Dáil Éireann - Volume 621 - 20 June, 2006
Written Answers. - Social Welfare Code.
Mr. S. Ryan Mr. S. Ryan
Mr. S. Ryan asked the Minister for Social  and Family Affairs the details of the new mortgage support plan being considered by his Department; the reasons this new plan is being considered; when he expects the consultation period to be complete; if the scheme will be directed specifically towards those currently priced out of the property market; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22991/06]
Mr. Durkan Mr. Durkan
Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his proposals in regard to co-operation with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in the matter of local authority or social housing having particular regard to his recent pronouncements and those of his predecessor and the increasing numbers on local authority housing waiting lists who have to rely on rent support in private rented accommodation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23108/06]
Mr. Ferris Mr. Ferris
Mr. Ferris asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if the responsibility regarding the provision of rent allowance will be transferred to local authorities; the timescale he envisages for same to happen; and if further resources will be allocated to local authorities. [23021/06]
Mr. Brennan Mr. Brennan
Mr. Brennan:I propose to take Questions Nos. 55, 82 and 83 together.
Under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme administered on my behalf by the Community Welfare Division of the Health Service Executive, a weekly or monthly rent supplement is available to assist eligible people who are unable to meet their immediate accommodation needs through their own resources.
In recent years, a significant number of people have come to rely on rent supplements for extended periods, including people on local authority housing waiting lists. In response to this situation, the Government has introduced new rental assistance arrangements giving local authorities specific responsibility for meeting the longer-term housing needs of people receiving rent supplement for 18 months or more, on a phased implementation basis. When fully operational, local authorities will meet the housing needs of these individuals through a range of approaches including the traditional range of social housing options, the voluntary housing sector and, in particular, the new rental accommodation scheme.
The Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government has indicated that, at the beginning of June 2006, over 1,200 tenants have been accommodated under the Rental Accommodation Scheme, with a further 770 accommodated in local authority housing. This is the first step towards having the new arrangements fully operational nationwide by September 2008. These arrangements are intended to be a long-term housing option for the people concerned.
 In order to finance this initiative €19 million was transferred from my Department’s Vote to the Environment, Heritage and Local Government Vote in 2005 and a further €19 million has been transferred for 2006. Similar arrangements will apply in successive years as the new arrangements are fully implemented.
The new rental assistance arrangements provide an imaginative additional approach in supporting people with longer-term housing needs. By definition, people on rent supplement for extended durations have a long-term housing need that they cannot otherwise meet, and many of them are on local authority housing lists. The new scheme, particularly the rental accommodation component, will reduce housing waiting lists by providing a useful additional mechanism for providing social housing, alongside more traditional social housing construction programmes and the expansion of the voluntary housing sector.
At the end of 2005, 60,176 households were in receipt of assistance under the rent supplement scheme. Over half of these, almost 33,000 tenants, have been on the scheme for 18 months or more. My Department and the Health Service Executive are actively assisting the local authorities and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in implementing the new arrangements. While the progress in terms of tenants transferring has been somewhat slow initially, I am satisfied that the long standing difficulties faced by long-term private sector tenants are being tackled and all of the relevant agencies are co-operating actively to make the new system work successfully.
In recent weeks I have mentioned the concept of some form of housing supplement as a possible alternative to rent supplementation. I am conscious that the rent supplement scheme has become a form of social housing in its own right and for this reason, I am anxious that all avenues are explored to provide financial support for any people on long-term rent supplementation who may be in a position to purchase their own home. In this regard my Department and the Department of Environment Heritage and Local Government, are together overseeing a study which will examine possible approaches to housing. I have asked that the study be undertaken as a matter of urgency and I expect to have a report in the Autumn.
Mr. Boyle Mr. Boyle
Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his plans for reviewing the habitual residency condition; and if his attention has been drawn to the concerns raised by some agencies who view the conditions as too restrictive in areas such as homelessness services. [22999/06]
Mr. Hogan Mr. Hogan
Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs when the review of the habit ual residence condition will be finished; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23098/06]
Mr. Brennan Mr. Brennan
Mr. Brennan:I propose to take Questions Nos. 56 and 100 together.
The requirement to be habitually resident in Ireland was introduced as a qualifying condition for certain social assistance schemes and child benefit with effect from 1st May 2004. The basis for the restriction contained in the rules is the applicant’s habitual residence. The effect is that a person whose habitual residence is elsewhere is not paid certain social welfare payments on arrival in Ireland. The question of what is a person’s “habitual residence” is decided in accordance with European Court of Justice case law, which sets out the grounds for assessing individual claims.
Each case received for a determination on the habitual residence condition is dealt with in its own right and a decision is based on application of guidelines to the particular individual circumstances of each case. Any applicant who disagrees with the decision of a Deciding Officer has the right to appeal to the Social Welfare Appeals Office.
The operation of the habitual residence condition has been monitored constantly by my Department since its introduction. A comprehensive review of the operation of the condition is currently being complied with a view to:
— assessing its impact on different categories of persons claiming Social Assistance/ Child Benefit and Supplementary Welfare Allowance payments;
— assessing the current organisational arrangements in the Department for administering the condition and the service provided to customers;
— identifying opportunities for improvements to the administration of the scheme, including those aspects involving other Departments;
— examining all aspects of the decision making process; and
— identifying emerging policy issues and considering how these should be addressed.
The review is expected to be completed during the summer. Account is being taken of the views received from various groups and organisations which have an interest in the area. My Department and the Department of the Environment are fully aware of the concerns expressed by the Homeless Agency and other organisations concerning the impact of the new condition in relation to access to homeless services and these are being assessed and monitored as part of the review.
Dáil Éireann 621 Written Answers. Social Welfare Code.