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 Header Item Local Authority Housing Rents (Continued)
 Header Item National Car Test

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 861 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Alan Kelly: Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly] Individual housing authorities are already empowered under the Housing Acts to include charges in the rent relating to the costs of works and services provided to dwellings.

The Government's Social Housing Strategy 2020, published a few weeks ago, indicated that the necessary statutory instruments will be made in the first quarter of next year to commence the process of introducing the new rents framework. The elected members of each local authority will then have a number of months to make their first rent scheme under the 2009 Act within the parameters laid down in the regulations.

A further commencement order will be made later in 2015 introducing rent charging under section 31. On the introduction of section 31 rents, housing authorities will have a two-year transitional period during which they will continue to set rents at their own discretion thus affording them the opportunity to move in incremental steps towards the rent levels that will apply on expiry of the transitional period.

Under an amendment of section 31 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2014, the new rent framework will apply also to rent contributions payable by beneficiaries under the new scheme of housing assistance currently being piloted by seven housing authorities. In the new year, I will prescribe the rent contributions payable in respect of housing assistance during the two-year transitional period for the introduction of the new rent framework.

Deputy Dessie Ellis: Information on Dessie Ellis Zoom on Dessie Ellis I agree that the practice in local authorities varies. That needs to be sorted out because it has been a hindrance and certainly has not been fair. I am totally in agreement with the Minister on that.

I am worried that in some ways this may cost a bit more. I mentioned the senior citizens and those who made financial contributions. Many of them made considerable contributions and ended up paying rent on top of that. In some cases in the past, I found tenants passed away within a short period and were still paying rent. Often they also pay, on top of their rent, for a boiler service and other matters.

There has also been a situation where differential rents, which has been used by Dublin City Council, have put the rents up so high. If a tenant's income increases, his or her rent goes as high, in some cases, as €200 or €300 per week. That does not make sense. Some voluntary housing bodies place caps on the maximum rent payable. We should be looking at providing for such a maximum and what that should be. It is ridiculous. I hold a local authority tenancy and I was paying €80 per week. Since I became a TD, I am paying nearly €300 per week. It is wrong. We should be encouraging social housing, not discouraging it.

I note the Minister plans to re-introduce the tenant-purchase scheme. We should also include in it that the proceeds of the scheme should be ringfenced for social housing. In the past, it ended up in a pile and did not go where it should have gone.

I have reservations about this scheme. We need to look much more carefully at some of the band levels the Minister has set and discussed. He is setting them a little lower and that will cause serious problems.

Deputy Alan Kelly: Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly This is something on which Deputy Ellis has considered views. In fairness, we are not a million miles apart on it. We agree. The two-year interim period is the period that we will use to sort out any issues that may arise. That is why I wanted it to be a two-year period. We need something consistent and fair and that shows tenants in the same bands are treated in the same way. Over the local authorities, if one analyses some of the rents that are being paid in various different local authorities, they do not stack up side by side as regards being fair and equitable.

We outlined the process by which we will do this. The two-year interim period will iron out any issues. I do not expect there to be many issues but that period can be used in that regard. I also point out that this is something that local authorities and many local authority members have requested. Of course, there will be a change in rents as a result of this. These changes will not be significant. I might also add that in some cases the rents will reduce. There will be an equilibrium.

In my time, which predates my time in this role, many local authority members across all political parties and none, and many local authority housing representatives, officials and CEOs, have requested that this be looked at. The framework, which leverages on previous legislation, including that introduced by previous Administrations, is welcome and is something that should be introduced.

I agree with Deputy Ellis on the tenant-purchase scheme. The tenant-purchase scheme is something I am initiating as part of the social housing strategy. I want to do so because it is critically important that we give tenants an opportunity to purchase their own homes. I also want to ensure the scheme is fair and equitable and that it will work. That is why a lot of energy will go in to ensure that happens. It is necessary because tenants should aspire to be able to purchase their own homes. I hope the scheme will operate in various different ways in order to facilitate tenants of different circumstances to be able to purchase their own home which is something we all desire.

National Car Test

Deputy Timmy Dooley: Information on Timmy Dooley Zoom on Timmy Dooley At the outset, I am disappointed by the way Topical Issues has been put to the end of the day's business. The introduction of the Topical Issue Debate was about improving this House's communication with the public. Topical Issues was about identifying issues of real concern to people that would be tabled at a time of the day that would allow it fit in to the regular news cycle, and be used as a methodology of communicating with the people. I am disappointed with the way the business has been ordered today, but that is as an aside.

  I thank the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Donohoe, for being here. I appreciate his presence for what I believe to be an important issue.

  The Minister is correctly dealing with the issues around death and injury on the road. He correctly decided, in conjunction with the Road Safety Authority, to introduce increased penalty points and the introduction of penalty points for the first time for a number of offences that heretofore were dealt with differently. It is part of a progressive and multilayered approach in this House to dealing with death and injury on the road.

  There is some difficulty with the choreography. It is putting the cart before the horse. In my experience, across quite a number of NCT test centres, a delay exists in scheduling such tests. It can vary. In some instances, the delay can be up to four months. In others, it can be three months. Of course, there are areas where it is not quite so difficult to schedule a test.

  The fact is, though, that there are drivers today who find themselves not having an NCT. They attempted to book a test a number of weeks ago and, because of the backlog of delays, now find themselves not only outside the law as they always would have been, but in a position where there is a potential to gain penalty points. That is particularly worrying and disturbing. I accept that discretion can be exercised by gardaí but the introduction of these penalty points offences should not have taken place until such time as there was a relatively quick turnaround in providing citizens with access to an appropriate test. That is the first point.

  In addition, the Minister will be aware of an issue that has arisen in relation to penalty points. We read with concern about it today on the front page of the Irish Independent, where the journalist, Mr. Niall O'Connor, has a story which seems to emanate from within the Department. It is irrelevant where it emanated from. It seems to be a serious issue. The Minister indicated he has referred this issue to the Attorney General and that in due course he will have some information.

  Before the Attorney General comes back to the Minister, can Deputy Donohoe tell the House tonight what is the genesis of the problem that has raised his concerns? What is the extent of the problem? What is the scale of it? How many penalty points are involved here? How many drivers potentially have issues, either positive or negative from their perspective?

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