MLRC partnering with new organisations to have greater reach and impact

We are delighted to have linked in with several new organisations in recent months and to be able to extend our reach to vulnerable individuals, who are experiencing serious housing difficulty, and also to support the valuable work of organisations supporting individuals and families who are experiencing homelessness.

Towards the end of 2018, we were contacted by a resettlement worker from the Dochas Centre, a women’s prison based in Mountjoy prison in Dublin 7. We were contacted in relation to an individual case, but the link developed and we subsequently were most grateful for the opportunity to meet with the Governor and her multi-disciplinary team to share details of our services and of the legal issues we are currently working on. At the meeting, we learnt about the housing difficulties encountered by those women leaving the Centre and the range of supports that are available at the Centre. We agreed to continue to work together going forward. Since our initial meeting, our Managing Solicitor has attended a pre-release session with a group of women who will shortly leave the prison. At the session, MLRC answered questions in relation to housing and shared information on housing rights and entitlements. We have maintained a good connection with the Centre since our meeting. We have been referred several new cases and have attended clients at the Centre, and continue to provide ongoing advice and representation on cases.

We were also delighted to develop a relationship with Amal Women’s Association in early 2019. Amal Women’s Association is a Muslim women led service responding to the needs of women across Ireland. Amal in Arabic means hope or aspiration. The Association is linked to the mosque on South Circular Road and is therefore very local to MLRC. We have been operating a pilot housing clinic at the mosque, following referrals made by the Association. We are very aware from our previous cases, that ethnic minority women face particular barriers to accessing housing entitlements and welcome this opportunity to support such individuals and families. We were also honoured to attend an International Women’s Day event hosted by Amal Women’s Association. We look forward to continuing to support the work of the Association.

Finally, we recently met with medical social workers at a Dublin maternity hospital. The session was hugely productive and we look forward to developing a partnership with the team. At the session, we learnt about the huge challenges faced by mothers and their new born babies with respect of accessing adequate housing. The social workers highlighted a number of cases where mothers and their new born babies have been discharged into night by night only emergency accommodation. MLRC has dealt with several similar cases and provided information on how to refer cases to our service and advised on the appropriate advocacy strategies in such urgent cases. We look forward to developing our partnership with the social workers and to providing ongoing support to the women they are engaged with.

MLRC continues to develop our links and provide legal support to a range of organisations and professionals on housing and homelessness matters nationwide. We are available to provide training on social housing and homelessness law and related social welfare law to organisations and professionals. Please contact us, by email, at events@mercylaw.ie if you would like any further details in relation to our training.

 

 

 

For more information on Mercy Law Resource Centre’s work, please see www.mercylaw.ie.

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MLRC is now recruiting a Solicitor to join the MLRC team

MLRC is delighted to announce that we are recruiting for the position of a full time Solicitor within our offices. The job will offer a unique opportunity to practice in public interest and human rights law to help those at the margins of our society within a vibrant, dynamic independent law centre, with an ethos which recognises the dignity of each person, seeking to ensure that all people are treated with respect and compassion and are enabled to achieve their full potential as human beings, committed to the principles of human rights, social justice and equality.

The job presents an exciting opportunity to be a part of a dynamic staff team who work with energy and compassion to support our clients and to influence the broader policy environment. Our legal work centres on providing free legal advice and representation to those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. In 2018, MLRC acted for clients in the District Court, the High Court and before the adjudicators and Tribunals of the Residential Tenancies Board. We also pursued remedies through the Office of the Ombudsman for Children, the Office of the Ombudsman and through internal complaints. For more information on the casework of MLRC in 2018, see here.

The Solicitor position will be offered as a full time, permanent position. The salary offered with this position is commensurate with experience. This role is ideally full time, however a less than full time working arrangement may be considered.

For full details of the role and how to apply, please click here.

For the application form, please click here.

The closing date for receipt of applications is 5pm on Monday 11th March 2019.

 

 

For more information on Mercy Law Resource Centre’s work, please see www.mercylaw.ie.

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MLRC calls for legal protection of the right to housing at Raise the Roof conference

On the 30th of January, Managing Solicitor of MLRC, Rebecca Keatinge presented at ‘Securing the Right to Housing’ Conference which was organised by the Raise the Roof campaign. The Raise the Roof campaign encompasses and brings together trade unions, political parties, student unions, housing agencies and community groups to demand radical action on the housing crisis.

The conference focused on an array of topics related to the housing crisis, including government policy, the need for public housing, the human cost of the emergency and securing a legally protected right to housing.

Speaking on Government Policy, architect Mel Reynolds noted how an increase in supply in housing in Ireland will not drive down prices. He noted that housing prices continue to rise with the average price of a property in Dun Laoghaire coming in at €500,000. However, the most startling of Mel Reynolds’ findings was that the local authority owns 8884 hectares of land in Ireland, which could be used to develop housing. This is approximately five times the total reported in Rebuilding Ireland. Orla Hegarty, Assistant Professor at UCD echoed these sentiments and noted that the key thing to solving the crisis will be enabling ‘people to meet housing need from their own resources’.

 

Tony Fahey, Professor Emeritus, School of Social Policy, Social Work and Social Justice UCD addressed the myth that social housing can only be developed through mixed tenure development. Tony Fahey presented research that confirms that the large social housing schemes embarked on in the 1970s and 1980s in Ireland have been in the main a success. He noted that vibrant communities have developed in areas of large social housing developments and the housing stock in those areas is now desirable and valuable.

With regard to the human cost of the housing crisis, Tanya Ward, CEO of Children’s Rights Alliance noted that homelessness should be an exceptional and rare occurrence but for many children in Ireland it is an everyday reality. Most children in Ireland spend an estimated one and a half hours to get to school, with the children lacking in sleep and proper subsistence. Unfortunately, MLRC witnesses the reality of this on a daily basis in our casework, with a number of families who present to us residing in wholly unsuitable emergency accommodation. The schools are often very supportive of these children and offer a fundamental role in keeping some normality.

On presenting on the Right to Housing, our Managing Solicitor addressed four key questions which regularly arise in discussion of the right to housing:

  • What does the right to housing actually mean and where does it come from?
  • What is the position domestically in relation to protection of the right to housing?
  • What would the right to housing do in practice?
  • Would Ireland be out of step with other countries in protecting the right?

Rebecca reported that Ireland is well-covered in its international commitments to protect the right to housing, however these are not reflected in domestic legislation. Rebecca gave examples of how the absence of a legally protected right impacts in the cases MLRC deals with, such that homeless families do not have any entitlement to emergency accommodation. She reported that lawyers dealing with these cases are obliged to rely on rights around the edges, for example protections of the right to family life, in the absence of any clear protection of the right to housing.

Rebecca concluded by highlighting that there is an overwhelming public support for protection of the right to housing in Ireland. In 2014, the Constitutional Convention voted overwhelmingly, 84%, in favour of protecting the right to housing in the Constitution. Furthermore, in a survey undertaken by Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission in December 2018, 82% of people believed that housing should be considered as a human right, and 63% believe that this right should be in the Constitution.

Rebecca reported that to date, the Government has not taken any substantive action on the recommendations put forward by the Constitutional Convention. MLRC contends that the right to housing in our Constitution would be a positive, strong step for the future to create enduring fundamental protection of home for every adult and every child. It would act as a fundamental safeguard against the recurrence of this gravely unacceptable housing crisis. The right to housing in our Constitution would put in place a basic protection in recognition that a home is central to the dignity of each and every person and a foundation of every person’s life.

 

 

All photos with credit to John Chaney and Irish Congress of Trade Unions.

For more information on Mercy Law Resource Centre’s work, please see www.mercylaw.ie.

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Our Casework in 2018 – A Year in Review

We had an exceptionally busy year in 2018 and during the year we saw an increase on the number of individuals in distressing situations contacting us for free legal advice and representation. In 2018, we continued to provide legal advice and representation on a range of housing and homelessness matters and acted for clients in the District Court, the High Court and before the adjudicators and Tribunals of the Residential Tenancies Board. We also pursued remedies through the Office of the Ombudsman for Children, the Office of the Ombudsman and through internal complaints.

