Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Educational Projects

The Get Ahead Club is a community-based education charity in north Clondalkin that attempts to achieve educational equality, particularly for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. It has provided a variety of very valuable services such as breakfast clubs, homework clubs and other developmental and recreational supports and activities since 1994 for about 120 children per year.

Our understanding is that it was never funded directly by Tusla but was indirectly funded through the local school completion programme. Following a decision by Tusla to no longer allow the school completion programme to be used as a conduit, its funding position is unclear. My colleagues and I are trying to establish what the current position is. Is Tusla in a position to engage with the Get Ahead Club to consider funding it into the future because it is vital that this key educational resource for children in our constituency is not lost?

Hopefully, the Minister can bring some clarity to this issue because there is considerable concern about the possible closure of this initiative. As Deputy Ó Broin noted, this initiative has been running for the past 25 years and has given children suffering from social and educational disadvantage an opportunity to access different services so it is imperative that it continues. I am from the area and relatives of mine have used the project and found it very worthwhile. Could the Minister clarify the funding mechanism for the Get Ahead Club, be it through the school completion programme or otherwise? It is important that she clarifies matters.

The reason my colleagues and I brought this issue to the floor of the Dáil is because a number of parents have expressed concern to us that the services that had been provided seemed to be in decline or might face closure. The Get Ahead Club has been in operation for 25 years since 1994 and has provided a wide range of services to children from four local junior and senior schools in the area who need extra support. It is very much done on a partnership basis.

It provides a breakfast club and homework and holiday support. I emphasise that in addition to working with children, the Get Ahead Club is also involved in developmental work with parents. Deputy Ó Broin clearly indicated that the club's funding had heretofore come in through Tusla's school completion programme. We are concerned that that conduit for funding is no longer available or that there has been a change to the programme. Parents are concerned that the service that had provided services to 120 children and young people year in, year out for the past 25 years is in danger.

I thank the Deputies for giving me the opportunity to update the House on the supports provided to children and young people by the school completion programme, SCP, in the north Clondalkin area. I will first give Members some background information on the programme. The SCP is a targeted school and community support service. It aims to support keeping young people in education through to the leaving certificate, equivalent qualification or suitable level of educational attainment, which enables them to transition into further education, training or employment. It delivers a range of local interventions in disadvantaged communities and enables those communities to develop strategies which are adapted to maximise the participation levels of those at risk of early school leaving. This involves working with individual young people of schoolgoing age, both in and out of school, and arranging supports to address inequalities in education access, participation and outcomes. I know from my own experience working in the area of educational disadvantage that factors from outside the educational environment often cause young people to drop out of education.

Some 124 SCP projects are currently running, covering 467 primary schools and 224 post-primary schools. The SCP is a key support under the DEIS programme and is operated by Tusla's educational welfare service, EWS. My Department works with that service to ensure the necessary resources are available to support the programme and ensure that staffing levels are sufficient to deliver a high quality service to those young people most at risk of early school leaving. Currently, the funding available to SCP projects for the 2019-2020 school year stands at €24.7 million. I am pleased to inform the Deputies that I prioritised this service and secured an additional €500,000 in resources in budget 2019, which will be maintained in budget 2020.

Two school completion programmes are currently operating in the north Clondalkin area, namely, the Quarryvale Balgaddy SCP and the Collinstown SCP. A total of €559,765 is allocated to these north Clondalkin SCP projects annually. The educational welfare service of Tusla has informed my Department that there have been no funding cuts to the Quarryvale Balgaddy and Collinstown SCPs, which work with children and young people at risk of early school leaving in north Clondalkin. I assure the Deputies that no cuts to funding are planned. The local management committees of these SCPs and the Get Ahead Club, along with the educational welfare service, participated in and supported a process to resolve governance concerns relating to the SCPs' funding and a third-party arrangement with the Get Ahead Club. All three local groups agreed on a plan dealing with these concerns in order to allow SCP funding to continue to meet the needs of local children and young people who want to attend, participate in and complete their education. This process has ensured that the total available budget of €559,765 is effectively used to meet the needs of those most vulnerable to leaving school early and not meeting their potential in the communities of north Clondalkin. Tusla EWS has no funding responsibility for other services being provided through the Get Ahead Club, such as community employment schemes. I am confident that the hard work being carried out by SCPs in the area will continue to have a positive impact on the lives of the young people they support.

