Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Ceisteanna (38, 58)

Catherine Connolly

Ceist:

38. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the number of homes purchased in Galway city and county under the 2016 tenant incremental purchase scheme; the number and value of loans accessed by tenants under the scheme; when the review of the scheme will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37721/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Darragh O'Brien

Ceist:

58. Deputy Darragh O'Brien asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government when the review of the tenant purchase scheme will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37696/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (15 contributions) (Ceist ar Housing)

How many homes were purchased under the 2016 tenant purchase scheme? What were the number and value of the loans accessed by tenants under the scheme? Has the promised review of the scheme been completed and, if so, why has it not been published? When will it be published?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 38 and 58 together.

The Housing (Sale of Local Authority Houses) Regulations 2015 set a commencement date of 1 January 2016 for the introduction of the tenant incremental purchase scheme of 2016. In Galway City, the number of homes sold under the current scheme in 2017 was eight, while a further nine homes were sold in 2018. The scheme in Galway city was not started until December 2016, having been slower to implement it, which is why there are no figures for that year. In the case of Galway county, the number of homes sold under the scheme in 2017 was 11, while nine homes were sold under the scheme in 2018. No homes were sold in Galway city or county under the scheme in 2016.

In respect of the loans accessed and their value, it should be noted the financing of a house sold under the tenant incremental purchase scheme is a separate matter to that of a tenant being deemed eligible under the scheme. If the tenant is deemed eligible, he or she may fund the purchase of a house from one, or a combination, of his or her own resources or a mortgage provided by a financial institution or a local authority home purchase loan. My Department does not hold information on local authority loans accessed specifically by the tenant purchase scheme. One can also use one's own funds to buy a house.

In line with the commitment given in the Government's Rebuilding Ireland - Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness, a review of the operation of the 12 months of the tenant purchase scheme has been completed and a full report has been prepared setting out our findings and recommendations.

It is intended that a comprehensive package of social housing reform measures will be brought to Government by the Minister in the near future and the relevant recommendations made in the review of the tenant purchase scheme will be progressed as part of that process. The publication of the review will also be addressed in that context.

I thank the Minister of State for the figures. They are very clear. In the context of the review, the Minister of State has given similar responses in the past. The review arose from the work of the Committee on Housing and Homelessness. One of its strong recommendations was that there be an urgent review of the tenant purchase scheme. Various comments were made by different contributors concerning the scheme, some positive and some negative. On 29 June 2016, the Minister of State responded to a Fianna Fáil Deputy to the effect that, in line with the commitment in the programme for Government, he planned to undertake a review of the scheme. That was fine and the Minister of State provided clarification. On 25 January 2018, he indicated that the review was almost complete and then, in July 2018, he stated that it had been completed. That was over a year ago. It was stated that the review was completed and that a full report had been prepared. Why is the report not available? When exactly was it completed?

I thank the Deputy for outlining our work in the past few years. I clarify again that the tenant purchase scheme is open, working and successful. It is a favourable scheme and quite a few people have managed to avail of it in order to buy their homes in recent years. It is not as if the scheme is closed. We are talking about making changes to it and we debated different possible solutions, both inside and outside the House. The Department has gone through the review and has done much work on it over the last few months. We have been going through all of the recommendations, as well as the science behind the original decision made in 2016. As already stated, that will be brought forward by the Minister in the weeks and months ahead as part of a package of reforms on social protection. We will tease through all of the recommendations and suggestions for changes at the appropriate time. That is where matters stand.

I asked about the review. It seems that somewhere between 25 January and 3 July 2018, the report was completed. When was it completed? Why is it not being published? The Minister of State stood up and told me that the scheme is working. I did not question whether it was still ongoing. I asked about figures and about the review. I ask the Minister of State to please tell me when was it completed and why it is not being published. There are issues regarding the scheme but I do not have time to go into them here. The Minister of State is telling me that the scheme is working. I do not know if it is working. The figures for 2017 and 2018 in Galway city are very low, and only slightly higher in the county. I cannot judge those figures without context. Perhaps many other people might have applied if there were different variables involved. My question is simple. Let us bring some type of integrity back into the English language. When will the review be published? If it is not being published, then the Minister of State should tell us why.