Our solicitors advised over 720 individuals in 2018 and supported the work of over 100 partner organisations.

Here we include some details of the cases we worked on, the legal issues arising and the legal arguments we relied on in order to resolve these issues.

Cases on unlawful refusal by housing authorities to provide emergency accommodation

It is with great alarm that we noted the continued rise of refusals by housing authorities to provide emergency accommodation.

The definition of homelessness is clearly set out in section 2 of the Housing Act 1998 and reads:

  • there is no accommodation available which, in the opinion of the authority, he, together with any other person who normally resides with him or might reasonably be expected to reside with him, can reasonable occupy or remain in occupation or, or
  • he is living in a hospital, county home, night shelter or other such institution, and is so living because he has no accommodation of the kind referred to in paragraph (a), and he is, in the opinion of the opinion of the authority, unable to provide accommodation from his own resources.

It is therefore unlawful for any housing authority to add additional criteria when assessing people as homeless. The Council does however enjoy a certain discretion in relation to the assessment.

Despite the clear definition of homelessness as set out in the legislation, nearly every week in our clinics, we meet families who are deeply distressed and in despair as they are roofless and are living in their cars, vans or tents. These include families with young children and babies who have been refused access to emergency accommodation. Some were told by the housing authority that there are simply no rooms available; some are told to return to their estranged extended families who have no space for them or who are not allowed to stay with them. It is well-established that family breakdown is one of the main reasons why individuals and families become homeless. Weekly, we strive to address these most urgent cases and support these vulnerable families where a child or children with their parents are at risk of sleeping rough or who are already sleeping in cars or vans.

One example from 2018 illustrates the distressing nature of these cases.

Our client was an Irish national and working full time and his non-Irish national wife was working part time. However both jobs were low paid. The couple lived in private rented accommodation with their two children and were eligible for social housing support. They had to move out of the home as the landlord intended to sell the property. They then moved to another home where they were privately renting. Within the first six months of the tenancy the landlord gave them 28 days’ notice to vacate; a landlord can lawfully terminate a tenancy giving just 28 days’ notice without the need for a reason. Our clients received this notice and had to move out after 28 days but could not find a suitably priced rental home within that short time frame. They did not have any extended family to stay with as our client’s wife was from abroad; the husband had only one brother who had severe medical issues and only had a one bedroom home.

The family then spent all of their saving over the next three months paying for hotel accommodation. When their savings were exhausted, they presented homeless to the housing authority and were refused emergency accommodation – they were told they were not eligible for homeless accommodation because they were working.

The family then came to Mercy Law Resource Centre for legal assistance and on their behalf we engaged in lengthy correspondence and communication with the housing authority, highlighting the definition of homelessness and the unlawful decision of the Council. After some debate, the local authority reviewed our clients’ homeless application and gave the family emergency accommodation.

We have had several cases involving single mothers with their new born babies being refused emergency accommodation. We have been referred these cases by medical social workers at maternity hospitals who have grave concerns for the welfare and health of these mothers and their new babies at risk of being discharged into rooflessness. In these cases, we have again found a misapplication of the definition of homelessness and an imposition of the housing authority of additional eligibility requirements not provided for by law. In these cases, the housing authority has sought confirmation that the mothers were on the social housing list, before permitting access to emergency accommodation.

Once we received the mother’s authority to act and full instructions we engaged with the housing authorities in order to highlight the differences between the social housing assessment and the homelessness assessment and the different legislation applying to each. They are distinct and separate applications and separate legal criteria apply. Fortunately, our swift engagement with the housing authorities secured swift and positive outcomes and the mothers and their new born babies we supported were allocated emergency accommodation and were safely discharged. The experience however caused deep distress on the new mothers – all of whom were single mothers and non-Irish nationals with a right to reside in Ireland.

The failure of the self-accommodation option

We continued to see the shortcomings of the ‘self-accommodation’ form of emergency accommodation in our casework in 2018. This form of emergency accommodation continues to be relied on by Dublin housing authorities and it places the burden on the homeless family to source their own hotel or B&B. We continued to see this placing impossible demands on larger families, traveller families and non-Irish national families who struggled to secure bookings in hotels, particularly during busy holiday periods. This exposed them to risk of rough sleeping and chronic instability in their accommodation.

During the course of the year, we dealt with a deeply distressing and complex case involving parents and their six children from the Travelling Community. The family were lawfully evicted from their private rented accommodation as the landlord intended to sell the property. The father had medical issues, was unable to work and was in receipt of disability allowance. The family were unable to find any alternative private rented accommodation that would accept the Housing Assistance Payment within the price range allowed.

The family presented homeless to the housing authority and were given emergency accommodation in the form of two rooms in a hotel. This was discontinued without reason and our clients were then roofless. Three of the youngest children were taken in by a relative and the three oldest children and their parents slept in the van. We engaged the housing authority in this case in lengthy legal correspondence and briefed a barrister who prepared the case for a High Court application. Finally the housing authority allowed this family to access the self-accommodate option of homeless assistance, where the family are eligible for homeless accommodation but must find and book their own hotel accommodation, which is then paid for by the housing authority.

Even with the assistance of the Simon Community, this family were unable to secure emergency accommodation and spent seven weeks living in their van and separating their children to stay with various family members. An internal complaint followed by a complaint to the Ombudsman for Children has been filed and the family await a decision.

Cases on completely inadequate and highly inappropriate emergency accommodation

We continued to meet with individuals and families who were accessing emergency homeless accommodation, but the provision was completely inappropriate. In many instances, the provision was having a direct and negative impact on the health and well-being of young children in particular.

One acute issue that continued to occur was the provision of emergency accommodation on a one night only basis to vulnerable families. Our casework indicated that non-Irish national families and ethnic minority families were disproportionately impacted.

Just before the end of the year, we acted for a single mother of two children aged four weeks and sixteen months. Our client was discharged from a maternity hospital with her four week premature baby on to only night to night accommodation. The young mother had nowhere to go with her very small children during the day and was unable to breast feed her infant in comfort or to safely sterilise bottles. It appeared that the client was afforded only night to night provision as her social housing application remained pending and further documents were required in order to process the application.

Fortunately, immediately after the intervention of MLRC, the client was put on in a secure and stable booking in a hotel. We argued that the provision of suitable emergency accommodation is not contingent on the completion of the social housing application, that under the regulations, the local authority has twelve weeks to determine. Our client had no prior need to submit a social housing application as she was in employment and had secure housing up until she presented as homeless. While many challenges remain for our client, the securing of stable emergency accommodation for her was a very positive outcome just before the Christmas break.

A continuing issue in our casework was the extremely prolonged stays of homeless individuals and families in hostels, B&Bs and hotels. MLRC approached these cases strategically, collating expert evidence on the impact of such long stays on the children in particular and making legal representations to local authorities pushing for adequate housing provision for such vulnerable groups. We noted that ethnic minorities including members of the Traveller community were a group who were particularly impacted, as they faced specific obstacles accessing the private rented market.

As well as exploring High Court legal remedies on behalf of our clients, MLRC increasingly explored alternative legal remedies during the course of 2018 including internal complaints, complaints to the Office of the Ombudsman for Children and complaints to the Workplace Relations Commission on equality issues.

Lack of transparency in relation to access to ‘family hubs’

MLRC also acted for several families residing in highly inappropriate hotel and B&B accommodation who were unable to access ‘family hub’ accommodation, which they believed would better suit their families’ needs. MLRC identified a complete lack of transparency in relation to access to family hubs: in working on these cases, we were informed by local authorities in the Dublin area that there is no official mechanism for families to access a family hub and that access depends on whether any relevant housing officer is aware of a family in need. Families on the so-called ‘self-accommodation’ form of homeless provision, where they have to book their own hotel and B&B accommodation, are not allocated key-workers, which made voicing their needs and linking in with the local authority particularly difficult. MLRC was able to document the impact on these families of the inappropriate homeless provision and expedite their allocation of family hub accommodation. Our experience with these families also informed our policy work on the issue of emergency accommodation provision to homeless families in particular and the urgent reforms needed to ensure provision is adequate, available and accessible.

