Housing charity regulator will have right to raid offices
A new housing charities regulator will be able to enter organisations' offices and remove records as part of their investigations.
Details of the new regulator come after it emerged last weekend the Housing Agency launched High Court action to stop performance and governance reviews of housing charities from being made public.
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Currently, the Housing Agency oversees voluntary regulation of housing charities and associations.
The new Approved Housing Bodies Regulator (AHBR) will have the power to appoint inspectors who will be permitted to search offices and remove files if they are deemed relevant to their investigations.
This will include any banking and property documentation.
It will also be able to request a High Court order if a housing body has committed an offence under new legislation or found to be misusing or mismanaging property under its ownership.
The High Court will be able to remove housing body directors or any other employee if they are found to have breached the new regulations. The courts will also be able to hand over properties owned by a charity under investigation to another approved housing body.
A register of approved housing bodies will be maintained by the regulator which will also set and monitor standards.
The Department of Housing hopes the new regulator will encourage and facilitate the better governance, administration and management, including corporate governance of housing charities.
It is estimated the AHBR will cost around €2.24m a year to run. Housing bodies may be charged fees by the regulator in the future.
Last weekend, it was revealed the Housing Agency issued legal proceedings against the Information Commissioner which ordered it to release the housing body audits to the Sunday Independent.
The unpublished reports assess the finances, governance and performance of the not-for-profit organisations approved by the Government to supply and manage social housing, known as Approved Housing Bodies (AHBs).
In court documents issued last week, the agency claimed that disclosing the records will have a "chilling effect" on housing bodies that "cannot be overstated" in a voluntary regulation system.
The Department of Housing has said it expects the new regulator will be in place later this year.