Seanad debates

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Commencement Matters

Housing Provision

2:30 pm

Photo of Ann PhelanAnn Phelan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Labour) | Oireachtas source

I thank Senator Bradford for raising this very important issue. I know that the issue of vacant local authority housing, or voids as they are called, has been a topical one, given the need to address the waiting lists and to make best use of the existing stock, while the extensive programme of new build that the Minister, Deputy Kelly, has put in place with the local authorities is advanced. The issue of voids and the reletting of them has always been an issue with elected public representatives on local authorities. The time it takes to redo a house and relet it has always been a bone of contention.

An important point to make is that there is no fixed number of vacant local authority houses. The numbers change constantly across all the 31 authorities, as tenants move in and out of social housing. General statistics on local authority housing stock, including vacant units, are published annually by the Local Government Management Agency as part of its service indicators for local authorities and are available on its website.

Recognising that there had been a build-up of vacant social houses for a number of years, in 2014 my Department introduced a new programme to support local authorities in returning voids to productive use. More than 2,333 units were remediated under that programme, which is targeted at lettable units and making them energy efficient.

For 2015, given the continuing need to make social housing available as early as possible, we are supporting local authorities to tackle another 2,500 vacant units. In addition, I should point out that local authorities also do their own work on the more routine relettings, where a lower level of expenditure is involved.

The key focus of the Minister is on ensuring that Exchequer support is made available where it is needed to complement the work that local authorities do under their own resources. The allocation of targets for a further 2,500 units this year is in response to the number of vacant, lettable units that local authorities have identified to my Department. Exchequer funding to the authorities is on condition that the accommodation will be occupied immediately following the works, with priority given to homeless families to the greatest extent possible.

In regard to privately-owned properties, there are currently in excess of 323,000 tenancies registered with the Private Residential Tenancies Board. The private rented sector has more than doubled in size in recent years with one in five households now accommodated there. My Department does not have the power to direct private property owners to let their properties.However, under the Department's housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme, eligible households can source their own accommodation in the private rented sector and rental payments are then made electronically, directly to the landlord, on behalf of the tenant. More than 4,300 households are being supported by HAP across the pilot local authority areas operating the scheme, with more than 2,000 unique HAP landlords involved in those tenancies.

In summary, therefore, the Government is responding comprehensively to the social housing challenge through the Social Housing Strategy 2020 and in respect of vacant social houses, the necessary support is being given to the local authorities to get units back into use for those on the waiting list. As for private rented accommodation, the roll-out of the HAP scheme, which is now progressing well, provides an important vehicle for ensuring that this type of accommodation can also be brought into play to assist in meeting social housing needs.


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