The Housing Commission’s public consultation is open until 18 April 2023. Brief submissions are sought on a series of questions which aim to inform long-term housing policy post-2030.
A core part of MLRC’s mission is to draw from our casework to advocate for change in laws, policies and attitudes which unduly and adversely impact our client group. MLRC’s views on the consultation questions relevant to our work, concerning regulation of social housing delivered by local authorities (LAs) and the role of Approved Housing Body (AHBs), are shared below.
Survey Question: In your opinion, what measures, if any, are needed in order to regulate local authority provided social housing in Ireland?
MRLC view: Embedding the Public Sector Duty in local authority housing services is crucial to improving equality of outcomes
Some issues with local authority social housing provision can be partly attributed to widely varying practices across local authorities. A central oversight and training function would be of great value in ensuring consistency and, by extension, reducing the inequalities that can arise from such. This may be a role that could be taken on by the Housing Agency. Some areas where greater regulation would be welcome include the following:
• Establishment of an independent tribunal to adjudicate on disputes concerning social housing or social housing assessments. Court proceedings are currently the only formal review mechanism for many social housing disputes, which is gravely unsuitable for many reasons.
• Ensuring that the Public Sector Duty is embedded in the social housing assessment.
• Ensuring that local authorities are aware of and willing to exercise statutory flexibility in areas such as the “normal residency” and “local connection” tests in social housing assessment to allow for Public Sector Duties to be met.
• Embedding multi-agency and collaborative approaches when providing housing supports to those with enduring mental illness.
• Standardising data collection by local authorities in relation to key characteristics of applicants – particularly relates to applicants from minority backgrounds.
• Formal guidance and transparency in relation to the operation of transfer lists and priority lists.
• Formal guidance and transparency in the operation of matters attaching significant discretion such as suspension of housing supports on estate management grounds.
• Clearly defined training programmes for all social housing decision makers on fair procedures principles (as well as technical housing law).
Survey Question: What do you believe is the optimum role of Approved Housing Bodies (AHBs), including their role regarding the housing needs of vulnerable groups?
MRLC view: Approved Housing Bodies play an increasingly important role in social housing. It is vital to ensure there is transparency in how AHBs operate and equality of treatment between AHB tenants and local authority (LA) tenants.
AHBs have come to take an increasingly dominant role in the provision of social housing. AHBs present certain advantages, particularly those that focus on the needs of specific groups. However, there is a concern that there can be (i) unequal treatment between tenants of AHBs and LA housing tenants, despite the fact that whether tenants are offered AHB or LA accommodation can be a matter of timing, and (ii) a lack of transparency in certain matters.
(i) One example is that local authority tenants have strong security of tenure from the start of a tenancy. AHB tenants, however, are subject to the Residential Tenancies Acts and are therefore subject to eviction for no reason within the first six months of their tenancy. If that occurs, those tenants would need to reapply for social housing from scratch. Given the long waiting times for social housing, this can be disastrous. Our organization has encountered a number of such cases.
Another example of potentially unequal treatment is that AHBs can use the RTB to pursue evictions for cause such as anti-social behaviour and arrears. In contrast, local authorities cannot have recourse to the RTB. Anecdotally, notable differences are reported in the level of such evictions pursued by AHBs compared to local authorities. More data on this would be useful. It should be noted that a benefit of AHBs is that AHB tenants can also have recourse to the RTB to resolve disputes, while LA tenants cannot.
(ii) There is a lack of transparency in how AHBs select tenants and the extent to which an AHB can veto a tenant nominated by the LA. Calculation of rent is also sometimes unclear and, again anecdotally, clients sometimes complaint that AHB rents are higher than LAs. Again, more data on this would be useful.