Audit of Local Authority Programmes Finds Failure to Deliver for Traveller Families

Irish Traveller Movement Seek Clarity from Minister for Housing

Today, 30th July 2020, an assessment of local authority Traveller Accommodation Programmes was launched by the Irish Traveller Movement and revealed that nationally 30% of Traveller families are currently in need of accommodation and yet 8 local authorities have set targets below the need they have identified over the 5year programmes. The audit of the statutory governed programmes points to a repeated pattern found in previous programmes of under delivery, inadequate needs planning and a failure to redress for families in temporary / roadside and overcrowded accommodation and for those who are homelessness.

Information from 30 local authorities showed there was a need currently for Traveller accommodation at a rate of 24% in Leinster, 35% in Dublin, 47% in Munster and 27% in Connaught.    The audit found Dublin City Council as one of the eight authorities who will not meet their own targets, with 293 Traveller families currently in need but a target to supply ofjust158.   In 2019 the council under spent half of its budgetary allocation.

Meath, Cork County, Limerick City and County, Roscommon, Galway City and Monaghan also indicate they do not plan to fully deliver on their targets and they too had failed to draw down all funding available in 2019. Louth makes the eight council, where the current Programme shows a need of 244 families and a target set of just 75. The Expert Group tasked by then Minister for Housing Damien English to review Traveller accommodation delivery nationally found in 2019 “that the local authorities responsible for areas where the Traveller population is growing most and that have the highest proportion of funding allocated, are drawing down the least amount

The audit undertaken by the Irish Traveller Movement assessed the 31 local authority 5-year Traveller Accommodation Programmes adopted in December 2019 to determine the adequacy to supply for the current and projected needs of Traveller families, given the well documented crisis in Traveller accommodation and endorsed by two Government commissioned reports the most recent of which was the Traveller Accommodation Expert Review 2019. That Report made 32 recommendations to overhaul the delivery of Traveller accommodation nationally and concluded there was widespread under delivery by local authorities without governance and oversight. 

The Irish Traveller Movement audit confirmed that the matters raised in the Expert Group Report is evident in the development of the most recent Programmes and are calling for the establishment as priority of a Traveller Accommodation Authority under the terms recommended in the Expert Report with a safeguarded budget, taking account of the additional needs of Travellers in the context of insecure accommodation and homelessness during the Covid pandemic. They are also seeking clarity from the Minister with Responsibility for Housing to make public which Minister under the portfolio of Housing will oversee the function of Traveller accommodation.

Speaking on behalf of the Irish Traveller Movement, Bernard Joyce Director said “Many of these Traveller Accommodation Programmes are not ambitious and lack real intent to address the national Traveller accommodation crisis.  Local authorities have been inconsistent in responding to the worst national health crisis faced by state, where delivery of basic humanitarian supports was reluctantly given by some councils, at times slow to non-existent.  We have also seen a resurgence of Traveller evictions in recent weeks”      

He continued “A national framework has been initiated, with a welcomed renewed focus by the Department of Housing Planning and Local Government and a body of work committed under the previous Minister, Damien English, TD. We need clarity now from Minister Darragh O’Brien to advise who under the portfolio of Housing will oversee the function of Traveller accommodation. And we look for a renewed commitment to progressing the recommendations of the Expert Group in addressing the national Traveller accommodation crisis, still existent”

A requirement of the Traveller Accommodation Act 1998 is that local authority Programmes should take account also of the future need of Traveller families within their 5 year plans and of the 26 authorities who provided data it showed a need nationally for 1,400 new family formations. 31.9% of 15-29-year old Travellers are married compared with (5.8%) nationally (Census 2016). While many local authority programmes acknowledged this, they did not cater adequately in their projected targets for future growth.   5 councils didn’t provide targets for projected needs including, Meath, Wicklow, Cork City, Roscommon and Sligo.  Of the 13 who did they will not meet those needs during the 5 years, according to their completion figures.

Many councils have not taken account in their plans for homeless families. The need to expedite and redress homelessness for Travellers featured in the recommendations of the Expert Report. In the current Programmes some councils provided data for those in Emergency or Homeless accommodation however many deem homeless services, as the location of service delivery for Travellers in need. 

