Lack of statutory oversight of voluntary housing bodies criticised

C&AG notes just 246 of 547 housing bodies have signed up for regulatory system

Comptroller and Auditor General Séamus McCarthy: although providing and managing  30 per cent of social housing, approved housing bodies are not subject to statutory regulation. Photograph: Frank Miller

Comptroller and Auditor General Séamus McCarthy: although providing and managing 30 per cent of social housing, approved housing bodies are not subject to statutory regulation. Photograph: Frank Miller

 

The fact that more than 500 voluntary housing bodies are not subject to statutory regulation has been harshly criticised by the Comptroller and Auditor General.

Speaking at the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Thursday, Séamus McCarthy noted there were 547 approved housing bodies (AHBs) which were almost totally funded from the exchequer.

Although providing and managing about 30 per cent of social housing, they were not subject to statutory regulation. However, he noted a voluntary regulatory system has been in place since 2013 to which 246 of the housing bodies had signed up.

“This represents less than half the housing bodies registered with the department,” he said, noting they managed 95 per cent of AHB housing stock.

“The management and oversight of the funding provided to AHBs is complex as it comes from a number of schemes, through 31 local authorities who in turn provide funding to a large number of AHBs.”

These schemes include the capital assistance scheme, the €70 million revolving fund administered by the Housing Agency, the capital loan and subsidy scheme as well as loans from the Housing Finance Agency.

‘So many schemes’

Independent TD Catherine Connolly said the more intense the housing crisis got, the more schemes that were introduced and less information provided.

“There’re so many schemes here. The C&AG refers to the complexity and because of the complexity that leads to less oversight. That is of serious concern.”

She asked if the department knew how many social homes were owned by AHBs, how many tenants they had and what type of tenure they had, explaining while some had homes for life, other AHB tenants had leases of 10 or 20 years. Department officials said this information was being drawn up.

John McCarthy, the Department of Housing’s accounting officer, said the voluntary code had “teeth”, as non-compliant AHBs could not get funding.

Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy asked about a “maintenance and management’ fee paid by local authorities, in respect of AHB homes.

Cash reserves

John O’Connor, director of the Housing Agency, said AHBs got €480 a year for homes acquired under the capital loan and subsidy scheme, irrespective of their cash reserves. This cost €5 million a year. About €67 million a year was spent on servicing AHBs’ mortgages on social homes.

Fianna Fáil TD Shane Cassells challenged Mr O’Connor’s explanation that almost 50 per cent of homes offered for social housing by Nama had been rejected by local authorities, which had to protect against an “over-concentration of social housing”.

“That phrase ‘over-concentration of social homes’ is absolutely, in the midst of a housing crisis, a terrible statement,” said Mr Cassells. “It is not reasonable to reject 50 per cent of homes and this response goes to the heart of the [reasons for the crisis].”