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 Header Item Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2014: Second Stage (Resumed) (Continued)
 Header Item Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2014: Referral to Select Committee
 Header Item Topical Issue Debate
 Header Item National Spatial Strategy

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 841 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Jan O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan]  There were a couple of issues raised around the resources of housing assistance payment, HAP, the business plan and how exactly it will work, and whether it will be affordable. It is a commitment in the programme for Government and we have put quite a lot of preparatory work into getting it to this stage, both in my Department and in working with the Department of Social Protection. That work is continuing also with the housing authorities. It includes the design of the necessary IT and business process solutions that are required to facilitate the implementation.

The HAP is essentially new business for local authorities, with consequent decisions required as to how best to deliver the service in the local government sector. In that context, and in the context of the wider local government reform agenda, Limerick City and County Council, as the lead local authority on the implementation of the HAP, has prepared a business case examining a number of options for service deliver, ranging from a devolved model delivering most of the service in each local authority to a centrally shared model of service delivery, and this is being given careful consideration in all quarters to ensure that we provide a sound delivery mechanism for local authorities to succeed in the roll-out of the HAP. The piloting has begun in Limerick. It will roll out in six further local authorities this year, beginning in July, and then, gradually, in the local authorities. This gives us an opportunity to learn as we go along, from what is happening now in Limerick and what will happen in six other local authorities, so that we will be able to develop it and ensure that it will work properly. It is a significant change, in terms of new business for local authorities and bringing over all of those who are currently on long-term rent supplement into the local authority system.

There were a number of other points raised with regard to the housing assistance payment. I want to touch on one or two, particularly the issue of separated persons because that has been brought up by a number of Members. I direct the attention of Members to section 46 which provides for a number of amendments to section 20 of the Housing Act 2009. Subsection (2)(e) of that section deals with the case of households seeking social housing support whose qualification for housing support under section 20 of the 2009 Act cannot be determined because the household member who is separated but not residing in the family home still has an interest in that home. This amendment will allow that where the household member would otherwise qualify for housing support, the housing authority may determine the person qualified for support in the form of the HAP or the RAS. This determination will be reviewed at certain intervals and when the interest of the separated household member in the family home has been resolved, if that person then qualifies for social housing support his or her time in the RAS or the HAP will be reckonable if that person or household applies to transfer to another form of social housing support. That is a question many Members raised in various contexts. We can clarify that as we go along with the legislation, but we have taken the opportunity to address that issue in the legislation.

There was also an issue around the responsibility for the house or apartment. In terms of the landlord's responsibilities, they will be covered under the PRTB. Under section 43(6) a housing authority will be empowered, amongst other matters, to refuse to provide or to cease providing housing assistance in respect of a qualified or benefiting household where the authority considers and has evidence that any household member is or has been engaged in anti-social behaviour. That is how that relationship will work.

I refer to the direct deduction of local authority rents. In the debate, there has been some strong support for that and some concern expressed about it. At the end of 2011, the extent of the accumulated rent arrears across all housing authorities was €53.25 million. There is clearly a problem with rent owed to local authorities. The system we are putting in place will transfer upwards of 60,000 households from rent supplement to HAP and we want to ensure that we can do that in a smooth way that will work for everybody. The mandatory rental deduction facility will ensure that households do not fall into arrears and do not have the problem of considerable arrears that they then have to try to pay back. That is the purpose of the measure.

For the purposes of clarification, it is my intention that those on the HAP will be eligible to transfer into local authority tenancies and it will not mean that they will never be able to get a tenancy. That is my clear intention. It is also important to note that the rent contribution that a HAP recipient will pay to the local authority will be calculated in accordance with that authority's differential rent scheme, which is, as the House will be aware, an income-based rental scheme. All in all, that is a fair system, both to the local authorities and to the tenants, and will, I hope, address issues around tenants falling into arrears.

From the point of view of the current system of rent supplement, many Members referred to the fact that sometimes the tenant is paid directly and does not pay the money to the landlord. In the system here, as Deputy Joe O'Reilly pointed out, there will be a safeguard for landlords as well in so far as they will get a monthly payment, it will be the entire payment and it will come from the local authority which will have taken the tenant's portion and will pass on the whole payment to the landlord. There have been fears suggested, and I am aware there is a problem with landlords pulling out of rent supplement and the RAS, but there is a security for the landlords in this which, I hope, will encourage them to become involved, or if they have been involved in rent supplement to remain involved in the HAP.

There were a number of issues raised and I hope I have addressed some of them, at least the ones that are directly related to the three elements of the Bill. We will have opportunities for further debate at Committee and Report Stages and I look forward to that discussion.

  Question put and agreed to.

Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2014: Referral to Select Committee

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Jan O'Sullivan): Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan I move:

That the Bill be referred to the Select Sub-Committee on the Environment, Community and Local Government pursuant to Standing Orders 82A(3)(a) and (6)(a) and 126(1) of the Standing Orders relative to Public Business.

  Question put and agreed to.

Topical Issue Debate

National Spatial Strategy

Deputy Olivia Mitchell: Information on Olivia Mitchell Zoom on Olivia Mitchell I thank the Minister of State for remaining in the House for this matter which will be of interest to her in her job in housing. I raise the matter because I am increasingly alarmed that we are launching into a period of construction with construction strategies, housing programmes and stimulus packages, and today there was an announcement of a strategic investment fund of nearly €7 billion, but that it is all happening in the absence of an overarching spatial strategy. We had a national spatial strategy from 2002, but it has largely been abandoned. The only one paying any attention to it now is An Bord Pleanála.

The national spatial strategy failed, not only because it was largely ignored by the previous Government and by the local authorities around the country, but also because it was fundamentally flawed. It tried to do too much. It promoted a scatter-gun approach. There were nine gateways and nine hubs. Effectively, one was talking about 18 growth areas around the country but the reality is we do not have the requisite population. Despite that fact there is a rapidly growing population, we will not have the kind of critical mass necessary in 18 different centres to bring about sustainable economic and social entities around the country.

The drift to capital cities is everywhere, but the drift to Dublin has been going on for centuries and seems inexorable. It is not desirable for Dublin and it is not desirable for the rest of the country and the only way to counteract it is to identify a limited number of cities and towns around the country that we can provide with the kind of facilities that will hold the young populations.

I saw a piece on the news during the week about a town - it probably is just as well I cannot remember which one - that was in danger of losing its post office. One of the residents was interviewed and stated that virtually everybody in the town is a pensioner. No post office will save that town. No advance factory will save it and no number of houses will save it. All that will save it is if it comes within the orbit of a strong growth centre that has all of the facilities that will keep young people in such towns. We need to identify these growth centres and funnel all the possible infrastructure we can into them. If they are to hold rural populations in their hinterland, those towns must have all of the physical education and social infrastructure that one will find in a city such as Dublin. I refer to the same range of facilities such as universities and hospitals, although perhaps not as big.

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