That is an incredibly frustrating response because it sidesteps the core issue about which we are asking. If there are governance concerns, they need to be resolved. We are not questioning that. However, up until the end of the last school year, 120 children received services - such as homework assistance, recreational development activities, and breakfast club - through the Get Ahead Club each year. These are some of the most disadvantaged children in our community. As far as we understand, those services have not been provided since September of this year. I am not stating that the club should continue just as it was before but I want to know whether funding is still available from Tusla to ensure that those services are provided regardless of the governance arrangements. As of today, that is not the case. Did those governance issues arise on foot of Tusla's decision to no longer permit the school completion programme to be a conduit of Tusla funding to third-party organisations? All we want is some clarity because services that were provided this time last year are not being provided now. The Department was funding those services and that seems to be where the problem lies at present.

I am none the wiser after the Minister's contribution. Is it a governance issue, a funding issue or community employment issue? I am confused. Hopefully the Minister can shed some light on this. The most important thing is that this project continues. In addition, there must be confidence in the staff and among the people who use the service. If there is a cloud of ambiguity around this, it will cause confusion. The Minister needs to give more clarity about the funding arrangements and the governance issue. As Deputy Ó Broin stated, any governance issues must be teased out. However, the most important thing is that this project is properly funded, and we need clarity on its funding in the long term.

I thank the Minister for her reply. Like my colleagues, I am slightly concerned. The Minister stated that the process "has ensured that the total available budget of €559,765 is effectively used to meet the needs of those most vulnerable to leaving school early and not meeting their potential in the communities of north Clondalkin." We do not believe that is happening. While the money might be there, the activity does not seem to be taking place and therein lies the issue. We are unsure whether it is a question of funding, the funding conduit or governance. Something has changed, as parents have come to us to say that a service that was previously in place no longer seems to be there. The Minister states that the money is there and that the governance issues have been addressed. However, on the ground, the service that previously existed is not being provided today. I think I speak for all my colleagues when I say that, having heard the Minister's reply, we are still a little unsure about what is going on.

I have been informed that the local management of the SCP, the Get Ahead Club and the educational welfare service got together to discuss questions of governance. Together, they agreed to move forward with the use of the €559,765 in funding for school completion activities. That is what has been agreed and that money is for school completion activities. It is important that the Deputies know the Get Ahead Club participated in a meeting and is aware of this. My understanding is that the club agreed the way forward. If the club is raising issues-----

It is the parents who are raising the issue.

The club is presumably in communication with the parents. The money in question is to be used for SCP activities rather than programmes which Tusla has no responsibility to fund, such as community employment schemes. Tusla has no operational responsibility there. The Deputies might want to ask the club about that. It has been agreed that, going forward, the money will be used for school completion activities. I can check if some things have changed in the way the club organises its business. However, that is what was agreed with the educational welfare service and the local committees.

Home Care Packages Provision

Wexford is consistently ranked among the worst counties in terms of waiting lists for home supports. There are 753 people waiting for home support in County Wexford, the third worst waiting list in the country. This has been getting steadily worse. Up to 174 people were added in the past few months. A significant amount of money has been put into the provision of additional home care supports and packages in recent years. Wexford, however, does not seem to be the beneficiary of this. The waiting list there is steadily getting worse rather than better. This is having a seriously detrimental effect on some vulnerable people. They are allocated a few hours here and there but often the staff are not in place to help them. Other vulnerable people who need help and assistance have seen their hours cut.

