Posted on May 8, 2013 11:36 AM   |   Permanent Link   

The Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 amends and extends the Housing Acts 1966 to 2004 to provide local authorities with a framework for a more strategic approach to the delivery and management of housing services. That framework provides for the adoption of housing services plans, homelessness action plans and anti-social behaviour strategies. It allows for new and more objective methods of assessing need and allocating housing, and also allows for a more effective management and control regime covering tenancies and rents.

One cannot discuss homelessness without referring to the recent case of the homeless man Josef Pavelka (age: 52) - whose plight received national attention after it emerged he was living in a public toilet. He was found dead in a laneway in Ennis at the weekend. The plight of Mr. Pavelka and his friend Mr. Baram received wide attention after Judge Durcan in Ennis described the fact they were sleeping in public toilets as "a scandal" last month. In the aftermath of Mr. Pavelka's court appearance at the district court housing agencies sourced emergency accommodation at a tourist hostel in Galway for him. However, he returned to Ennis where he tragically died in a laneway. I think that in the light of what has happened, Clare County Council need to review their housing strategy and in particular provide an outreach service for homeless people in that county.
The Bill's framework also involves a more developed legislative basis for the provision of rented social housing by means of leasing or contract arrangements with private accommodation providers, and expanded opportunities for home ownership by lower-income households through an incremental purchase scheme and a tenant purchase scheme for apartments.

At present, local authorities provide housing accommodation through RAS (Rental Assistance Scheme). Dublin City Council has used this scheme to a considerable extent and it provides a housing solution for many families. It has come to my attention that some of the RAS housing units do not meet the mandatory standards for rented accommodation; the same problem applies to some housing in the private rented sector. Many families who call to my advice centres describe defects in their rented accommodation which include inadequate heating systems, lack of insulation and dampness. I feel that if public funds are paid to the private rented sector either through Rent Supplement of RAS, the accommodation being subvented must comply with the standards for rented housing accommodation, and I would ask the Minister to look into this.

I want to raise the matter of the review of the housing list carried out by local authorities during which housing applicants are asked to return a form stating that they are in need of housing and wish to remain on the local authority housing list. In my experience some families on the housing lists fall off the list during this review process when they find out that Dublin City Council are telling them that they must re-apply for housing from scratch again, as they did not return the housing revision form. I believe that there are genuine reasons why people should not be forced to forfeit the points accumulated for time on the housing list when this situation arises. Some applicants will say truthfully that they simply did not receive the form in the post in the first place, or that they posted the form back to Dublin City Council who did not receive it.

I have dealt with cases where housing list applicants who were in receipt of rent supplement continuously during the length of time in question, when Dublin City Council removed them from the housing list. Housing applicants who are tenants in private rented and in receipt of rent supplement regularly move from one rented dwelling to another for a variety of reasons. I would ask the Minister to look at this problem which I believe is not unique to Dublin City Council.

The differential rents charged by Fingal County Council to its social housing tenants compare well to other urban county councils, according to the local authority. My colleague on Fingal County Council, Labour Councillor Peter Coyle, asked the council how its differential rent scheme compared to other councils.
He was told that the Fingal County Council Differential Rent Scheme is similar to other schemes throughout the country in that the rent is based on a proportion of net assessable income of the principal earner, together with a contribution from each subsidiary earner in the household.
Rents under the Fingal County Council Differential Rent Scheme are calculated on 12% of the net household income with a cap of €40 per week per subsidiary earner. Of the Schemes reviewed throughout the state, 12% is the second lowest rate charged.

South Dublin County Council had the lowest rate at 10% while Dublin City Council had a much higher rate of 15%, and Dun Laoghaire Rathdown Council charged even more at 16%.
Galway City Council operates two different rates of 15% and 20% of household income, while Cork City Council charges 15%.

The different schemes reviewed also show variances with regard to the commencement dates with March applying to the other Dublin Authorities, and the others ranging from January to June. One of the changes to the scheme being implemented by Fingal County Council is the movement of the commencement date from January to the last Saturday in April. This was done to facilitate the annual rent assessment with the objective of advising tenants of the rent changes before the April start date, and therefore assist them in the management of their rent accounts.
In terms of the technical details, the existing statutory basis for the charging of rents by a housing authority is provided for by way of Section 58 of the Housing Act 1966. Section 31 of the 2009 Act provides for rent schemes and requires a housing authority to make a "rent scheme".

The rent scheme details the manner in which the authority will determine rents and other charges. Local authority rents are set in accordance with a rent scheme adopted by each housing authority, having regard to the broad principles laid down by the Department in relation to Section 58 of the Housing Act of 1966, as it has been amended, which I have outlined just now. The percentage of income varies within and between rent schemes depending on the terms of the scheme and the particular circumstances of the household concerned.
The new legislation for local authority rent (s. 31 of the 2009 Act) differs from the existing legislation in a number of respects:

The making of a rents scheme is now a reserved function of the housing authority, giving the elected council a role in determining the authority's rents policy. The Minister now has clear power to make regulations prescribing the specific matters that each housing authority must include in its rent scheme.

I want to commend Minister for Housing and Planning, Jan O'Sullivan, for the hard work she is doing in this area and I look forward to working further with her on the housing reform agenda over the course of 2013.