MLRC holds training session on housing law for staff of Merchants Quay Ireland, Open Access Service

As part of MLRC’s work, we provide training in housing law to organisations working in the field of homelessness. On 23rd October 2014, MLRC held a half day training session in housing law for the staff and volunteers of Merchants Quay Ireland (MQI).

MQI is a Dublin-based NGO, working on a national level. MQI’s Open Access Homeless and Drug Services offer a variety of services to Ireland’s homeless, hungry and those struggling with addiction. MQI’s Open Access Centre provides a 7 day meal service, primary health care and drug related services.

Photo of training 23 October 2014Our training session for MQI gave practical advice and information, which will help MQI staff and volunteers deal effectively with their client’s housing issues, e.g. qualification for accessing the housing list, applying for priority on the housing list based on exceptional medical circumstances or on exceptional social grounds, the entitlements of separated fathers to access the housing list, fair procedures by State bodies, the applicability of the European Convention of Human Rights and more.

Attendees gave constructive and positive feedback, noting that the session had a lot of interesting information that would make a large difference in the way they do their job.

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

MQI Staff & Volunteers at the MLRC Training on Housing Law

MQI Staff & Volunteers at the MLRC Training on Housing Law

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MLRC holds training session on housing law for staff of Life Pregnancy Care Services

As part of our organisational training, on 14th October 2014, MLRC held a training session in housing law and related social welfare law for the staff and volunteers of Life Pregnancy Care, a number of whose clients are faced with homeless or the risk of homelessness.

Life Pregnancy Care Services is based in Dublin, providing counselling care and practical help and support to people facing an unplanned pregnancy, post-pregnancy and post-abortion, and supporting fathers and other family members experiencing problems during and after pregnancy.  Services include homeless accommodation, parenting and pre-natal classes and a counselling service.

Our training session gave practical information and advice to Life Pregnancy Care staff and volunteers on a range of issues. In particular, participants, in their feedback, said that they gained information on:

  • Rights to homeless accommodation
  • The use of the Freedom of Information Act to access records held by public bodies
  • Eligibility for social housing
  • Detail on housing law
  • The HAP scheme
  • Standards for rented accommodation
  • The transfer list and exceptional social grounds as a basis for a transfer to other social housing
  • The law on rent arrears and evictions

This information will help Life Pregnancy Case staff and volunteers deal with the very pressing housing issues affecting their clients.

Attendees gave constructive and positive feedback, noting that the session was very interesting, positive and inspiring and that the information acquired would make a large difference to their service.

Thank you to all those who attended!

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

 

 

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MLRC client, EU citizen, given entry onto housing list – local authority initially refused on basis that applicant did not have a record of having 52 weeks employment in Ireland – local authority overturned initial decision after submissions by MLRC for client

“52 weeks rule” frequently incorrectly applied by local authorities

This decision is important as MLRC is aware, through clients and through discussion with organisations working in the field of homelessness, that non-nationals are very frequently being refused access to the housing list for this reason – that they do not have a record of 52 weeks employment in the State. This criterion of 52 weeks employment concerns the applicant’s right to reside in the State. While the applicant may not have a record of 52 weeks employment in the State, they may very well have a right to reside here based on other grounds. In this case, our client has a right to reside in the State as an EU citizen who is a family member of an EU citizen working in the State.

The case

Our client, an EU national, had separated from her husband, also an EU national. She was living in private rented accommodation with her children. She has a right to reside in the State as an EU citizen who is a family member of an EU citizen working in the State.   She made an application to be included on the local authority’s list for social housing support. The local authority refused and gave as the reason for the refusal that she could not provide evidence of “having 52 weeks employment in the Republic of Ireland as she is a non-Irish citizen.

MLRC made representations on our client’s behalf to the local authority stating that

(i) a record of 52 weeks employment in the State is not a requirement for entry onto the housing list under the Housing Acts nor the Social Housing Assessment Regulations, SI 84 of 2011.

(ii) our client is lawfully resident in the State in accordance with Directive 2004/38/EC (the Citizenship Directive) and associated Regulations; and

(iii) our client did not fall within any express exclusion for entry onto the housing list.

The local authority reviewed our client’s application for social housing support and has now included her on its housing list. It also issued her with a housing needs assessment letter which enables her to make an application for rent supplement and continue to live in the private rented property in which she currently resides with her children.

 

 

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MLRC holds training session on housing law for staff of Saoirse Womens Refuge

As part of MLRC’s work, we provide training in housing law to organisations whose clients are homeless or at risk of homelessness. On 13th October 2014, MLRC held a training session in housing law for the staff of Saoirse Women Refuge.