I welcome the opportunity to raise the issue of the scandalous waiting lists for home help supports in counties Longford and Westmeath. Over 200 people are on these waiting lists. All new applications are put on a waiting list straight away, with the only exception being 3.5 hours per week provided to somebody at the end of his or her life. The qualifying criterion is that it can be specified within a number of weeks when that person is going to die. No home help hours are recycled. When someone passes away, those remaining hours do not even come back into the system. The decisions are being taken by non-clinicians. Accordingly, there is no reflection on the medical need of the applicants whatsoever.

I am dealing with the case of a lady who is 77 years of age and living on her own. She has been given medical approval for an additional five hours of home help. She has fallen twice and ended in hospital on both occasions as a result. Her nearest relative lives in Canada. She has no help or assistance. She is deemed medically in need but she is not getting help.

The mater I tabled for discussion specifically related to respite stays which, obviously, go hand in hand with the home care package issue. The situation in Kildare is appalling. There are families in crisis there. Numbers given for the CHO 7 area show they have gone down from 7,064 hours in 2015 to 5,808 hours in 2018. That is despite all of the different calls for this to be increased. I recently met representatives from the Muiríosa Foundation in Monasterevin and the KARE organisation in Newbridge. I was shocked, appalled, upset and emotional when I heard the stories of the families which the two organisations help. I met one mother at one of those meetings, a widow from my area. Her 19 year old daughter needs to have two people to collect her in a separate bus to bring her to her day care centre. She needs to be in an isolated room while there. She is then brought back home but her mother has no other help, support or means of respite. It is a shocking indictment of our system to not have supports for families the way we should.

Fianna Fáil fought really hard to get extra funding in the recent budget for respite services. Even with the funding put in, it will only bring it back to 2015 levels. Much more is needed.

I thank the Deputies for raising this issue. Home supports enable older people to remain in their own homes and communities, as well as facilitating timely discharge from hospital. As outlined in the HSE’s national service plan for 2019, the HSE maximises the utilisation of current resources prioritising those requiring discharge from acute hospitals. Significant resources and services in 2019 have been targeted to facilitate timely egress. Last winter the focus was on reducing delayed patient discharges through mobilising the additional resources made available, as well as ensuring social care measures were effectively deployed to enable older people to move to a more appropriate care setting, including to step-down or transitional care or their own home with the supports they need.

The national service plan for 2019 sets a target to deliver 18.26 million hours to over 53,000 people, including 360,000 hours as part of an intensive home care package. By the end of July, more than 10 million hours of home support had been delivered nationally with almost 52,000 people in receipt of the service. The most recent preliminary data available indicates this has increased to over 11.8 million hours by the end of August. Despite this significant level of provision, demand for home support continues to grow and nationally over 7,000 people have been assessed and are waiting for either new or additional services. Arrangements for home supports have developed over the years with a significant local focus. It is acknowledged by the HSE that there may be a considerable variation in access to services in different parts of the country. The recent report from the ESRI, published in July of this year, Geographic Profile of Healthcare Needs and Non-Acute Healthcare Supply in Ireland, highlighted this variation across counties and regions.

I acknowledge that in some cases access to the service may take longer than we would like. However, the HSE has assured the Department that people on the waiting list are reviewed, as funding becomes available, to ensure individual cases continue to be dealt with on a priority basis within available resources. They are also determined by the local front-line staff who know and understand the clients' needs and who undertake regular reviews of those care needs to ensure the services being provided remain appropriate.

In line with commitments in the programme for Government, we have made improved access to home support services a priority in budget 2020. An additional investment of €52 million is being made in 2020 which will provide over 19.2 million hours of home support. This is 1 million hours more than the 2019 target, representing a substantial increase in service provision. This investment is focused on enabling older people to remain at home. As appropriate, provision of hours will also be targeted at times of peak demand, at the beginning and end of the year, to ensure more timely egress from hospital for older people.

