Tuesday, 28 September 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
My question is straightforward and asks the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, for an update on the status of a review of the income thresholds for social housing, one that he referred to in this House on 5 May when he said it was under way. Previous to that, it was also described as being under way in November 2020.
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.
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 and provide a fair and equitable system for identifying those households facing the greatest challenge in meeting their accommodation needs from their own resources. A part of the broader social housing reform agenda, however, a review of income eligibility for social housing supports in each local authority area is under way. As set out in Housing for All, the efficiency of the banding model and its application to local authorities will be considered. Equivalisation as between singles and families will also be considered. The review will also have regard to new initiatives being brought forward in terms of affordability and cost rental housing and will be completed when the impacts of these parallel initiatives have been considered.
The Deputy missed a point in her contribution and, as the Minister said in this House previously, the review is being measured against new affordability mechanisms that we now have in place for first home schemes, direct build local authority affordable housing schemes and for the cost-rental model.
We are measuring them against those various initiatives. We will complete our review by the end of 2021, as is stated in Housing for All.
I thank the Minister of State for his response, although parts of it were regurgitated from the debates on 5 May this year and November 2020, bar the inclusion of the last bit of information he had. In my constituency of Clare, the band is set at 3, which at €25,000 is the lowest for a single person. The fact that each additional adult in the household is only afforded 5% of the threshold is completely and entirely nonsensical. This has been the case for ten years now.
I see the ill judgment and irrationality of these thresholds first-hand when families come to me. They may have more than four dependent children but have been found to be over the threshold by a mere €100. They are, therefore, deemed ineligible for housing support and are, in effect, left in limbo. The Government has washed its hands of any real sense of duty of care. That has now been the case for a period of ten years.
I thank the Deputy for her response. As I said during previous debates, as did the Minister, we are monitoring the situation in the context of the record-breaking monetary value of the new initiatives approved by this House. There is a recommendation in Housing for All to make a determination for quarter 4 this year. My county of Westmeath is on the same band as the Deputy's and I meet those vulnerable people at my clinic every single week. That is why we are working night and day in government, with a €4 billion multi-annual budget, to respond to that challenge and ensure people have the best possible chance of realising the ambition of home ownership in the first instance and, in the second, to protect the most vulnerable who need that housing support. We are doing that in significant proportions. As I said, we have matched the ESRI request with €4 billion a year to try to deliver 33,000 homes on average over the next number of years, which society really needs. That is the business we are in. We are listening to those vulnerable citizens.
The Minister of State knows the heartbreaking stories that are being relayed to us on a daily basis. The fact that he cannot do anything for these people is just so frustrating. I am confused because he said the review is under way and adjustments have been made thus far but, according to Clare County Council, there has been a decision to adjust the household means policy providing the preceding 12 months' income of a household is taken into account. I ask the Minister of State to address this judgment, especially in light of the Covid-19 pandemic and the major loss of income many have experienced in work and opportunities. If he is waiting for the review to be undertaken, why was this measure introduced at this point in time?
Everybody accepts the need to get to the end of this review and that income thresholds need to be looked at. Basically, they need to go up. We have major issues in relation to people who are caught in the poverty trap and cannot afford housing without housing assistance payments. This needs to be dealt with. I spoke to the Minister previously about the assessment situation. There are added difficulties with the new means by which local authorities are carrying out assessments. They have spoken to us about this and their fear that the means by which assessments are being done will create a larger number of people who will fail to meet the criteria. That is something that is being looked at. I have been promised a briefing from officials and I will definitely take this on.
I will also come back to the Minister and the Ministers of State regarding maintenance issues in Louth County Council and the requirement for a solution. The Minister said he is open to this. I will do so in the next couple of days.
Many people are surprised to learn that income thresholds are a relatively new phenomenon. It was a Labour Party Minister, to its shame, that introduced them in order, I contend, to simply reduce the housing lists. Rather than build houses, mechanisms were found to cut the lists. Prior to that, housing lists were determined on a raft of criteria, including income. It was taken into account and allowed local authorities to recognise the realities. It has already been said that in many counties, mine included, the income limit for two adults and four children is €28,750. That means anybody above that has been told for the last decade that they have to rent for the rest of their lives if they cannot qualify for a mortgage. The review has been ongoing for well over a year. It should not take that long for a review to be completed. I urge the Minister of State to tell his officials to get the finger out and get this resolved.
On Deputy Wynne's point, the reason for what she cited in her local authority area is that local authorities have discretion to take into account short-term income, or if there is a significant change in family income, while carrying out their assessment policy.
Regarding the review, we can also look at other areas in disregarding certain types of income. It is important to state that as we go through it and review the criteria. We know what the challenges are. As I said, I meet vulnerable people week in, week out, in my clinic. Since I came to the Department, we have all been trying to do our best. We have a record level of funding to try to ensure we are meeting the demands of the most vulnerable on the ground.
We really are building record levels of housing now. We are even surpassing what Sinn Féin had in its policy. We have reached 39,000 houses over the last five years; Sinn Féin stated it would barely get to 35,000 if it was in government. We have surpassed what Sinn Féin said it would do. That is an achievement.