generally between ten and 30 years in length. The level of payment made by the local authority to the AHB varies depending on the type and source of the property, ranging from 80% to 95% of market rent. The level of 95% is paid in the case of apartments, with the level for other properties usually being 92% or less. At the end of 2018, a total of 6,034 social housing homes were secured from AHBs by local authorities using payment and availability agreements. In 2018, €63.7 million was provided by my Department to local authorities to meet the terms of these agreements with AHBs. They will deliver approximately one third of the targets for the remaining years of Rebuilding Ireland.

The Minister of State provided some detail on how the subvention to approved housing bodies from local authorities is working. Is it a contra item? In other words, is the local authority reimbursed by the Department for that figure? It accounts for a substantial chunk of local authority budgets. The Minister of State clarified that between 80% and 95% of market rent is paid to the approved housing body. In addition, the approved housing body receives the differential rent, or what the rent would be for a similar local authority house in the same county, which may account for another €140 a week. It is a very attractive and beneficial scheme for approved housing bodies. I ask the Minister of State to clarify whether it is a contra item.

He mentioned that 6,034 homes were delivered under the scheme. Over what period did that take place? The scheme is very beneficial. The approved housing bodies are doing very well from it and have a very good budget for repairs, maintenance and management of their stock. Why can the same deal not be offered to local authorities?

I sense that the Deputy is a little unhappy with approved housing bodies, but the Government is very happy with their performance. They are doing very well and delivering many houses. The scheme is designed to achieve good value for the Exchequer and we have been doing so for many years. The average cost of a house through payment and availability agreements is approximately €878. Deputy Stanley may wish to ask Deputy Ó Broin, who is sitting alongside him, whether he supports approved housing bodies. The Government supports them and they deliver good value for the taxpayer through various accommodation schemes such as the capital advance leasing facility to assist with construction or acquisition, the mortgage to rent scheme, private leases, the recent national asset residential property services, NARPS, process, and the repair and leaseback scheme. There are various schemes available. The average cost of a property under a payment and availability agreement is €878. It offers quite good value and makes good use of our housing budget through the combination of approved housing bodies and local authorities. I sense that the Deputy may not agree with that. Local authorities - certainly all local authority members - understand the relationship and have strengthened it. Councillors should involve themselves more with the business of approved housing bodies on a regular basis because AHBs work in partnership with and are responsible to local authorities.

The problem is that local authorities have very little say in any of this, apart from passing the budget every year for the payment and availability scheme. That is the reality which the Minister of State must recognise. On value for money, I understand that the Government will bring in several schemes to try to deliver the maximum number of houses but the problem relates to the cost to the taxpayer. The Minister of State did not clarify whether the payment and availability scheme is a contra item, in other words, whether the local authority is reimbursed by the Department from public funds. Of course, the Government is happy with the delivery by approved housing bodies, and the AHBs are very happy because they have a good cashflow to deliver, manage and maintain the housing stock. The problem is that local authorities do not have such cashflow.

As rents continue to escalate over the next year or two because we do not have rent controls, so will differential rents, meaning that the flow of cash out of public funds on a payment and availability will increase. Could we offer the same payment and availability deal to local authorities to allow them to build in the same way as AHBs and to buy and get those houses into use? The State would be the ultimate owner of the houses. The problem with the payment and availability scheme as currently operated is that the State will not own one brick of those houses after the agreements expire after 30 years.

The Deputy made some misleading comments. Local authorities are very much involved in the delivery of housing through approved housing bodies. No approved housing body scheme can come through the system without the approval and involvement of the local authority. I would rather if the Deputy did not mislead the House or cause confusion for councillors.

Elected members have no say in the matter.

Approved housing bodies must work through the local authorities, which sanction the schemes in combination with the Department. They are reimbursed for the costs of that - that is why the housing budget is there. I remind the Deputy that the housing budget this year is the largest ever, with a housing spend of approximately €2.5 billion. The combination of work with local authorities and housing bodies helps us to deliver the houses the Opposition keeps saying it wants us to deliver. We will deliver 10,000 houses this year. The Deputy should consider the Sinn Féin housing policy, which proposes the delivery of fewer houses using taxpayers' money than is the intention of the Government.

I question that too. I sense a little frustration in the Deputy's voice, but the housing bodies are not for profit. This is a good use of money. They avail of private finance and the Housing Finance Agency; therefore, they use a combination of funding sources, which gives us a good result and helps us to increase activity. I agree with the Deputy that they are in a very strong position to manage their properties. Local authorities are also well funded to do the same and their voids programmes help to turn properties around.