While the existing home support service is delivering crucial support to many people, it needs to be improved to better meet the changing needs of our citizens. The Department of Health is developing plans for a new statutory scheme and system of regulation for home support services for older people and adults with a disability. Included in this investment is dedicated funding for the testing of the new statutory home support scheme in 2020. The design of the new scheme will involve the establishment of a model of service with a streamlined central system of administration to improve and simplify how people access home-support services. While the administration of the scheme will be centralised, the delivery of services will be co-ordinated at local level in line with a person's assessed need. This scale of investment clearly demonstrates the Government's commitment to addressing the issue through the introduction of standardised assessments, as well as additional resourcing which will go a long way towards the elimination of waiting lists and piloting of the new statutory scheme.

The Minister of State used the words “priority” and “targeted”, yet Wexford, with the third worst waiting list for home care package provision, has the fastest growing list. It does not make any sense that, if packages are being prioritised and targeted, neighbouring counties have no waiting lists. It seems to be more a question of implementation, targeting and prioritising.

We know living at home with home care aids people’s dignity, quality of life and safety. It also saves the State a phenomenal amount of money. It is the cheapest place to keep people, as well as the healthiest. It allows people to be discharged and go home. In Wexford, there are people in step-down beds ready to go home but cannot get the home care package to do so. In turn, this prevents people in hospital from getting a step-down bed. Home care makes financial sense. More importantly, it makes moral and common sense to provide home care. Will the Minister of State examine why over 700 people are on waiting lists in Wexford while neighbouring counties have none?

The Minister of State indicated that the new scheme will be centralised and that the delivery of services will be co-ordinated at local level in line with a person’s assessed needs. The 200 people in Longford and Westmeath have been assessed and deemed medically in need of this help but they are still not getting it. Does he agree with the decision in my region that people who are medically approved are put on a waiting list? Does he think it is morally right that the only people in my constituency who can get home help are terminally ill? The only help they are getting is 3.5 hours per week? That is half an hour a day to a family whose loved one is dying in their home. That is the only support the State is giving the family. Whatever happened to ensuring that people who wanted to live out their last years in their own homes could be enabled to do so with the support of the State? It is not happening now and it is wrong. People want to live out their last years in their own homes. It is the right thing to do and makes economic sense.

It is a shame the way the Government is treating senior citizens at present.

Will the Minister of State, in his reply, say when the additional 1 million home help hours achieved as part of the confidence and supply agreement will come into effect for those on the waiting lists?

I share the indignation, anger and upset of my colleagues at the way that people who need home help hours are being treated. My colleagues have gone through the figures. Kildare is one of those counties that features highly in terms of waiting lists.

As I mentioned, I specifically asked about respite. Respite is not mentioned once in the Minister of State's response, and I have gone through it twice. Respite, while going hand in hand with the home packages, is a particular form of intervention, help and support to families in crisis.

I mentioned already the agencies that I met in Kildare. They have told me of the distress and the unsustainable situations that many families find themselves in. In some cases, these have led to emergency admissions to full-time residential care, which is difficult to get. I am disappointed the Minister of State did not address the area of respite. While money comes into it, it is about the outcomes. It is about the difference we can make to families who need it.

I could not agree with the Deputy's last line more. It is not about money alone. Money alone will not solve this problem. I have stated that on the record of this House. While I got an additional €52 million in this year's budget, if I got an additional €152 million, I could not wipe out the current waiting list.

While I do not intimately understand the Wexford situation and Deputy Browne will appreciate that I do not manage the services at a local level, the issues in Wexford that are making it particularly acute are the supply of labour in many areas and getting people to deliver the service. That is why we have the postcode lottery, which is less than satisfactory, and that is why we have committed funding. From a financial point of view, three or four years ago it was €300 million a year. Now it is €450 million a year. That is a 50% increase in funding. We could keep doing that, for instance, adding another €52 million onto it this year. We can keep putting €50 million on every year. That, in itself, will not do. What we need is a centralised system that makes sure that it is fair and equitable throughout the country. That is what the Deputies are saying loud and clear. It is irritating if one represents Wexford, as Deputy Browne does, where there is a waiting list of 700 and a neighbouring county has a waiting list that is not half or a quarter as severe.