Saoirse Women Refuge is based in Tallaght, Dublin 24. Saoirse is a service for women and children escaping domestic violence, providing short term crisis accommodation and 24 hour support for up to six families as well as a 24 hour helping service.

Our training session gave practical information and advice to Saoirse’s staff on a range of issues. In particular, participants, in their feedback, said that they gained information on:

  • The HAP scheme
  • Entitlements and legal procedures for those experiencing homelessness
  • How the law is applied through the local authorities
  • Eligibility for housing
  • How to contest transfer and other decisions
  • Differences across county councils
  • The law re fair procedures

This information will help Saoirse staff deal with the very pressing housing issues affecting the women coming to them for assistance.

Attendees gave constructive and positive feedback, noting that the session was very helpful and the very relevant issues covered would make a large difference to the way they do their job.

Thank you to all those who attended!

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

 

 

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Local authority carries out extensive repairs of MLRC’s client’s local authority house

Repairs carried out after long delays after MLRC submissions and intervention; local authority repairs other local authority residents’ properties in the area in wake of this individual case.

Our client presented to our office having had difficulties with her local authority in not making her property habitable due to flood damage, leaks in her roof and which had occurred over a four year period.

We made representations on our client’s behalf to the local authority requesting that they carry out the remedial works as soon as possible to make habitable again. Following representations by MLRC on our client’s behalf the remedial works were finally completed at our client’s property and issues with other residents’ properties were also remedied.

 

 

 

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Medical priority on the housing list – “vital need” awarded within medical priority – successful outcome for MLRC client

MLRC recently assisted a family with their application for medical priority with their local authority. Our client’s daughter has severe medical and care needs and whilst the local authority had granted them medical priority the local authority in question did not operate a point system in respect of housing applications including those awaiting accommodation on medical grounds.

MLRC made representations on behalf of our client noting the provisions of the Equal Status Acts and as to the requirement of a housing authority to make reasonable adjustments and provide special treatment to service users and applicants with disabilities. This essentially means that the local authority must prioritise allocations according to urgency of need. In our representations, MLRC noted that the Equality Tribunal and the courts have made clear what is required in allocating accommodation to clients with disabilities. They have held that the authority must objectively assess their needs and use a procedure which takes full account of individual needs and prioritises applicants. While the local authority had considered the needs of the applicant before awarding medical priority, no further measures were taken to award appropriate priority in light of the severity of our client’s daughter’s condition and the urgency of her needs. MLRC made further representations to the local authority on our client’s behalf and sent on a medical report from our client’s daughter’s treating physician. In light of our submission and the medical information submitted, the local authority reviewed the medical priority and awarded the family “vital need” for housing as per our client’s daughter’s housing needs.

The family are now awaiting an offer of suitable accommodation from the local authority.

 

 

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Successful outcome for MLRC client

A separated husband with an interest in the family home, Council issues housing needs assessment letter enabling him access to rent supplement and the social housing support list.

MLRC has recently assisted a client in obtaining a housing needs assessment letter from a local authority. This letter enabled our client to apply for rent supplement in his bid to source private rented accommodation. The local authority issued this letter in recognition of his housing need despite the fact that he is a part owner of a property.

Our client had separated from his wife and had not resided at the family home for a number of years. He is employed on a part-time basis and had been privately renting up to a few months ago when unfortunately he lost his tenancy. As he is a home-owner it was difficult for him to access social welfare payments in respect of rent supplement nor indeed could he access the local authority’s social housing support list.

MLRC assisted the client with his application to his local authority to be placed on their housing list. Our client has a severe medical condition and in light of his current status, his medical situation and our representations on his behalf, the local authority accepted his application for inclusion on their list for social housing support.

The local authority is also considering our client’s application for medical priority and a decision is awaited.

This is a successful outcome for our client as he is now included on the list for social housing support and he is currently seeking private rented accommodation in the interim.

 

 

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MLRC holds training session on housing law for staff of Ruhama

As part of MLRC’s work, we provide training in housing law to organisations working in the field of homelessness. On 8th October 2014, MLRC held an evening training session in housing law for the staff and volunteers of Ruhama.

Ruhama is a Dublin-based NGO, working on a national level with women affected by prostitution and other forms of commercial sexual exploitation.

This training session gave practical information and advice to Ruhama’s staff and volunteers to help them deal with housing issues affecting the women who come to them for assistance, e.g. eligibility for entry onto the housing list, the law regarding transfers, the new Housing Assistance Payment, and the law regarding homelessness.

