Monday 17 December 2018

Housing boss stands by his 'gaming the system' claims

Skehan: ‘My job is to ensure the 85,000 on social housing waiting lists are treated fairly’

Dr.Conor Skehan, chairman of the Housing Agency
Dr.Conor Skehan, chairman of the Housing Agency
Paul Melia

Paul Melia

Housing Agency chairman Conor Skehan has mounted a robust defence of his comments on homeless people "gaming the system".

Mr Skehan sparked widespread criticism earlier this month by suggesting people may be unnecessarily declaring themselves as homeless, in order to secure a council home.

He was being grilled by politicians yesterday, as he insisted what he actually said was "that there may be an issue and that that should be investigated".

But he also argued that his job was to ensure the 85,000 people on social housing waiting lists were treated "equitably and fairly".

And defending his stance, Mr Skehan suggested that evidence from social media and correspondence from a councillor, who was unnamed, highlighted how some people attempted to "game the system".

He cited several such cases in an appearance before the Dáil Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government.

He mentioned people claiming that they had been kicked out by their parents, or posting on social media about wanting a "forever home".

Mr Skehan said he dealt in "facts" and not "views", and had been informed through social media and contacts with a councillor that people were attempting to declare as homeless.

He also referenced a report from Fingal County Council last month which noted that 68 offers of accommodation had been turned down last year, of which 36 related to families in homeless circumstances.

But committee members said while he was entitled to his opinion, there was "no evidence whatsoever" that people were queue-jumping, even taking into account social media posts and email correspondence.

People Before Profit TD Mick Barry accused Mr Skehan of pushing a "right wing" narrative which added "fuel to the fire of prejudice" against those in a "difficult position".

Sinn Féin's Eoin Ó Broin said a 2016 report from the Housing Agency found there was no evidence whatsoever that people were "gaming the system", and his comments caused "deep hurt".

He added that many people refused offers of accommodation because it was unsuitable.

But Mr Skehan said the report was prepared two years ago after local authorities had raised "red flags".

"There was no evidence at that time that this was occurring. That's why no evidence was included in the report.

"The agency was raising a red flag in the system," he said, adding the committee should investigate the matter. Since the controversy first erupted, many involved in the homeless sector called for his resignation, with Independent Senator Victor Boyhan telling the committee he found the comments "offensive", and asked Mr Skehan did he still stand over them.

"If you read what I actually said, I said there may be an issue and that it should be investigated," Mr Skehan said.

"I have been extremely careful to say this may be happening and should be investigated."

He also said he was "well aware" his comments may have caused hurt.

"I am saying this for the 85,000 people on our housing waiting list who may find themselves having a queue jumped.

"The Housing Agency's remit is all of housing, to make sure everybody in need of social housing is treated fairly.

"I have literally nothing to lose. I'm here to make those statements so the majority of people entitled to social housing are dealt with equitably and fairly."

Mr Skehan told the Government last year he did not intend to serve a further term at the Housing Agency - but remains in place until a successor is appointed.

He also stood over agency projections that 25,000 new homes were needed every year, and not up to 50,000 as some have suggested.

He had "no apology" to make for advising Fine Gael politicians in the past.

Irish Independent

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