There are 7,000 people waiting nationally. That is not acceptable. I am on the record as stating that I am embarrassed at that waiting list. That is why I have committed to developing a statutory scheme that will be underpinned in law, like the fair deal scheme, so that everybody who needs it will get it. We will have a single assessment tool so that everybody's level of need will be assessed in a fair way no matter whether one lives in Donegal, west Cork or anywhere in between. We will also have it fully funded and make sure that there is adequate funding there. I will test a pilot of that next year. This is not something we are talking about in the never-never.

Deputy Troy asked when the additional 1 million hours that are the result of this year's budget will come on stream. I acknowledge the contribution of the confidence and supply agreement to that budget and the input of the Fianna Fáil Party to ensuring that this area got funding. I thank the party's Deputies for that. That is appreciated. Certainly, it is helpful at my end. Those 1 million hours will come on stream on 1 January and will be allocated. As I stated, a part of that will be running a pilot of the new statutory scheme, which will be unveiled in January of next year - I will be telling people exactly how it will look - and it is to be hoped it will be brought in the following January.

I do not have figures for Deputy O'Loughlin on respite. That is a separate issue to home help. Respite is delivered through the community nursing units. It is managed locally by each individual community healthcare organisation, CHO. If Deputy O'Loughlin wants me to get particular figures on that for Kildare, she should by all means contact my office or send me an email.

I accept that, but that was the question I submitted on respite.

Road Network

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me raise this issue this evening.

This may seem a complicated, convoluted and extensive issue, but in fact it is not. It is simple. The problems of traffic congestion in Maynooth that exist at present are severe and affect not only the people of Maynooth and Kilcock but also those further afield who arrive in a traffic snarl-up on the motorway every day. There are also ongoing realignment works on the roads within the town itself. I accept that there will be disruption during reconstruction of any description - one cannot have an omelette without breaking eggs - but the extent of such disruption could be alleviated to some extent with a little attention.

In particular, one realignment of a road has taken the most serious turn that I have ever seen. I do not know who designed it, but the footpath goes in a particular direction and, all of sudden, veers out into the middle of the carriageway for I know not what purpose. Unless the draftsman at the time had some particular obsession with that, somebody should go back and have a look at it again. It is the most ridiculous design I have seen.

There is a simple resolution in the sense that €14.5 million was awarded by the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government three years ago to provide for the strategic infrastructure needed for the housing shortage in the area and that is available and ready. The housing development has taken off, so to speak, and is going well. It is now about ready for the two stages of that particular proposal to be activated. I ask that that would be done at the earliest possible date.

Some works have been activated. There is a noise abatement surface proposed for the motorway. I hope that is done in conjunction with whatever upgrading works will be done and that the road will not be uprooted once again.

I would especially emphasise that the capacity of the motorway is long past its maximum and there needs to be something done as a matter of urgency. We hear every morning there is either a crash or a hold-up and the traffic is backed up for four or five miles. There starts the next part of the problem, which is that the traffic coming from Enfield and Mullingar leaves the motorway at Kilcock and returns to the old road, heading towards Maynooth, jamming up the traffic in Maynooth that is already in a bad situation. There is traffic sprayed out in all directions from there, so to speak, creating serious problems and the use of the minor roads.

The responsibility is divided between two Ministers, the Ministers for Transport, Tourism and Sport and Housing, Planning and Local Government, who are not here, but to whom the Minister of State will bring the message with a view to ensuring that the works required are taken in hand immediately and any possibility of doing something in the short term is seized on straight away.

The motorway has worked well up to now but it is now incapable of dealing with the volume of traffic. It will remain a problem, just the same as the problem on the N7-N9 for the past ten years. My philosophy in these matters is that if we deal with them in the beginning, we will not have to moan about them in the future. I would say that is an issue that needs to be dealt with quickly. There are two interchanges that are also needed, one of which is a second interchange off the motorway which will greatly resolve the traffic problems and is proposed and provided for already by the local authority.