Attendees gave constructive and positive feedback, attendees noted that the session was very helpful, particularly the case studies, which also enabled the attendees talk about experiences of cases they had dealt with. Thank you to all those who attended!

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

 

 

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MLRC, as part of the ESC Rights Initiative, has submitted Open Letters to the Taoiseach and Tanaiste calling on the Government to accept the Constitutional Convention’s recommendation to strengthen Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in the Constitution

On 31 March the Constitutional Convention recommended to the Government, by an overwhelming majority of 85%, that ESC rights be given enhanced protection in the Constitution. The Government was due to respond to the recommendation by the end of July. Disappointingly and in breach of the Conventions’ terms of reference, we now understand that this response will not be given until the autumn. MLRC, as part of the ESC Rights Initiative, is calling on the Government to accept the Constitutional Convention’s recommendation. On 26 September, MLRC, as part of the ESC Rights Initiative, submitted open letters to the Taoiseach and Tánaiste calling on the Government to accept the Constitutional Convention’s recommendation.

 

Background to Convention Recommendation

In February, the Constitutional Convention voted overwhelmingly in favour of amending the Constitution to strengthen the protection of economic, social and cultural rights. 85% of the delegates voted in favour of increased protection of these rights in the Constitution. The majority also voted for the strongest possible protection option – of inserting a provision in the Constitution that the State shall progressively realise economic, social and cultural rights, subject to maximum available resources and that this duty is cognisable by the courts, i.e. that the courts can consider and adjudicate on these rights.

The Convention also voted that, along with a general protection provision, specific economic, social and cultural rights should be expressly stated in the Constitution. Those specific rights include the right to housing, with 84% of the Convention voting in favour of including that right in the Constitution. The formal recommendation by the Convention was made on 31 March 2014 to the Government.

MLRC is a member of the Economic Social and Cultural Rights Initiative, which includes Amnesty International Ireland and Focus Ireland.

 

The right to housing

The right to housing is currently not protected in our Constitution nor in legislation. The right to housing is one that is within the category, as recognised in international human rights law, of economic, social and cultural rights.

Economic, social and cultural rights are currently protected in a very limited manner in the Constitution. The Convention heard from academic experts Dr Liam Thornton, Aoife Nolan and David Fennelly on what economic, social and cultural rights are, how they are protected in the Constitution, and models from other jurisdictions of how these rights are incorporated into national constitutions. These concise, clear reports are available on the Human Rights in Ireland website: http://humanrights.ie/children-and-the-law/the-constitutional-convention-briefing-papers-on-economic-social-cultural-rights/

 

The Constitutional Convention

The Convention on the Constitution is a forum of 100 people, representative of Irish society and parliamentarians from the island of Ireland, with an independent Chairman. The Convention was established by resolution of both Houses of the Oireachtas to consider and make recommendations on certain topics as possible future amendments to the Constitution. The Government has undertaken to respond to the Convention’s recommendations within four months by way of debates in the Oireachtas and where it agrees with a particular recommendation to amend the Constitution, to include a time-frame for a referendum.

 

Call to the Government

MLRC, as part of the ESC Rights Initiative, is calling on the Government to accept the Constitutional Convention’s recommendation. If further examination of this issue is deemed necessary, for example through the establishment of a working group to consider the implications of constitutional incorporation of these rights and to formulate the appropriate wording for a referendum bill, MLRC, as part of the ESC Rights Initative, urges that such a process be quickly put in place. We urge that any such further examination process should:

  • Be open and transparent;
  • Draw on internal analysis of relevant Departments, as well as external expertise, including from civil society organisations;
  • Have clear and public terms of reference;
  • Have an expeditious and defined time-frame for reporting;
  • Be mandated to make public its findings and reasoning.

 

An important step towards a constitutional right to housing and ending homelessness

The inclusion of these rights in our Constitution would greatly strengthen the protection of Irish citizens who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. MLRC welcomes the Convention’s Recommendation as an important positive step towards a constitutional right to housing.

 

Open Letter to An Taoiseach, 26th September 2014 – read here

Open Letter to An Tánaiste, 26th September 2014 – read here

 

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New Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) Scheme Commenced in Limerick, Cork, Waterford, Kilkenny, Louth, Monaghan and South Dublin County Councils

This new scheme is a very significant change to the system of social housing support – recipients of HAP are deemed to have their housing need met and will be taken off the housing list

The new Housing Assistance Payment (HAP), which is to replace rent supplement except for those who need short-term support only, has been brought into force on a pilot basis in certain areas:

  • with effect from 15 September, in Cork County Council, Limerick City Council, Limerick County Council, Waterford County Council and Waterford City Council.
  • With effect from 1 October, in Kilkenny, Louth, Monaghan and South Dublin County Councils.

