Property quango with no powers costs taxpayer nearly €4m

Story by Paul Neilan

Thursday, 8th December, 2011 4:59pm

Property quango with no powers costs taxpayer nearly €4m

The NPRSA offices are based at Abbey Road in Navan.

A Navan-based body set up six years ago to police and investigate estate agent 'mischief', which has so far cost the taxpayer close to €4 million, has yet to make a single investigation because the legislation giving effect to it has never been passed.

A brainchild of the Celtic Tiger, the National Property Services Authority (NPRSA) is based in rented offices at Abbey Road in the town and has a staff of nine - a chief executive designate, six full-time and two part-time staff.

The delayed, complicated legislation giving the quango power to carry out its functions, however, is only coming before the Seanad this Friday, after being passed by the Dáil late last month - a full six years after it first came into existence.

It's website, www.nprsa.ie, declares its would-be powers in its mission statement: "The Authority will have power to sanction a (estate agent, auctioneer etc) licensee up to and including the revocation of a licence and may also impose fines of up to €250,000 where a property service provider (PSP) if found to have engaged in 'improper conduct'.

"The functions of the Authority will include the investigation of complaints against licensees (auctioneers, estate agents and property management agents) and the imposition of sanctions in respect of improper conduct. It will also carry out investigations on its own volition."

In response to questions from the Meath Chronicle regarding what the NPRSA has been doing since it was set up in 2006, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice, under whose remit the NPRSA falls, said: "In advance of it becoming a statutory body, the Authority has been very active in putting in place a solid foundation for the organisation. This is to enable the Authority to hit the ground running when the Property Services (Regulation) Bill 2009 becomes law."

The NPSRA's budget for this year totalled €738,000, which does not include the cost of accommodation - rent, service charges, maintenance - which is currently paid for by the OPW, which is locked into a controversial upward-only rent review agreement on the building.

The Abbey Mall premises itself, rented by McLoughlin Abbey Road Partnership to the OPW, houses a number of other government departments and is on a 20-year upward-only rent agreement which began in January 2008 - on which a further €9,781,120 will be paid out by the time the lease is up.

Justice Minister Alan Shatter is to make an announcement on upward-only rent reviews "soon", after being advised by the Attorney-General.

In the 2010 book on public money profligacy, 'Wasters', independent senator Shane Ross and co-author Nick Webb slated the lack of progress on the NPRSA's legislation.

"The National Property Services Regulatory Authority is quite a mouthful. But it's a mouthful without any teeth," they write. The agency was set up in 2005 by justice minister Michael McDowell to deal with estate agent and auctioneering mischief. However, the legislation to support the agency and to give it poweres has yet to be passed by the Oireachtas.

"Despite this, a director designate was appointed in June 2006 and the agency has nine staff at its Navan headquarters.

"The office was allocated a budget of €700,000 for 2007, €930,000 for 2008, €657,000 for 2009 and €738,000 (for 2010). That's a total spend of just over €3 million on an utterly powerless organisation."

Adding the budget for 2011 to this amount, the total cost - not including rent and services, now stands at €3,763,000.

The Property Services (Regulation) Bill will appear for consideration before the Seanad this coming Friday, 9th December.

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