Questions Nos. 26, 38 and 58 replied to with Written Answers.

Traveller Accommodation

Dessie Ellis

Ceist:

27. Deputy Dessie Ellis asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the steps he will take in view of the findings of the European committee on social rights that Ireland remains in violation of the European social charter on five grounds for Travellers by failing to redress insufficient provision and inadequate quality of Traveller accommodation, in legislation and practice and in circumstances in which Travellers were threatened with evictions and without the necessary safeguards. [8481/19]

Joan Collins

Ceist:

30. Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the number of Traveller-specific accommodation units built in 2018; and the targets in place for 2019 and 2020. [8381/19]

Eoin Ó Broin

Ceist:

43. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the rationale for the 44% underspend in the Traveller accommodation budget for 2018; and the efforts he is making to ensure there is a 100% draw-down of funding by local authorities in 2019. [8452/19]

I raise this question because there seems to be an issue with the money being provided for local authorities. The data show that, of the €12 million earmarked for Traveller housing in 2018, just €1.7 million was drawn down. Money is being allocated for Traveller accommodation, but it is not being drawn down. An independent expert group was established to examine and make recommendations on the issues related to the provision of Traveller accommodation. At what stage is it? It was supposed to report early this year.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 27, 30 and 43 together.

In accordance with the Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Act 1998, local authorities have statutory responsibility for the assessment of the accommodation needs of Travellers and the preparation, adoption and implementation of multi-annual Traveller accommodation programmes, TAPs, in their areas.  My Department’s role is to ensure there are adequate structures and supports in place to assist the local authorities in providing such accommodation, including a national framework of policy, legislation and funding. It is a matter for each local authority to set targets for the provision of Traveller accommodation, which they outline in their TAPs. The allocation and recoupment profiles for Traveller accommodation projects can vary across local authorities, given local priorities, circumstances and project timelines as set out in their programmes.  The programmes provide a roadmap for local authority investment priorities over the period and form the basis for the allocation of funding from my Department for Traveller accommodation.

In 2018 local authorities delivered a total of 107 units of Traveller accommodation.  They included 57 refurbishments-extensions, 48 emergency caravans, one group house and one first-time buyer's grant for the purchase of a caravan. Local authorities are preparing their fifth multi-annual TAPs which will run from 2019 to 2024.  I believe the new councils will continue this process in June this year. The plans will outline details of the programmes to be undertaken to meet the existing and projected accommodation needs of Travellers in their areas.  The TAPs will be prepared by the local authorities in consultation with local Traveller organisations, the local Traveller consultative committees, LTACCs, other relevant community groups and the public in general.  They will come into effect from September this year.

In line with the commitment in Rebuilding Ireland, reflecting the disappointing level of overall funding drawn down in recent years, which I agree is unacceptable, and having regard to relevant findings in relation to the European social charter referred to, the Housing Agency commissioned a review of funding for Traveller-specific accommodation in 2017.  The review had regard to the targets contained in local authority TAPs and the actual delivery, the status of accommodation funded and funding provided for accommodation maintenance and other supports.

Following its consideration of the review, the national Traveller accommodation consultative committee recommended that an independent expert group be established to examine and make recommendations on issues regarding Traveller accommodation policy, strategy and implementation.  The expert group was established in September 2018.  It has been asked to review the effectiveness, implementation and operation of the Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Act 1998, with a view to examining whether it provides a robust legislative basis for meeting current and future accommodation needs of the Traveller community.  It has also been asked to review other legislation that may impact on the provision and delivery of Traveller-specific accommodation, including transient accommodation, which will address a number of the issues raised by the European committee on social rights.  I expect the group to provide my Department with a report in April this year. When we set it up in September or October, I met the group and asked its members to do this work as quickly as they possibly could. We wanted them to do it within three or four months, but they expressed a preference for a period of six months. We hope to have the report no later than April in order that we can act on it at that time. My Department will consider any recommendation made by the expert group that will have the potential to improve the delivery of Traveller accommodation nationally and help to ensure full use is made of the increasing level of funding available for investment in Traveller accommodation.

The Deputy asked about targets for next year. At housing summits and individual meetings with the housing delivery team as we travel around the country, we sit down with local authorities to go through the question of delivery. I will continue to do so in the next month or two, with the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy. We will try to see if projects are on track and that there are proposals in the pipeline as we want the money to be spent.

