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 Header Item Social and Affordable Housing (Continued)
 Header Item Housing Data

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 979 No. 6

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Eoghan Murphy: Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy] They have great flexibility. They have flexibility within the current policy and flexibility within the changes to be able to work with those families to get the best home. We are talking about those people who are refusing accommodation for spurious reasons - that is who we are trying to target here.

Deputy Joan Collins: Information on Joan Collins Zoom on Joan Collins How many are there? Is it ten, 20 or 50?

Deputy Eoghan Murphy: Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy The current policy is two refusals and the person is suspended for a year. What we are talking about is extending the period of time to act as a deterrent to people who are not accepting houses for reasons that are not seen to be valid. We are not talking about the challenges some families face that require a very specific type of accommodation, with the local authority working with them on a first offer, second offer and third offer. They have the flexibility to continue beyond two offers - of course they do. This is where the local authority deems that the second refusal was not on legitimate grounds. Under the current policy, people are then suspended for 12 months but, under the new proposals, which will be coming in with a range of other proposals, it will be for five years. I think that is acceptable based on the feedback I have from those local authority areas. However, the flexibility remains. This is not about families who have a legitimate challenge in trying to find a home to meet their needs in their area of choice.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett If the number is small, where the hell did this come from? I will tell the Minister where it came from. It came from a rotten prejudice that was expressed by Owen Keegan at the weekend in his disgraceful interview with The Sunday Business Post.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher The Deputy should refrain from naming people.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett He said it publicly.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher He may well have but we have to abide by the rules here.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett He said homeless accommodation was attractive to people and was a magnet, an absolutely outrageous statement he made in public, an insult to people who are stuck in homelessness. This betrays a rotten attitude. If it is a small number, where did it come from? It is to divert attention away from the real problem. One year is enough punishment. I have met people who are faced with that one year, who are crying and coming into my office to say they do not want to refuse, that they have been waiting for a house for years but that they cannot accept the house because it is completely impossible for them, yet they are under pressure to do so. I understand why officials are putting people under pressure because they are desperate to just tick the boxes. The people who have been waiting years on housing lists, who have real human family circumstances, should not be put under that pressure and should not be punished in this way. It is outrageous.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher I call Deputy Jan O'Sullivan. All Members should refrain from mentioning names.

Deputy Jan O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan What we are trying to do is to get the Minister to change his mind. I ask the Minister to define what he means by "flexibility". As I read this, there is no flexibility and once a person refuses a second home, they go back five years. I cannot see any flexibility in that. The Minister needs to go back and redefine what he is talking about if it is the case that people who refuse two offers then have to wait five years. We are talking about people who are desperate and who only refuse because they know that if they accept the third offer, they are stuck in this unsuitable place for the rest of their lives and it is not going to work for them. They are not going to refuse for spurious reasons. I urge the Minister to find a way of dealing with this whereby, after two refusals, the local authority must bring the people in and discuss with them why they have not been able to accept the two offers. Given the pressure local authority officials are under, I do not think they are going to show flexibility. Instead, they are going to say, "You have refused and that is it. We have a load of other people to deal with." That is not fair on people and their individual situations.

Deputy Eoin Ó Broin: Information on Eoin Ó Broin Zoom on Eoin Ó Broin I urge the Minister not to proceed with this draconian measure. I urge him to come before the housing committee and have a reasoned discussion with us about this because he is not being given the full information. There are many examples, which we can all cite from our constituencies, where people turn down offers of accommodation, for example, because they have been offered accommodation outside the catchment area for children who are in schools with special needs, and the local authorities have deemed that to be acceptable. We have had cases in some local authorities where families with children have been offered one-bedroom accommodation and the local authorities deemed that to be acceptable. We have had occasions where people have been offered accommodation not only far away from where they currently live but away from public transport networks and vital supports, which is a particular problem for working single mothers who need access to family accommodation.

The Minister has this wrong. I have no difficulty if somebody for frivolous reasons rejects two offers and receives a punishment - that is not a problem. However, there is more to this than the Minister is being told. I urge him to hold back and to come to committee. The crucial point is that choice-based letting fixes this problem for the overwhelming majority of offers, yet only 16 local authorities are using that system and many of them are not using it properly. Rather than punishing families, many of whom in our experience have legitimate reasons for rejecting offers the local authority feels are appropriate, we need to see a different approach. The Minister should come and talk to us, sit down and engage, and listen before he proceeds. Five years is draconian and the information the Minister is being given by the managers is not the complete picture.