I am very much surrounded by Kildare Deputies in the House today.

The Minister of State is surrounded by better people. Deputy Durkan, who represents Maynooth, is a Mayo man.

Living in Maynooth.

Representatives of Kildare county. I thank the Deputy for raising the matter and providing the opportunity to discuss the Maynooth project under the local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF, which I am taking on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy.

As the Deputy will be aware, in 2016, the Government approved 30 LIHAF projects that then received final approval in late 2017 and early 2018. Summary details of these projects and the projected housing to be delivered were made available in March 2018 and are published on the Rebuilding Ireland website at http://rebuildingireland.ie/lihaf/.

LIHAF is designed to activate housing supply by putting in place enabling public infrastructure by unlocking lands to facilitate large-scale development on key sites. Infrastructure being funded under LIHAF includes access roads, distributor roads, link roads, road improvements, roundabouts, bridges and parks. The 30 infrastructure projects are expected to provide infrastructure for the delivery thereafter of 20,000 housing units. Approximately 5,600 or 28% of these will be social or affordable, another 5,600 will have a cost reduction on open market prices, and the remainder will be sold at market rates. A total of 1,489 housing units have been delivered to date under LIHAF, and this is expected to rise to more than 6,000 by the end of 2020.

LIHAF funding of €14.5 million has been made to support a roads project in Maynooth - 75% grant funding of €10.88 million matched by 25% local authority funding. The project comprises the construction of a 1.5 km section of roadway linking the Dublin Road and the Straffan Road in Maynooth, improvement works at the junction of the Straffan, Leixlip and Celbridge roads, a new railway bridge and a new canal bridge. The road will also include a cycleway, footpaths on both sides of the road and a number of roundabouts along the route of the road, which will help to control traffic speed. This project allows for significant development to take place in Maynooth.

The project is currently at route selection stage and was approved by the council in July 2019. The consultants are working with Kildare County Council and have produced a route selection report. Compulsory purchase order, CPO, documentation is being progressed in parallel by Kildare County Council and is expected to be published by early December 2019. Kildare County Council has confirmed to the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government that the infrastructure works will be ready to go to tender in the first quarter of 2020, subject to approval by the Department, with an award of tender in the second quarter of 2020. Construction duration is estimated at 18 months, which will see the infrastructure completed by the fourth quarter of 2021.

Regarding the housing to be delivered, a strategic housing development application for LIHAF housing is due to be lodged by the developer at the end of November 2019. Subject to planning approval, the developer expects to be on site by mid-2020 to coincide with the commencement of the infrastructure works.

Under LIHAF, 800 additional homes will be delivered in Maynooth, including 720 cost reduced units over the span of the project with a cost reduction of €18,000 per cost reduced unit.

I thank the Minister for his reply, which deals in detail with the issues and will, I hope, result in an early date for the project. If I were to ask for one thing to happen, it is that the activation plans be pushed ahead as quickly as possible because time is of the essence. During the downturn in the economy, we did not have traffic problems anywhere but we have them now. We may be the victims of our own success but whatever the reasons, they are positive.

In terms of population, Maynooth is not the biggest town in the country by any stretch of the imagination. However, there are now almost 17,000 students in Maynooth University. We also have two schools off the Moyglare Road, each with a student population of 1,000. We have a number of other schools on the Celbridge Road. We have schools all over and a Gaelcholáiste is promised in the near future. All of that serves to concentrate the traffic in a particular area. The issue can be resolved and the Minister of State referred to the solutions. I thank previous Ministers for their investment in the town, which will stand it in good stead for the population in the future. I hope, however, that we do not have a long, drawn out process, similar to what we had with the N7 and the N9 projects, which went on for years. The area from Kilcock to the M50 has excessive traffic and requires urgent attention, as do the roads in Maynooth to which the Minister of State referred. The solutions are visible but we need them implemented as soon as possible.

