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 Header Item Traveller Accommodation (Continued)
 Header Item Social and Affordable Housing

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 979 No. 6

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Deputy Eoin Ó Broin: Information on Eoin Ó Broin Zoom on Eoin Ó Broin My concern is that the situation is getting worse year on year. For example, the worst ever underspend since the Traveller accommodation programmes were introduced was in 2017 and now we discover that last year the situation was the same. It is the same local authorities. This is not about one or two sites, because the Minister of State is absolutely right that there can be two sides to any story, but there is clearly a structural problem here when we have 24 local authorities either not spending or significantly underspending a budget. That is a structural problem in the system. I do not accept it is a positive that this money is spent elsewhere. Traveller homelessness is higher than in any other section of the population. We are three years and a few months on from the tragic events in Carrickmines where families were living in wholly inappropriate and dangerous conditions. This budget is not just for new Traveller accommodation, it should also be for upgrades, improvements and fire safety works. The fact that so many local authorities are not spending or are underspending is a problem. I am waiting to hear something different that the Government will do this year to ensure the money is spent. I appreciate the primary problem here is at a local government level but the Department has to do more to ensure 2019 does not have the same level of underspend as the last two years.

Deputy Damien English: Information on Damien English Zoom on Damien English Again, part of the issue here is that, as we rightly increase the capital funding back up, the pipeline of projects are not there to be able to draw that allocation down. We originally make allocations based on projects that should be in the pipeline and have come through planning and then they get stuck in planning or design or have not been agreed locally with all the various stakeholders so there are reasons for that. Much of that difficulty is probably with new sites or new accommodation, however. From what I can see there are certainly plenty of projects that we could refurbish and spend this money on, so we have asked local authorities to look at all existing accommodation that is not up to a satisfactory condition so that this money can be drawn down for those projects. I am more confident this year that this money will be spent than I would have been last year because we have put a lot more time and effort into doing this. There is also full engagement from all the stakeholders and we have to recognise that there are responsibilities and rights on all sides here to try to bring this forward. I do not single out one or two areas or stakeholders; I believe the system has not delivered. There are many involved in that system and it needs to be addressed. Hopefully, with the work we are doing this year prior to the report, we will get some progress in this space.

Social and Affordable Housing

 28. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy the reports he is considering changing the rules in relation to offers of accommodation to social housing applicants which may result in an applicant being suspended from the list if they refuse two offers of accommodation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8178/19]

 62. 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 if the plans to change the policy on offers of social housing to require a five year wait for a further offer if two are refused will be clarified; his views on whether some flexibility is required in circumstances in which there are valid reasons for offers being refused; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8243/19]

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett One of the most unpalatable aspects of the shameful housing and homelessness crisis is the attempt by officials and by Government to blame the people who are the victims of the housing crisis. We saw an instance of that with Mr. Owen Keegan's comments at the weekend when he said that homeless accommodation was somehow "attractive" to people. Another aspect of this is the suggestion that has been mooted that people will be suspended from the housing list if, for overwhelmingly legitimate reasons, they refuse particular offers. Is this true and if so, how can the Minister justify it?

Deputy Eoghan Murphy: Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy I propose to take Questions Nos. 28 and 62 together.

The current position in relation to the refusal by households of offers of social housing dwellings is set down in regulation 12 of the social housing allocation regulations 2011, which were made under section 22 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009.

Under regulation 12, a household that refuses two reasonable offers of social housing tenancies in any 12 month period, other than an offer made under the choice based letting procedure, will not receive any further offers from any local authority for a period of one year from the date of the second refusal. An offer is deemed to be reasonable where the dwelling concerned would, in the opinion of the authority, meet the housing needs of the household and, except in an emergency, is located in an area of choice specified by the household. From my engagement with the local authority sector, it has become apparent that the current 12-month sanction is not operating in a manner that counters sufficiently the potential for households on the waiting list to turn down reasonable housing offers. The refusal of offers can have a serious impact on the efforts by local authorities to manage their social housing letting process effectively and efficiently, lengthening the period ultimately required to complete lettings or relettings and resulting in a loss of essential differential rent revenue for extended periods.

