Local Authority Housing Eligibility
9. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government when the review of income eligibility limits for social housing will be complete; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52195/17]
Deputy Brendan Smith: The Minister will recall that I have raised the issue of the need to increase the income eligibility limits for social housing with him on several occasions, as well as with his predecessor, the Tánaiste, Deputy Coveney, and with the Minister of State, Deputy English. My constituency of Cavan-Monaghan is in the lowest income limit band and the limit is far too low. I have previously cited in the House cases of people on family income supplement who have been denied the opportunity to apply for a council house because the family income supplement brings them above the income threshold. That they have been approved for family income supplement demonstrates that their income is not sustainable to support a family but they are unable to qualify for social housing. That situation urgently needs to be addressed.
Deputy Eoghan Murphy: The social housing assessment regulations 2011 prescribe maximum net income limits for each housing authority in different bands according to area, with income defined and assessed according to a standard household means policy.
The income bands and the authority area assigned to each band are based on an assessment of the income needed to provide for a household’s basic needs plus a comparative analysis of the local rental cost of housing accommodation across the country. The limits also reflect a blanket increase of €5,000 introduced prior to the new system coming into operation in order to broaden the base from which social housing tenants are drawn and thereby promote sustainable communities, which also had a future-proofing impact.
Given the cost to the State of providing social housing, it is considered prudent and fair to direct resources to those most in need of social housing support. The current income eligibility requirements generally achieve that by providing for a fair and equitable system of identifying the households facing the greatest challenge in meeting their accommodation needs from their own resources.
As part of the broader social housing reform agenda, a review of the income eligibility limits for social housing supports has commenced. I expect the results of the review to be available for publication in the first half of 2018.
Deputy Brendan Smith: I thank the Minister for his reply and I welcome that the review is under way. However, delivery in the first half of 2018 could be seven months away, which would not be acceptable. I was given a commitment by the Minister’s predecessor that the study would be concluded at an early date and the Minister gave a similar indication in response to previous parliamentary questions. Each time the issue has been raised, the schedule for publication has been put back. I appeal to the Minister to demand of his officials that they complete the review within a month or six weeks. As I said to the Minister on the last occasion I raised this issue during Oral Questions, a long, drawn-out review is not needed. The Department should ring a few good officials in councils who are dealing with the issue on a daily basis. Such officials could give the Department examples of applicants who have been turned down because of the family income supplement or carer’s allowance payment being factored into their income. This exercise should be completed very quickly. There is an urgent need to increase income limits.
One of the great successes of social housing in this country has been the mix of people in communities in large local authority housing areas. We will lose that mix of people in my area because those working in low-paid jobs are not eligible for consideration for social housing. That needs to be rectified in the very early part of 2018, not in a year’s time.
Deputy Eoghan Murphy: I share the Deputy’s concern and his desire to get the report completed as quickly as possible. When I said it would be delivered in the first half of 2018, I did not mean that it would be done in seven months’ time. We want it to be done as quickly as possible. We have been engaging with the Housing Agency, which is doing this work, to get the report done as quickly as possible. I understand the Deputy’s point on getting in touch with local authorities that might be better than others in order to get a quicker understanding of what might need to be done in this area but in order to do a review such as this and given its importance and how it will affect every local authority in the State it has to be comprehensive, consistent and work with each local authority to get the relevant data and make an assessment on that basis. I agree with the Deputy’s commitment to ensuring we maintain a mix in communities and the social housing stock. One of the reasons an additional €5,000 was built into the 2011 review was to ensure we were bringing in a broader cohort, facilitating a mix and keeping sustainable communities. The limits are net of things such as tax and USC and, therefore, in some areas are above the average industrial wage, although I appreciate Cavan is in the lowest band. Work is being done by the Housing Agency and as soon as it is completed, we will publish it.
Deputy Brendan Smith: I again appeal to the Minister to go back to the Housing Agency and the senior officials in his Department and ask them to give this issue the utmost urgency. We cannot condemn people who are working in low-paid jobs and trying to care for and support their families in difficult circumstances to renting houses for the rest of their lives. Such people come to my clinics every week and ask me if there is any chance they will get on the council housing list. A difficulty for such people is that they are renting and are unable to draw down the other supports available to those on the council housing list. It is not the only difficulty but it is an extra factor. They realise they do not have a chance of being able to get a mortgage or source funding from a financial institution in order to provide a home for themselves. They need to be able to access local authority housing. We must help the people who are working hard and trying to provide for their families. Most of the people who have come to me are young mothers and lone parents working in low-paid jobs and trying to rear families on their own in exceptionally difficult circumstances. They need to be supported by the State.
Deputy Eoghan Murphy: I understand and respect the Deputy’s commitment to the issue and to his constituents who are in this very difficult situation. It is difficult to know what assessments are being done in individual cases. I do not yet know what the review will conclude and it is not clear to me if it will recommend an increase in the bands or, if such increase is recommended, how much that might be.
We are moving to introduce an affordability scheme to deal with the issue, as was addressed in a previous question this morning. It is important that we can look after people. We must move away from a person either qualifying for social housing supports and getting almost all the supports the State can offer, or not qualifying and getting almost nothing. There is a cohort of people who need our support and for whom a little help will make a large difference. That is why we are bringing back an affordability scheme, the details of which I will announce as soon as I can.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I will allow a brief supplementary from Deputy Ó Broin.
Deputy Eoin Ó Broin: As I said on the previous occasion Deputy Smith raised this matter, a very simple solution would be to allow local authorities to disregard family income supplement when conducting the means test for social housing. That is already the case in respect of carer’s allowance. In my constituency, a working family were €500 a year over the social housing income threshold and were consequently denied access to social housing support and have to pay €1,600 per month in rent. Separate to the review, the Minister could change the regulations overnight to allow for the disregard of family income supplement. I urge him to do so because it would solve the problem for many of our constituents.
Deputy Eoghan Murphy: I am aware the Deputy raised that matter previously and I discussed it with my officials. It has been communicated to the Housing Agency, which is conducting the review.