Thursday, 16 December 2021
Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
92. To ask the Minister for Finance the status of the promised review of the help-to-buy scheme; the person or body that will carry out the review; the terms of reference of the review; the timeline for the review; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [62328/21]
My question is specific. I ask about the status of the promised review of the help-to-buy scheme, the entity carrying out that review, its terms of reference and its timespan. Before I get the reply, let me wish the Minister and his colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Fleming, a happy Christmas and a happy new year, just in case the good cheer vanishes in his answer.
I want to return the festive wishes to the Deputy. The short answer to her question is that I just finished the Finance Bill last night in the Dáil, including with her good self. We have just completed the Finance Bill for this year. The review will be completed well in advance of next year's finance Bill. As of yet, I have not set the terms of reference, initiated the process as to who will do the work or indicated by when the review will be complete. If I were to give the Deputy my judgment now, I would say it would need to be completed probably before next summer, so that we would have time to consider its findings. I would say that we will be able to indicate what the terms of reference would be and how the work will be done early in the new year. Given that we have just finished the Finance Bill, I hope the Deputy will bear with me when I say that I cannot give her a clearer answer today to those questions.
I certainly appreciate that the Finance Bill has taken up all of the Minister’s time. However, this scheme was introduced in 2016 and became operational in 2017. The most recent formal review was many years ago. The tax strategy group did a chapter on it with various options. They pointed out that the scheme is four times more expensive than envisaged. The comments from the ESRI, which have been repeated many times, are that the help-to-buy scheme is adding to demand pressures. Social Justice Ireland states that the help-to-buy scheme has disproportionately benefited purchasers who buy higher-value properties. Indeed, anecdotally, in and around Galway, we are now helping professional people. The scheme is there to help everybody and I have no problem with that but, generally, professional people have a much higher salary than others. For example, consultants are now benefiting from this scheme, and rightly so because it is there. However, the scheme is certainly not helping those that it was intended to help to get on the housing ladder. The urgency of the review can not be overemphasised.
The scheme is helping many to get on the properly ladder and it is helping many who need support when they are buying their first home. More than 29,000 first-home purchasers have benefited from the scheme since it was set up. On the reviews that we have had, while the Deputy is correct that the most recent independent cost-benefit analysis of this was in 2018, this process is subject to a review in the tax strategy group papers that are published every year. This scheme is examined regularly by my Department. While the cost of the scheme has gone up since it was first implemented, it has been extended for longer than had been anticipated. More properties are participating in the scheme. We also made a change last year to give additional support to first-home purchasers due to the many changes that were happening because of the pandemic. I believe this scheme provides valuable help, but we will have a fundamental look at it in 2022.
I do not believe that the scheme has achieved the purpose for which it was intended at all, which is bad enough. However, it has also contributed to the housing affordability problem without a doubt. I am not alone in thinking that. All of my colleagues in opposition have said that. More importantly, the ESRI has said it. Social Justice Ireland, who keep their ears close to the ground, based on research, have repeatedly said it. The scheme is helping people who are already in a position to have a deposit for a house. I would like the review to examine the salaries of the people who are availing of the scheme, their professions, whether they are single persons or a couple, the amount of the deposit that they had and whether the recipient could afford a house in the first place. We need a detailed analysis of the scheme to see whether it is achieving the purpose that it was set out to achieve. I will be the first to say "Sorry", if I am wrong. However, we need that review and we need clarification on who will carry out the review and its terms of reference, which are extremely important.
On the additional points that the Deputy has made, 11% of the purchases that were made of homes in our country over the past 12 months or so were covered by the help-to-buy scheme. I do not accept that a scheme that supports the purchase of approximately one in ten homes is itself the cause of the significant house price inflation that we are facing. The cause of where we are at the moment is the well documented and understood issues relating to lack of supply that the Government is making progress on. Some 60% of those who used the help-to-buy scheme, on the analysis that we have done, did so while needing this scheme to help fund their deposits to buy their first home. That is valuable help. It is help that nearly 30,000 people have benefited from and they need it. However, the issues to which the Deputy referred and the questions that she posed will be looked at in the review of the scheme, which will take place next year.