Tuesday, 28 September 2021
Ceisteanna - Questions (Resumed) - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
Defective Building Materials
90. To ask the Minister for Housing, Planning, and Local Government if he is committed to introducing some form of redress mechanism for homeowners with defective homes in Budget 2022 arising out of the ongoing work of the independent working group examining the issue of defective housing. [46716/21]
As the Minister is aware, the programme for Government includes a commitment to "examine the issue of defective housing in the first twelve months of Government, having regard to the recommendations of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing report, 'Safe as Houses'". That report included the call for a latent defects redress scheme for homeowners who are affected by fire safety and water ingress defects.
The group has been meeting, but it appears that it is much delayed. The 12-month deadline has not been met. I ask the Minister to give us an update on the work of the group. In particular, is he hopeful that there will be some form of support for these homeowners in budget 2022?
I thank the Deputy. As he has stated, the programme for Government indeed sets out a number of commitments in respect of this important policy area of building defects. It is a programme for Government that I, with colleagues in Fine Gael and the Green Party, negotiated, within which we afforded the proper objective to tackle this issue. It provides for an examination of defects in housing, having regard to the recommendations of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing report, Safe as Houses.
In this context, I established a working group to examine defects in housing. The plenary working group has been meeting monthly since March 2021. It has met every month, with the exception of August, in addition to subgroup meetings. I have been fully briefed right the way through and actually attended the initial meetings of the group. The group’s terms of reference were adopted in May 2021. It took some time to get agreement. We wanted to ensure that there was agreement, particularly with the Apartment Owners' Network and the Construction Defects Alliance.
In regard to the working group’s deliberations, the group will seek to engage with a wide range of interested parties, which it is doing, including homeowners, public representatives, local authorities, product manufacturers, building professionals and industry stakeholders, among others, to examine the issue of defects in purpose-built apartment buildings and report to me on the matter. Consultation with the relevant parties has commenced and further arrangements in this regard are currently being put in place by the working group.
As the Deputy is aware, the group is being independently chaired. I am satisfied that the group is working effectively and efficiently on this complex matter. I look forward to a report in due course, following completion of the group’s deliberations. I am not putting the group under any pressure to do that. Once I receive the report, I can assure the Deputy that I will give full consideration to its contents and as to how we move forward. Any speculation on the output of the working group at this stage is, in my view, premature.
The difficulty is that, from memory, the Minister announced the working group in September 2020. He appointed the Chair in January or February. The group did not have its first meeting in March. A lot of time was wasted because, in my view, officials from the Minster's Department were trying to impose very restrictive terms of reference. That is a matter of public record. Thankfully, we have slightly better terms of reference now, but that wasted almost the full year within which the programme for Government promised for this group to do its work. That is no fault of the members of the group.
However, as the Minister is aware, the problem is that today there are families who are faced with paying very significant levies to tackle fire safety defects, some of whom are in the Minister's own constituency and he knows them well. If there is not some measure in the budget, even interim measures while the Minister is awaiting the full report, those families will have to wait another year before there is a prospect of any redress.
I know that the Minister cannot tell me what is in the budget and it has not been agreed, but can he provide these families with any indication that there may be something in the budget, even interim measures while he is awaiting the more comprehensive recommendations of the working group's report?
As the Deputy stated, it took time to get the group up and running and the terms of reference agreed. It was important that we got agreement from all involved as to the terms of reference, to move it forward and to put it on an independent footing. It is fair to say that it took some time to get the terms of reference agreed. Again, I did not want to pressure people into having terms of reference imposed upon them, because it is the homeowners and apartment owners who we want to help in this regard. We are very serious about doing that. To be fair, in the last Dáil, and in this one too, we have taken a cross-party approach to this issue, which is a most serious issue societally. I know it well in my own constituency of Dublin Fingal. I am committed to delivering on this issue. I do not want to rush the group in finishing its work. What I will say is that a suite of options and recommendations will be put forward. As Minister, I am serious about moving that forward to help people. I know of apartment complexes where people have been asked to pay levies of €15,000 to €20,000. It is a very heavy fee for them to pay.
Deliberations are important and it is important that we get it right. I do not want to rush it. However, as soon as the report comes to me, it will be considered.
Nobody is asking the Minister to put pressure on the group to rush the report; it is the very opposite. However, interim measures could have been considered. For example, for over two years now, the Construction Defects Alliance has been calling for access for homeowners who have had to pay those levies of €10,000 to €20,000 to the same treatment as private landlords currently have, whereby they can write off the cost of capital improvements against future tax liabilities, although preferably over a shorter period of time. That is something the Minister could have done, or at least argued with his Cabinet colleagues to have included in this budget.
My question - and it is not an attempt to get the Minister to rush the final work of the group - is whether there have been any discussions or is there any prospect of any interim measures being included in budget 2022, either for those who, through no fault of their own, have had to pay the levies this year or last year under pressure from their insurance companies, or for those who may be forced to pay next year because of the delays in the deliberations of the working group, which, again, are no fault of the majority of the members of that group?
I understand that point being made by the Deputy. The Construction Defects Alliance did make a pre-budget submission which I received. It has also gone to the Department of Finance for consideration. Regardless of any measures in this future budget, which has not been decided, we want to help these homeowners. We want to put a process in place that will be sustainable into the future. Unfortunately, there are potentially thousands of homes affected by this issue. There is a cost involved and a duty to the sector and to those who built these homes in a defective way, to insurers, to banks, and indeed, to the construction sector. That is something we are also looking at.
I know the Deputy is not asking us to rush a decision on this. A pre-budget submission has been received and is with the Department of Finance. I received a copy of it. However, my big focus is on helping the group to conclude its work. I expect that when the report is concluded, it will go to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage for further deliberations as to how we can move forward.