Government approves publication of Housing Bill

The Government has approved the publication of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2014.

The legislation will give effect to three important elements of the Government’s housing policy: Provide a legislative basis for the new Housing Assistance Payment (HAP), Introduce a new tenant purchase scheme for local authority tenants and Reform the process for the termination of local authority tenancies.

The text of the Bill will be published in the coming days.

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Speaking following the Cabinet meeting Minister O’Sullivan said, “This important housing legislation will bring about the most radical reform of public housing support in decades.  It has long been accepted that the current rent supplement system isn’t fit for purpose.  This Government is the first to actually change it.  The new Housing Assistance Payment will be better for tenants, better for landlords, better for local authorities and introduce a more coherent and joined-up system of housing support.”

The main features of the new Housing Assistance Payment are:

  • It will ensure that all long-term housing support lies with local authorities;
  • It enables people take up full-time employment and maintain housing support;
  • It will help ensure that all accommodation in the private rented sector is to standard and that landlords are tax compliant.

To access the HAP scheme a household will complete a social housing assessment by the local authority.  Once the household has secured appropriate accommodation in the private rented sector the local authority will pay the landlord directly, with a contribution by the household paid directly to the local authority.  For households dependent on social welfare payments this contribution will be made through deduction at source.  As household contribution will be linked to the differential rent schemes operated by local authorities household income can increase through the take up of employment and the family will still be in a position to receive housing support while paying an appropriate rent contribution.

The Bill will also address two other important areas of housing policy:

It will introduce a new tenant purchase scheme. The new scheme will be linked to household income, with the highest discount available to those families in the lowest income band who can sustain a mortgage payment.  The scheme will enable tenants to become homeowners and remain in their community.  To support this principle the scheme will be structured to discourage the sale of the property in the years following the purchase by the tenant.  In the event of a sale local authorities will also have the first option of buying the property back.  While household income is the primary assessment method for the new tenant purchase scheme the Minister intends to have a mechanism that would factor in the length of tenancy in the new scheme and this will be advanced as the Bill passes through the Oireachtas.

Minister O’Sullivan stated, “This is a reforming piece of legislation that deserves support.  We need a more coherent, responsive system of housing support and placing all long-term supports with local authorities will make for a better, fairer system.  I sincerely hope that the legislation will pass through the Oireachtas before the summer recess which will enable pilot programmes to begin in seven local authorities.  I expect these pilots will see significant numbers of households participate in HAP during 2014 with full roll out of this reforming measure taking place in 2015.”

The Bill also introduces a new, fairer system for the repossession of local authority houses in cases of serious breaches of the tenancy agreement, such as anti-social behaviour or continued failure to pay rent or rent arrears.  The new system will provide a transparent system, with review provisions, for tenants while also allowing local authorities to recover possession of a dwelling.