Mica redress: Helping homeowners while protecting public purse is a thankless task

Concern at taxpayer footing bill to rebuild defective homes, many of which are large

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien met campaigners seeking mica compensation last night in the knowledge that some of his officials do not believe that an uncapped redress scheme can work.

Inside the Custom House, many fear that a scheme pledging 100 per cent compensation to fix defects or rebuild houses will lead to limitless calls upon the public purse for years to come.

The existing Defective Concrete Blocks Scheme covers €50,000 worth of repairs in cases where a house can be saved, and up to a maximum of €275,000 in cases where houses have to be demolished and new ones built.

The largest grant payable is 90 per cent of the maximum cost allowed under the rules, or 90 per cent of the actual cost of the qualifying works carried out, whichever is less.


However, campaigners argue that this does not go far enough, as homeowners could end up paying more than 10 per cent of the costs given the way the scheme is structured.

They argue that homes of more than 2,000sq ft will cost more than €300,000 to rebuild, so the State’s contribution is closer to 80 per cent. That share drops the larger and more expensive a house is.

Recent calculations in relation to Donegal have shown that almost two-thirds of affected homes are more than 2,500sq ft in size, and 17 per cent exceed 3,500sq ft. There are other costs, too.

Privately, officials will quietly warn that it is unfair to ask every other taxpayer to pay all of the bills needed to rebuild large, once-off homes that the majority of taxpayers could never afford themselves.

Recycling of materials

Under guidelines given to homeowners by O’Brien’s department, “the reuse, recovery and recycling” of materials is encouraged where possible in cases where rebuilds are needed.

Therefore, the costs associated with the “unnecessary replacement” of items such as windows, doors and kitchen units do not qualify for grant assistance under the current scheme.

Effectively, homeowners must use the same fixtures. The scheme will fund instead the refitting and reinstatement of existing kitchens, wardrobes and bathroom suites.

Builders, however, are not happy to remove bathroom or kitchen suites and leave them in storage for a year to fall into disrepair, say campaigners. Often, the fixtures seize up when they are reinstalled, they say.

Instead, they want fixed fittings to be covered, where damaged. Where fittings are reusable, they want the State to pay for removal and reinstallation. The quality or type of the new fittings has also come up.

Under the current scheme energy upgrades “beyond the requirements of the current building regulations for existing dwellings” do not qualify for State compensation.

Better BER

Officials in the department, sources say, have asked the question: is it fair to ask the taxpayer to pay for upgrades or a better energy rating under a scheme designed to fix major defects?

Campaigners have also called for accommodation costs for those who have to leave their homes, engineering and lab testing costs, along with septic tanks, groundworks and utility connections bills, where they apply.

O’Brien has said he will soon bring a proposal to Cabinet, perhaps as early as next week. But first he will brief the three Coalition leaders after he receives the report of the working group.

Discussions will then be held on the thorny questions: if there is to be a cap, how high (or low) should it be? Should the taxpayer fund rebuilds of very large homes? And what other bills should be paid?

Ministers are under pressure from government and Opposition TDs to look after the homeowners, many of whom are undoubtedly in a nightmare situation. Equally, there is a need to protect the public purse. It will not easy to do both.

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times