Thursday, 28 June 2012
Local Authority Housing
Question 11: To ask the Minister for the Environment; Community and Local Government if his attention has been drawn to the practice of local authorities of removing persons on the rental accommodation scheme from the housing waiting list; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31215/12]
The Housing Miscellaneous Provisions Act 2009 gives legislative recognition to rental accommodation availability agreements as a form of social housing support. Consequently, since 1 April 2011, RAS tenants are now considered to be in receipt of social housing support and should not generally remain on housing waiting lists for new applicants for social housing. In recognition that RAS tenants may have had reasonable expectations in regard to retaining access to traditional local authority rented accommodation, guidance issued by my Department recommended that there should be a special transfer pathway for RAS tenants to other forms of social housing support. It is my understanding that the members of many authorities have now included a provision of this type in their allocation schemes and that such tenants are included on transfer waiting lists.
RAS tenants obtain significant benefits through being in receipt of social housing support compared to remaining on rent supplement. In the first instance, this allows such tenants to take up full-time employment following their move to RAS. Second, it makes the housing needs of the tenants the responsibility of the housing authority, with the added security that this implies. Finally, it ensures that tenants do not have to apply for social housing and be assessed under the new housing needs assessment criteria.
It is disappointing that since last April people who are on RAS have been removed from the housing lists. Many of these housing placements are not permanent housing, but contracts with the local authorities. Some of them can be for up to four years. I recently encountered a person whose landlord indicated that he wished to sell the house. The person was only a year into the four year contract. Under the RAS scheme the landlord can do this once he intends to sell the property. It is very poor to have people excluded from the housing lists. It is massaging the figures. I have not yet heard of any special arrangements by the local authorities in regard to letting some of the people on RAS remain on the local authority housing list. Perhaps the Minister would elaborate further on that. The message does not appear to be getting to the local authorities that in some cases people on RAS can remain on the housing list. It is a massaging of the real figures on the housing list. Certainly, I do not consider people to be housed under RAS, especially when a contract can be pulled at such short notice.
Yes. In the housing circular 28/211 of 4 May 2011, which dealt with the social housing allocation regulations, it was recommended that a special transfer pathway be provided from RAS to other forms of social housing. This was to be included within the allocation scheme that each authority had to adopt under section 22 of the 2009 Act, which replaced the old scheme of letting priorities. Both the Act and the regulations provide that local authorities should have a system whereby people on RAS can have a transfer pathway so they can move into the regular social housing system. That is part of the legislation and the regulations so it should be implemented by the local authorities.
The message does not appear to be getting across. It would be a good idea to remind the local authorities of that provision. With regard to rent supplement, people can be six, seven or eight years on rent supplement or RAS. There must be a cut-off point at some stage so they can avail of local authority and social housing. It is not right. Originally, it was said that this would not last for more than three or four years, but it has now become a lifestyle and is remaining in place indefinitely.
It is part of the provision that is in place to address people's housing needs. If there is any doubt about how the local authorities interpret this, we can clarify it for them. Obviously, there is ongoing review of this entire area because we are trying to cope with the demand that exists given the state of the economy, so it is open to consideration. The issue of people having opportunities to move from RAS to regular - what might be called old fashioned - social housing is not excluded by any means. I take the Deputy's point that if there is some doubt about this in the local authorities, we should clarify it.