Cases on unlawful barriers to getting on the housing list

The misapplication of Circular 2012/41 continued to be an issue in many cases we worked on in 2018. The Circular, which is essentially a policy document issued by the Department of Housing, Community and Local Government, purports to set out in what circumstances non-Irish nationals can access the social housing list.

The Circular however is outdated and unclear and provides poor guidance to local authorities on this important area. We saw the practical impact of the shortcomings of the Circular in the cases that presented at our clinics: we met several individuals and families who had been refused access to the social housing list on the basis of their immigration status. In many instances however, these refusals were unlawful as the applicants were settled migrants or EU workers, who are eligible for social housing support. In these cases, we made detailed written legal representations to the relevant local authority and where merited, sent pre-litigation correspondence.

Cases of termination notices issued by Approved Housing Bodies

Increasingly throughout 2018 we MLRC saw a number of termination notices issued by Approved Housing Bodies’ (AHB’s) to tenants in the first six months of their tenancy. AHB’s rely on the provision of the Residential Tenancies Act which allow a landlord terminate a tenancy without giving a reason in the first six months of tenancy.   The provision which allows AHBs to terminate in this manner without giving a reason is of concern to MLRC. In many cases, tenants have been on housing authority social housing list for many years or have transferred from a housing authority tenancy to an AHB tenancy and the impact on their tenancy is not fully explained to the tenant.

MLRC have provided support on this matter to one family with children who were on the housing list for fourteen years, prior to becoming a tenant of an AHB. These clients found their tenancy terminated without a reason within 5 months. The family faced eviction and the loss of their place on the housing list. MLRC continues to act for the family in the proceedings before the RTB.

In another case, a mother with five children who had been on a Council housing list for more than seven years and had spent 19 months in emergency accommodation found her tenancy terminated without reason in the first month of occupancy.

MLRC argues that such a provision allowing an AHB eviction of a tenant without giving a reason is disproportionate and may be in breach of Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Right in circumstances where it is considered that the AHB is performing a function of the State in the provision of social housing. These cases are ongoing into 2019.

Cases in relation to termination of tenancies of voluntary housing associations tenants

Another issue that has emerged in the course of 2018 relates to AHB tenancies created in National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) properties through National Asset Residential Property Services (NARPS) contracts or tenancies in a dwelling provided to AHB’s by the Housing Agency through caretaker lease arrangements.  It is the view of MLRC that the protections of the Residential Tenancies Act may not apply to tenants in such dwellings.  There are currently more than 1,308 dwellings provided to AHB’s by NAMA through a NARPS lease, in which NAMA retain the title of the dwellings.

One interpretation of Section 3(2) (c) of the Residential Tenancies Act, 2004 (RTA) suggests that dwellings provided by a public authority to an AHB other than a Housing Authority  (a county or city council) may not  be covered by the provisions of the 2004 Act. Section 3(2) (c) provides that the RTA does not have application to a dwelling that is let by/or to a public authority including a dwelling provided by a public authority to an AHB other than a dwelling provided by a Housing Authority.  MLRC have recently made submissions to the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) in a matter involving a house let to an AHB in which a tenancy was created with a housing applicant and in which a dispute arose while the dwelling was being let from the Housing Agency.  MLRC submit that the Housing Agency is not a Housing Authority for the purposes of the RTA. Therefore a tenancy created within it cannot come under the application of the RTA. We await a determination in the matter from the RTB.

Cases on succession to tenancy

Several individuals presented to our clinics who were residing in a Council tenancy, which was in the name of a relative recently deceased. The individuals who sought our advice had been refused permission by the local authority to succeed to the tenancy and were facing eviction by the local authority, through a relatively new District Court procedure.

MLRC was successful in securing suitable alternative accommodation in many of these cases. We noted the variation between local authorities of the rules that are applied to succession of tenancy. We also advised clients that in circumstances where they were over-accommodated, for example, residing in a three bedroom tenancy as a single person, the Council may only be obliged to make an offer of suitable alternative accommodation.

Towards the end of 2018, MLRC acted for a young single mother who had been residing in her late mother’s property for several years. The client lived in the property with her young children. The local authority refused an application by the client to succeed to the mother’s tenancy and we were contacted by the client when she faced eviction proceedings in the District Court. MLRC represented the client in court with the support of a pro bono barrister and negotiated a resolution of the case, such that the local authority agreed to provide alternative accommodation to the client in the local area. The client averted homelessness and was able to remain in her home area.

Access to elevated Housing Assistance Payment for separated fathers

During 2018 MLRC acted for several separated fathers who have overnight access to their children. They have been deemed eligible for the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) but at the single rate only. They have been refused the rate that would enable them to rent a property big enough to have their children enjoy the overnight access with their parent.

In one particular case from 2018, our client lived with his son who has special needs, a diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy. He took his son to school every morning, made his dinner, took him to doctor’s appointments and occupational therapy and psychology appointments and any other activities his son was attending. This father worked, provided financially for his son, and provided parental love and support. When his relationship irrevocably broke down with the mother of his son, our client had to move out of the family home. As the family breakdown was acrimonious and he was not married, our client applied to the family law courts for access rights. He was granted overnight access for two or three nights each week.

Our client works part time and is also in college part time. Our client continues to provide and care for his son and has anchored his personal and professional life around the care of his son. Our client is eligible for social housing support and has applied to have his son included on his social housing household application however the allocation to include the son, that is an allocation of a two bedroom eligibility, has been refused by the housing authority. This means that our client cannot access an increased rate of the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) which would allow him to seek a two bedroom apartment. He is now only eligible for a one bedroom allocation. A second bedroom is essential if our client is to enjoy overnight access as the court order stipulates that the son must have a separate bedroom for his specific needs.

We have engaged in lengthy correspondence with the housing authority and our requests to add his son to our client’s social housing household application and allow him to access an increase rate of HAP have been refused. The housing authority have refused this in light of the access to housing the son enjoys with the other parent, the limited resources available to the housing authority, citing the ongoing housing crisis and the competing needs of other households.

Two legal issues arise in relation to these cases. The eligibility criteria for HAP under the relevant statutory scheme and direct discrimination and indirect discrimination under the Equal Status Acts 2000 to 2015. We continue to work on this and other similar cases specifically in relation to discrimination complaints under family status and gender grounds of the Equal Status Acts.

We look forward to providing further updates on our ongoing cases and relevant legal issues in 2019.

 

 

 

For more information on Mercy Law Resource Centre’s work, please see www.mercylaw.ie.

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“Examination of Local Authority Housing Lists”, Report by the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government

Our Christmas reading included this recently published report by the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government, that examines the operation of social housing waiting lists and makes a series of interesting recommendations in relation to new policies that need to be applied to ensure transparency and fairness in the provision of social housing.

The report is valuable in highlighting some of the shortcomings of the current social housing list and allocation system and in making some relevant and specific recommendations that could go some way to improving transparency and consistency in the provision of social housing.

For example, the report notes a contradiction at the heart of the HAP system: HAP tenants are categorised as both housed and in need of housing. This is because on a reading of the legislation, a recipient of HAP is deemed to have their social housing need met, yet local authorities have committed to operating a HAP transfer list so that such HAP recipients can remain on the social housing list via a transfer list. The considerable confusion in relation to the operation of such transfer lists is referred to in the report.

The Committee heard that local authorities are calling for a clarification or review of the definition of homelessness that is currently set out in Section 2 of the Housing Act 1988. The report refers to a “consensus” amongst witnesses that the definition of homelessness currently in use should be expanded and applied across local authorities. Such a review and expansion of the definition would support equal access for all individuals who are experiencing homelessness. It would also ensure local authorities take into account large groups who constitute the “hidden homeless” who are rough sleeping, or sleeping on sofas and who are currently unaccounted for in the homeless figures.