I welcome the points made by the Minister of State. Heretofore, there has not been any drilling down into how and where Traveller accommodation can be built. If Traveller groups are involved in the process, it can make a difference. I was hoping the report would be ready by now, as I am interested in the details of what it will contain. There has been a lack of will on the part of local authorities to provide the accommodation needed by the Traveller community, but I hope the process the Minister of State has put in place will deliver over a period of time and determine where we can build five, ten or 20 homes and provide the funding needed for them. That is the only way to deal with the issue.

I agree with the Deputy. We genuinely want to make progress in this area. There has been under-achievement in meeting the TAP targetss set for the past 20 years by up to 80%, although the position in some years was better than others. Not enough has been happening at local level to make projects succeed. The Deputy made reference to local authorities, but detailed analysis has been undertaken and it has been found that there is a combination of reasons for it, and that all stakeholders are involved. We need to find ways to make this happen and have the money spent. People are living in unsatisfactory conditions, something none of us wants. Therefore, we must address the issue which is a priority for us and the sooner we receive the report the better. Even without it, we are sitting down with the local authorities to work on projects to have them delivered. It comes down to planning, design and lay-out and individual families have different requests.

I acknowledge the good work the Minister of State is doing on the issue, particularly in the establishment of the expert group. However, I am increasingly concerned by the underspend year on year. I received the reply to a parliamentary question last night which gave us the breakdown for last year by local authority. Not only was there a 48% underspend across the State, ten local authorities did not spend anything at all, 14 significantly underspent, while only six either spent their full allocation or overspent. That is not good enough. I hope the Minister of State is not suggesting he is waiting for the expert group to make its findings to enable him to work out how to deal with the issue. This is the second year in a row in which just about half of the budget has not been spent. What did the Minister of State do last year with the local authorities to fix the underspend in the year before and last year? Whatever the expert group recommends in its report, to which we are looking forward, it will not have any impact until 2020. What is the Minister of State going to do differently this year to ensure we will not be here in 12 months' time discussing a significant underspend?

We all share the Deputies' concerns that the money is not being spent on Traveller-specific accommodation, but even though there is an underspend, we will make sure the money is spent on other housing solutions that will benefit both Travellers and non-Travellers. Travellers do not just benefit from Traveller-specific accommodation. We meet many Traveller families who want a choice of accommodation. The money is not lost to the housing budget and the Department has proved that it can spend money wisely and get good results.

The only way we have to deal with local authorities is to use existing law. We can sit down with them and work through specific projects. I have visited some of the key sites in a couple of counties that are causing difficulty. Some of the sites in Galway and Cork were named in the European review. We have sat down with local authority members and council staff in the areas concerned to find ways to progress projects. I have also met many Traveller representative bodies to try to make a breakthrough because in some situations it is not as straightforward as it seems. It is not always the fault of one side and there are other issues at play. The best way to do it is to work through our delivery team to find ways to have the money spent. We are not waiting for the expert group to come back, but I hope the report will indicate a clear direction for how we can tackle this issue. We want to improve the position for Traveller families.

My concern is that the situation is getting worse year on year. For example, the worst ever underspend since the Traveller accommodation programmes were introduced was in 2017 and now we discover that last year the situation was the same. It is the same local authorities. This is not about one or two sites, because the Minister of State is absolutely right that there can be two sides to any story, but there is clearly a structural problem here when we have 24 local authorities either not spending or significantly underspending a budget. That is a structural problem in the system. I do not accept it is a positive that this money is spent elsewhere. Traveller homelessness is higher than in any other section of the population. We are three years and a few months on from the tragic events in Carrickmines where families were living in wholly inappropriate and dangerous conditions. This budget is not just for new Traveller accommodation, it should also be for upgrades, improvements and fire safety works. The fact that so many local authorities are not spending or are underspending is a problem. I am waiting to hear something different that the Government will do this year to ensure the money is spent. I appreciate the primary problem here is at a local government level but the Department has to do more to ensure 2019 does not have the same level of underspend as the last two years.

