Wednesday, 29 June 2022
Regulation of Providers of Building Works and Building Control (Amendment) Bill 2022: From the Seanad
The amendments are from the Seanad, apart from one, which is in a different category. Amendments Nos. 1, 12 and 26 are related and will be discussed together.
Seanad amendment No. 1:
TITLE: In page 7, line 8, to delete “Clár Tionscal Tógála na hÉireann” and substitute “Clár Tionscail Foirgníochta na hÉireann”.
I would like an explanation from the Minister of State. There is a load of amendments that have nothing whatsoever to do with the Bill that was originally discussed in the Dáil. The expression we use is that they are outside the scope of the Bill. They are completely outside of the scope of the Bill that was discussed here and they just appeared. The Minister of State might tell me there was great debate but from what I have heard from the Seanad, there was not much understanding of where these things came from there either. It is very sharp practice. That is not a comment on any of the particular amendments and, from what I can see, there are some we would support. However it is not good parliamentary or legislative practice to bring in a load of amendments that are way outside the scope of the Bill at this Stage, when we have not had a chance to look at or examine any of them.
Will the Minister of State please explain this? This always happens, but I have never seen it quite as blatant as this, where we have a number of things that really belong in totally different Acts, for example, the Nursing Homes Support Scheme Act, the Residential Tenancies Act and the Affordable Housing Act, which are all very distinct and separate things. This is a Bill about building control. Maybe someone else knows more than I do about this, but I think it is pretty extraordinary.
We are not getting into a long debate about the rights or wrongs of the amendments. We have to stick to the subject matter and we are already wandering outside it, exactly as the Deputy indicated. Perhaps an tAire Stáit would like to shed some light on the issue. There is a time factor and we have to move on.
I do. I want to speak on Seanad amendment No. 1, which is about the Title of the Bill. Many of the amendments are not related to the Title of the Bill. I specifically want to know why the amendments on the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 are coming in like this? Why were they not brought in in the Dáil originally? Why are we not getting an opportunity to input into them? Some of them are welcome but some need changes. Being brought in this way does not give us the opportunity to do that. Why is it being done that way?
One is either for or against. We are dealing with amendments. I do not want to wrangle about the merits or demerits of what should have been done before. We are at a certain level and we must deal with it.
We are discussing Seanad amendments Nos. 2 and 46. These amendments bring forward a change to the nursing home support scheme, also known as the fair deal, to remove disincentives that might prevent applicants to the scheme from renting out their principal residence once they enter long-term residential care. While the scheme is the responsibility of the Minister for Health, this amendment was brought forward by my Department through the Regulation of Providers of Building Works and Building Control (Amendment) Bill 2022. These amendments address action 19.8 in the Housing for All strategy. Within the nursing homes support scheme a person's income is assessed with 80% of it going towards the cost of their care. This new amendment would change the rate of their assessment from 80% to 40% for rental income from a person's principal residence. A reduction in assessment to 40% is expected to incentivise the rental of around 1,200 additional properties. The 40% rate is also expected to help mitigate some of the risks identified with proposals to reduce the rate of assessment to zero. Six months after the amendments have been brought into operation the Government will review the policy and based on a report will decide on potentially further lowering the rate at which rental income is assessed.
Overall this amendment supports the Government policy's intention to remove disincentives against the rental of homes owned by participants in the fair deal scheme, which might otherwise remain vacant.
Seanad amendment No. 49 amends the Housing (Regulation of Approved Housing Bodies) Act 2019. The amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act were made to increase the notice period to be given by landlords when terminating certain tenancies to require landlords to serve a copy of any notice of termination on the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, and to enable the RTB to assist in providing contact details of tenants to landlords for the purpose of facilitating a reletting offer. A key amendment is provided in section 93 which amends section 35 of the 2004 Act to delete the requirement for tenants to expressly provide their contact details to their landlord for the purpose of the landlord making a relet offer.