A review of the Section 2 definition would be most welcome and an expanded definition seems eminently sensible to ensure that the needs of all homeless individuals are known and local authorities can work towards meeting those needs. Our own experience is that the discretionary language in the related Section 10 provision in the 1988 Act has been relied on by local authorities and used as a basis not to provide emergency accommodation to individuals and families presenting as homeless. The provision states that local authorities “may” make provision, rather than “should” make provision of homeless accommodation to individuals recognised as homeless under Section 2. MLRC recommends a tightening of that provision also to ensure that, short of a broader right to housing, local authorities would be compelled to provide emergency accommodation to individuals who are homeless.

The report notes a lack of consistency across local authorities in a number of areas including in the operation of priority lists, treatment of emergency cases and policies applied in relation to succession of tenancy. In our recent casework, we have noted the very stark differences in the succession of tenancy policies between even neighbouring local authorities: such differences may mean eviction for one family and succession of tenancy for another. The lack of consistency combined with misconceptions amongst the general public about the social housing sector raises an issue of transparency and this is highlighted in the report. In our experience, a lack of transparency certainly contributes to a malaise with the system amongst applicants and a general mistrust of local authorities, which may well be misplaced.

There is an interesting discussion in the report of the application of income thresholds in the social housing assessment. An applicant for social housing must evidence an income below a certain level and the report notes that these levels are particularly low, leaving many ineligible to access social housing supports but unable to afford private rented accommodation. The report highlights a particularly unfair scenario, which we have encountered in our own casework, where families in receipt of Family Income Supplement (FIS), may be deemed ineligible for social housing support as the additional welfare support takes them above the relevant income threshold. We welcome the Committee’s clear recommendation that FIS should not be included in the calculations of income thresholds for eligibility.

The report also considers a situation where an individual on the social housing list does not take up any overtime offered, fearful that it will take them outside the income threshold and put their social housing application at risk. It is noteworthy that Departmental guidelines exist titled “Social Housing Support: Household Means Policy” issued 30 March 2011. These may not be widely known but cover that exact scenario of temporary or short-term additional income and state: “In assessing household income for the purposes of the household means policy, a housing authority may decide to disregard income that is once-off, temporary or short-term in nature and which is outside the regular pattern of a person’s annual income.” It is important that local authorities are sufficiently familiar with the guidelines and apply discretion where possible in relation to income thresholds. The report also notes that the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government confirmed that a review of income thresholds is currently under way and we look forward to an update in that regard.

The recommendations are to be welcomed and we note the preface of the Chair, Maria Bailey, who states that the Committee is fully committed to monitoring progress being made on the on-going implementation of the recommendations contained in the report. We welcome in particular the call for a new definition of homeless to be developed and hope that it will be developed in consultation with relevant stakeholders and taking account of the experiences of the many individuals and families who have fallen outside the relatively rigid definition for many years.  We also welcome the recommendation that national policies be developed for the determination and dealing with emergency cases and successor tenancies.

 

 

 

For more information on Mercy Law Resource Centre’s work, please see www.mercylaw.ie.

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Father Peter McVerry speaks at MLRC Christmas event & Annual Report launch

On 12 December, Mercy Law Resource Centre were honoured to have Father Peter McVerry speak at our Christmas event. At the event, we thanked all our most generous supporters and reflected on our work in 2017 and 2018. Father McVerry formally launched our Annual Report 2017.

At the event, Father Peter McVerry recognised the very unique services offered by MLRC and noted that no other organisation provides the hugely in-demand free legal advice and representation on housing and homelessness issues. Father McVerry commended the work of MLRC and acknowledged the transformative impact that the work has on vulnerable individuals and families who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

MLRC Managing Solicitor Rebecca Keatinge also spoke at the event and extended, on behalf of MLRC, most sincere thanks to the very generous supporters of the service, including donors, volunteers and pro bono experts.

The Christmas event marked the launch of MLRC’s 2017 Annual Report and speaking at the event, MLRC Managing Solicitor gave an overview of our recent work.

Throughout the year, MLRC continued to work with vulnerable individuals and families and provided free and accessible legal advice and representation to support them in accessing their basic legal entitlements, including most often, access to shelter. MLRC continued provision of its five key services: legal advice and representation, training and legal support to organisations working in the housing sector, policy and advocacy and a befriending service which are all designed to compliment each other and provide holistic support to our clients, who are facing the crisis of homelessness.

In 2017, MLRC provided free legal advice and representation to over 621 clients, amounting to more than 2,525 pieces of work. In 2018, MLRC has already advised over 720 clients. Managing Solicitor, Rebecca Keatinge noted that the increased work was to meet the ever growing demand on our service. Aside from our client casework, MLRC also supported organisations and professionals working with homeless individuals and families. In 2017, MLRC supported over 100 organisations including Focus Ireland, Merchants Quay, Simon Community, and Crosscare and provided training on housing and social welfare law to more than 300 individuals.

 

 

David Joyce, MLRC Solicitor, also spoke at the event last week sharing his own experience of working with the Traveller community and clients from ethnic minorities. David shared such clients’ experience of indirect and structural discrimination in the housing system and the very real difficulties those groups experience in accessing their basic entitlements. MLRC assists a disproportionate number of clients who are from ethnic minorities, including those who identify as Travellers or Roma. David talked about his own work as Chairperson of the Traveller Accommodation Expert Group, recently established by Minister Damien English, to examine and make recommendations in relation to Traveller accommodation policy.

 

None of the work MLRC does would be possible without the kind and gracious support from all our funders and this was warmly acknowledged at the event. MLRC is most grateful to the Dublin Archdiocese, Mason Hayes and Curran, St. Stephens Green Trust, FLAC/PILA Legal Interest Support Trust and ESB, for their generous support. A sincere thank you is also extended to all those who provide us with in-kind and pro bono support including in particular Sophia Housing, A&L Goodbody, our barristers, our auditors, our volunteer administrators, interns, volunteer solicitor and befrienders.

MLRC 2017 Annual Report is available online here.

 

 

 

 

For more information on Mercy Law Resource Centre’s work, please see www.mercylaw.ie.

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High Court decision on housing allocation to separated fathers

On 19th November, 2018, Justice Barrett handed down a decision in Fagan & Ors v Dublin City Council. The case concerned a father, who although separated from the mother of his children, still had overnight access to his children during the week. This fact was known to the Council from 2017, however, upon reviewing Mr. Fagan’s application for social housing under s.20 (1) (c) of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009, the Council found Mr. Fagan’s housing need to constitute that of a single person. The issue considered in the written judgement was that of the appropriate housing allocation to Mr Fagan, in light of the access to his children.

In submissions, counsel for Mr. Fagan contended that there was a fettering of discretion by the Council and that his case should be considered given reference to the text instilled in s 20 (1) (c) – “2 or more persons who do not live together but who, in the opinion of the housing authority concerned, have a reasonable requirement to live together”.  When considering the Council’s decision not to regard Mr. Fagan’s housing need as more than that of a single person, the court held that there was “no legal deficiency to present in the Council’s decision/decision-making when it comes to Mr. Fagan’s application for social housing”.  Upon this, the court denied Mr. Fagan the reliefs sought in his application and found that the Council’s interpretation of s. 20 (1) (c) was permissible.

The decision in Fagan shows a continued trend of a deferential approach by the courts to decisions of the Council. MLRC notes that the Council’s interpretation of ‘reasonable requirement’ is quite restricted and does not have regard to the fact that Mr. Fagan is:

  • The father of the child;
  • That there was a voluntary overnight access agreement in place between the separated parents;
  • That the children had overnight access to their father;
  • That the family life of Mr. Fagan and his children is infringed upon by not allowing them to reside together as per the terms of the agreement.

