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 Header Item Social and Affordable Housing (Continued)
 Header Item Tenant Purchase Scheme

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 991 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Eoghan Murphy: Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy] We know the task force model works because we developed it and deployed it in Cork. Let me give an example of what happened in Cork. In 2016, 45 homes were built. In 2018, 511 were built. The target was 408. This was across the two local authority areas. In 2019, the figure will be close to 1,000. The task force drove the delivery with the two local authorities.

What we expected to see this year in the two local authority areas in Galway, because of the work the task force is doing, was a fourfold increase in the build in the city. There were poor numbers last year but there will be a 400% increase this year if the targets follow through given the work we have been doing with the task force. In the county, the local authority will come close to its target of 191 homes, if not reach it. We will not know until the end of the year. We have this clarity now because the task force is in place.

Deputy Catherine Connolly: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly Putting allegations about ideology aside, I want to work with the Government. Minutes are not complicated. They should simply be published and put on the website.

With regard to a 400% increase, or whatever figure the Minister used, there were no builds prior to last year, when we built 14 houses. Any increase is welcome in a city where there are over 4,000 on a waiting list. The position is unclear because, as the Minister knows, those who get the housing assistance payment are taken off the waiting list. Let me give an example. On Monday, my office was informed about somebody with young children who has been on a list for 11 years and who has been in emergency accommodation for six months. Not once in this period was the person offered a house. That is the nature of the crisis in Galway. We have developer-led development. We have no master plan for the city and no open acknowledgement of what land we have. Public housing on public land is one of the major ways to deal with the housing crisis in Galway. Where can I gain access to a document that states the work programme of the task force, its ambitions and time limits?

Deputy Eoghan Murphy: Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy That is all available on the Rebuilding Ireland website.

Deputy Catherine Connolly: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly I am referring to the task force in Galway.

Deputy Eoghan Murphy: Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy I have given a commitment, on which I followed through, to publish the targets for every local authority each year. Those targets are published and a follow-up is given. The task force is to try to achieve the targets. Last year, there were 24 builds in the city. That is not very good. We are going to increase it by four this year. That one local authority can increase the number by such a factor is impressive but it needs to do a lot more than that. It is going to acquire homes and lease them. Last year, it acquired 28 and leased two. Since Galway city is poor on delivery, we have put in place the task force. Of course it should publish the minutes. It should not need a Minister to tell it to do so. It is going to publish the minutes that are outstanding. The chief executives do report to the locally elected representatives of the council after the meetings of the task force.

I understand the Land Development Agency is also examining issues concerning a master plan for Galway in terms of what public sites might be available. We are committed to public housing on public land. It is where our money is going. There has been an investment of €2.4 billion this year.

  Question No. 44 replied to with Written Answers.

Tenant Purchase Scheme

 45. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy his plans to change the conditions of the tenant purchase incremental scheme 2016 due to the small take-up of the scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51115/19]

 49. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy when the promised new tenant purchase scheme will be published and activated; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51804/19]

 91. Deputy Darragh O'Brien Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy when the review of the tenant purchase scheme will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51867/19]

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív The incremental tenant purchase scheme of 2016 is a total failure because a very small number of houses is being purchased. Houses cannot even be purchased when somebody can put the total purchase price down on the table. We have been promised a review of the scheme time and again. When will we have it? We keep getting the same answer, "soon", but it seems there is a new dictionary definition of "soon" that interprets it as "never".

Deputy Damien English: Information on Damien English Zoom on Damien English I propose to take Questions Nos. 45, 49 and 91 together.

I thank the Deputy for raising the issue again. We have had quite a lot of discussion on this over the past couple of years. I have been talking to the Deputy’s colleague about it. Other parties are also very interested in this issue. The Housing (Sale of Local Authority Houses) Regulations 2015 provide the basis for the incremental tenant purchase scheme for existing local authority houses.

The scheme is open to eligible tenants, including joint tenants, of local authority houses that are available for sale under the scheme. To be eligible, tenants must meet certain criteria, including having a minimum reckonable income of €15,000 per annum and having been in receipt of social housing support for at least one year.