On Seanad amendment No. 3, was there any engagement with bodies, such as Threshold, which have expertise in this area? Why are these being rushed through without proper consideration given that there has only been a handful of cases where an adjudicator has found the tenant did not provide the landlord with contact details in an appropriate manner, for the landlord to offer back the home? Why is there such speed on this? Why is there not proper consultation and consideration of this amendment? As the Minister of State may be aware, this mechanism rarely results in tenants moving back into the home as more than likely they will have moved on to another secure home by the time another offer is made, because they need somewhere to live.
The benefit to a tenant is usually only realised in the form of awards made by the RTB. Has that been taken into account on this?
On the provisions regarding the seven-day time limit for a tenant to respond to the offer of a home, why does the Government think seven days is sufficient? Why has it not considered something more realistic like 21 days? I seek an explanation for the rationale for that.
In summary, I wish to know whether there has been consultation, why it is being rushed through, what is the rationale and why has it not been given more consideration.
Again, my understanding is there has been considerable consultation with Threshold among other organisations and that frames the rationale. On the seven-day time limit, again, I cannot give a response on that. I do not have a response for the Deputy on why that was seven days versus 21 days.
I just find this extraordinary. The Minister of State is telling us he cannot answer the questions about these amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act that we have never debated in the Dáil and that are contained in building control legislation. The Minister of State who is taking the session does not know the answers. That is a joke of legislation. It absolutely makes a sham of legislation. I cannot believe it; well I can believe it actually, from this Government, but it is flipping outrageous.
Do not get me wrong, extending the notice period is a good thing but at this point, given some of us have been screaming for the past few weeks that we need emergency measures on the number of families going into homelessness because of evictions and so on, we should be discussing this as part of a residential tenancies amendment Bill to ban all evictions and give greater protections to people in a situation where evictions and family homelessness are going out of control.
Some of this seems okay. We do not really know what the rationale is behind other bits and the Minister of State has been sent in here to ram this through because that is what happens when you are ramming stuff through without proper debate. You do not send in the senior Minister because there is no intention to discuss any of this; it is just about ramming it through. All I can say is it is very sharp practice.
Just a second. To inform the House, it is not a question of ramming it through anywhere. This is the Committee Stage of the Regulation of Providers of Building Works and Building Control (Amendment) Bill. It came to this Stage through other Stages, it just did not come to this Stage first, so if there was not adequate debate before this I cannot provide for it here and it is not going to take place in the committee.
But just for the record, if we try to introduce amendments to a Bill that are outside its scope, we are laughed out of the room. We are not even given explanations. They are just ruled out of order, full stop. We are told this has nothing to do with the Bill. Now we have a whole load of them that are outside the scope of the Bill.
This is not the responsibility of the Cathaoirleach Gníomhach or the Minister of State who is here per sebut in terms of process, this is absolutely unacceptable. I have raised a question about these provisions and we have had no opportunity to discuss this anywhere previously. This is our only opportunity. Why is the Government saying seven days is sufficient for a tenant to be able to respond and not something like 21 days, which Threshold incidentally thinks would be a reasonable amount?
Resume your seat just for a minute. I want to say something. We are not about to have a Second Stage debate tonight. It is not provided for in Standing Orders. It is not provided for in the rota in front of me and it is not going to happen. To allow a Second Stage debate on the issue in general would be wrong and I cannot allow it.
This is our only opportunity to raise a question on this, so simply on amendment No. 3 and the seven days, it is the case that tenants and renters have other things going on in their lives. They can be caring for family members, dealing with sickness, they can have work commitments and they could be away. A seven-day limit for them to accept this offer will cut many people out, especially more vulnerable renters and tenants. That will, presumably, give an advantage to landlords on this. The fact there is no explanation from the Minister of State on why it is seven days rather than 21 days is alarming. A normal part of the process here should be that we are able to ask a question, such as on how the Government arrived at seven days, rather than the 21 days recommended by Threshold, and can get an answer on that. To me, this is totally unacceptable and shows this process is not credible.
I wish to add to the note on amendment No. 48 that section 35 of the Act of 2004 will be amended to require a landlord must comply with section 39A of that Act when serving a notice of termination and any notice served in contravention shall be invalid of this Bill. I will provide detail on this shortly.