Local authority elected members have to approve the scheme of lettings. Will this override decisions of local authority officers or elected members or is there a recommendation to that effect?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher The Minister has one minute to reply.

Deputy Eoghan Murphy: Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy As Deputies got extra time, I would like some extra time as well because it is an important issue. I have no problem with coming before the Oireachtas joint committee, as I do regularly, and I will come in on this issue as well. We have an engagement coming up which will facilitate that. This does not affect choice-based letting, which is working very well where it is working, and we want it to work in more areas. I am glad Deputy Ó Broin accepts that people are refusing accommodation for spurious reasons, and, in that case, that there should be some sort of deterrent and some sort of consequence. When people reject a social housing home for spurious reasons, the more than 70,000 people Deputy Boyd Barrett is talking about, who have been waiting for so long, have to wait even longer.

Deputy Ó Broin said I do not know the full facts. With respect, many Deputies come to me with cases which seem to be genuine hardship cases, and they bring them to me for genuine reasons, but when we actually dig into them, there is more to them than meets the eye. We have to try to find a balanced approach. The current policy is two refusals and a suspension for 12 months. This is about lengthening the suspension period to make it act as a proper deterrent for those who are doing this for spurious reasons, not those who have legitimate difficulties in finding accommodation that will meet their needs. That is what we are talking about here. The flexibility already exists in the local authority area. The local authorities have come to me saying they need more of a deterrent for those people who are refusing accommodation for spurious reasons. If the Deputies do not think we should be rejecting people for using spurious reasons, and if they have an idea how we can better deal with the situation-----

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett Choice-based letting.

Deputy Eoghan Murphy: Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy That is what we are rolling out. There are more than 70,000 people waiting for a social housing home. Some of those people are being kept from moving into their homes because people ahead of them in the queue are saying "No" for reasons that are not legitimate. That is what we are trying to deal with. This is happening with a suite of other reforms that will be announced next month.

Housing Data

 29. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin Information on Eoin Ó Broin Zoom on Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy his views on the Central Statistics Office, CSO, house build completion data for 2018; and the steps he is taking to ensure house building targets for 2019 are reached in view of the fact the 2018 figures show that they were 40% below target for 2018. [8454/19]

Deputy Eoin Ó Broin: Information on Eoin Ó Broin Zoom on Eoin Ó Broin The CSO released the house completion figures the week before last. They are a good set of figures, which I welcome, and I also welcome any increase in private and public sector house building. My concern is that the figure of 18,000 units reported is substantially behind the targets set out in Rebuilding Ireland. What is going to happen to ensure that this year, next year and in 2021 the catch-up in both public and private sector delivery is achieved to meet that crucial target in Rebuilding Ireland?

Deputy Eoghan Murphy: Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy Housing is, and will remain, a top priority for the Government. The latest statistics from the Central Statistics Office, released earlier this month, show that very significant progress is being made. Specifically, the CSO reports there were 18,072 new dwelling completions in Ireland last year, up 25% on 2017. When account is taken of the 794 homes completed in unfinished housing developments and the 2,592 homes that were vacant for at least two years and have been returned to use, the overall number of new homes becoming available for use in 2018 was 21,458, without counting the new student bed spaces that were also brought in during that time.

More new homes were built in 2018 than in any other year this decade. Much of this can be attributed to the Government's overall management of the economy, as well as to specific actions under Rebuilding Ireland, including streamlined and updated planning arrangements and investments in infrastructure. While the Deputy's question suggests that overall housing delivery last year was 40% below the target for the year, this is not the case. The target in Rebuilding Ireland is for housing supply to increase to 25,000 in 2020, and I am confident, on the basis of progress made to date and the range of indicators of housing construction activity, that this target will be achieved. There is, however, no room for complacency and I will be continuing to maintain very focused attention on increasing overall housing supply in co-operation with local authorities, the construction sector and other stakeholders.

Deputy Eoin Ó Broin: Information on Eoin Ó Broin Zoom on Eoin Ó Broin I want to correct one thing the Minister said. The target in Rebuilding Ireland is not to reach 25,000 units by 2020 and 2021. The target in the plan is to "ensure that an average of 25,000 homes are produced every year in the period to 2021". That is what Rebuilding Ireland says. Nobody expected 25,000 units in 2016, 2017 or 2018 so what the target suggests is that, as it ramps up, about midway through the plan, the 25,000 is passed and is then exceeded in the years thereafter.

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