QUESTIONS were raised last night about a €600,000 taxpayers bill for a “toothless” government agency set up to protect property buyers and owners.
The Government will spend these funds financing the National Property Services Regulatory Authority this year, a body set up to regulate auctioneers and estate agents.
The agency opened its offices last November but it still has no powers to enforce regulations.
A delay in legislation was blamed for the delay. Labour claimed the agency had been left “in limbo”, while bills were mounting.
“The Government clearly doesn’t appreciate the urgency of this matter,” argued Joanna Tuffy, Labour TD for Dublin Mid-west.
The regulator was first promised in July 2005. Despite Consumers’ Association calls for legislation to be fast-tracked, it is likely to be late this year before it is given statutory powers.
Figures from the Department of Justice show the authority’s offices in Navan, Co Meath, are costing €190,000 to rent per year.
In addition, salaries for the eight staff working there and expenditure amounted to over €130,000 for the first four months this year, leading to a bill of €600,000 by the end of the year.
The department conceded last night that legislation for the regulator would only be finalised later this year but will then need to go through the Oireachtas before being signed into law.
But Ms Tuffy said the agency in the meantime was “toothless”. Her constituents had contacted the authority with concerns about property companies but were effectively told the agency’s hands were tied.
“Ten percent of our housing stock is now in the form of apartments, and management company-related issues potentially affect hundreds of thousands of people.”
The Justice Minister’s spokeswoman said since its inception, the agency had put together a voluntary register for auctioneers as well as a code of practice for the industry and its website.
“When the bill becomes an act, they will be ready on day one. They are not on a statutory footing but they have stuff they are working on,” she added.
The authority’s powers will eventually include a licensing system for property services providers, investigating complaints and operating a compensation fund for those who lose money from dishonest providers.
The authority would not comment yesterday.
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