Tuesday, 28 September 2021
Ceisteanna - Questions (Resumed) - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
Approved Housing Bodies
91. To ask the Minister for Housing, Planning, and Local Government if his Department conducts any oversight or reviews with respect to the way funding provided to approved housing associations is spent; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46006/21]
I wish to raise the issue of reviews, or indeed monitoring, of the funding given to housing bodies. Regarding approved housing bodies, AHBs, does the Department conduct any reviews or monitoring of how the money is spent by these bodies?
Approved housing bodies are a key delivery partner for the provision of social and affordable housing. My Department does not administer funds directly to AHBs, rather, it is primarily provided to local authorities which, in turn, advance the funding to AHBs. Social housing provision through AHBs can only be provided with the approval and oversight of the local authority. Specifically in respect of the cost rental equity loan, my Department provides the funding directly to the Housing Agency, which administers the scheme, and the agency then advances the funds to the AHBs as projects are progressed.
As with all funding provided by my Department, funding for the local authorities that support AHBs is fully compliant with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform requirements relating to the management of and accountability for grants from Exchequer funds. Furthermore, detailed grant approval, payment and performance monitoring arrangements are operated by my Department on funding approvals involving AHBs, consistent with the public spending code and the capital works management framework. My own Department’s arrangements in this regard are subject to the oversight of the Comptroller and Auditor General while, additionally, the activities of our local authorities involving AHBs are subject to audit by the Local Government Audit Service as part of its annual financial audit of local authority financial statements.
A new strengthened regulatory regime for AHBs has also been put in place. The Approved Housing Bodies Regulatory Authority, AHBRA, was formally established on 1 February 2021. A key role of the authority is to encourage and facilitate better governance, administration and management, including corporate governance and financial management, of the AHB sector.
I thank the Minister of State for that response. While I am aware that the responsibility falls primarily on the local authorities, does the Minister of State not believe it might be necessary or proper for the Department to have some oversight of the expenditure? Residents of Chesterfield Close, Birr, County Offaly, who are going through the housing body Respond, have been waiting for a considerable time for their houses to be properly insulated. What is happening is a bit rich coming from a Government that has talked about energy efficiency and bringing homes to an energy rating of B2 in the programme for Government. Surely if there is no oversight by the Department, it speaks volumes. A significant amount of taxpayers' money is involved. Since 2016, €250 million has been received by Respond. Does the Minister of State not believe it is appropriate for the Department to have oversight of expenditure?
It is appropriate. The Department has adequate oversight. In the first instance, I would point the Deputy to the investigation of the Comptroller and Auditor General, the report on which was published in 2018. Three recommendations were made in respect of the Department and the AHB sector, namely, recommendations 10.1 to 10.3. We sent a response in March 2021 stating that all the recommendations had been fully implemented and that there was full compliance. Aside from that, we are establishing the AHBRA, which will provide an extra layer of governance and safeguard the public finances. All eight schemes that are currently approved by the Department are in line with the public spending code and all circulars issued through the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. Therefore, there are significant, robust safeguards in place to ensure public funds are spent adequately and that value for money is obtained.
I acknowledge that the Minister of State mentioned that three recommendations were made in 2018 but I am wondering about his reference to the regulatory authority. What measures will be taken in terms of oversight? The taxpayer is entitled to know precisely what measures will be taken and the monitoring that will be done. Surely it would make sense to monitor yearly. A housing body has been in receipt of €250 million since 2016. While it is building some new homes, it is not carrying out the basic maintenance of homes. Chesterfield Close, Birr, is a prime example. There are 26 houses and apartments, all of which need proper insulation. This is a basic need. Why are the basic maintenance needs not addressed by a housing body that has been in receipt of €250 million since 2016? These are the questions the Department needs to be asking. I have brought this issue up with the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, in the past. It is certainly one on which I will continue to ask questions.
I am not aware of the specific case but I can confirm that the AHB sector has constructed, since 2016, over 15,000 units. Of those, 60% were either through building or Part V. That is a significant aspect.
On the new regulatory regime that is going to be established, internal audit procedures will be set up. There will be monitoring of financial risk and it will be ensured that proper books of account are held. Currently, there is significant oversight under the public sector spending code, the circulars of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Local Government Audit Service. All are watching in on behalf of the public to ensure the funds are spent appropriately. If the Deputy has a concern about a particular AHB, the mechanisms exist for her to raise it. I encourage her to do so because the oversight exists. The teeth are sharp and ready to respond in any of these areas. Half a billion euro was put into the AHB sector last year, and that is delivering houses on the ground for all our citizens.