The purpose of the review was to allow the Department to look into this scheme in order to see what changes might be made, if any. There have been discussions about that. Regarding when the review was finished, it is within our Department and it has been feeding into discussions over the last year. There has been much debate in that context and many issues now have to be checked. It may lead on to recommendations for changes, which will be brought forward in the months ahead by the Minister for a decision to be made. That is where matters stand. On when or if the review was completed, I will try to see if I can identify an exact date. It has, however, been discussed in the appropriate division of our Department in the past year or two because it is an ongoing discussion document. We committed to reviewing this scheme and possible changes. Many people have told us that they like the scheme as it stands, while others have indicated that they would like changes. Many local authority members have suggested changes. That will all be brought to a head now when the Minster brings forward recommendations in the weeks and months ahead.

I wish to support Deputy Connolly on this issue. We have learned that the review is an ongoing discussion document within the Department. From time to time, the Minister of State and his ministerial colleagues can kick around possible recommendations but not let any of us know what is in the review. There are different views on the current scheme. I agree with Deputy Connolly. The anecdotal evidence I have from Dublin is that the tenant purchase scheme has pretty much ground to a halt. There are different views, particularly as we are trying to build up our housing stock, of what a future tenant purchase scheme should look like. Some people argue that such a scheme should not be in place, while others argue that it should. That is a matter about which we can have a discussion. I do not see why we should actually bundle this issue into the new social housing package that the Minister is apparently bringing forward. If the report exists, and it has since July 2018, why not bring it into the House for discussion? I mean that in a very constructive way because I have views on it, as do colleagues. Why wait until the end of the year and then bundle it in with everything else? This is an important issue.

I want to be very clear. We have discussed this matter on many occasions in this House, at the committee and elsewhere.

We have not discussed the review.

The review relates to the first 12 months of the 2016 scheme. Tenant purchase schemes have been in operation since the 1970s. The commitment was to review the first 12 months. Many issues have been raised and we will bring forward the suggested changes and recommendations as part of an overall package. It is not to be addressed on its own and many issues have fed into the scheme and the review. I reiterate that the scheme is open. Yesterday, I met a family that are currently involved in purchasing their house. The scheme is open, successful and very favourable, for most people. I ask the Deputies to bear that in mind as we continue the debate.

After all of those questions and all of the back and forth, we are no further down the road. I ask the Minister of State to publish the review in order that we might see it. I know we discuss the issue of tenant purchase but the Minister of State has just engaged in a bit of linguistic gymnastics. I am trying to understand what exactly he is saying. If the review is ready, then please publish it and let us discuss it. I know we discuss the topic of tenant purchase but we have not discussed and nor have we seen the review. It could be helpful just to let the committee be involved. Members, such as Deputy Connolly and others, who are interested could then come to the committee and offer their tuppence ha'penny on the review. That is all we are asking. We should not need to be rowing about this. It should be simple.

I call the Minister of State for a brief response.

I did not sense that there was any row. I just want to clarify that the scheme is open, working very well and it is a-----

I know the scheme is open but I am talking about the review.

-----very generous and favourable scheme. People have been delighted to use it. Many people have told us not to change the scheme, while others have indicated that we should change it. That is where the debate will go in the weeks ahead. If we want to look at properly reviewing tenant purchase schemes, however, there also has to be an examination of succession rents, succession rights, etc. There is much more to this issue and that will mean that a proper and full discussion regarding the social housing reform package. The Minster has explained that he will bring that forward in the weeks ahead. We will be debating that here, and certainly the housing committee will be discussing it. A great deal of information has to feed into that discussion because that is what is needed.