Thursday, 16 November 2023
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
I thank the Minister of State for being here this evening. I would be very surprised if she is not aware of this issue in her area. On page 55 of the programme for Government, there is a commitment to introduce a social housing passport to allow households to move from one local authority list to another. This provision has been in every programme for Government for the past 15 years or so. I am struggling to understand what the issue is with it and why it has not been introduced.
This is best illustrated with examples. One of my constituents was originally living in the Dublin City Council area and went on its housing list. Due to the housing crisis, she moved to Balbriggan because it was the only place where she could get somewhere to live. Fast forward ten years and she has now been on the housing list for 12 years. She has nominated Balbriggan as one of her preferred areas. She was asked to move to the housing assistance payment, HAP, which she did. She now finds herself in a situation where she is very close to getting housed on the Dublin City Council list. However, in the intervening period, as one might expect, she has married and had children. The family have established and settled themselves in Balbriggan. The waiting list in my constituency runs to about 14 years. If she wants permanent social housing any time in the next 14 years, she will have to take the house offered by Dublin City Council. We believe that the offer of a house is fairly imminent. She will have to uproot her kids and take her partner away from where he is working. She will find it very tough to get to work herself. Her children are members of sports clubs in Balbriggan and take part in after-school activities there. She either loses out on the years she has accrued or she has to move.
I have another case of a woman who moved to Dublin from Monaghan. Her HAP was being covered by Monaghan County Council. She moved into the Fingal County Council area while Monaghan County Council continued to cover the HAP. She was advised to come off the Monaghan list, which she did. She now cannot get onto the Fingal County Council list because she is in receipt of HAP from Monaghan. Once a person gets HAP, the box is ticked and their housing need is deemed to be met. Although it is not permanently met, it is deemed to be.
The issue with this, in part, is the length of time involved. These are temporary measures, which would work fine if people were only on the housing list for six months. However, we all know that is not what is happening. A large part of this arises from the fact that people are not being told this when they sign up for HAP. They are not being advised that this could then mean that they then come off the housing list for the area that is not their primary area, which is often where they are living. That is one complication. Another complication is that if someone on a housing list gets a job offer in Cork, say, they have to make a choice between having somewhere to live or having somewhere to work. They cannot move without it.
This matter is further complicated by the fact that there is no consistency. South Dublin County Council will accept people and give them credit for the years they have been on a list. In other words, people can bring their social housing profile with them. This is not the case in Dublin City Council and Fingal County Council and as far as I am aware, in many others. This lack of consistency is a big issue. One of the main problems is that people are not being told. They do not understand the implications when they move. I have checked the form, and the relevant information is not on it. Neither is it on any of the guidance, which I checked before I came here, just to be on the safe side. People might say they did not see it. That would be fair enough if it was in the guidance, then it would be the person's responsibility, but it is not. People are not being told by officials in the councils. Very often, council officials do not necessarily know that this is the case because there is no consistency. I hope the Minister has a good answer for me
I thank the Deputy. I will be taking this issue on behalf of the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage.
The Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 and the Social Housing Assessment Regulations 2011, as amended, set down a standard procedure for assessing applicants for social housing support. Under this procedure, a household may apply for support to one housing authority only. This may be the authority for the area in which the household normally resides or with which it has a local connection. It can also be in another housing authority area if that authority agrees, at its discretion, to assess the household for support. The HAP is a form of social housing support available for people who have a long-term housing need. Any household assessed as eligible for social housing is immediately eligible for HAP.
Eligible households can source their own accommodation in the private rental sector which should be within the HAP rent limits provided to them by the local authority. At the end of quarter 2 of this year, more than 112,900 HAP tenancies had been set up since the scheme commenced. Of these, 58,234 households were actively in receipt of HAP support.
The flexibility of HAP as a social housing support is one of the scheme's key characteristics and was one of the primary benefits envisaged when the scheme was launched. With this in mind, the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage issued circulars relating to inter-authority movement in 2017 and 2019, with the aim of facilitating movement of HAP households from one local authority area to another in cases where a tenant wishes to access rented accommodation with HAP support in another local authority area. Inter-authority movement is, however, subject to certain conditions, such as the relevant social housing income eligibility bands and confirmation that the applicant's income is below the threshold in the new local authority area. HAP tenants who avail of inter-authority movement continue to be dealt with by their original local authorities. However, the rent limits applicable are those that apply in the local authority area where the property is situated. The original local authority will engage with the relevant new local authority to facilitate eligible requests for inter-authority movement.
HAP tenants who avail of inter-authority movement can be offered access to the housing transfer list of the original local authority. The practical operation of transfer lists is a matter for each local authority to manage, on the basis of their own schemes for letting priorities. The making of such schemes is a reserved function of local authorities and, as such, is a matter for the elected members.
This goes back to the nub of the question the Deputy asked regarding the passport. Many local authorities are very good at being flexible, but where there is demand, there is no doubt that there are issues. I can speak from experience of what happens in Galway, where we would be dealing with Tipperary or Offaly and people who want to move but have bedded down and have roots and families now. That is where flexibility needs to be exercised and consideration given.
Rather than addressing the question, the reply encapsulates the problem. The Minister of State indicated that HAP tenants who avail of inter-authority movement can be offered access to the housing transfer list of the original local authority. That is exactly what I said. The constituent I mentioned was a young woman when she went on the housing list. She is now a much older married woman with children. Her circumstances have changed, but her need for permanent housing has not. It has travelled with her. She has been living in Balbriggan for almost 12 years and is about to be offered a house elsewhere. It is a good thing to be offered a local authority home, but she has to uproot her four children and go all the way to another area which is not easy for kids to do. In addition, at the time she was not told that this was a potential consequence. The Minister of State also said in her reply that the practical operation of the transfer list is a matter for each local authority to manage. I respectfully suggest that it should not be the case because guidance and consistency are clearly needed. It is different when a person is transferring from one local authority to another. More importantly, people are not told this. As I said earlier, it is not on the forms or in the guidance and it is not explained to them. When people sign up for HAP, they are effectively giving up any claim they would have to a place on the list in the place where they are living because that is not the original authority.
In the case of the woman I am talking about, her local authority was originally Dublin City Council so she is heading to the city and uprooting her kids. It is not any one person's fault; it is a systems error. I am dealing with many cases at the moment but there are three in particular where people have to make very hard decisions over the next while. Perhaps the Minister of State could recommend this to the Minister, Deputy O'Brien. It is in the programme for Government and it is something the Government said it was going to do, but it has not been done yet. Some class of guidance needs to be issued. If they are not going to change the system, people need to be told what way it operates.
While arrangements are in place to allow for the movement of HAP tenants between local authorities, wider consideration is being given to allowing movement between the social housing list in one local authority and another. The programme for Government provides for a package of social housing reforms, including a social housing “passport” to allow households to move from one local authority waiting list to another. An initial scoping exercise was carried out, which identified a range of practical and administrative issues, including those related to the maintenance of seniority on housing waiting lists, local connection requirements, the efficient allocation of existing housing stock and resource implications for local authorities. Further work is required to assess the practical application of such a scheme in the context of other reform package measures.
There is already a degree of flexibility regarding waiting lists. The four Dublin local authorities have arrangements allowing social housing applicants to apply for housing in up to two of the other Dublin authorities simultaneously, and similar arrangements apply in Cork and Galway. This matter will continue to be given consideration by the Department. I will certainly bring it back to the Minister. While it is good news that the lady and her family have been offered a social house, which is serious progress, given there is pressure on schools and everything else, some consideration must be given. I will talk to the Minister about that.