Thursday, 23 June 2022
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
6. To ask the Minister for Housing, Planning, and Local Government if he will provide an update on the review of the social housing income thresholds; and if he will indicate whether he intends to raise the thresholds. [33082/22]
9. To ask the Minister for Housing, Planning, and Local Government if he has plans to examine the income limits for social housing; if they will be increased and whether those who have been removed from the list over the last period will be reinstated to their position on the lists; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32965/22]
I understand the Minister received in December a copy of the review of the social housing income eligibility threshold from the departmental officials. This is a matter that requires an urgent decision. More and more people are being done out of access to social housing supports. More and more people are having their social housing supports withdrawn. We even have a situation where people in emergency accommodation who breach the limit are being written to and told their emergency accommodation will be denied. When will the Minister make a decision on this? Will he give us an indication of the type of decision he is considering making at this point in time?
I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 and 9 together.
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. The 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. The income bands, and the authority area assigned to each band, were based on an assessment of the income needed to provide for a household's basic needs plus a comparative analysis of the local rental cost of housing accommodation throughout the country. A blanket increase of €5,000 was also introduced prior to the new system coming into operation.
Net income is defined as gross household income less income tax, PRSI, universal social charge and additional superannuation contribution. The policy provides for a range of income disregards. Local authorities may disregard temporary, short-term or once-off income. Determining whether an applicant household meets the income criteria is now based on its preceding 12 months' net average income prior to receipt of the application. This ensures the most comprehensive picture of a household's current and previous income is available when the eligibility assessment is carried out. It also better reflects the long-term nature of social housing supports and in doing so ensures fairness and equity in the system and that those with a continuing long-term need are prioritised. Eligibility may be reviewed by a local authority, for example, at the point of allocating support. Households are generally removed from the housing list if they exceed the income limits. They may re-apply for social housing at any stage but, if deemed eligible on re-application, they are not re-instated to their previous position on the list.
Housing for All - A New Housing Plan for Ireland was published in September 2021 and, as part of a broad suite of social housing reforms, committed to reviewing income eligibility for social housing. The review, which examined inter aliathe efficiency of the current banding model and income limits applicable to local authorities, has been completed. The Minister, Deputy O'Brien, is considering its findings and recommendations. The review is being considered in the context of our affordable housing scheme and cost rental scheme, the amendment to Part V from 10% to 20% social housing and all of the affordability measures available in the State in the new Housing for All package. Local authorities have discretion on short-term or one-off income that can be disregarded when assessing a housing application. The key priority for the Government is to ensure the most vulnerable get the support they need. The Minister, Deputy O'Brien, will shortly make recommendations from the review.
Those on the list who, further to a review by the local authority, fail to meet the criteria and subsequently reapply will be reinstated at the position they had previously on the list. This is very important reassurance for people. Looking back over the previous 12 months is the fairest system to ensure that all income is captured. If there are changes, temporary changes or one-off income it can be disregarded.
I thank the Minister of State. My problem is that he did not answer the question. The information he has given us is very useful although I think everybody in the House knows it. The question is very simple. When will the review be published? What resolution of this is the Minister considering? People are being taken off the housing list week on week. I have been contacted about two cases, not in my constituency, where the income of people in emergency accommodation has increased and they have been given letters telling them they are no longer eligible for social housing support. Families are losing eight, nine or ten years on the list. In some rural local authorities a family on social welfare with a large number of children is above the threshold. The criteria have not been changed since 2011.
I appreciate the information the Minister of State has given me. I am not looking to create an argument but there are Deputies in every party who every six weeks come here and ask when the Minister will publish the review and increase the limits. These are reasonable questions. Given the conversation we have just had about rising levels of homelessness and the low and slow output of affordable housing there is an urgency in taking action on this. The sooner the Minister does so the better. I would be greatly appreciative of any information the Minister of State can give me on the question I actually asked.