The new provisions in sections 35(12) to 35(15), inclusive, provide that upon receipt of a notice of termination the RTB will, in cases of terminations grounded on a landlord's intention to sell, occupy by the landlord or a family member, substantially refurbish or renovate or change the use of the rented dwelling, seek to ascertain the tenant's contact details and to pass those details, if ascertained, onto the landlord and the tenant's consent, if requested by the landlord, for the purpose of making a relet offer.
Section 94 amends section 39A of the Act of 2004 to require a landlord to simultaneously copy the RTB with all notices of termination that he or she serves on a tenant. The RTB will then notify the tenant of the timeframe for the referral of a dispute as to the validity of the notice of termination, increased under section 98 from 28 days to 90 days after receipt of the notice of termination in cases where there has been no breach of tenancy obligations, and provide the tenant and landlord with a fresh copy of the statement setting out a summary of their tenancy rights and obligations, as well as details of the RTB's dispute resolution service.
Section 96 substitutes table 1 of section 66 of the Act of 2004, which sets out the termination notice period to be given to a tenant by a landlord where there has been no breach of tenancy obligations. An increase of approximately two months is provided to the period of termination notice that applies to tenants with tenancies of less than three years in duration where there has been no breach of tenant's obligations.
Section 99 provides that Part 11 would commence on the day of the passing of this Bill. Part 11 provides for some standard consequential technical amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act 2004.
Amendment No. 49 provides for a number of amendments to the Housing (Regulation of Approved Housing Bodies) Act 2019 to increase by 12 months the period permitted for an application to be made to register as an approved housing body, AHB. It is proposed to amend the Housing (Regulation of Approved Housing Bodies) Act 2019 to extend by 12 months the timeframe for AHBs to register with the Approved Housing Bodies Regulatory Authority.
The 2019 Act provides for the regulation of approved housing bodies for the purposes of supporting stronger governance and the financial viability of that sector, with a particular focus on safeguarding the significance of public investment being made in the delivery of social housing by AHBs. The Act provided for the establishment of the independent Approved Housing Bodies Regulatory Authority, AHBRA. Section 34 of the 2019 Act sets out deadlines for the AHBs to register with the AHBRA, depending on their size. The proposed amendment provides for a 12-month extension to the existing registration for all currently registered AHBs, including those deemed registered AHBs with the AHBRA. The extension of this period will allow for the analysis and further consideration of a technical issue that has arisen in respect of the legal definition of the eligibility criteria for an application to the register.
I thank the Minister of State. My apologies for being late. Unfortunately, I have just come from a meeting to try to finalise amendments to another Bill for which amendments have to be submitted by 11 a.m. tomorrow, in spite of the fact that Second Stage of the Bill has not even started, let alone finished and, apparently, we will only be given a very short amount of time.
As regards the Bill before the House, we are dealing with two issues on which I suspect most Members present are in agreement, that is, the fair deal-related amendments and the residential tenancy amendments. In that regard, technical and significant legislative changes are being brought in and we have half an hour to discuss them while also trying to deal with everything else. I know that is not the fault of the Minister of State but he is probably blue in the face hearing me say that whenever there is crappy stuff that this collective has to deal with, he keeps getting that crappy stuff. I ask the Acting Chairman to excuse my language. The lesson in the context of the Bill is that this is stuff on which we agree with the Minister of State but if the Government does not get it right and properly consider it, that is not acceptable. My colleague, Deputy Patricia Ryan, is asking about measures, for example, to ensure that older people are protected from elder abuse in the context of the changes to the fair deal scheme. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan is asking reasonable questions about the meaning and interpretation of aspects of the Bill. For me, the real question relates to the reason for these changes, welcome and all as they are, to the Residential Tenancies Act. Deputy Boyd Barrett is as confused as I am as to which amendment we are discussing now. If the Minister of State can clarify that, it would be useful.