LIHAF is primarily aimed at the activation of sites for housing development that may not otherwise be viable and is not in and of itself a traffic management measure. This LIHAF project will provide the essential infrastructure to realise the full potential of the lands in the south-east quadrant of Maynooth for housing provision and assist in alleviating traffic congestion in the town. While I acknowledge that there may be other traffic congestion issues due to the current road and construction works in the area, traffic management in Maynooth is the responsibility, as the Deputy knows, of Kildare County Council. As such, it would not be appropriate for me to comment further.

In respect of the N4 Maynooth to Leixlip project, which is not part of the LIHAF-supported project, I understand that this is a section of the transport network to be progressed through pre-appraisal and early planning and prioritised for delivery under the National Development Plan 2018-2027. Kildare County Council has advised that the project is in the early stages of phase 1, concept and feasibility, and is in the process of procuring technical advisers to support the delivery of the project through phases 1 to 4.

As I indicated, the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government has already engaged with Kildare County Council and will continue to do so in order to progress this important infrastructural project in Maynooth. This Government is also committed to delivering a thriving, modern housing system and we are making steady progress to activate housing delivery nationally through the activation of sites under the local infrastructure housing activation fund.

Housing Assistance Payment Administration

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this topic. I understand he will bring the points I am raising back to the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, who cannot be here this evening.

The aspect of the housing assistance payment, HAP, I want to focus on is a serious problem that seems to have dramatically worsened in the past two or three months, namely, the delay in having a HAP application processed. This in addition to the lack of flexibility shown in cases where rents are very high and the HAP is not sufficient to cover them, meaning people have to try to source accommodation in a very limited sector. In the past few months, the delay in processing an application has become dramatically worse and now averages nine weeks. One can find a situation where a family will find a landlord who will accept the HAP. However, when they get the contracts and present the application they are told the process will take nine weeks. Several people have told me they have been told to pay the rent in the interim. Who, in his or her right mind, would say that? If people had several thousand euro in their bank account, they would not be looking for a housing assistance payment. It is absolutely mad. These people do not have money to pay rent in the interim. The delay has got dramatically worse.

Another major concern I hear expressed all the time is that when people borrow the money they do not feel secure about getting the money back because they will have demonstrated an ability to pay it. This issue is adding to the stress. Landlords are also left in limbo because they do not know, if they have accommodated somebody with HAP, that the payment will be processed. It would be enormously helpful if a letter was sent out confirming that people are approved.

I speak to a number of estate agents, and I had cause to speak to one particular letting agent, who I know is very good at sourcing accommodation and encouraging landlords to take HAP tenants. He spoke about having very good experiences and not having an issue. However, he feels he has been left with egg on face because he recommended HAP but it is taking so long to process it that landlords are coming back to him saying they are uncertain they will get paid. It is perfectly legitimate and legal for a landlord to evict somebody in that scenario. The letting agent told me that once a property is advertised in the north Kildare-west Dublin area, he expects to receive 150 or 160 emails within 24 hours, of which 70% would be from HAP tenants. The remaining 30% of applicants have the best chance of securing that accommodation if the landlord knows he or she will have to wait nine or ten weeks to have the HAP payment processed.

I have come across several cases where people who have been told to leave accommodation subsequently find other accommodation and then have to reapply for HAP. When we ring the office in Limerick we are told the reason for the delay is that a large number of additional applications have been received. Is there a large number of additional applications? Is the problem a shortage of money or a staffing issue? What is causing the problem because the situation is chaotic at the moment?

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue to which I am replying on behalf of my colleague, Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy.

The housing assistance payment, HAP, is deemed to be a social housing support under the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2014. As a long-term housing support, an assessment of housing need must first be completed in order for a household to qualify for HAP. The Social Housing Assessment Regulations 2011 provide that subject to conditions, a housing authority shall deal with such an application within a period of 12 weeks. Local authorities will prioritise housing needs assessments for those in greatest need and average waiting times are significantly shorter than the statutory maximum in many areas. Once this process is complete and the housing need is confirmed, the household is eligible for HAP.