Again, part of the issue here is that, as we rightly increase the capital funding back up, the pipeline of projects are not there to be able to draw that allocation down. We originally make allocations based on projects that should be in the pipeline and have come through planning and then they get stuck in planning or design or have not been agreed locally with all the various stakeholders so there are reasons for that. Much of that difficulty is probably with new sites or new accommodation, however. From what I can see there are certainly plenty of projects that we could refurbish and spend this money on, so we have asked local authorities to look at all existing accommodation that is not up to a satisfactory condition so that this money can be drawn down for those projects. I am more confident this year that this money will be spent than I would have been last year because we have put a lot more time and effort into doing this. There is also full engagement from all the stakeholders and we have to recognise that there are responsibilities and rights on all sides here to try to bring this forward. I do not single out one or two areas or stakeholders; I believe the system has not delivered. There are many involved in that system and it needs to be addressed. Hopefully, with the work we are doing this year prior to the report, we will get some progress in this space.

Social and Affordable Housing

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

28. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the reports he is considering changing the rules in relation to offers of accommodation to social housing applicants which may result in an applicant being suspended from the list if they refuse two offers of accommodation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8178/19]

Jan O'Sullivan

Ceist:

62. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if the plans to change the policy on offers of social housing to require a five year wait for a further offer if two are refused will be clarified; his views on whether some flexibility is required in circumstances in which there are valid reasons for offers being refused; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8243/19]

One of the most unpalatable aspects of the shameful housing and homelessness crisis is the attempt by officials and by Government to blame the people who are the victims of the housing crisis. We saw an instance of that with Mr. Owen Keegan's comments at the weekend when he said that homeless accommodation was somehow "attractive" to people. Another aspect of this is the suggestion that has been mooted that people will be suspended from the housing list if, for overwhelmingly legitimate reasons, they refuse particular offers. Is this true and if so, how can the Minister justify it?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 28 and 62 together.

The current position in relation to the refusal by households of offers of social housing dwellings is set down in regulation 12 of the social housing allocation regulations 2011, which were made under section 22 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009.

Under regulation 12, a household that refuses two reasonable offers of social housing tenancies in any 12 month period, other than an offer made under the choice based letting procedure, will not receive any further offers from any local authority for a period of one year from the date of the second refusal. An offer is deemed to be reasonable where the dwelling concerned would, in the opinion of the authority, meet the housing needs of the household and, except in an emergency, is located in an area of choice specified by the household. From my engagement with the local authority sector, it has become apparent that the current 12 month sanction is not operating in a manner that counters sufficiently the potential for households on the waiting list to turn down reasonable housing offers. The refusal of offers can have a serious impact on the efforts by local authorities to manage their social housing letting process effectively and efficiently, lengthening the period ultimately required to complete lettings or relettings and resulting in a loss of essential differential rent revenue for extended periods.

For these reasons, I will soon be proposing to amend the regulations to provide that a household that refuses two reasonable offers in any 12 month period, other than an offer made under the choice based letting procedure, will not receive any further offers from any local authority for a period of five years.

The latter period will not be reckonable subsequently for the purposes of determining the household’s relative priority for another social housing tenancy. Having regard to the overall level of demand for social housing, I am satisfied that the change proposed is a measured step, it is ultimately fair to all households on local authority social housing waiting lists and it will be supportive of the work of local authorities to improve the level of efficiency in the use of their social housing stock.

That is an absolute disgrace but it is typical of a Government trying to divert attention away from its failure to provide public and affordable housing and to essentially blame the victims. I will take one of the administrative areas the Minister is talking about. My administrative area stretches from Little Bray to Sandyford. Let us imagine someone has been on the housing list for 15 years, their kids go to school in Shankill and they get offered somewhere in Sandyford. All their family network, such as their granny who looks after the kids, is in Shankill, and the schools the kids are in are in Shankill. They are told they are getting an offer of a house in Stepaside or Sandyford. They say they are desperate for a place but they cannot take that offer because they would have to uproot all their kids, they would not have the family network, they do not have a car and there are no transport links. This happens all the time. In many cases, houses are substandard, they are too small and there are real problems but out of desperation local authorities will offer them to people even though they are not suitable for particular families. The Government will then punish people by taking them off the list for five years. It is absolutely outrageous.