The Department of the Environment aims to implement HAP on a national level in 2015, as stated in the Department of the Environment Housing Circular 40/2015, dated 12 September 2014.

Background to HAP

The new Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2014 (the 2014 Act) was signed into law in July 2014. The Act is being brought into effect incrementally. Sections 35 to 51, provide for the establishment of HAP. Regulations implementing these sections, apart from two of the sections, were published on 15 September and 1 October. Statutory Instruments (SIs) 404 and 405 of 2014 implement these sections and SIs 406 and 407 provide for the scheme to be put in place firstly in Cork County Council, Limerick City and Council and Waterford City and Council. SIs 407 and 428 of 2014 flesh out the detail of the housing assistance payment scheme, including the information to be provided by the tenant to support the request for the payment, the time period for the landlord to comply with the requirement to provide a tax clearance certificate and the rent limits.

HAP represents a very important change to the social housing assistance landscape.

How HAP is different to rent supplement

HAP will operate in a similar manner to rent supplement and the HAP rates for the areas of the pilot scheme are set at the current rent supplement levels (SI 428 of 2014). However, there are significant differences:

  • Full rent paid by housing authority directly to landlord:

The recipient of HAP enters into a normal tenancy agreement with the private landlord but the housing authority will pay the full rent for the accommodation directly to the landlord on behalf of the household (Part 4 of the 2014 Act).

  • Tenant to pay a contribution to the housing authority (not yet in force):

Section 44 of the 2014 Act provides that the tenant will pay a rent contribution to the housing authority, calculated in accordance with the authority’s differential rent scheme. This means that the tenant will pay a certain amount to the local authority that will vary according to the tenant’s income. Section 53 of the Act provides for the deduction by the Department of Social Protection of HAP rent contributions from social welfare payments. These sections have not been commenced and so are not yet in effect.

  • Once a household is in receipt of HAP, they are deemed to have their housing need met and will be taken off/not put on the housing list:

Section 37 of the Act provides that once a household is in receipt of HAP, that is to “deemed to be an appropriate form of social housing support” by the housing authority.  Section 20 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 obliges local authorities to carry out that assessment for applicants.

Section 37 of the 2014 Act means that households who receive HAP will be removed from or not placed on the housing list. Section 45 of the 2014 Act provides that household receiving HAP can, however, apply to transfer to “a specified form of social housing support”. This means that the household can apply to transfer to local authority accommodation and be entered on the transfer list.

The benefits and pitfalls of HAP

The key benefits of HAP are:

  • Recipients may take up employment and still retain their entitlements to housing support. This development is very welcome;
  • Landlords do not face the risk of rent arrears as the Department of the Environment will be paying the landlords directly. It is hoped that this will encourage landlords to accept HAP;
  • Local authority inspections will be carried out to ensure that dwellings included in the scheme meet the required minimum standards for private rented accommodation (s 41 of the 2014 Act).
  • HAP may be given to a person who is separated and has a claim on the family home which has not yet been resolved (s49 of the 2014, amending s 20 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009).

Former Minister of State for Housing Jan O’Sullivan TD described HAP in the following terms: “The introduction of a new HAP payment, operated by local authorities, represents the largest reform of housing support in a generation. The current system isn’t fit for purpose and it needs to change. The new HAP payment will eliminate poverty traps, encourage people to take up work and bring a new “joined-up” approach to housing support.”

HAP is a welcome new scheme allowing recipients to work while receiving housing support for rental accommodation. However, it is of real concern that the State, with this scheme, is moving from the social housing list system, which aims to provide secure long-term housing for those who are homeless, to a system that relies on the private rental sector to provide sufficient housing. It is clear that there is simply not enough reasonably priced private rental accommodation, particularly in urban areas, to meet the demand. Along with a problem of lack of supply of private rental accommodation, it is increasingly difficult to find landlords who will accept rent supplement, due to, among other issues, the low level of rent supplement compared to market rent. It remains to be seen whether more landlords will be willing to take on tenants through the HAP scheme.

 

Useful links:

Link to Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2014

Link to Minister Jan O’Sullivan TD press release, dated 17 June 2014.

Links to Statutory Instruments implementing the 2014 Act HAP provisions: SIs 404, 405, 406, 407, 427, 428, 429

Links to Circulars: Department of the Environment Housing Circular 40/2015 dated 12 September 2014; 41/2014 dated 30 September 2014

Link to Ministerial directions dated 12 September 2014 and 29 September 2014

 

 

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