It is clear that the refusal of the court to quash the decision of the Council will continue to have a direct impact on the ability of the children to enjoy a family life with their father, particularly in the current housing context. It is also noteworthy that any decision of the Dublin City Council to deny Mr. Fagan an elevated level of the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) is at variance with practice in other housing authorities in the Dublin area. It appears that Mr. Fagan is receiving differential treatment as a separated father who has regular access to his children. The Council’s approach appears to be at variance with the Council’s equal treatment obligation under the Equal Status Acts 2000-2015, and its Public Sector Duty under S.42 of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014, to eliminate discrimination and protection human rights in the performance of its functions.

Conclusion

MLRC did not act in this case but is currently advising four separated fathers on very similar matters. Mr Fagan’s case clearly shows the court’s clear reluctance to interfere or second guess the determination of Councils in the discharge of its functions relating to social housing. We note that solicitor for the applicant confirmed the applicant’s intention to appeal, and we will follow the progress of the case with interest.

 

 

 

 

For more information on Mercy Law Resource Centre’s work, please see www.mercylaw.ie.

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MLRC delivers training on housing law to volunteers of Inner City Outreach Network (ICON)

As part of MLRC’s work, we provide training in housing law to organisations and individuals working in the field of homelessness. In October, MLRC held a training session in housing law for volunteers working with the Inner City Outreach Network (ICON).

The training session focused in particular on giving an overview of housing law and the law relating to homelessness, and common legal issues arising with accessing legal entitlements in relation to housing. The session also focused on areas such as accessing information under the Freedom of Information legislation and access to the Housing Assistance Payment.

In their feedback, attendees described the session as:

“Clear and incredibly useful”

“Helpful and very informative”

“Found the training very useful and informative”

 

Attendees also gave feedback that they found the handouts excellent with very informative and relevant content which will be a useful resource in assisting those in their community suffering from or at risk of homelessness.  A number of those at the training said that the training session will make a tremendous difference in their work, particularly the training on the use of FOI requests, the clarity given on the Housing Assistance Payment, and the rules or legislation around social housing and how these should operate.

If you are interested in organising a training session by MLRC, please contact Shauna on 01 4537459 or at events@mercylaw.ie. We would be very happy to hear from you and discuss the training that would be most useful for you.

 

 

 

 

 

For more information on Mercy Law Resource Centre’s work, please see www.mercylaw.ie.

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MLRC Solicitor appointed to Traveller Accommodation Expert Working Group

Mercy Law Resource Centre is delighted to announce solicitor David Joyce’s appointment to the Traveller Accommodation Expert Working Group. The working group has been established as part of the Rebuilding Ireland initiative, the aim of which is to undertake an ‘independent review of capital and current funding for Traveller-specific accommodation.’ The expert group will be reviewing the Traveller Accommodation Act 1998 and legislation that relates to the provision and delivery of accommodation for travellers. The working group will be operating within the context of the Travelling community gaining recognition as an ethnic minority in 2017, and will be looking at national and international models of best practice for provision of accommodation for nomadic families.  David is joined by Professor Michelle Norris, Head of Social Policy at UCD and Dr Conor Norton, Head of School at DIT and has been appointed Chairperson of the group.

David has previously engaged in similar roles as a member of the European Roma Rights Centre, the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Inter-culturalism, the Bar Council of Ireland, as an executive of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and with the National Economic and Social Forum. This is in addition to his work as a Commissioner with the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and as a member of the EU Fundamental Rights Agency.

David has been a solicitor with Mercy Law Resource Centre since July 2017. He was called to the Bar in 2005. David practiced as a barrister for 8 years and subsequently qualified as a solicitor. We wish David every success with his work on the expert group. We are delighted to be able to draw on David’s expertise, particularly in relation to Traveller accommodation issues, in his continued work here at Mercy Law Resource Centre.

 

 

 

 

 

For more information on Mercy Law Resource Centre’s work, please see www.mercylaw.ie.

 

 

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Vulnerable families still being placed in completely unsuitable night by night Emergency Accommodation

We are most concerned to see vulnerable families still being placed on night to night provision of homeless accommodation. We are seeing first-hand the very negative impact such provision is having on the health and well-being of young children and their distressed parents.

Just last week we met with a homeless family with four young children, who were being accommodated by the local authority on a night to night basis only. The family had been on the housing list for several years.

The family had been living in private rented accommodation but the landlord’s family member was due to move in and on that basis the family were served with a valid notice of termination of their tenancy. Unable to source alternative private rented accommodation, the family presented as homeless. Rather than being put into a rolling booking for accommodation and placed in a hotel or B&B or even better a hub or family-suitable accommodation, the family were told they could only access night to night provision.

For over six weeks, the family moved accommodation every day. The family, together with their four children ranging from 7 years to 23 months, have had to leave the B&B or hotel each morning, transport their older children to school from whichever location they had been placed in, and then pass the day and early evening with nowhere to go. The family spend long periods in libraries and shopping centres to avoid being out in the cold. The family had to ring after 4pm each day to confirm their need for accommodation that evening. They ordinarily did not receive confirmation of where they were staying each night until after 7pm and did not reach the accommodation until after 8pm. The family have had to rely on takeaways in the absence of cooking facilities and experienced difficulties washing and drying their clothes. A letter from their GP confirmed that the children were presenting frequently with chest injections and the doctor believed were brought on by the absence of excessive exposure to the outside.

After meeting with the family, we immediately telephoned the local authority to insist that the family be placed in stable and suitable emergency accommodation. We were advised by the housing section that there was a new policy in place that limited the access to the ‘self-accommodation option’ and prevented the family from booking themselves into a B&B or hotel for a week period or more. We asked that the case be immediately reviewed and followed up with written representations on behalf of the family.

Within two days, the local authority reviewed the case and confirmed the family were indeed eligible for Section 10 homeless accommodation and that they would be permitted to access a rolling booking. The local authority however stated that they had no availability in any family hub accommodation and stated that they do not operate a waiting list for their hubs, so were not able to give any indication as to when suitable family accommodation would be available.

While we are relieved that this matter resolved very quickly, a number of concerns arise.

Firstly, there was no apparent consideration by the local authority of the needs or best interests of the very young children in this case. There was no apparent consideration of the very serious difficulties night to night provision was causing for the family. This was despite excellent submissions made by an advocate who was assisting the family and who set out the difficulties very clearly in written correspondence to the local authority. The manner in which the emergency accommodation was provided failed to vindicate the best interests of the child and there appears to be no consideration of the Constitutional protection of children by the local authority, when exercising its statutory obligations.

Secondly, we are concerned at the absence of suitable family-type accommodation by way of a hub or other alternatives available to this family. There appear to be significant barriers to accessing family-suitable accommodation. We note that there appears to be a complete lack of transparency in relation to how families access hub or family-suitable accommodation; we are also concerned at the lack of any waiting list that would ensure there was some exit route for this and other families many of whom have been residing in hotels and B&Bs for extended periods.

 

 

 

 

For more information on Mercy Law Resource Centre’s work, please see www.mercylaw.ie.

 

 

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MLRC welcomes new Locum Solicitor

MLRC are delighted to welcome Sabrina Sullivan to the team as locum solicitor. Sabrina has wide-ranging experience on housing and social welfare matters.

Sabrina completed her LLB at the University of Essex, during which time she was the recipient of the Suffolk and North Essex Law Society Prize for best overall performance in her class. Further to this she received the Pearson Education Prize for outstanding performance in Administrative Law. Sabrina has trained as a barrister in the UK and in 2006 completed an LLM in Human Rights in Queens University, Belfast, being awarded the Stephen Livingstone Scholarship.

Sabrina’s extensive legal experience is very relevant to the work of MLRC. Most recently, Sabrina acted as a Constitutency Affairs Manager at the Houses of the Oireachtas. She has volunteered regularly with FLAC. Sabrina has a keen interest in the area of discrimination and disability rights, and is fluent in both Spanish and sign language. She was formerly a senior solicitor at the Plumstead Community Law Centre in the UK, and a trustee of the Discrimination Law Association.

We are very grateful to have Sabrina join us a locum solicitor and warmly welcome her to our team.