The problem with the response of the Minister of State is that he said social housing has to look after the most vulnerable. We know, and it has just been outlined, that those who may be eight, ten or 12 years on the housing list and who get a small increase in their net income are taken off the housing list. This makes them very vulnerable. Many of them do end up in homelessness and they do not have any housing support. The question needs to be answered. When will the review be published? It is not satisfactory to answer that the cost rental scheme will deliver this and another scheme will deliver that. What needs to happen is that people entitled to go on the social housing list remain there until they are housed and are not knocked off it because they get a small increase in their income. Dozens of families to whom this pertains come to us. I grew up in a housing estate that was so-called social housing. We called it "corpo housing". Everybody on the street had a job and an average income. This did not make us the most vulnerable. It meant the State had an obligation to house us and we paid rent.
I absolutely understand the concerns of the Deputies. Every week at my clinics I meet very vulnerable people who are concerned about inflation and the risk to their position on the housing list. We are committed to ensuring we get the right answer. As I outlined in my contribution this has to be balanced with the amendments we have made through Housing for All, having record delivery of social housing this year and other mechanisms to meet various needs in society. As I have said, to be very clear, the Minister, Deputy O'Brien, is reviewing the recommendations. He has a few concerns about some aspects of them and he is engaging with officials on these at present. As soon as possible we will make amendments. They will have to ensure that the most vulnerable are protected. I assure the House this is being treated with urgency in terms of trying to get the right answer balanced with the other mechanisms the State has. This includes record delivery of social housing as well as a €4 billion budget through Housing for All for social housing delivery.
I cannot stress enough the urgency of this. I will take the example of a couple in my constituency who are €500 or €1,000 above the social housing eligibility threshold. If they were to avail of the cost rental that is coming through Tuath in Kilcarbery, they would be spending almost 50% of their net income on rent. Cost rental does not work for that cohort. What that tells us is that we have to raise the thresholds. I absolutely appreciate it will take some significant assessment to determine to what level it is increased and how that is operated across local authorities. I do not believe, however, that it should take six months to make those decisions given that the work will have been done by the Department.
I appeal to the Minister and the Minister of State to come back with a formal recommendation as a matter of urgency. It is simply not acceptable for a working family on a hard income who have waited eight, nine or ten years on the list, to have to then decide whether to give up a promotion or some increased permanent overtime to keep their position there, or take that extra money to deal with the cost of living crisis and lose their social housing position and, ultimately, be worse off because they have to pay rents. This needs a decision this summer and I urge the Minister and the Minister of State to take that decision and announce it, for the good of all of those families affected.
I will go one further and argue with the Minister that he has a duty to publish that review, having sat on it for six months. Many people are going through agony, having been knocked off the housing list after years of waiting. This is not right. There are various schemes in the Housing for All policy which are really an attempt to reinvent the wheel. What we need is a massive investment in public housing that gives access to the housing list to those who need it and we need to stop, in the cruel way which the Government has been doing, knocking people off the housing list because their income increases. Sometimes their income increases by a very marginal amount after having waited for ten or 12 years on the housing list. This is not acceptable. We have dozens of families and maybe more, throughout the Oireachtas, coming to us with this problem. It is absolutely heartbreaking. It is argued that Housing for All or cost rental will resolve it. They do not and will not resolve it. What also impacts on this is that people get no housing supports whatsoever once they are off list. They do not get HAP or RAS or income supports to help them be rehoused. That is why we have working families consistently ending up in homeless accommodation. It is outrageous. We need to know when that review will be published, instead of having to come here week after week to ask the same question.
I assure both Deputies that this is being treated with the most urgency within the Department. The Minister has been engaging with other Departments, as well, to try to finalise an approach that will ensure the most vulnerable in society are protected. That is our modus operandiin trying to get these regulations right. There are three bands throughout the network of 31 local authorities which, obviously, need to be reformed. That is key. We can see that from meeting constituents, in terms of the problems that have been referenced here, who either have an increase in terms of income and, unfortunately, fall off the list and are faced with very difficult circumstances. We want to protect people who are faced with those decisions and ensure that they have options. That is why we are balancing it with the record investment in housing through Housing for All, in terms of that significant increase in housing supply into the State. I assure everyone that this is being treated with the utmost urgency.