Thursday, 23 June 2022
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
12. To ask the Minister for Housing, Planning, and Local Government if his attention been drawn to the lengthy processing times for both social housing applications and housing assistance payment applications; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33206/22]
Social housing applications can take some time to be processed. In the meantime applicants are without rent support and possibly struggling to pay. For many applicants for social housing, their primary focus is to get up and running on the housing assistance payment, HAP. Secondary to that is being considered for social housing. The length of time it takes to process applications is hitting people hard in the pocket. What kind of targets are set out for those processing times and are they being met?
This is an important matter. I will give the Deputy the official response as to what the target is. Applications for social housing support are assessed by the relevant local authority in accordance with eligibility and need criteria set down in the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009. The regulations require that local authorities, subject to conditions, deal with social housing applications within 12 weeks. Local authorities prioritise housing needs assessments for those in greatest need and seek to process their applications within that prescribed timeframe. Some applications are taking longer than 12 weeks. I have had that experience myself. That can be for various reasons including incomplete information provided or simply the level of work that is there. Housing assistance payment application processing times vary across local authorities. I discussed this last night with officials to see if we can make sure there is more consistency in the timeframes. Applications are only accepted when the relevant sections are fully completed by the tenant and the landlord and returned to the local authority with the required supporting documentation. My Department and local authorities absolutely recognise the importance of minimising HAP processing times. I have been at pains to reiterate that to my colleagues in local government. We recognise the importance of keeping processing times under review at a local level so they are minimised to the greatest extent possible. Last year, we tracked the average processing time for HAP applications. At the end of 2021 that average was 29 days. To be honest with the Deputy, in some areas it is done better than in others. I want to see more consistency. All applications are not uniform in the sense that cases are different. The Deputy has raised a very important matter. I want to see us minimise the processing time as best we can to a reasonable level.
The average processing time last year, as I said, was 29 days.
There are almost two processes going on, namely, the social housing application and the HAP application. I will focus first on the social housing application, because that is the slowest part from what we have seen. It is a very cumbersome application form and there is a great deal of documentation associated with it, whether it is original birth certificates, getting translations and so on. This is an issue that throws up a great number of challenges for applicants. Is there a way of making the social housing application more streamlined, practical and doable for people? It is taking more than 16 weeks to complete the process in many places. Yesterday, a lady who had just got a request for further information on an application submitted on 31 January – more than 20 weeks ago - came to my constituency office. She will, like many others, be starting back to get documentation reassessed. Is there some way of following up with the councils and making sure they are meeting the 16-week target? Are they being questioned on it? What process is in place?
I understand the point. We actually simplified the form and made some changes to it last year to ensure that it was in compliance with the plain English guide. We simplified the form and removed some questions that were not required. An application to put someone on the list for social housing is obviously an important application. The Deputy is right that there is a parallel process with the HAP application.
Before I say what we will do next, we track local authorities’ average processing times. I have them to the end of 2021. We have them per quarter. Our local government section can see who is doing well and who needs support. There could be resourcing and other issues. There are no questions that over the past couple of years that was impacted as well by staff not being able to be in work in some instances because of Covid.
On the foot of the Deputy's intervention, I will seek a further update from the 31 local authorities and get the most up-to-date processing times, particularly for his county, and send that on to him.
As I said, there are almost two processes – the HAP application and the social housing application. I just want to acknowledge that, for example, in Cork County Council, we see a very fast processing of the HAP application when it is up and running. The focus and the big challenge is very often on the social housing application.
Councillors represent the public. The CEO represents the Department and is the Department’s person within the council. I understand that targets are always being set. What effort is being made to follow up with the CEOs to ensure that those targets are being met? Where they are not being met, what happens? What are the repercussions where CEOs are not meeting those 12-week targets within local authorities? It is hugely important because it is not just about numbers and targets. There are families who are having to pay huge rents in the meantime because those applications are not being processed. It is very important that would be driven to the CEOs in the various local authorities to ensure that they serve the public.
There is no question about me agreeing with the Deputy. I meet with the CEOs on a regular basis. We engage with and meet them individually. I have had two recent housing summits where all chief executives and directors of service for housing from all 31 local authorities attended. That was very much focused on housing delivery. As I mentioned earlier, we will deliver more social homes this year than in any year in the history of the State. That is being supported very well by our colleagues in local government.
On processing times, again, that is tracked on the HAP side and for social housing applications. Following the Deputy’s question and intervention, I will seek a further update on the matter. I would engage directly with the LGMA as well. That is our channel to the CEOs. The latter are not necessarily our representatives in every local authority. They are the CEOs of their authorities. We have very good engagement with them. I will take that matter up. It is a serious issue, but the application is also a serious matter. It requires time to process. A period of 12 weeks for the social housing application is reasonable, as long as it is adhered to. Where issues arise, they need to be picked up sooner in the process in order that people are not waiting ten weeks before they find out if there is information outstanding.