 

 

 

 

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MLRC Open Training in Housing Law, November 28th, 2018

Mercy Law Resource Centre Open Housing Law Training

MLRC is delighted to announce that we will be running

an open housing law training session 

Date: 28th of November, 2018

Time: 9.30am – 1pm

Venue: Wisdom Centre, Sophia Housing Complex, 25 Cork Street, Dublin 8.

This training is open to any individuals working in the field of housing

and homelessness.

How to book a place on this course:

The cost per participant is €60.

For more information on what will be covered in the training, please click here.

Other individuals and organisations who have attended the training previously,

have provided us with the following feedback:

 

“The training was excellent, very practical and I like hearing about all the case studies.

You are doing an excellent job. Keep it up!

 You are a great and a very well needed resource for people.”

It was very enjoyable, especially the case studies.

            “It will really help our understanding of housing and homelessness cases.”

The spaces for this training are limited so please do book early if you wish to attend.

If you are interested in booking a place(s) for this housing law training

please contact Shauna Curran, MLRC Administrator, at Mercy Law Resource Centre

on 01 4537459 or by email to events@mercylaw.ie by 5pm on 23rd of November.

 

Please note, due to high demand for places on this training,

bookings can only be secured by payment.

We would be very happy to hear from you!

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MLRC appoints new Managing Solicitor

 

MLRC is delighted to announce the appointment of its new Managing Solicitor, Ms Rebecca Keatinge. Rebecca was previously a Solicitor with the Centre.

Rebecca is a solicitor with extensive experience in immigration and human rights law. She worked briefly for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). After this, she joined the legal aid charity Refugee and Migrant Justice in London as an appeals Caseworker and Team leader. Within this role, Rebecca provided legal advice and representation to vulnerable asylum seekers and refugees. She then worked for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Cambodia.

In 2010, Rebecca joined Brophy Solicitors in Dublin as an apprentice. Ms. Keatinge excelled in her apprenticeship receiving the Law Society EU law prize for the highest mark in the First Examination EU law exam; she was a prize-winner in the Law Society Client Consultation competition. Ms. Keatinge qualified in 2013 and during her time at Brophy solicitors, worked predominantly in the areas of immigration and human rights.

Rebecca has been involved with several charities including the Medical Foundation for Victims of Torture, Legal Aid of Cambodia, mental health charity Aware, and Irish charity Ruhama. She was previously a member of the Anti-Trafficking Legal Group (ATLEP). Rebecca is currently a member of the Public Interest Law Alliance (PILA) and a board member of National Traveller MABS.

Rebecca is a regular speaker at conferences and seminars on housing and migration. She was recently a consultant to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in the area of housing, homelessness and migrant integration.

 

 

 

For more information on Mercy Law Resource Centre’s work, please see www.mercylaw.ie.

 

 

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Launch of Mercy Law Resource Centre Third Right to Housing Report: Children and Homelessness – A Gap in Legal Protection

Wednesday, 5th September 2018 saw the launch of Mercy Law Resource Centre’s third right to housing report, ‘Children and Homelessness: A Gap in Legal Protection’. The report was launched in the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission offices on Green Street, Dublin. The report was launched by the Ombudsman for Children, Dr. Niall Muldoon. The report highlights the failure of the Irish State to provide adequate statutory or constitutional protection for children in homeless families.  Those in attendance included Mrs Sabina Higgins, Lord Mayor of Dublin, Nial Ring, as well as a broad spectrum of representatives from advocates of housing, politics, law and social justice.

Beginning the launch, acting managing solicitor of Mercy Law Resource Centre, Sinead Kerin, emphasised the gravity of the homeless crisis as a whole, with special consideration given to the children in homeless families. Sinead focused her speech on the unprecedented severity of homelessness in Ireland, sharing that, “As of July 2018, there were 3,867 children in emergency homeless accommodation with their families.” Further to this, Sinead endorsed the pertinence of the need for legal reform in housing legislation, with local authorities having “a discretion but no duty to provide emergency accommodation for children in families.” Sinead encapsulated the sentiment of Mercy Law Resource Centre that a right to housing would not give a key to a home for all, but would provide recognition that a home is central to the dignity of each and every person and a foundation of every person’s life.

Key speakers at the launch included Tanya Ward, CEO of the Children’s Rights Alliance, Mike Allen, Director of Advocacy, Communication and Research, Focus Ireland, Professor Ursula Kilkelly, Dean of Law University College Cork, Dr. Niall Muldoon, Ombudsman for Children, and MLRC board member, Niall Farrell, Solicitor.

 

 

Tanya Ward’s presentation focused on the Children Rights Alliance report ‘Home Work’ which explores the educational needs of children experiencing homelessness. Family homelessness is having a detrimental impact on children’s participation and development, and presents significant challenges for parents, teachers, educators and those who seek to respect, protect and fulfil children’s rights. It was noted by the Children’s Rights Alliance through talking to teachers that “children are arriving exhausted” and “becoming more withdrawn at school.”

Tanya Ward also echoed the sentiment of all present in saying that “it is not fair that the homeless crisis could change the trajectory of these children’s lives.”

 

Mike Allen led an impassioned response to the report, comparing the allowance of vacant properties to go uninhabited during a housing crisis to: “hoarding food during a famine.”  It was evident that the report resonated with the frustrations of several of the charities present, with Mike Allen extoling the sensibility and need for a right to housing in the constitution. Complementing this was Professor Ursula Kilkelly who focused not only on law reform, but a holistic approach to the housing crisis for children, seeing the solution not only one that requires housing rights, but focuses on the ‘survival and development rights of children.’ There was a call by Professor Kilkelly to create and maintain better international co-operation in creating a dialogue between countries for an array of perspectives and insights on how we could improve the law and crisis.

In officially launching the report,  Dr Niall Muldoon, The Ombudsman for Children, epitomised the gap in legal protection for families facing homelessness in Ireland, reiterating the multi-faceted impact of the problem: “it is not just the house, it’s the security… it’s the mental health.. it’s the ability to develop a family.” It was clear from Dr Muldoon that we will need to change our housing policies to fit the housing needs of our people, and refocus our emphasis on social housing as a long term solution rather than “a stepping stone to home ownership”.

The launch was rounded up with a question and answer session from those present, with Jan O’Sullivan TD, Eoin Ó Bhroin TD and Tony Geoghegan all contributing to the discussion. Niall Farrell, Mercy Law Resource Centre Board Member gave concluding marks on the session summarising that it is ‘not enough to aspire to have emergency accommodation, there has to be a surplus of accommodation.’

 

 

 

 

An e-copy of our latest report can be accessed here

For more photos of the event, please see here

 

 

 

For more information on Mercy Law Resource Centre’s work, please see www.mercylaw.ie.

 

 

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Launch of Mercy Law Resource Centre Third Right to Housing Report: Children and Homelessness – A Gap in Legal Protection

 

Mercy Law Resource Centre

cordially invites you to the

Launch of the Mercy Law Resource Centre

Third Right to Housing Report:

Children and Homelessness – A Gap in Legal Protection

Venue: IHREC, 16 – 22 Green Street, Rotunda, Dublin 7.
Date: Wednesday 5th of September 2018, 4 – 6pm.

Tea and coffee on arrival

The report will be formally launched by the Ombudsman for Children

Dr Niall Muldoon

 

Presentations will also be given by:

Tanya Ward, CEO of Childrens Rights Alliance

Joe Corr, President of Irish Planning Institute

Mike Allen, Director of Advocacy, Focus Ireland

Ursula Kilkenny, Director of the UCC Child Law Clinic and

Dean of the School of Law, UCC 

Please RSVP by Monday 3rd of September by email to

events@mercylaw.ie or 01 4537459

 

About Mercy Law Resource Centre’s Third Right to Housing Report: Children and Homelessness – A Gap in Legal Protection:

This report explores the reality in Ireland that there is no constitutional or statutory right to shelter for homeless children in families. Local Authorities have a discretion but no duty to provide emergency accommodation for children in families. This report considers potential legal protections available to children who are homeless. It outlines the attempts to rely on the courts to vindicate the rights of homeless children which have proven broadly ineffective due to the fact that there is no right to shelter in Irish law. The report also identifies the lack of legal aid for housing and homelessness matters, which ensures that accessing legal advice and representation for homeless families is extremely difficult in the first instance. The report also examines non-judicial forms of redress, and considers the role of The Children’s Ombudsman, and the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. The final section of the report considers best practices for legally protecting homeless children in other jurisdictions such as Scotland, England and France. This report outlines and proposes potential domestic legal reforms in light of the evidenced research and provides clear recommendations that could be used as a guideline to fill Ireland’s gap in legal protection for children experiencing homelessness.

