Thursday, 24 June 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
6. To ask the Minister for Housing, Planning, and Local Government if he will urgently review and increase the table of maximum net income limits in social housing assessments regulations applicable for County Clare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33433/21]
20. To ask the Minister for Housing, Planning, and Local Government if he will report on the discussions that have been held within his Department regarding increasing the income threshold for those wishing to apply for social housing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33512/21]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 and 20 together.
Applications for social housing support are assessed by the relevant local authority, in accordance with the eligibility and need criteria set down in section 20 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 and the associated Social Housing Assessment Regulations 2011, as amended. The 2011 regulations prescribe maximum net income limits for each local authority, in different bands according to the area concerned, with income being defined and assessed according to a standard household means policy.
Under the household means policy, which applies in all local authority areas, net income for social housing assessment is defined as gross household income less income tax, PRSI, universal social charge and additional superannuation contribution. The policy provides for a range of income disregards and local authorities also have discretion to decide to disregard income that is temporary, short-term or once-off in nature.
The income bands are expressed in terms of a maximum net income threshold for a single-person household, with an allowance of 5% for each additional adult household member, subject to a maximum allowance under this category of 10%, and a separate 2.5% allowance for each child.
The income bands and the authority area assigned to each band were based on an assessment of the income needed to provide for a household's basic needs in addition to a comparative analysis of the local rental cost of housing accommodation across the country. It is important to note that the limits introduced in 2011 also reflected a blanket increase of €5,000 introduced prior to the new system coming into operation to broaden the base from which social housing tenants are drawn, both promoting sustainable communities and providing a degree of future-proofing.
Given the cost to the State of providing social housing, it is considered prudent and fair to direct resources to those most in need of social housing support. The current income eligibility requirements generally achieve this, providing for a fair and equitable system of identifying those households facing the greatest challenge. However, as part of the broader social housing reform agenda, a review of income eligibility for social housing supports in each local authority area is currently under way within the Department.
I thank the Minister of State very much for his reply. This is an ongoing issue, particularly in County Clare. People contact me every day of the week who are just over that maximum threshold, which is set at €25,000.
There is a question of equity. There is a much higher threshold in Limerick than in Clare. This needs to be reviewed urgently. I welcome the Minister of State's confirmation that the process is ongoing. When does he expect that the review will be concluded? Is it on an individual basis? Can County Clare be brought in line with County Limerick, our closest neighbour?
I acknowledge that Deputy Carey has consistently raised this issue over the past number of months. It is important and, like him, I can see vulnerable people coming into clinics who need support and assistance with social housing. The review is ongoing. The review will be done in the context of the Affordable Housing Bill and its impact. Current schemes include the direct build scheme, the shared equity scheme, and increasing Part V numbers to 20% for social and affordable housing. The Land Development Agency will deliver social, affordable and cost-rental housing at scale. We will hopefully complete this review to assess the impact of those when the legislation passes the Oireachtas. I can see that issues with different local authority bands raise a significant issue with Clare and Limerick, as Deputy Carey rightly acknowledged. We are working hard on this and we will hopefully complete the review later this year.
This issue has a negative impact on people and families. A constituent was in touch with me this week. Unfortunately this lady is over the income threshold. She is in receipt of the family income supplement. It is hard to understand why she would not be eligible for consideration for social housing. This has a negative impact on people's lives and ability to qualify for housing. This is urgent and I ask the Minister of State to ensure that this is brought to a conclusion at the earliest opportunity. County Clare, with the maximum threshold, should have more people who actually need housing become eligible.
I echo that call. I grew up in Clare. There were many county council estates and they were mixed. We all thought they were good and Government policy still promotes that. If the threshold is set where it is in Clare, if two people in a household are working or even if just one person is working and is just a little over the minimum wage, those people are not entitled to go on the social housing list. Effectively, only people in receipt of social welfare can get social housing in Clare because of where the limits are set. I have no problem with people in receipt of social welfare getting social housing but it should not be limited to that because it will cause ghettoisation of social housing, which nobody thinks is a good thing, and there is a disincentive to work, especially when it is low-paid work. We need to look at those income thresholds for the sake of society and housing in Clare, to even get back to where we were in the 1980s.
I acknowledge what Deputy Carey said. He is right that a key to unlocking this issue is income disregards. He pointed out the case of a family that he has been dealing with. Local authorities have discretion regarding payments that are one-off or temporary in nature and can disregard them. There is potentially more space for such discretion because vulnerable people in receipt of income supports such as the working family payment currently exceed the amounts in the housing means test. We will look at that. It should be seen in the context of the Affordable Housing Bill. We need mixed tenure developments. In some quarters in the House, we hear people call for that and yet they consistently vote against it. It is interesting to hear the debate about the Oscar Traynor site and other big sites in Dublin that are still lying idle and derelict.
Will the Minister of State address my question? He addressed Deputy Carey. I appreciate that I am not in Fine Gael and have no intention of joining Fine Gael but I should not have to join Fine Gael to have my questions answered.