Thursday 21 September 2017

Council claim staff being 'harassed and abused' over allegations they used social housing system to secure homes for themselves

Homeowners are being warned to prepare for interest rate rises as the era of cheap debt is now set to end. (stock photo)
Homeowners are being warned to prepare for interest rate rises as the era of cheap debt is now set to end. (stock photo)
Amy Molloy

Amy Molloy

Galway City Council has responded to claims that staff members abused the affordable housing scheme to secure homes for themselves.

In a statement to Independent.ie, the council said they were investigating the "extremely serious" allegations and claimed staff are being "harassed and abused" since the reports were published.

The statement read: "Very serious allegations have been made but as articulated in the Seanad and in subsequent media interviews, they are very broad and are very damaging to the reputation to all staff of Galway City Council. Current staff of Galway City Council have been the subject of harassment and abuse in recent days on foot of reporting of these broad claims in the media.

"The Chief Executive is overseeing the continuing examination of files in relation to the assessment and allocation of properties under the Affordable Housing Scheme as operated historically by Galway City Council. "

A mother who spent eight years trying to secure social housing for her and her daughter has described the allegations surrounding her local council as "disgraceful".

Michelle Frawley, originally from Galway city, has been desperately trying to get her foot on the property ladder but fears she will never have her own home.

She only recently returned to full-time employment, due to having to care for her daughter who has severe special needs.

Since going back to work, Michelle no longer qualifies for social housing.

Following investigations by the Connacht Tribune and Galway City Tribune, it was alleged that a number of senior council staff in Galway have been securing affordable social housing for themselves – despite earning way above the income limits.

In some cases, they have also been accused of 'cherry-picking' high-spec homes and renting out the houses.

"It is disgusting that these people have been jumping ahead of those who needed accommodation most," Michelle told Independent.ie.

"I know personally of one girl who is living in a refuge for three years with her three small children. If someone like that can’t get a house, what hope is there for anyone else."

After years of waiting and disappointment, Michelle eventually decided to apply for the Rental Accommodation Scheme (RAS).

Her four-year contract ends next month and she doesn’t know if it will be renewed, leaving her and her 11-year-old daughter in housing limbo.

Michelle admits that she would like to buy her own home now that she is working again.

But due to the lack of available housing in Galway, she doesn’t think it will be possible.

"I’m happy to pay my way in this country but it is just impossible to get on the housing ladder or rent privately.

"Being honest, back when I was on social welfare, I was hounding the council as I was really struggling.

"I’m extremely fortunate that there was a landlord in my estate who had applied for RAS and he was around the corner with an empty house for four months and I never knew," she added.

The allegations surrounding the council were raised by Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh in the Seanad last week.

Mr Ó Clochartaigh said he will be passing on all documentation he has to Gardaí and the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government.

Housing Minister Simon Coveney was also called on to investigate the claims.

The income limit for the affordable housing scheme is €36,500 – it is claimed the staff at the centre of the accusations would have been earning double that.

Speaking to Independent.ie, he described the allegations as "extremely serious and worrying".

"One of the staff in question is believed to have since retired. It is also claimed that he had another residence prior to acquiring social housing and has been renting out the new house," he said.

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