 

For more information on Mercy Law Resource Centre’s work, please see www.mercylaw.ie.

 

 

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Mercy Law Resource Centre attends Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government

Mercy Law Resource Centre attended the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government meeting on June 12th 2018 and were invited to give evidence on our published Second Right to Housing Report: The Right to Housing in Comparative Perspective (2018). The UN Rapporteur Leilani Farha gave evidence on the right to housing and encouraged the State to take

bold and swift measures to urgently address homelessness as an egregious human rights violation.’

MLRC’s presentation was followed by a lengthy and robust questions and answers session.

Outline of MLRC’s presentation

This report offers a comparative perspective on the right to housing through consideration of the legal systems of:

  1. Finland
  2. Scotland
  3. France
  4. South Africa.

There are a wide variety of structural and institutional means by which the right can be guaranteed – there is no one size that fits all model. The right to housing does not necessarily equate to a significantly increased constitutional role of the judiciary. A legally enforceable right to housing – while not a panacea – provides a valuable floor of protection.

The jurisdictions highlighted in this report show that the effectiveness of the right to housing relies heavily on the existence of sufficient and enduring political will and the allocation of resources.  A right to housing in the Constitution would not mean the right to a key to a home for all.  A Constitutional right to housing would however put in place a basic floor of protection. It would require the State in its decisions and policies to protect the right to housing in balance with other rights.

A national priority in Finland is to eradicate homelessness and as a result it has been in steady decline for a number of years. Finland adopts a Housing First approach and they currently have approximately 7,000 people who are homeless and this includes 214 families. Finland has a Constitutional Right to housing where both the democratically elected legislature and an independent judiciary are entrusted with a shared duty to protect constitutional rights. This is a combination of ex ante review (before a draft law is passed) by a Constitutional Law Committee of Parliament and a limited form of ex post judicial review (after a law is passed) by the Courts. The work of the Committee is to scrutinize proposed legislation to ensure it results in the better implementation of socio-economic constitutional rights.

Scotland has a broad legal protection for those who are homeless and at risk of homelessness and is regarded as one of the strongest in the world. Scotland’s statutory right to housing makes local authorities responsible for the long term rehousing of homeless people and has an interim duty to provide temporary accommodation. Scotland also has a broad definition of those who are homeless. They also have an Order that limits the use of B&Bs as emergency accommodation to 7 days for families. There is currently no limit for the use of B&Bs in Ireland and MLRC regularly meet families in our clinics who are in B&Bs for over 2 and half years before they are appropriately socially housed. Scotland also has a statutory effort to prevent homelessness: there is a duty on all registered social landlords, private landlords, and creditors, to notify the relevant local authority when proceedings are raised for the possession of a dwelling house so that the local authority may be able to respond on an individual basis to prevent homelessness occurring.

France has a statutory right to housing known as the DALO Act 2007 and this was a complete overhaul of the French system. The right to decent and independent housing is guaranteed by the State to all people who reside in France, exercised through mediation and if necessary through an adversarial process. Patterned after the Scottish model and includes both an entitlement to emergency shelter and a legal cause of action for individuals who have been denied the right to secure long-term housing thereby helping to ensure security of tenure and accessibility. Protection is given to those who have a priority housing need and the qualifying person may file a petition with a local housing mediation committee for urgent rehousing. This committee comprises of state representatives, local county and municipal representatives, representatives of social housing organization and individuals from tenant rights organizations and they refer to a local authority Prefect who then must find a suitable social housing for the applicant within a time period and if not rehoused within that time frame, the decision can be judicially reviewed and enforced.

 South Africa has a constitutional right to housing which demonstrates that a justiciable right to housing offers a floor of legal protection, and does relatively little to alter the institutional balance of power over decisions concerning the allocation of public monies and resources.

Issues for consideration

The right to housing is recognised in Europe in the Constitutions of Belgium, Finland, Greece, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden and in the legislation of Austria, France, Germany, Luxembourg, and the United Kingdom.  Around the world, the right to housing is included in eighty-one Constitutions. The right to adequate housing is provided for in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the European Social Charter.  As an economic and social right, in accordance with international human rights law, the State’s obligation would be to ‘progressively realise’ the right to housing to the maximum of its available resources and to do this by all appropriate means, including particularly the adoption of legislative measures.

How would the Right to Housing help alleviate and protect against a crisis in homelessness?

  • Legislation and policy would have to be “proofed” to ensure they reasonably protect the right to housing, in the same way as this must be done for any substantive right.
  • If the State decided to cut funding for hostels for people who are homeless, this could be challenged as a breach of the right to housing.
  • The failure of rent supplement and HAP payments to meet market rent could be challenged as a breach of the right to housing.
  • The fact that there is no legal aid for evictions could be challenged as a breach of the right to housing.

A right to housing would require the State in its decisions and policies to protect the right to housing in balance with other rights and would mean that the courts could look at the State decision or policy as to whether it was ‘proportionate’ by reference to the right. It would mean that Government and State policies and actions would have to respect the right.  As shown clearly in our three recent high court cases, there is no right to housing in Irish law nor is there a right to shelter. There is no clear legal right to rely on and the fundamental failure by the State to provide adequate emergency accommodation to a family with young children cannot be challenged directly in the Courts. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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No Right to Emergency Accommodation for Homeless Families in Ireland

This note will briefly examine a string of recent High Court decisions concerning local authorities and their statutory responsibilities to provide emergency accommodation to homeless families.

The cases concerned are:

  • Mulhare v Cork County Council [2017] IEHC 288
  • Middleton v Carlow County Council [2017] IEHC 528
  • Tee v Wicklow County Council [2017] IEHC 623
  • C v Galway County Council [2017] IEHC 784

Despite their different facts, when considered together the cases display a very clear trend:

the courts appear extremely reluctant to interfere or second guess the determinations of local authorities in the discharge of its functions relating to social housing and in particularly in the provision or refusal of emergency accommodation to families who present homeless and roofless.

Middleton v Carlow County Council, Tee v Wicklow County Council and C v Galway County Council were high court judicial review cases brought by Mercy Law Resource Centre, and each case involved the Councils refusal of emergency accommodation to families. This reluctance of the Court to interfere with the Council is exemplified by the Court’s consistent use of the O’Keefe deferential standard of review. This is significant as it has typically been reserved for decisions implicating “areas of special skill and knowledge, such as planning and development.” This trend might make successful challenges to exercises of statutory discretion considerably difficult, unless a decision is manifestly unreasonable or taken in bad faith.

Deference to Housing Authorities in Discharge of Statutory Functions

Mulhare involved a challenge to the refusal of Cork County Council to provide for alternative accommodation more appropriate and accessible to the severe physical and medical needs of the applicant and her mother. The applicants also sought accommodation sufficiently proximate to the hospital they attended.  It was not disputed that the applicant’s current accommodation was deeply unsuitable for their needs. It was also accepted that the Council had offered to carry out refurbishment works to adapt the property to make it more accessible. The Court refused to grant an order of mandamus to provide housing to the applicants, or to order they be prioritised in the allocation of accommodation. In doing so, the Court strongly emphasised the expertise of the Council and the comparative lack of judicial competence over issues concerning the allocation of housing. Baker J. held that while the allocation of housing by a local authority must be done

“in accordance with the scheme of priorities and based on a reasonable and reasoned consideration of an application”, it was ultimately a matter within the “competence and expertise of the housing authority and it is not the function of the court to direct how that policy is to be applied in any particular case.”

