PAC criticises local authorities for lack of housing inspections

Committee says millions being handed to private landlords in absence of inspections

The Dáil Public Accounts Committee is chaired by Fianna Fáil TD Seán Fleming. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

The Dáil Public Accounts Committee is chaired by Fianna Fáil TD Seán Fleming. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

The Public Accounts Committee has criticised local authorities and the Department of Housing for paying out millions in rent subsidies to private landlords without inspecting their properties.

The committee claimed local authorities were in breach of their statuary obligations to inspect properties being leased by tenants availing of the Housing Assistance Payment (Hap) scheme, the Government’s main rent support programme.

In its latest report, the committee said it was unacceptable that no data was available regarding the level of inspection of Hap properties, “and that signfiicant sums of public money are being paid to landlords that might be providing substandard or dangerous accommodation to vulnerable tenants”.

The report noted that last year €153 million was paid to private landlords under the scheme and that the figure was set to rise to over €300 million in 2018, reflecting the Government’s increasing reliance on the private rental sector to accommodate lower-income families rather than social housing.

Committee chairman Seán Fleming said local authorities had a statutory duty to inspect properties within eight months of an agreed lease but that the Department of Housing had effectively “watered down” the legislation by setting a 25 per cent inspection rate target.

The cost of various rent support programmes has risen significantly over the past decade as the Government here shifts from “bricks to benefits” to deal with the lack of affordable housing.

The committee’s report was also highly critical of the revaluation of commercial rates paid by businesses, which it said had been “unacceptably slow”.

The Valuation Office was tasked with conducting a national revaluation of commercial properties in 2001. But since then only 16 of the 31 councils have undergone reviews, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said.

“In some cases, there will be more than 10 years between the first revaluations in different local authorities, which has led to significant discrepancies in the commercial rates charged by local authorities,” it said.

Separately, the committee’s report also said that the relatively high level of TV license evasion - put at 15 per cent in 2016 - was contributing to RTÉ’s difficulties in delivering on its obligations as a public service broadcaster.

“It also endangering the development of creative Irish talent, and associated independent inudstries,” it said.

On the controversy surrounding the paid for advertorials on the Ireland 2040 development plan, which were not clearly identified as sponsored content in several national newspapers, the committee said the Government’s strategic communications unit should have retained final editorial control.

It recommended that public bodies should always ensure that they retain the right to sign off on content paid for by the State.