Thank you Mr President

Just like a few other Members in this Hon Court, I have followed our Public Sector Housing Policies very closely since the initial David Tolson Partnership report on the “Housing Needs Study” in July 2013.

In that report it highlighted that public sector housing rents on the island were shown to be well below those in the UK, and I know that a lot of work has been done over the last 11 years, in order to help lift public sector housing rents to the right level given the investment involved…

However, I am now seriously questioning if public sector housing rents on island are being set far too high for some of the most vulnerable in our society, and especially for those public sector housing tenants that are on the minimum wage….

…and we must remember that a minimum wage is not a living wage, which is the rate calculated for an individual or a family to have a decent standard of living here on the island and includes suitable accommodation.

More importantly, I am very concerned with the “Guidelines on the Implementation and Management of Fixed Term Tenancies in Public Sector General Housing” when reviewing a fixed term tenancy at the moment.

…and a copy of that document was made available to Hon Members ahead of this important debate, along with a copy of the Public Sector Housing (General Needs) (Allocation) Policy 2023.

Mr. President

In my opinion the Department of Infrastructure continues to be driven by a desire to reduce the “Deficiency Payments” made to Local Authorities, instead of trying to implement a fair rental policy in respect of our public sector housing, which takes into account all available data including current market values, financial thresholds, inflation and more importantly the tenants’ annual gross income levels.

If we step back to April 2013 just for moment, the Department of Health and Social Care at the time introduced a two-year fixed term tenancy….

That change in policy affecting around 6,200 Public Sector Housing tenants was made internally by the Department, and this Hon Court wasn’t given a fair opportunity to debate, support, amend or even reject the direction being taken by the Department at the time.

That fixed term tenancy policy for Public Sector Housing tenants was then increased from two years to five years in 2014, which meant that the first tenancy reviews would be undertaken in around 2018/19.

However, there were a few tenants that were transferred automatically to a fixed term tenancy when their circumstances changed.

Again, questions were asked at the time around the Department’s legal advice and what happens to a tenant who no longer meets the criteria, along with serious concerns around higher rents being imposed on public sector housing tenants over a very short period of time.

These tenancy reviews have now been ongoing for around five or six years and I know a number of Hon Members in this Court have received messages and correspondence from constituents who have seen their weekly rent increase significantly, and on occasion those rent increases do not seem justified…..

My colleague from Douglas North, Mr Ashford tabled a motion in this Court over a year ago, on 17th May 2023 around legal action in respect of any eviction of a public sector housing tenant.

That report by the Department of Infrastructure should have been published by the end of October 2023, and to the best of my knowledge that report is still yet to be published.

Mr. President,

It not unusual for this Hon Court to take a moment to look at how a particular policy is working in practice, and I have written to the Department many times over the years to raise my concerns on behalf of my Constituents in Onchan….

In April, I wrote to the Department again after another Constituent went through a five-year tenancy review, and at the end of that process their rent was increased by around 50%.

….and I know that this is not an isolated case.

That said, I do thank the Minister and the Department of Infrastructure officers for taking onboard many of my comments over the past couple of years, and it is good to see that the “Guidelines on the Implementation and Management of Fixed Term Tenancies in Public Sector General Housing” were updated in June last year.

Instead of tenants facing a very clear “cliff edge” or “Penalties” if they went marginally over the financial threshold, the new guidelines published in June last year give a very clear gross income range, and how an individual tenant’s rent would be uplifted accordingly.

It also gives very clear advice on the assessment of savings and other sources of income, which is welcome news.

However, my main concern relates to the current financial thresholds being used by the Department and Local Authorities in respect of the Public Sector Housing (General Needs) (Allocation) Policy 2023…..

…..when carrying out those very important five year tenancy reviews on behalf of public sector housing tenants, and in my opinion they are still being set artificially far too low by the Department….

…and even the current DOI Minister has acknowledged that a full review of income thresholds is required urgently, along with other areas of concern around the allocation policy.

As I have already mentioned, I feel the Department’s focus continues to be on reducing the “Deficiency Payments” made to Local Authorities instead of trying to set a fair rental policy for our public housing sector.

I do also thank my colleague from Arbory, Castletown and Malew, Mr Moorhouse for his motion back in January 2023 on this issue….

….because his motion ensured that the financial thresholds were increased for the first time in four years, but there was no mention in that debate about the review of fixed term tenancies.

Although I feel that the Department is moving in the right direction there are still a lot of unanswered questions around the public sector housing financial thresholds, which is why I am asking this Court to establish a committee of three Members to look at several key points…

Mr. President,

By way of an example….

A young couple earning the minimum wage with no dependent children on the Isle of Man cannot jointly apply for public sector housing at this time – and we must question why?

We know that the minimum wage on the island is currently £10.75 for those aged 18 and over, which gives a total income of just below £21,000 per annum for a 37.5-hour week.

That figure will increase to £11.45 per hour or around £22,300 per annum from 1st July for a 37.5-hour week.

This clearly shows that the maximum annual gross income financial threshold for a joint couple with no dependants trying to access public sector housing on the Isle of Man should be set at a minimum level of least £45,000 or £46,000 by July this year, if not significantly higher, but certainly not at the current level of just £38,000.