The first thing to say is that this is part of a suite of measures that we are working on to help people who are in emergency accommodation to get out of emergency accommodation and to help local authorities manage the social housing stock efficiently. There are more than 70,000 people waiting for their home. These homes are being built now and we want to make sure there are no unnecessary or unreasonable delays for those families to get into their homes. What we are talking about here are not refusals for legitimate reasons, as the Deputy said. That is not what we are talking about. There is great flexibility with the local authorities in terms of working with families and individuals to help them into their social housing homes and in terms of determining what is the best type of home for them. It is not for legitimate reasons. It is for reasons that are not seen to be acceptable by the authority which is responsible for helping families into homes and managing that stock of social housing. We are talking about three areas of choice where people can choose to have their home, and I can provide a detailed map of the geographic size of those areas for the Deputy. We are talking about a second refusal. The local authority has offered one house which it deems to be a perfectly good house for that person to move into but that has been refused. The local authority has then offered a second house which it deems to be perfectly good for that household to move into but that has been refused. In that instance, based on the feedback I have received from local authorities, they believe that rather than just a 12 month suspension, a five year suspension would be more suitable. We are not talking about a large number of cases so I do not know why the Deputy is getting so frustrated and concerned about this. The local authorities deem it necessary to ensure they can more efficiently use their housing stock in the interests of those people who have been waiting too long to get into their homes.

The Minister is not living in the real world of people who are looking for housing in local authority areas. I have a similar situation to Deputy Boyd Barrett where three areas of choice can be ticked on a form and in some cases they are very broad areas. They stretch for kilometres. By and large, we are talking about families in situations where they do not have their own car and I am not sure about Dublin but in Limerick there certainly are no connecting busses. They have to get their children to school and there may not be a direct bus. While I have the greatest of respect for local authority officials, what they might deem to be a fair and legitimate offer may not be practical for the family concerned and it is too inflexible to put people back for five years. One year can be difficult enough for a family that is in a desperate situation but I genuinely do not believe that people are refusing offers for flimsy reasons. Maybe there is a very small number who do but certainly when it comes to the people I deal with, generally speaking, if they are refusing an offer of a local authority house, having been on a waiting list for a number of years, they have really genuine reasons for doing so. If there are people abusing the system, it can be dealt with even with the current regulations but it is very harsh to extend it to five years.

The local authority is the entity which best understands what the needs of the people on the housing list are and what type of home they need to move into.

They have great flexibility. They have flexibility within the current policy and flexibility within the changes to be able to work with those families to get the best home. We are talking about those people who are refusing accommodation for spurious reasons - that is who we are trying to target here.

How many are there? Is it ten, 20 or 50?

The current policy is two refusals and the person is suspended for a year. What we are talking about is extending the period of time to act as a deterrent to people who are not accepting houses for reasons that are not seen to be valid. We are not talking about the challenges some families face that require a very specific type of accommodation, with the local authority working with them on a first offer, second offer and third offer. They have the flexibility to continue beyond two offers - of course they do. This is where the local authority deems that the second refusal was not on legitimate grounds. Under the current policy, people are then suspended for 12 months but, under the new proposals, which will be coming in with a range of other proposals, it will be for five years. I think that is acceptable based on the feedback I have from those local authority areas. However, the flexibility remains. This is not about families who have a legitimate challenge in trying to find a home to meet their needs in their area of choice.

If the number is small, where the hell did this come from? I will tell the Minister where it came from. It came from a rotten prejudice that was expressed by Owen Keegan at the weekend in his disgraceful interview with The Sunday Business Post.

The Deputy should refrain from naming people.

He said it publicly.

He may well have but we have to abide by the rules here.

He said homeless accommodation was attractive to people and was a magnet, an absolutely outrageous statement he made in public, an insult to people who are stuck in homelessness. This betrays a rotten attitude. If it is a small number, where did it come from? It is to divert attention away from the real problem. One year is enough punishment. I have met people who are faced with that one year, who are crying and coming into my office to say they do not want to refuse, that they have been waiting for a house for years but that they cannot accept the house because it is completely impossible for them, yet they are under pressure to do so. I understand why officials are putting people under pressure because they are desperate to just tick the boxes. The people who have been waiting years on housing lists, who have real human family circumstances, should not be put under that pressure and should not be punished in this way. It is outrageous.

I call Deputy Jan O'Sullivan. All Members should refrain from mentioning names.

What we are trying to do is to get the Minister to change his mind. I ask the Minister to define what he means by "flexibility". As I read this, there is no flexibility and once a person refuses a second home, they go back five years. I cannot see any flexibility in that. The Minister needs to go back and redefine what he is talking about if it is the case that people who refuse two offers then have to wait five years. We are talking about people who are desperate and who only refuse because they know that if they accept the third offer, they are stuck in this unsuitable place for the rest of their lives and it is not going to work for them. They are not going to refuse for spurious reasons. I urge the Minister to find a way of dealing with this whereby, after two refusals, the local authority must bring the people in and discuss with them why they have not been able to accept the two offers. Given the pressure local authority officials are under, I do not think they are going to show flexibility. Instead, they are going to say, "You have refused and that is it. We have a load of other people to deal with." That is not fair on people and their individual situations.

