Call for Minister to revise restrictions on local authorities’ home purchases

Restriction on social housing acquisitions designed to avoid competing with first-time buyers

An instruction from Minister for Housing Darragh O'Brien to local authorities to "restrict" purchases of homes from landlords exiting the market is putting vulnerable families at risk of homelessness, Sinn Féin spokesman on housing has said.

Eoin Ó Broin is calling on the Minister to “revise” a circular issued on January 19th telling councils acquiring houses for sale on the open market to “focus” on three categories. These are one-bedroom units, four-bed and larger units, and units suitable for people with disabilities.

“The primary reason for the restrictions on social housing acquisitions is to avoid undue impact on the private housing market, including avoiding competition with first-time buyers or acquisitions by other private individuals/families,” the circular reads.

Mr Ó Broin said the previously “frequent” practice of councils buying two- and three-bedroom homes from landlords exiting the rental market, having issued notices to quit (NTQs) to their tenant, had now stopped.


In such cases the tenant would have been on the housing list a number of years and in receipt of the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP). The practice allowed them to stay in the home, now as council tenants. The council increased its housing stock and removed the family from the waiting list.

The circular, titled Arrangements for Social Housing Acquisitions in 2022, tells local authorities the Government’s Housing For All strategy aims to deliver 47,600 new-build social homes over the next five years. As a result “there is limited scope for acquisitions in this period”.

Acquisitions in 2022 “will be focused” on the three “priority areas”, it says.

A department spokesman told The Irish Times there was “no prohibition” on acquisitions.

“It is a matter for the local authorities themselves to decide their specific priority acquisitions, including in circumstances where a notice to quit has issued to sitting tenants.

“Minister O’Brien has asked local authorities to limit their acquisitions of privately owned properties to be undertaken this year.”

A spokeswoman for the Local Government Management Agency said: "Our understanding is that it remains open to local authorities to make a case to acquire [two- and three-bedroom units], and the department will consider them on a case-by-case basis."


South Dublin County Council, one of the largest local authorities, however said "in keeping" with the department's strategy, its focus would be on new-builds.

“The council prioritises the limited scope for acquisitions to meet specific priority housing needs in line with Department of Housing guidance. We will explore additional acquisitions if the department encourages additional local discretion… by local authorities to address HAP-related notices to quit.”

Figures from the Residential Tenancies Board show in the last three months of 2021, a total of 614 NTQs were issued where the landlord planned to sell, up from 161 in the first quarter of the year, 498 in the second quarter and 550 in the third. These 614 sales-related notices accounted for 64 per cent of all NTQs (958) in the last quarter of 2021.

Mr Ó Broin described the department’s response to calls for the restriction to be revised as “deeply disappointing”.

“Given the dramatic increase in eviction notices issued by landlords selling up, councils need to be told to actively seek the purchase of any property with a HAP or RAS tenant in situ with a notice to quit and who is at risk of homelessness.

“Failure to do this will result in increased homelessness, particularly for families with children. Minister O’Brien needs to get his head out of the sand and revise the circular, and to allow the councils’ capital budget for housing to be used to purchase these properties.”

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times