Seanad debates

Monday, 22 February 2021

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Tenant Purchase Scheme

10:30 am

Photo of Pat CaseyPat Casey (Fianna Fail)
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Three years ago I sat with the Minister of State's predecessor, Deputy English, discussing this very issue. It is important that we try to get a solution to it.

Photo of Robbie GallagherRobbie Gallagher (Fianna Fail)
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Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit chuig an Teach ar maidin. The Minister is very welcome to the House and I thank him for taking time out of his busy schedule to discuss this important matter. Most people and most families would like, where possible, to own their own homes. That is a credible and laudable ambition for most people. Not everyone will want to do so, but for those who do, it is important that the Government does all it can to encourage home ownership. Unfortunately, for people who currently live in Part V social housing, the option of purchasing their own home does not exist. That is very disappointing and clearly discriminates against those who wish to purchase their own home. I have been contacted by many people, as I am sure the Minister of State has, who would like to purchase their own home.Apparently 4,000 people throughout the country are affected by this. In my own county of Monaghan and in Cavan, there are approximately 160 families who invested money in their homes and properties, doing them up and looking after them. They are heartbroken at the news that they cannot buy out their own house. They are stuck in an awful position.

I have raised this issue, as have many others, including the Cathaoirleach Gníomhach, over the past number of years and have been told that this particular tenant purchase scheme has been under review since 2016. The Minister of State does not need me to tell him that this is now 2021 and we still await the findings of that review. The programme for Government contains a rejig of the social housing scheme in general and that is very much welcome. Can a number of issues be addressed for people within that scheme? One is the Part 5 situation, where people can buy out their homes.

Another cohort of people who are looked after by social housing bodies is also affected. These social housing bodies have been a vehicle that the Government has used to supply much-needed housing, which is very welcome. However, the those families who are in those homes and who wish to buy them out are precluded from doing so.

The other issue which one would hope would form part of the review and which needs to be addressed is the income limits for people to initially qualify for social housing. Currently, in the part of the world I come from, and I am sure it is somewhat similar in the Minister of State's area, the threshold for a single person is something in the region of €25,000 while for a young couple, the ceiling is only €26,250. That is an income of approximately €13,000 each, which is totally out of kilter with where the real world is at.

Those are a couple of issues on which I hope the Minister of State may have some positive news for us and which will be addressed as part of this review. I look forward to his comments in that regard.

Photo of Peter BurkePeter Burke (Longford-Westmeath, Fine Gael)
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I thank Senator Gallagher for raising these issues. Unfortunately, the Minister, Deputy O'Brien, sends his apologies, as these issues are directly under his area of responsibility.

The tenant (incremental) purchase scheme 2016 for local authority housing is underpinned by Part 3 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2014 and the associated Housing (Sale of Local Authority Houses) Regulations 2015. The scheme is open to eligible tenants, including joint tenants, of local authority houses that are available for sale under the scheme. To be eligible, tenants must meet certain criteria, including having a minimum reckonable income of €15,000 per annum and having been in receipt of social housing support for at least one year.

The 2015 regulations governing the scheme provide for a number of specified classes of houses to be excluded from sale under the scheme, including houses provided to local authorities, as rightly pointed out by the Senator, under Part 5 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended. In addition, it excludes houses specifically designed for older persons, group Traveller housing, and houses provided to facilitate people with disabilities transferring from institutional care to community-based living.

The provisions of Part 5 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, are designed to enable the development of mixed tenure sustainable communities. Under the terms of the tenant purchase scheme 2016, Part 5 homes, regardless of when they were tenanted, are excluded to ensure that homes delivered under this mechanism will remain available for people in need of social housing support and that the original policy goals of the legislation are not eroded over time.

The continued development of mixed tenure communities remains very important in promoting social integration. Local authorities may also, within the provisions of the regulations,

exclude certain houses which, in the opinion of the authority, should not be sold for reasons such as proper stock or estate management. It is a matter for each individual local authority to administer the scheme in its operational area in line with the over-arching provisions of the governing legislation for the scheme, and in a manner appropriate to its

housing requirements.

A review of the first 12 months of the scheme's operation has been undertaken. The specific issue raised in respect of Part 5 properties has come to the Department's attention as part of the review. The programme for government commits to maintaining the right of social housing tenants to purchase their own home with reforms envisaged to the current scheme including a requirement that the tenant has been in situin the home for at least ten years, a reduction in the discount to a maximum of 25% and to ensure that local authorities have the first call on the purchase.The programme for Government also contains a commitment to putting affordability at the heart of the housing system, prioritising the increased supply of public, social and affordable homes and increasing the social housing stock by more than 50,000, with an emphasis on new builds. These, and the many other housing-related commitments, are the areas the Department is focusing on right now and they will be the subject of a fresh plan for housing that the Minister intends to publish later this year.

The review of the tenant (incremental) purchase scheme 2016 and the commitments in the programme for Government are being examined as part of the work on the broader social housing reform agenda. The Minister expects to be in a position to finalise changes to the scheme once the work on these reform measures is complete.

Photo of Robbie GallagherRobbie Gallagher (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister of State for his response. Until the last few lines, it was disappointing but I am heartened by the fact the Minister may publish the reviews later this year. I certainly hope the reform, which is much needed, will address the three issues that I raised, in particular so those who want to buy out their homes will have the opportunity to do so, whether they are in Part V housing or housing provided by a social housing body, and so the income limits, another issue that is in need of reform, will be addressed to reflect where people are at financially in their lives.

Photo of Peter BurkePeter Burke (Longford-Westmeath, Fine Gael)
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I thank Senator Gallagher for raising these important issues. As Minister of State, I have also been pressing for the conclusion of both of these reviews within the Department. The Senator raises a very important matter on the income limits review for social housing in regard to the proposal that some income may be disregarded. We have the potential to work on that issue and I think we should. I will continue to raise it. The reform of the tenant purchase scheme is also very important. As the Acting Chairman rightly pointed out, this review has been under way for a long time. The Minister has taken a fresh look at it. I answered a parliamentary question in the Dáil recently and stated that it was in its final stages. We will press hard to try to get a conclusion shortly.