I urge the Minister not to proceed with this draconian measure. I urge him to come before the housing committee and have a reasoned discussion with us about this because he is not being given the full information. There are many examples, which we can all cite from our constituencies, where people turn down offers of accommodation, for example, because they have been offered accommodation outside the catchment area for children who are in schools with special needs, and the local authorities have deemed that to be acceptable. We have had cases in some local authorities where families with children have been offered one-bedroom accommodation and the local authorities deemed that to be acceptable. We have had occasions where people have been offered accommodation not only far away from where they currently live but away from public transport networks and vital supports, which is a particular problem for working single mothers who need access to family accommodation.

The Minister has this wrong. I have no difficulty if somebody for frivolous reasons rejects two offers and receives a punishment - that is not a problem. However, there is more to this than the Minister is being told. I urge him to hold back and to come to committee. The crucial point is that choice-based letting fixes this problem for the overwhelming majority of offers, yet only 16 local authorities are using that system and many of them are not using it properly. Rather than punishing families, many of whom in our experience have legitimate reasons for rejecting offers the local authority feels are appropriate, we need to see a different approach. The Minister should come and talk to us, sit down and engage, and listen before he proceeds. Five years is draconian and the information the Minister is being given by the managers is not the complete picture.

Local authority elected members have to approve the scheme of lettings. Will this override decisions of local authority officers or elected members or is there a recommendation to that effect?

The Minister has one minute to reply.

As Deputies got extra time, I would like some extra time as well because it is an important issue. I have no problem with coming before the Oireachtas joint committee, as I do regularly, and I will come in on this issue as well. We have an engagement coming up which will facilitate that. This does not affect choice-based letting, which is working very well where it is working, and we want it to work in more areas. I am glad Deputy Ó Broin accepts that people are refusing accommodation for spurious reasons, and, in that case, that there should be some sort of deterrent and some sort of consequence. When people reject a social housing home for spurious reasons, the more than 70,000 people Deputy Boyd Barrett is talking about, who have been waiting for so long, have to wait even longer.

Deputy Ó Broin said I do not know the full facts. With respect, many Deputies come to me with cases which seem to be genuine hardship cases, and they bring them to me for genuine reasons, but when we actually dig into them, there is more to them than meets the eye. We have to try to find a balanced approach. The current policy is two refusals and a suspension for 12 months. This is about lengthening the suspension period to make it act as a proper deterrent for those who are doing this for spurious reasons, not those who have legitimate difficulties in finding accommodation that will meet their needs. That is what we are talking about here. The flexibility already exists in the local authority area. The local authorities have come to me saying they need more of a deterrent for those people who are refusing accommodation for spurious reasons. If the Deputies do not think we should be rejecting people for using spurious reasons, and if they have an idea how we can better deal with the situation-----

Choice-based letting.

That is what we are rolling out. There are more than 70,000 people waiting for a social housing home. Some of those people are being kept from moving into their homes because people ahead of them in the queue are saying "No" for reasons that are not legitimate. That is what we are trying to deal with. This is happening with a suite of other reforms that will be announced next month.

Housing Data

Eoin Ó Broin

Ceist:

29. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government his views on the CSO house build completion data for 2018; and the steps he is taking to ensure house building targets for 2019 are reached in view of the fact the 2018 figures show that they were 40% below target for 2018. [8454/19]

The CSO released the house completion figures the week before last. They are a good set of figures, which I welcome, and I also welcome any increase in private and public sector house building. My concern is that the figure of 18,000 units reported is substantially behind the targets set out in Rebuilding Ireland. What is going to happen to ensure that this year, next year and in 2021 the catch-up in both public and private sector delivery is achieved to meet that crucial target in Rebuilding Ireland?

Housing is, and will remain, a top priority for the Government. The latest statistics from the Central Statistics Office, released earlier this month, show that very significant progress is being made. Specifically, the CSO reports there were 18,072 new dwelling completions in Ireland last year, up 25% on 2017. When account is taken of the 794 homes completed in unfinished housing developments and the 2,592 homes that were vacant for at least two years and have been returned to use, the overall number of new homes becoming available for use in 2018 was 21,458, without counting the new student bed spaces that were also brought in during that time.