I have no difficulty with these amendments. I would have much preferred to have had an hour or two on Committee Stage to go through them properly and discuss them, but that is the Government's business. I am interested to know why the amendments are being tabled now. They came out of the blue. There was no consultation with anybody in the NGO sector, such as Threshold or any other tenants' rights organisations. I am not objecting to the amendments. I welcome anything that strengthens tenants' rights. My suspicion is that there is a crisis in the private rental sector. There is a dramatically increasing level of homelessness, particularly in terms of the presentation of families as homeless. This is the Government attempting to be seen to do something to address that. Of course, while the amendments are welcome, they will not do anything to address the dramatically increasing levels of homeless presentations. It might just delay them by a small number of days. From where did these amendments come? What was their origin? What is the logic and thinking of the Government in this regard? We are supporting the amendments but I really want to understand why they have been tabled in this way. Ordinarily, when changes to the Residential Tenancies Act are proposed , there is some level of consultation with the sector and some logic behind them. These amendments have come out of the blue, welcome and all as they are. Any clarification the Minister of State can provide would be most welcome.
All I can tell the Deputy is that there are regulations and amendments and a pink paper here in front of me. I know he would like to select and move on from his position but it does not work that way, unfortunately. If the Minister of State wishes to comment, he may do so. Otherwise, I am putting the question.
May I make a final response? I will not labour the point but our job is not just to say whether we are for or against what the Government is doing. Deputies Cian O'Callaghan, Boyd Barrett and I spend a lot of time in committee. We take our job as legislators very seriously. Even when it comes to the things the Government is doing that we support, we want to make sure the language and the text is right. For example, when rent pressure zones were first being introduced, that was done in such a rush that the mathematical formula underpinning the 4% rent cap was miscalculated in the legislation as 8%. It was only I and Deputy Shortall, and, in fairness, former Deputy John Curran who was on the Government side at that stage, who noticed it. Part of our job is to scrutinise. If we are not given adequate time to do so, either because insufficient time is provided in the Dáil to discuss the Bill or because we are trying to deal with multiple pieces of legislation that are being rushed through at the last minute, that is a recipe for mistakes. I make that appeal to the Minister of State in the context of this Bill. It is not a controversial Bill but that does not mean it is not technical and should not be adequately scrutinised in a public forum to make sure there are no mistakes, unintended consequences, etc. If he is in a position to reply, I would like him to answer my question. It is a genuine one. From where did these amendments come? What was their origin? Why is the Government introducing them now? Those are reasonable questions and I would appreciate it if the Minister of State were to respond on them.
I take my responsibility in terms of scrutinising the Bill and the amendments very seriously. While the overall thrust of the amendments is welcome, as are most of the measures, there is a flaw in what is being put forward in terms of the provision of a seven-day limit rather than 21 days. That will be unworkable for many people. It may be an unintended flaw in these amendments. I do not know if that is the case because no rationale whatsoever has been given for it. We have been given no information on it or why that limit was arrived at. It makes me wonder whether the intention is to make it unworkable in order to reduce the number of disputes that go to the RTB. That may not be the case, but I am completely in the dark as to why that period has been arrived at. It is legitimate to expect the Government, when it is proposing this change and this seven-day limit, to explain why it believes that is the appropriate amount of time to provide for in the legislation. The approach being taken is not what Parliament is about. When proposals are brought, we raise questions and make criticisms and then get a response. If that is not what it is about in a democracy, what is it about?
For the information of the Deputy and in compliance with an order of the House, the Deputy wandered completely outside discussion of the amendment and tried to start a new debate in order to delay the discussion of the Bill. We are time limited.
I thank the Acting Chairman. As we have already pointed out, we are discussing the nursing home support scheme and the Residential Tenancies Act. We discovered from the most recent response of the Minister of State that we are also talking about the Housing (Regulation of Approved Housing Bodies) Act 2019 and changes being made thereto. We will not even get to discuss the amendments introduced at the last minute by the Government to the Affordable Housing Act.
The time permitted for this debate having expired, I am required to put the following question in accordance with an order of the Dáil of 28 June: "That the amendment set down to Seanad amendment No. 48 on the first additional list is hereby agreed to in committee and that in respect of the Seanad amendments not disposed of, the Seanad amendments or, as appropriate, the Seanad amendments, as amended, are hereby agreed to in committee and agreement to the amendments is accordingly reported to the House."