However, a single applicant without any dependent children can access social housing on the island today with a gross annual income of £34,500.

A financial difference of just £3,500 between a single applicant and a joint applicant – it just doesn’t make any sense.

In my recent correspondence to the Department, I mentioned that if the financial thresholds for public sector housing do not increase immediately, then I feel that the Government’s own public sector housing policy will continue to go against our Island Plan, which is to encourage more people into the workplace, and to create those economic opportunities for us all.

This is evidenced by the fact that the maximum gross annual income for a joint applicant with no dependants is currently set at only £38,000, and if we factor in that one of those individual is in full time employment on the minimum wage, then that leaves less than £17,000 to cover any income from the second applicant, and that figure will reduce to less than £15,000 next month.

This clearly shows that the financial thresholds being used by the Department are being set artificially too low, and that the Department’s current housing policy disadvantages and discourages young couples on the minimum wage from being eligible for social housing, and this cannot be right.

In May 2023, the DOI Minister at the time said there were over 800 people on the public sector housing waiting list, but I do seriously question what the true figure would be if we actually set the financial thresholds to access public sector housing correctly?

Mr. President

Low-income couples on a minimum wage should not be forced into the private rental market simply because the financial thresholds have been set wrongly by the Department, especially when those financial thresholds have no inflationary uplifts attached.

This moves me onto another key reason why this motion is needed here today.

If we accept that the financial thresholds to access social housing on island are not being set correctly, then the Department must also accept that rental reviews undertaken by the Department and the Local Authorities using the guidelines and other housing policies documents cannot be correct either.

We know that the Department and the Local Authorities are using the financial thresholds set out in the Public Housing (General Needs) (Allocation) (Amendment) Policy 2023 as part of the rental tenancy review.

Under a five-year rental tenancy review, if the gross income of a couple with no dependants exceeds the current financial threshold of £38,000, then they can expect to see their rent increase significantly.

This will be on top of any annual inflationary increase announced by the Department, which is normally implemented from 1st April each year….

…..and since April 2014 the Department has used those inflationary triggers to increase public sector rents by around 34.2% in the last 10 years.

I would like to take this opportunity again to thank the Department and the Minister for also providing details on the anticipated annual rental income from public sector housing on the island, which shows that rental income from our public sector hosing stock has increased from around £23 million to almost £32 million in the last 10 years….

….and over the last four years, which has included the costs of living crisis, public sector housing rents have increased by around £4 million – clear evidence of targeting and financially hitting some of the most vulnerable within our community.

The rent areas in respect of public sector housing have also increased to £760,000 in 2023/24, and this needs to be fully investigated, in order to establish if this is simply down to the cost of living and those inflationary increases or if the setting of those low financial thresholds have been a key factor in the increase in debt in respect of public sector housing…..

Mr. President

If I use a joint applicant again on a total household income of around £42,000 per annum, which reflects the minimum wage on the island then they can expect to see their weekly rent increase by around 20% under the current rental review system.

If that same joint applicant were being reviewed again next month when the minimum wage levels on the island are set to increase, then they can expect to see their weekly rent increase by around 30%.

This again is evidence that the policy is not fit for purpose and that the Department is putting additional pressure on hardworking, low-income families on the island – and this cannot be right….

…all because the Department is solely focused on that “Deficiency Payment”, instead of trying to set a fair rental and review policy for public sector housing tenants on the island.

If the financial thresholds were set correctly considering the minimum wage levels on the Isle of Man, along with some inflationary increases over the past few years…..

….then I am certain that many low-income families and individuals in public sector housing would not have seen their weekly rent increase by 20%, 30% or even higher – this really needs to be fully investigated.

We also must remember that rent review increases are an additional charge on top of those annual inflationary increases introduced by the Department in April each year.

How many times has a DOI Minister given media interviews or answered questions in this Hon Court or the other place over the past four or five years stating that public sector housing rents have only increased by 2% or 3% or £1 or £1.50 per week on average…..

….and there is no mention by the Minister of the tenancy reviews being undertaken in the background, which has seen many public sector rents increase significantly over the past four or five years.

Mr President

In closing….

I also thank the Tynwald Committee on Poverty (2021) and their first report on Housing and Homelessness, which has an excellent section on public sector housing, but I do feel that this item needs to have a stand-alone Tynwald Committee to look these issues.

I therefore beg to move that;

a Select Committee of three Members be established to investigate the housing policy set by the Department of Infrastructure in respect of the implementation and management of fixed term tenancies, and to consider and review related legislation, guidelines and policies;

the Select Committee should take evidence from the Department of Infrastructure, local authorities, tenants and other witnesses in respect of

a) how a tenancy is offered
b) how tenancies are reviewed
c) why tenancies may not be renewed and
d) how changes of circumstances and other relevant issues are dealt with;

the Select Committee should submit a report to Tynwald by the last day of February 2025; and

no member of the Department of Infrastructure or the Treasury should be eligible for membership of the Select Committee.

Thank you Mr President