More new homes were built in 2018 than in any other year this decade. Much of this can be attributed to the Government's overall management of the economy, as well as to specific actions under Rebuilding Ireland, including streamlined and updated planning arrangements and investments in infrastructure. While the Deputy's question suggests that overall housing delivery last year was 40% below the target for the year, this is not the case. The target in Rebuilding Ireland is for housing supply to increase to 25,000 in 2020, and I am confident, on the basis of progress made to date and the range of indicators of housing construction activity, that this target will be achieved. There is, however, no room for complacency and I will be continuing to maintain very focused attention on increasing overall housing supply in co-operation with local authorities, the construction sector and other stakeholders.

I want to correct one thing the Minister said. The target in Rebuilding Ireland is not to reach 25,000 units by 2020 and 2021. The target in the plan is to "ensure that an average of 25,000 homes are produced every year in the period to 2021". That is what Rebuilding Ireland says. Nobody expected 25,000 units in 2016, 2017 or 2018 so what the target suggests is that, as it ramps up, about midway through the plan, the 25,000 is passed and is then exceeded in the years thereafter.

On the basis of that target - it is a direct quote - the Government is 43% behind halfway through the plan. Somebody changed the wording of my question and it does not reflect the original wording. In order to meet that key Rebuilding Ireland target, the Government must increase output annually to somewhere close to 35,000 units. Either the Minister has changed the Rebuilding Ireland target and not told anybody, or else he must explain to the House how, if the Government is to reach that crucial target, it will get to 35,000 units per year between now and 2021, which is what would be required to meet the target set in the plan.

Somebody also originally changed my gender in the question; therefore, we apologise if something was lost in translation.

The Deputy might be misreading the Rebuilding Ireland plan with the selective quote mentioned. What we have always spoken about in Rebuilding Ireland is ramping up to a point where we will be producing at least 25,000 units per year and continuing that delivery for a number of years. Beyond the end of Rebuilding Ireland is Project Ireland 2040, the national planning framework and development plan which has the goal of increasing the number to 35,000 homes per year and driving delivery out to 2027. The capital plan for housing agreed as part of Project Ireland 2040 is the next phase of Rebuilding Ireland, but it is clearly at a high level to get us to an output of 35,000 units per year to 2027. Within it, we will maintain our commitment to one in four and one in five homes built every year being social housing homes, reflecting the great progress being made under Rebuilding Ireland to increase the stock of social housing and ensuring Rebuilding Ireland will complete by the end of 2021 the ambition of delivering social housing in tandem with housing more generally in the economy. That will continue with the national planning framework and Project Ireland 2040. The increase in the number of new places to live was significant in 2018. The number of builds of over 18,000 was the highest compared to any other year this decade and it will be higher again this year. Construction is moving very quickly in the right direction. We must continue to drive that delivery to get to 35,000 homes per year, which is what we anticipate will happen under Project Ireland 2040 at the conclusion of Rebuilding Ireland.

Rebuilding Ireland is crystal clear and the direct quote comes from both the plan and the Rebuilding Ireland website. It states, "to ensure that an average of 25,000 homes are produced every year in the period to 2021". I am not disputing that the figure of 18,000 is an improvement on 14,000 in the year before and 9,000 in the year before that. I welcome every new home that is available, public or private. However, at the centre of the Minister's plan there is a key commitment and it seems that he does not understand it; rather than what the document promises - an average of 25,000 homes in each year of the plan - he is now saying we will only reach 25,000 at the end. As clearly there is confusion on the Minister's side, I ask him again how he will reach that key target, given that he is now 43% behind and that meeting it will require 35,000 units to be built each year?

I thank the Deputy for the question. He is misrepresenting the targets set in Rebuilding Ireland. The confusion is not on my side.

I am quoting the plan.

The Deputy is quoting out of context. I cannot see what else is around the sentence. Nobody suggested we would build 25,000 homes in 2016 or 2017.

It was always about ramping up to 25,000 units per year and maintaining that number.

That is not what the plan states.

A new ambition was to bring it to 35,000 homes per year under Project Ireland 2040. I thank the Deputy for welcoming the increase in housing numbers happening under Rebuilding Ireland and recognising, because of the policies in Rebuilding Ireland, the increase in housing numbers that is happening.

The plan is 43% behind target. Is the Minister accepting that the Government will not meet its own target?

No. The Deputy is using statistics to misrepresent the position. That is not what is happening. We have seen a dramatic increase in home building under Rebuilding Ireland.

