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Dublin: 4 °C Thursday 20 February, 2020

Councils no longer operating loan scheme to help struggling homeowners with repairs

There is a disparity across the country with some local authorities operating the schemes while others stopped years ago.

Karen said she has had to cut off the water to some of the radiators in her home because of leaks.
Karen said she has had to cut off the water to some of the radiators in her home because of leaks.

A NUMBER OF local authorities around the country have taken the decision to stop making loans available to low-income households to help with repairs or improvements, can reveal.

One woman who tried to apply for one of these loans says she has been left with no other options for assistance in repairing radiators and old pipes in her home. 

Local authority home improvement loans were designed to help owner-occupiers who can not get a loan from a bank or building society for necessary works on their homes.

They are aimed at homeowners whose houses are overcrowded or substandard and who cannot afford to carry out the improvements. In a single-income household, a person is eligible if their gross income before tax is €40,000 or less and a variable interest rate applies to the loans.

One woman in Co Clare told she tried to apply for this loan, but was told that the council no longer operates the scheme.

Karen*, a mother-of-one, was told the council also does not offer another scheme, called the Improvement Works in Lieu of Local Authority Housing Scheme, which aims to provide funding to improve or extend accommodation.

This would apply, for example, to situations where there are several family members who are on the housing list living in their parents’ home in overcrowded conditions.

Karen said she has been left with no options now to pay for repairs to leaking radiators and old pipes in her bathroom. She has had to cut off the water to a number of the radiators in the house because of the leaks.

“Heatwise in the winter, it has been cold. We have an open fire as well but I work, so it’s not always feasible to have it during the day to heat the place up for the evening when we’re in.

“And because of the leaks in the bathroom we’re afraid to sit in the bath now in case it comes down through the ceiling.”

Karen could not work for a period of time last year due to illness and her mortgage fell into arrears. While she is now back in work, she said there is no extra money after her mortgage payments to cover home repairs. 

In my situation I have enough to pay the mortgage and get by, but anything else that comes up, the money is not there.

Because she fell into arrears last year, she now has a bad credit rating and can not get a loan. The local authority home improvement loans were designed specifically for these circumstances. 

Karen wrote a letter to Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy about her situation last month. In it she said: 

“My house is old and in need of repair. It is well below standard and fast becoming uninhabitable. It’s not a safe environment for my family.

I cannot understand why local authorities should be allowed to pick and choose what schemes they offer? This type of scheme should be open every citizen who is eligible.

‘Value for money’

A spokesperson for Clare County Council said it no longer offers this scheme because the loans are unsecured. 

The council also no longer operates the ‘improvement works’ scheme. 

“The issues with the scheme were that the properties in question generally required extensive refurbishment which entailed significant input in terms of financial resources that were not available and did not deliver value for money.

Up until recently Clare County Council had no applications for the scheme and therefore, no schemes were included in recent submissions to the department. The date for submissions for 2019 has past and at that time we had no applications for the scheme. 

It does operate a number of grants for modifications on medical or age grounds, but this does not apply to situations like Karen’s.

The Department of Housing said that while it provides funding, it is up to local authorities to decide whether or not to operate the schemes.

“I’m afraid the Home Improvement Loan Scheme is a local authority scheme and this would be a matter for each local authority,” a spokesperson said when asked about Karen’s situation.

The department said it does provide funding to councils for the ‘improvement works’ scheme but it is up to local authorities to submit proposals each year for funding.

“On the basis of the need identified by local authorities, the department issues a block funding allocation to each local authority annually for works to be undertaken under the schemes.”

Disparity between local authority areas asked a number of other councils whether they offer these schemes. Some offer neither, some both and a number of councils said they offer one but not the other. 

Leitrim County Council said it does operate the loan scheme but has had no applications for it. It used to operate the improvement works scheme but has not operated it in recent years.

Limerick County Council does not operate the schemes, though it still provides information on its website on how to apply to the council for the loan scheme.

Roscommon County Council and Offaly County Council do not operate either scheme, though Roscommon’s local authority has information about one on its website.

A spokesperson for Louth County Council said local authorities no longer operate a home improvement loan scheme and that it has not received an improvement works in lieu application “for a long time”.

Kildare County Council does not operate the loan scheme but the other scheme is available. However a spokesperson said it has not approved one “for some time, nor has there been the demand”. 

Wexford County Council offers the improvement works scheme, but not the loan scheme. 

Cavan County Council does still operate the schemes but said there are currently no live applications in either case. Fingal County Council and Tipperary County Council said the same – they do operate these schemes but have no current applications on file. 

Donegal, Mayo, Monaghan and Sligo county councils said they operate both.

Dublin City Council does not operate the loan scheme but it told it does have numerous grant schemes for homeowners. It linked to a page on its website that gave details of a number of schemes, but they all apply to individuals with a disability or older persons. 

A homeowner in this local authority area in Karen’s position would not be able to avail of any of these schemes. 

The council said it does operate the improvement works in lieu of local authority housing scheme but it has “not been availed of much in recent years”. 

“There is funding being made available from the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and we would envisage an uptake in the interest in the scheme”. 

Sinn Féin’s housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin said State bodies will often say a scheme is available “when what they mean is that it’s still on the Statute book”.

“That doesn’t mean the funding is there for them,” he explained.

He said local authorities have to prioritise the limited funds they are allocated by the government each year.

“They tend to prioritise cases where there are specific needs due to disability or if a person is older. There is a clear rationale for prioritising those kinds of works if you have an older person who can’t access their bathroom and need a stair lift or a downstairs bathroom.

“There is a lack of adequate provision for all of these schemes in the overall capital budget.”

* is aware of Karen’s identity but she did not wish to be named in the article. 

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