The Irish Traveller Movement has continued to raise concerns also about a ‘new hidden homelessness’ emerged in recent years due to Travellers’ arbitrary and often discriminatory access to private rental accommodation and inadequacies of social housing availability, worsened by councils over reliance on HAP and RAS housing supports. The audit of the Programmes indicates concerns to be well grounded. For example, Kerry County Council in June 2019 noted that Traveller families accounted for 23% of their homeless families.  However, in this TAP, homeless families are not factored into the assessment of need.

Currently Travellers are not enumerated in Pathway Accommodation & Support System (PASS) PASS or included via an ethnic identifier on Housing Application Forms. Therefore, Traveller homelessness nationally has not been captured and there are long term concerns by representative groups endorsed by the Expert Group report that this is exacerbating the problem.

An assessment of the last accommodation programmes 2014 -2018 was conducted highlighting that 21% of supply nationally (of 28 councils) was delivered using HAP and RAS and a plan in the current Programme to supply 16% using the same housing supports. Only 14% will be supplied through Traveller specific accommodation

10% of all Programmes indicate supply in the form of Refurbishments and consolidates concerns raised by the Expert Group in 2019 who noted of previous Programmes “that a huge proportion of the spending is on refurbishment rather than new delivery, particularly of Traveller-specific accommodation.”

The audit also found that less than 2% in the current Programmes will be supplied through approved housing bodies. The under delivery by these bodies caused concern for the Expert Group who recommended a review of why funding for halting site provision available to them under the Capital Assistance Scheme was not being used, and suggested reforms to ensure that take-up increases.

The audit found overall that on Governance and transparency

 In assessment of need and delivery monitoring

  • Plans had no standardised approach for data collection and incoherent methods used to assess Traveller population statistics, accommodation needs and a methodology for growth planning.
  • Most programmes did not include target indicators corresponding with unmet targets in their previous plans, and a rationale for targets set.

Achievement of targets in last Traveller Accommodation Programme 2014-2018

  • 90% of local authority targets were met in 2014-2018 TAP, (2,759 units) across 28 city or county councils. Cork City, Clare and Carlow did not indicate targets met.
  • Targets were determined as offers accepted across accommodation types, Standard LA, Halting Sites, Group Housing, HAP and RAS, Voluntary provisions and Refurbishments
  • Of units delivered only 10% supplied through Traveller specific accommodation, 42% across Standard Housing and 21% using HAP and RAS

Meeting the need of Traveller families 2019-2024

  • One third of all families identified in the 30 LAs who supplied information are currently in need of accommodation however 8 councils do not plan to meet their own delivery targets Dublin City, Louth, Meath, Cork County, Limerick City and County, Galway city and Monaghan.
  • 26 local authorities planned for future growth, showing a need nationally for 1,400 new family formations.
  • 47% of Traveller families in 7 counties in Munster are currently in need (Cork City- did not supply information)
  • There is no provision in any Programme to supply transient accommodation , to allow for pull on / pull off sites to support nomadism.

Summary of findings across Programmes

Widespread inconsistencies in approach and methodology across assessments. Inadequate planning, insufficient delivery targets to meet current needs, inadequate growth planning, reliance on housing assistance and little redress to cater for emergency or homeless needs.

  • Data to assess Traveller families under local authority due of care is at times incoherent, ambiguous and without oversight.
  • Underspending reported over continuous Programmes and in the year 2019, finds many of those councils have no plan to meet their own current targets to supply accommodation for families
  • No criteria for targets in some local authority plans, and no target achieved versus output reporting for last TAP.
  • Many councils have not taken account in their plans for homeless families
  • An overreliance on private rental, HAP and RAS as mode of delivery.
  • Under delivery of Traveller specific accommodation in the previous programme and small-scale plans for the current one
  • No provision for transient sites and almost no plans for future delivery.
  • No indication of budgetary proposal for new builds and no site identification in some cases, as determined by the Traveller Accommodation Act 1998.