Tuesday, 11 May 2021
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Brophy, for taking this Commencement matter. I congratulate him on his role. I have not to date had the opportunity to do so in the House, which says much about our curtailed schedule.
I will not take my full time. This straightforward issue has been brought to my attention and warrants a second look by the Department. I am referring to the new household means assessment policy for local authority housing which was circulated to councils throughout the country and came into force last month. Section 4 of the new household means policy relates to deductions made. While it says tax, USC, PRSI and so on are deducted, no deductions are allowable for the likes of rent or travel expenses, which is consistent with the previous 2011 policy. However, the new policy specifically states there should be no deduction from assessable income for maintenance paid by an applicant or joint applicant. This seems fundamentally unfair. If we are honest about it, it will predominantly affect males who have children with a former partner and who are making maintenance payments. While it is appropriate that maintenance be paid, that these payments are not being deducted from assessable income is a fundamental flaw in the household means policy, especially when one considers that maintenance payments received are counted as income for the purposes of consideration for inclusion on the social housing list under the exact same policy.
I will provide a real example of how this policy is having an impact on those who are close to the income threshold for social housing. I am dealing with the case of a male constituent who applied to Waterford City and County Council for inclusion on its social housing list following the break-up of his relationship with his child's mother. Prior to the introduction of the new household means policy, this gentleman could have been below the threshold of €30,750 for an adult and a child when his maintenance payments were taken into account. Now that his maintenance payments are not deducted from his income, he is adjudged to be over the income threshold for social housing and, therefore, he does not qualify to go on the list, which has the impact of him not qualifying to receive the housing assistance payment.
This policy will continue to have an impact on males predominantly but not solely. It does not make sense that maintenance payments received are counted as assessable income whereas maintenance payments paid out are not deducted from assessable income. This policy needs to be reviewed and maintenance payments should be considered as deductibles. I would appreciate it if the Minister of State raised this matter with the line Minister and reverted to me, if possible.
I thank the Senator for tabling this Commencement matter and for his remarks at the start. Unfortunately, the Minister, Deputy O'Brien, is not available to attend today. He has asked me to take this matter on his behalf.
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 2011, as amended.The 2011 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 household means policy is a document that issued to all local authorities in 2011, and it was reviewed and updated in 2021. It sets out the manner by which local authorities should assess the means of an applicant for social housing support, for the purpose of determining that household's ability to provide accommodation from their own resources. The policy sets out what income should be assessed as part of net income, what deductions can be made and what income is not assessable for the purpose of a social housing needs assessment. The policy also provides for a range of income disregards, and local authorities have discretion to decide to disregard income that is temporary, short-term or once-off in nature. Under the policy, net income for social housing assessment is defined as gross household income less income tax, PRSI, additional superannuation contribution, ASC, and the universal social charge, USC.
Furthermore, there is no provision in the policy to deduct any other regular outgoings, such as maintenance paid in respect of family members, from gross household income for the purposes of the income threshold. When somebody makes a maintenance payment, it is to cover the cost of living for their children, which is the same cost incurred by a couple with children that are still living together as a family unit. There are no deductions from assessable income for the costs associated with the raising of children for a family unit, so it is reasonable that there are no deductions for these costs for the individual of a separated couple who is paying maintenance.
I thank the Minister of State. While I appreciate his response, I still feel there is a fundamental flaw in the system. Income that is received for maintenance payments is factored into the consideration of assessable income for the individual that receives it yet, on the other hand, it is not taken into account in policy terms for the person who pays it out. While I appreciate what the Minister of State said in regard to couples, the issue I am raising is particularly associated with separated couples where maintenance is paid as a result of a court order. In such circumstances, I believe the maintenance payment should be factored into the consideration of deductible income for the purposes of inclusion on the social housing list in the exact same way it is factored into the consideration for the person who receives it at the other end.
I would appreciate it if the Minister of State would bring this back to the Minister, Deputy O'Brien, to have a second look at it. There have been some changes in the new policy as to what is permitted. This is specifically mentioned in the 2021 policy, over and above what had been the case. Perhaps there was flexibility in the previous 2011 policy that is not there in the 2021 policy.
I thank the Senator and I will convey his remarks back to the Minister. The review of the household means policy has taken place and the position remains that there should be no deduction from assessable income in regard to the maintenance paid. However, I clearly understand the points the Senator is making and the situation he is describing. I thank him and I will bring this to the attention of the Minister.