Under the HAP scheme, eligible households source their own accommodation in the private rented sector and the tenancy agreement is between the tenant and the landlord. The Residential Tenancies Act 2004 regulates the landlord-tenant relationship in the private rented sector and sets out the rights and obligations of landlords and tenants. If a household moves into a property before their housing needs assessment has been carried out by the local authority they may not be eligible for support under the HAP scheme for the duration before a complete and valid application is submitted.

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

HAP application validation times within local authorities may vary. Once a HAP application has been received and confirmed as valid by the relevant local authority, it is entered on the system by the local authority and then submitted for processing and payment by the HAP shared service centre. Limerick City and County Council provide a highly effective transactional shared service on behalf of all HAP local authorities and manages all HAP related rental transactions for the tenant, local authority and landlord. On average, HAP applications are processed by the HAP Shared Services Centre within two working days of receipt. Any rental payment arising for a given month will then be made to a landlord on the last Wednesday of that month.

I would like the Minister of State to ring the Limerick office. What is in his reply does not match in any way the experience of the applicants. That information must be out of date. It is not fair on applicants to put them in this situation. If their applications were being processed within two days I would not be on my feet raising this issue. I would not have queues of people coming into my office in tears totally stressed out by this. This is also not fair on landlords who are being left in a precarious position. It is not fair all round.

Regarding the timelines the Minister of State mentioned, it can take up to two months, and mostly it does, to process a housing application. It can take another eight or nine weeks to process a HAP application. What is happening is potentially adding to the homeless crisis.

The way HAP is being applied is problematic. In some local authorities the uplift of the 20% for a person who is in a homeless situation is not being applied. From my experience of its application in Kildare, it has been very patchy.

The delays in HAP payments are sending the message to landlords that they should stay away from this scheme. That is not the message that needs to be delivered when we know people are already in a precarious position in terms of security of accommodation.

I ask the Minister of State to check the facts he has put on the record because they do not align with the experience of people with whom I have been dealing and the situation has dramatically disimproved during the past few months. I believe the information in the reply is wrong.

I will pass the Deputy's comments, concerns and frustrations on to the Minister. I accept she would not be on her feet raising this issue today if everything was being processed within two days and the process was running as smoothly as my presentation in response to issues she raised would suggest. I will pass the Deputy's concerns on to the Minister. That is my job here. That is how politics works and the reason we have this House is to bring information on what is happening on the ground back into the system and to the attention of the officials and civil servants to make sure they are aware of it.

If there are delays at the validation stage within a local authority, payment to the landlord will be backdated to the date on which a complete and valid application form was provided by the eligible household. The landlord is therefore not penalised for any delay. The HAP scheme has been structured in a way that most protects Exchequer funding by ensuring payment issues only on valid and complete applications. For this reason rent is paid in arrears and ensures that money is only paid in respect of time that the property has been occupied by the tenant. This practice also avoids the situation where the local authority has to attempt to recover money from the landlord and simplifies the administration of the scheme.

With approximately 72,000 households on our waiting lists, the combination of more than 50,000 social housing homes and 88,000 HAP and rental accommodation scheme, RAS, supports, which will be funded by the Government out to 2021, means that both long-term and flexible options will be available to those on our social housing waiting lists.

At the end of quarter 2 2019, there were more than 48,000 households in receipt of HAP support and more than 28,000 separate landlords and agents providing accommodation to households supported by the scheme. HAP is working.

In addition to funding the HAP shared services centre, the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government provides financial support directly to local authorities to assist them with the administrative costs of new HAP applications, and it is in the interests of the local authority, the tenant and the landlord that applications are validated and processed in a timely manner to ensure early incorporation on to the regular monthly payment system.

I again thank the Deputy for raising the matter and I am sure the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government and his Department will continue to keep the operation of the HAP scheme under review. I will convey her concerns directly to the Minister.