In line with the commitment given in the Government's Rebuilding Ireland action plan on housing and homelessness, a review of the operation of the first 12 months of the tenant purchase scheme has been finalised and a full report has been prepared setting out findings and recommendations. This has included an examination of the minimum income requirements of the scheme. That is probably the main issue raised here and at all the various council meetings that the Minister and I attend.

What is intended now is that a comprehensive package of social housing reform measures will be brought to the Government in the near future and the review of the tenant purchase scheme will be included in that package, with the report to be published thereafter. Until such time as these reforms are completed, the 2016 scheme will remain open and be utilised. It is quite a generous scheme and suits many people. While one can argue that the numbers might be lower than in previous years, one should realise the scheme is probably more generous than in previous years. It remains open and people are actively utilising it.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív The Minister of State says the scheme suits many people. How many houses have been sold to tenants since the inception of the scheme in 2016? Can the Minister of State confirm that there is an income requirement of €15,000? This income is fair enough but there is a quibble clause stating that if most of the income is made up of a social welfare payment, even a permanent one such as a State contributory pension, it is not taken into account, making one ineligible for the scheme. The effectively excludes many tenants on State pensions from availing of the scheme even though they are likely to have saved money over their lifetime and are well able to afford the house.

Deputy Jan O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan It is a bit like waiting for the 32 bus in Portmarnock, which I learned recently comes very infrequently. We have been asking for this for a very long time. Could the Minister of State give us more precise information?

Let me add to the point that most income has to come from employment. I know of somebody who is on a social welfare payment but who inherited money from a family member. The individual would be able to pay for the home up front but is not allowed to purchase it. The individual has been living in the home for many years. We need to see reform soon. If the Minister of State cannot bring in the new scheme, could he please modify the old one to allow for social welfare income to be part of the formula?

Deputy Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien I have been asking the Minister of State about this regularly. He may remember that we discussed this during the last round of oral questions. He made a commitment to finalise and publish the review by the end of the year. He mentioned in his response that he has finalised it. When will it be published so we can see what the recommendations are? The Minister of State talked about the full social housing review. I suggest taking this piece out and publishing it separately. Unfortunately, we are asking questions in the dark here again. I do not know what the recommendations are. All of us are receiving queries from people who genuinely want to apply for the scheme but we do not know what the new scheme and recommendations involve. When will publication be? Will it be before the end of this year? The Minister of State made a commitment to appear before the housing committee on this matter after publication so the matter can be teased out on a cross-party basis.

Deputy Damien English: Information on Damien English Zoom on Damien English Let me deal with the issue of the income. I can confirm that there is an income limit. It has to be €15,000. The minimum reckonable income for the 2016 scheme is determined by the relevant local authority in accordance with the detailed provisions of the Minister's directions, which include the figure of €15,000. In the determination of the minimum reckonable income, local authorities can include income from a number of different sources and classes, such as from employment, private pensions, maintenance payments and certain social welfare payments, including pensions, where the social welfare payment is secondary to employment income.

In determining reckonable income, the income of all tenants of the house, including adult children who are joint tenants, named and paying rent, is included, as is the income of the spouse, civil partner or other partner or cohabitant of a tenant who lives in the house with them, thus ensuring the appropriate level of discount is applied to the purchase price.

A number of income sources, including certain social welfare payments, are disregarded for the purpose of determining reckonable income. The list of income disregards includes child benefit, carer’s allowance, and the family working payment, formerly the family income supplement, as these are deemed not to be long-term in nature. The income sources have to be long-term in nature.

  We have had this conversation and we are trying to find ways to accommodate cases such as the one Deputy Jan O'Sullivan and others mentioned in respect of the €15,000.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív I am glad the Minister of State clarified that where a couple is on the State contributory pension, or perhaps two State contributory pensions, their other income is regarded as secondary and they are excluded from the scheme, even if they can pay up front.

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