The Government has published the much anticipated Bill to provide for a statutory regulator for ‘Approved Housing Bodies’ (“AHB’s”). AHB’s are also known as housing associations and are independent, not-for-profit organisations that have been given formal approval by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. Once approved an AHB can receive assistance from Local Authorities for the provision of housing in accordance with the Housing Acts. AHB’s can also access various sources of State funding for the development of housing.
Currently there are 548 AHB’s in Ireland managing about 30,000 units. AHB’s are recognised in both the Social Housing Strategy 2020 and Rebuilding Ireland as key channels for the delivery of new social housing units.
Prior to this Bill, the Department had established a Voluntary Regulation Code, under the auspices of the Housing Agency, which AHB’s could sign up to. As well as the Code, Standards in Performance, Governance and Finance were published. AHB’s who did not sign up to these codes were not eligible for Government funding. The codes can be accessed here.
The Bill – Establishing a Mandatory Model of Regulation for AHBs
The Housing (Regulation of Approved Housing Bodies) Bill 2019 seeks to move the regulation of AHB’s from a voluntary to a mandatory basis. The Bill establishes the Approved Housing Bodies Regulatory Authority and assigns it the following functions:
Registration of an AHB with the Regulator will be compulsory, as will compliance with the standards set by the Regulator.
The Bill details the matters that can be the subject of standards being:
Standards may make different provisions for different categories of AHB’s taking into account the nature, scale and complexity of their activities. Draft standards must be published for public comment and will also require the approval of the Minister.
Once established AHB’s will be obliged to comply with these standards. The Regulator will monitor compliance and is provided with extensive powers to do so. These powers include undertaking ‘standards assessments’, appointment of inspectors, powers of entry onto premises, power to require information etc. Should the Regulator conclude that an AHB is failing to comply with an approved standard, the Regulator can require an AHB to submit a ‘compliance plan’ setting out how the AHB proposes to rectify the failure concerned. The Regulator may approve, amend or reject a compliance plan. Once approved, details of the plan are entered into the Register in summary form. Failure to comply with the approved compliance plan can lead to the Regulator issuing a ‘non-implementation notice’ and ultimately to removal of the AHB from the Register.
Powers to Intervene:
The Regulator is provided with substantial powers of intervention in respect of assets of an AHB which would allow the Regulator to require the AHB to transfer those assets to another AHB. This power may be exercised where an AHB has not applied for registration or has been refused registration, or where the registration is in the process of being cancelled or has been cancelled.
The Regulator may also apply to the High Court for various orders where the Regulator suspects that:
The High Court may make a variety of orders when deciding on such an application. These are:
Cancellation of Registration:
The Regulator may cancel the registration of an AHB where the AHB:
An independent appeal mechanism is provided in respect of decisions of the Regulator relating to:
The Regulator will be independent in the performance of its functions subject to two important restrictions.
The Bill provides an extensive regulatory framework for AHB’s. It largely builds on the voluntary framework that has been in place for several years. What is new in the Bill is the extensive powers and mechanisms available to the Regulator to ensure compliance with approved standards up to removal of an AHB from the Register and the High Court vesting the property of an AHB in another AHB.
The Bill can be accessed here.
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