A similarly deferential approach was taken in Middleton, which concerned a challenge to the local authority’s determination that the applicant was not homeless under s.2 of the Housing Act 1988. The applicant argued that they met the definition of being “homeless” as provided for in the Act and thus eligible for emergency accommodation pursuant to s. 10 of same. The Respondent in turn argued that the applicants were not homeless as they could reasonably be expected to use alternative accommodation, in this case a family members’ home. Expressly citing Mulhare, the Court emphasised the need for deference when reviewing decisions of the local authority. Noting that s.2 and s.10 of the 1988 Act provide the Council with statutory discretion, the Court stated its own role “is limited”.

The Court decided that the appropriate standard of review was that set out in O’Keefe v An Bord Pleanala and is a very deferential standard. Under this standard, decisions of a statutory body will not be quashed unless they are ”fundamentally at variance with reason and common sense”, “indefensible for being in the teeth of plain reason” or “flagrantly” disregarded common sense. This standard meant that the Courts jurisdiction was limited to reviewing “whether there was a rational basis for the decision of the respondent in the context of the provisions of the Act of 1988.”  The Court held the Respondent’s determination that the applicant was not homeless and that she could rely on family and friends for accommodation was not fundamentally irrational despite the applicant’s strenuous insistence that she could not do so and was living in a tent.

The Court in Tee v Wicklow County Council also applied the deferential O’Keefe standard, holding that the discretion of the Council could only be displaced where it was “arbitrary or capricious manner or in a manner that flies in the face of fundamental reason and common sense.” The Court added that in dealing with issues such as the homeless crisis the Council “dedicates particular officers to deal with this issue on a daily basis who clearly possess significant expertise in this area to which the court should extend considerable deference.” The Court held that the Respondent’s conclusion that the applicants were not homeless because their grandmother has a home in Malaysia was not at “variance with fundamental reason and common sense.” This case has been appealed to the Court of Appeal.

Similarly, in C v Galway County Council which involved a single mum with 5 children, including one child who has special needs and attending a specific school to meet his needs. This resulted in daily travel of 100km to access education. She was offered accommodation 100km away and she refused this offer. The Council then withdrew all offers of emergency accommodation. The Courts refused our application. The Court stated that it “should be slow to interfere with the decision of expert administrative tribunals”, implying that the Respondent was such a body.

Conclusion

These cases clearly show the gap of legal protection for families who are homeless as there is no right to emergency accommodation in Irish Law.

 

 

 

 

 

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MLRC Open Training in Housing Law, May 8th, 2018.

 

Mercy Law Resource Centre Open Housing Law Training

MLRC is delighted to announce that we will be running

an open housing law training session 

Date: 8th of May, 2018

Time: 9.30am – 1.30pm

Venue: Wisdom Centre, Sophia Housing Complex, 25 Cork Street

This training is open to any individuals working in the field of housing

and homelessness, particularly elected officials and their staff.

How to book a place on this course:

The cost per participant is €60.
For more information on what will be covered in the training, please click here.

Other individuals and organisations who have attended the training previously,

have provided us with the following feedback:

“The training was excellent, very practical and I like hearing about all the case studies.

You are doing an excellent job. Keep it up!

 You are a great and a very well needed resource for people.”

It was very enjoyable, especially the case studies.

            “It will really help our understanding of housing and homelessness cases.”

 

The spaces for this training are limited so please do book early if you wish to attend.

If you are interested in booking a place(s) for this housing law training

please contact Danielle Curtis, MLRC Administrator, at Mercy Law Resource Centre

on 01 4537459 or by email danielle@mercylaw.ie by 5pm on Friday 4th of May.

 

Please note, due to high demand for places on this training,

bookings can only be secured by payment.

We would be very happy to hear from you!

 

 

 

 

 

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Disclaimer

All information provided on this blog is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Click here to read more.

Launch of the Mercy Law Resource Centre Second Right to Housing Report: The Right to Housing in Comparative Perspective

 

Mercy Law Resource Centre

cordially invites you to the

Launch of the Mercy Law Resource Centre

Second Right to Housing Report:

The Right to Housing in Comparative Perspective

Venue: Georgian Suite, Buswells Hotel, Molesworth Street, Dublin 2

Date: Wednesday 28th March 2018, 2pm – 4pm

Tea and coffee on arrival

 

The report will be formally launched by Dr Carol Coulter,

Director of the Child Care Law Reporting Project (CCLRP),

honorary Adjunct Professor in the School of Law, NUI Galway.

Professor Paddy Gray, Emeritus Professor at the University of Ulster,

will give an address on best practice in relation to the provision

 of emergency accommodation in the UK.

The presentations will be followed by a Q&A discussion.

 

Please RSVP by Monday 26th of March by email to

Danielle Curtis: danielle@mercylaw.ie or 01 4537459

 

About Mercy Law Resource Centre’s Second Right to Housing Report: The Right to Housing in Comparative Perspective:

This report offers a comparative perspective on the right to housing. Through considering the legal systems of (i) Finland; (ii) Scotland; (iii) France; and (iv) South Africa, this report engages with well-ventilated arguments in Irish political discourse over legal protection of the right to housing. In doing so, we seek to offer a comparative perspective on the principled and practical concerns raised by proponents and opponents of a justiciable right to housing.

Our comparative analysis highlights that there are a wide variety of structural and institutional means by which the right can be guaranteed: there is no ‘one size fits all’ model. The variety of institutional means available to vindicate the right to housing demonstrates that concerns frequently expressed against economic and social rights – particularly separation of powers concerns – can be addressed. The simple fact is that guaranteeing the right to housing does not necessarily equate to a significantly increased constitutional role for the judiciary.

In terms of the efficacy of legal protection, our analysis suggests that a legally enforceable right to housing- while not a panacea- provides a valuable floor of protection. However, the experience of all the jurisdictions considered in this report also highlights that the effectiveness of the right to housing is heavily contingent on the existence of sufficient and enduring political will to vindicate such rights through difficult budgetary, policy, and legislative choices.

For more information on Mercy Law Resource Centre’s work, please see www.mercylaw.ie.

 

 

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All information provided on this blog is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Click here to read more.

Launch of Simon Communities’ Annual Report 2016

Mercy Law Resource Centre was delighted to attend the launch of Simon Communities’ Annual Report 2016 on 18th December 2017. The report was officially launched by Emily Logan, Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. The report is an impressive testament to Simon Communities’ tireless efforts to support the most vulnerable in our society to move and stay out of homelessness, both through the critical services they provide and through offering a much-needed critical voice in their thoughtful policy submissions.

 

Opening the event, Simon Communities’ national spokesperson Niamh Randall noted that around 11,000 people used their services this year, an increase of 33% on the previous year. Niamh noted that these figures reflected the deepening of Ireland’s homelessness crisis, as did the fact the numbers of those in emergency accommodation now stand at 8,000: 5,000 adults and 3,000 children. Niamh emphasized that a key requirement to address this crisis is the need to recognize that housing should not be treated as a commodity, but as a basic human right inextricably linked with the enjoyment of many other core rights, such as health, education, family life and privacy. Niamh observed that in order to prevent further deterioration or repetition of this crisis the State would have to start looking at the “housing and homeless crisis from a human rights based approach”. Simon called on the Government to give a clear decision on whether it will make a commitment on the constitutional right to housing, which would be a good start and would “provide a clear floor of protection in respect of access to basic adequate housing for all.”

 

In her remarks, Emily Logan commended the work of the Simon Communities and emphasized the complementarity between the activity of Simon and the Commission. Both organizations remained concerned at any attempts to normalize homelessness and both shared the view that the “primary policy response to family homelessness must be to ensure that every family has access to permanent suitable accommodation”.

Mercy too would like to commend the tireless work of the Simon Communities and firmly shares its view that any robust response to Ireland’s homelessness crisis must recognize that housing is not a commodity, but a basic human right integral to human well-being and dignified and secure living.

 

 

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All information provided on this blog is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Click here to read more.