Is the Minister accepting that the Government will not reach its target?

I am just glad that the Deputy is accepting that Rebuilding Ireland is working. It is the plan and driving house delivery.

As it is 43% behind target, it is not working.

We still have to hear what Sinn Féin's plan would be to replace Rebuilding Ireland as it takes every opportunity to state we should throw it out. That is despite the fact that it is working to increase dramatically the supply of homes.

It is 43% behind target.

Question No. 30 answered with Question No. 27.

Traveller Accommodation

Gerry Adams

Ceist:

31. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government his plans to rectify as a matter of urgency fire safety for Travellers in circumstances in which fire safety regulation exemptions on temporary emergency sites exist and there is no time limit on such sites remaining as temporary in view of the Carrickmines fire inquest. [8394/19]

Jan O'Sullivan

Ceist:

76. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government his plans to address fire safety for Travellers in circumstances in which fire safety regulation exemptions on temporary emergency sites exist and there is no time limit on such sites remaining as temporary; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8244/19]

This question relates to plans to address fire safety for Travellers in circumstances in which fire safety regulation exemptions on temporary emergency sites exist and there is no time limit on such sites remaining as temporary. That is the context of the Carrickmines disaster.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 31 and 76 together.

In accordance with the Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Act 1998, local authorities have statutory responsibility for the assessment of the accommodation needs of Travellers and the preparation, adoption and implementation of multi-annual Traveller accommodation programmes, TAPs, in their areas. My Department's role is to ensure there are adequate structures and supports in place to assist the local authorities in providing such accommodation, including a national framework of policy, legislation and funding.

Following the tragic loss of life in Carrickmines, County Dublin, on 10 October 2015, my Department's national directorate for fire and emergency management was tasked with developing and overseeing a programme to review and enhance fire safety in local authority-provided Traveller accommodation. This was undertaken in association with and supported by Travellers’ representative groups. As part of the review process, a working draft of a Guide to Fire Safety in Existing Traveller Accommodation was developed. The guidance document included fire safety advice and guidance and standards applicable in various types of Traveller accommodation. Fire safety in domestic settings is a shared responsibility and the guide emphasises an approach to life safety through the prevention of fires, fire safety awareness and early detection and warning of fire through working smoke alarms. My Department published the report on the programme to review and enhance fire safety in local authority provided Traveller accommodation on 21 September 2016.

The inquest into the tragedy at Carrickmines concluded recently and recommended that the working draft Guide to Fire Safety in Existing Traveller Accommodation be adopted as best practice. The process of formal approval of the draft document for publication as national guidance is at an advanced stage and expected to be completed at the next scheduled meeting of the management board of the national directorate for fire and emergency management on 28 February 2019. My Department will be writing to bring the updated document to the attention of all local authorities and advising on the use of the document as the basis for fire safety requirements in all Traveller accommodation, irrespective of whether the site is permanent or temporary.

I thank the Minister of State for his response and providing clarity. Will he reiterate that it will apply to temporary sites, as we know a terrible tragedy occurred in Carrickmines? Will he indicate when he expects the work to conclude and the guidance to be given to local authorities? What will he do to ensure local authorities will abide by the guidance in the interests of protecting lives?

While there is no specific time limit for the use of sites on a temporary basis under the Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Act 1998, local authorities are required to make adequate provision for transient and permanent sites in their programmes. The guidance is provided for temporary sites and local authorities will be encouraged to use it as best practice. It was set in conjunction with the local authorities and Traveller representative bodies. I hope it will formally become best practice at next week's meeting and that we will not delay in issuing it as formal guidance. We will follow up with local authorities as everybody takes his or her responsibilities seriously. The guidance will probably help local authorities in dealing with temporary sites, but we are clear that it applies, whether the site is permanent or temporary.

There was a previous question concerning the underspending of money for Traveller sites. Local authorities will not be able to use the excuse that they do not have the money required. Will the Minister of State clarify that he will ensure local authorities will spend the money required to guarantee safety?

We will continue to increase capital funding for this purpose. There is no reason urgent fire safety works cannot be carried out. There is no excuse. I understand the difficulties in respect of new accommodation and sites because of the different stakeholders involved, but in the refurbishment of existing sites, there should be no delay in implementing the required changes.

Does Deputy Ó Broin wish to ask the next question?

As I would only have approximately 30 seconds to do so, I am happy to receive a written answer.