Tuesday, 2 December 2014
Housing Assistance Payments Administration
85. To ask the Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government if persons who are housed in accommodation owned by private landlords and paid for by the new housing assistance payment are automatically taken off the housing list; if they are subsequently placed on the transfer list only if they specifically request this rather than this being done automatically; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45855/14]
If people are housed through private landlords under the new housing assistance payment, HAP, will they be automatically removed from the housing waiting list? Will they have to apply to get on the transfer list, rather than it being automatic? If that is the case, does that represent a false equation of the HAP with people's housing needs being met, for example, through the provision of social housing?
The implementation of the housing assistance payment, HAP, is a key Government priority and a major pillar of the social housing strategy 2020, which I launched last week. Whatever one's opinion, I hope Deputies will see it as a step in the right direction, given the scale of investment that has been secured. The HAP scheme will bring all social housing supports provided by the State under the aegis of local authorities. The scheme will remove a barrier to employment by allowing recipients to remain in the scheme if they gain full-time employment. HAP will also improve regulation of the rented accommodation being supported and provide certainty for landlords as regards their rental income.
Under section 19 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009, as amended, HAP is deemed to be a social housing support and, consequently, households in receipt of HAP are not entitled to remain on the local authority waiting list for social housing support. However, HAP recipients may access other social housing supports by applying to go on the local authority transfer list.
HAP has been rolled out in seven local authority areas on a pilot basis.
As an immediate step, I have issued a statutory direction to the seven authorities involved, instructing them to take the necessary steps to ensure that households benefitting from HAP can avail of a move to other forms of social housing support, should they so wish, through the transfer option. I have also directed that HAP recipients who apply to go on the transfer list should get full credit for the time they spent on the waiting list and be placed on the transfer list with no less favourable terms than if they had remained on the waiting list. In practice, housing authorities inform HAP recipients in writing of their entitlement to apply to go on the transfer list when they are approved for HAP.
Before the full roll-out of HAP, my Department will undertake a review of the transfer option with the seven pilot authorities, and this will begin soon. This will inform the overall review of the housing allocation system, which is a key action under the social housing strategy. Once the review is complete, I will make the necessary regulations to ensure the transfer option for HAP recipients operates consistently and effectively as part of the national roll-out of the new scheme.
I thank the Minister for the answer. Although he said recipients would have no less favourable terms than they would have had under the old housing waiting list, by definition, those on the transfer list have less favourable terms. Whereas previously, for every person taken off the housing waiting list one person was taken off the transfer list, now for every two people taken off the housing waiting list one is taken from the transfer list. By definition, they will lose out. It seems to be part of the privatisation of the responsibility for providing social housing, saying people's housing needs are met when they are in private rented accommodation. While I welcome the fact that people will be able to work while in receipt of HAP payments, there is no indication of how greater regulation will work. There is no increase of the limits on rent and no indication of how illegal top-ups, which half of those who receive rent supplement engage in, will be dealt with. There is no indication that HAP will deal with the problems.
I thank the Deputy. As the Minister with responsibility, I am monitoring the areas where HAP is being rolled out and I am satisfied that it is working well. The feedback from local authorities is very good. I am glad the Deputy welcomed the fact that allowing people to work while having their housing needs met is a move in the right direction. We are clearly seeing that people are satisfied with it. My predecessor, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, made commitments that anybody who was in receipt of this would be able to avail of the other social housing supports. They were offered the choice, and, by and large, the majority of them are opting to do so. We are happy with the way it is working. The policies we have adopted over the recent years are not a continuation in any way, shape or form of a privatisation of social housing. I have been completely opposed to it, and the strategy announced last week aims to reverse the cycle.
We have the institutionalisation of the long-term provision of social housing through rented accommodation. Instead of the State building the homes that people need and renting them to people, it is giving a massive yearly subsidy - at least €500 million - to private landlords. Half of all the income of private landlords comes from the State, with the top 20 earning almost €5 million. This has been the policy of previous Governments and it is being continued. At the heart of the social housing 2020 strategy are the HAP scheme, public-private partnerships with developers, and outsourcing of social housing to NGOs and approved housing bodies - almost everything but the investment of significant amounts of money to create homes for people.
I am perplexed by the Deputy's analysis. The social housing strategy represents the launch of the largest programme of housing investment in the history of the State, one of the largest programmes of house building by any Government. The Deputy's concerns about the outsourcing of the approved housing bodies, AHBs, worries me.
The approved housing bodies, AHBs, have made a huge contribution in terms of social housing requirements and, in fairness, a number of people across the House have acknowledged that. I know they would not concur with the Deputy's statements. Through the programme I announced last week we are having to bring about a range of measures to ensure that people's housing needs are met by way of the housing assistance payment, HAP, which will be brought out across the country, but also in the long term through the construction programme I announced as part of that to deal with the core issue, which is supply. We do need more houses that are owned by the State and in the plan I announced, given the capital available to do so, and I got all the capital that was possible in terms of a Minister in my position, it is a huge plus for the future that we will have the level of local authority and social housing units built to meet that supply.