I propose to take Questions Nos. 346 and 347 together.
As part of a review commissioned by Eurostat, the EU Statistical Office, the Central Statistics Office (CSO) were asked in October 2016 to review the classification of Approved Housing Bodies (AHBs) for Government accounting purposes.
The classification was last reviewed in 2014, with a recommendation from the CSO to Eurostat at the time that these Bodies would remain outside of the General Government Sector. This recommendation was accepted by Eurostat, with a proviso that the decision could be reviewed at a future date.
In December 2017, the CSO made a decision that 14 of the 16 largest AHBs examined (i.e. those with 300+ homes in their property portfolios) in the initial phase of the review should be re-classified as falling within the public sector, under the broad local government classification. This decision has been sent to Eurostat for their consideration and ultimate determination.
While a final decision has yet to be taken by Eurostat regarding the classification of AHB expenditure, detailed analysis of the potential impacts on the Government debt and expenditure will be completed by the relevant Departments and Agencies. To inform these considerations, the CSO is currently engaged in collecting the required data to compile the end-March 2018 Excessive Deficit Procedure (EDP) notification tables (also known as the Maastricht returns), covering general government deficit and debt. At the same time, the Department of Finance is also preparing the Stability Programme Update 2018. This will take full account of the figures published by the CSO as part of the government finance statistics release.
My Department is examining the decision by the CSO in detail, including the rationale for their recommendation, in close collaboration with my colleague Minister Donohoe’s Departments, to assess the implications as well as identifying what measures can be taken to manage or mitigate the potential impacts on the capacity of the AHB sector in the supply and management of social housing.
The potential impact of this decision on the fiscal space will depend on the outcome of these deliberations, and those between my Department and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in particular, regarding delivery of social housing units by AHBs. Similarly, the potential impact on the housing funding programmes as referred to by the Deputy is being examined both through this process and internally within my Department.
Notwithstanding the assessment by the CSO, the Government still sees an important role for the voluntary housing sector in contributing to delivery of social housing under Rebuilding Ireland, and we intend to press ahead with our ambitious plans to use all mechanisms and schemes, including through the AHB sector, to ensure that we maintain our planned momentum towards meeting the 50,000 Rebuilding Ireland social housing target.