For these reasons, I will soon be proposing to amend the regulations to provide that a household that refuses two reasonable offers in any 12 month period, other than an offer made under the choice based letting procedure, will not receive any further offers from any local authority for a period of five years.

Deputy Joan Collins: Information on Joan Collins Zoom on Joan Collins Disgraceful.

Deputy Eoghan Murphy: Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy The latter period will not be reckonable subsequently for the purposes of determining the household’s relative priority for another social housing tenancy. Having regard to the overall level of demand for social housing, I am satisfied that the change proposed is a measured step, it is ultimately fair to all households on local authority social housing waiting lists and it will be supportive of the work of local authorities to improve the level of efficiency in the use of their social housing stock.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett That is an absolute disgrace but it is typical of a Government trying to divert attention away from its failure to provide public and affordable housing and to essentially blame the victims. I will take one of the administrative areas the Minister is talking about. My administrative area stretches from Little Bray to Sandyford. Let us imagine someone has been on the housing list for 15 years, their kids go to school in Shankill and they get offered somewhere in Sandyford. All their family network, such as their granny who looks after the kids, is in Shankill, and the schools the kids are in are in Shankill. They are told they are getting an offer of a house in Stepaside or Sandyford. They say they are desperate for a place but they cannot take that offer because they would have to uproot all their kids, they would not have the family network, they do not have a car and there are no transport links. This happens all the time. In many cases, houses are substandard, they are too small and there are real problems but out of desperation local authorities will offer them to people even though they are not suitable for particular families. The Government will then punish people by taking them off the list for five years. It is absolutely outrageous.

Deputy Eoghan Murphy: Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy The first thing to say is that this is part of a suite of measures that we are working on to help people who are in emergency accommodation to get out of emergency accommodation and to help local authorities manage the social housing stock efficiently. There are more than 70,000 people waiting for their home. These homes are being built now and we want to make sure there are no unnecessary or unreasonable delays for those families to get into their homes. What we are talking about here are not refusals for legitimate reasons, as the Deputy said. That is not what we are talking about. There is great flexibility with the local authorities in terms of working with families and individuals to help them into their social housing homes and in terms of determining what is the best type of home for them. It is not for legitimate reasons. It is for reasons that are not seen to be acceptable by the authority which is responsible for helping families into homes and managing that stock of social housing. We are talking about three areas of choice where people can choose to have their home, and I can provide a detailed map of the geographic size of those areas for the Deputy. We are talking about a second refusal. The local authority has offered one house which it deems to be a perfectly good house for that person to move into but that has been refused. The local authority has then offered a second house which it deems to be perfectly good for that household to move into but that has been refused. In that instance, based on the feedback I have received from local authorities, they believe that rather than just a 12-month suspension, a five-year suspension would be more suitable. We are not talking about a large number of cases so I do not know why the Deputy is getting so frustrated and concerned about this. The local authorities deem it necessary to ensure they can more efficiently use their housing stock in the interests of those people who have been waiting too long to get into their homes.

Deputy Jan O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan The Minister is not living in the real world of people who are looking for housing in local authority areas. I have a similar situation to Deputy Boyd Barrett where three areas of choice can be ticked on a form and in some cases they are very broad areas. They stretch for kilometres. By and large, we are talking about families in situations where they do not have their own car and I am not sure about Dublin but in Limerick there certainly are no connecting busses. They have to get their children to school and there may not be a direct bus. While I have the greatest of respect for local authority officials, what they might deem to be a fair and legitimate offer may not be practical for the family concerned and it is too inflexible to put people back for five years. One year can be difficult enough for a family that is in a desperate situation but I genuinely do not believe that people are refusing offers for flimsy reasons. Maybe there is a very small number who do but certainly when it comes to the people I deal with, generally speaking, if they are refusing an offer of a local authority house, having been on a waiting list for a number of years, they have really genuine reasons for doing so. If there are people abusing the system, it can be dealt with even with the current regulations but it is very harsh to extend it to five years.

Deputy Eoghan Murphy: Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy The local authority is the entity which best understands what the needs of the people on the housing list are and what type of home they need to move into.

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