Success in Securing Elevated Housing Assistance Payment Rate for Separated Father of Four

We recently assisted our client, who is a separated father with overnight access to his four children, in securing a higher rate of the Housing Assistance Payment on the basis that he needed to get a larger rental property to properly enjoy overnight access with his children. We relied on both his and his children’s Constitutional and European Convention protected right to family life and also raised potential discrimination issues against him on the basis of his status as a separated father.

Our client became homeless in November last year and has been accessing homeless service since that time. Prior to becoming homeless, our client enjoyed very regular overnight access with his children which was arranged in agreement with his ex-partner. Both parents had completed a written agreement in relation to the access arrangements which included agreement that the overnights would resume once our client moved out of homeless accommodation into more secure accommodation.

When he became homeless, our client was advised by the housing authority that he was eligible to apply for the Housing Assistance Payment which he then did. The Housing Assistance Payment is a type of social housing support where an individual, who is eligible for social housing, enters private rented accommodation on the basis that the rent is paid by the housing authority.

Our client was accepted for HAP but only on the basis that he was eligible for a single person rate of a maximum of €660 per month. Our client requested a higher rate of HAP on the basis that he would be unable to get a large enough rental property to accommodate his children at the single person’s rate. He was told orally that he was not eligible for the higher rate as increasing the rate on the basis of access was not the policy of the housing authority.

We were instructed by the client in or around January 2017 and then wrote to the housing authority requesting that our client be allocated a higher rate of HAP on the basis of the overnight access. In our correspondence, we provided extensive details of our client’s very strong and positive relationship with his children, his regular contact with them, the agreed access arrangements and the financial support he provided his children by way of regular maintenance payments and spending on regular trips and day to day expenses. We argued that a denial of a higher rate would be an unfair and disproportionate interference in our client’s enjoyment of his family life. We also relied on the rights of the children to enjoyment of the company of their parent and proper enjoyment of their family life. We referred to potential discrimination against our client on the basis of his status as a separated father. We cited the differential practices across other housing authorities, noting that the majority of other housing authorities provide for the higher HAP rate in circumstances where overnight access is agreed and evidenced by an applicant.

There was quite extensive correspondence exchanged with the housing authority and the case came close to pursuit of a remedy through the courts. Fortunately, the case did not escalate to litigation and the housing authority eventually agreed to allocate our client a higher rate of HAP. Our client is hugely relieved to have this matter resolved.

 

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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.

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Call for Right to Housing to be enshrined in the Constitution

“The right to housing in our constitution would be a positive, strong step for the future to create fundamental protection of home for every adult and every child”

On Thursday, 13th July 2017, Mercy Law Resource Centre was honoured to participate in ‘A Right to Housing’ seminar in Trinity College Dublin, in conjunction with Simon Communities of Ireland and Senator Collette Kelleher. The focus of the seminar was the urgent call for the right to housing to be enshrined in the Irish Constitution. The seminar brought together international and national homeless experts, academics, journalists, civil society organisations, trade unions, employers, and constitutional and legal experts. The panel of speakers included Niamh Randall (Simon Communities of Ireland), Kitty Holland (The Irish Times), Dr Rory Hearne (NUI Maynooth), Karan O’Loughlin (SIPTU), Maeve Regan (Mercy Law Resource Centre), Professor Gerard Whyte (Trinity College Dublin), and Adrian Berry (Barrister, UK).

Each speaker, whilst discussing their area of expertise, outlined how important it is to have the right to housing included in the Irish Constitution and mapped out certain ways to achieve this. As each speaker took the podium the current homelessness crisis was highlighted by not only the rapidly increasing figures of homeless people in Ireland but also by harrowing stories of the experience of homelessness told by Kitty Holland, such as a mother forced to make her children’s lunches in the front seat of a car while her three children slept in the back seat.

Another item that was hugely emphasised was the legal and political struggles faced every day by individuals and organisations when attempting to resolve the crisis. As Maeve Regan noted, a legal argument cannot rely on a person’s right to adequate housing, rather their battle must rely on other rights such as the right to privacy, the right to family life, or right to bodily integrity. This makes it extremely hard for a person’s battle for housing to be legally successful.

“A right to housing in the Constitution 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. Legislation and policy would have to be ‘proofed’ to ensure they reasonably protect the right to housing. It would mean that the policies in relation to housing and homelessness could not be on a political whim but would have this grounding, this obligation to respect the right to housing. It would be an enduring protection.”

Karan O’Loughlin highlighted one of the main issues contributing to the crisis by comparing the national average rent per month with the minimum monthly wage. The national average rent is €1131 and the minimum monthly wage when working 30 hours a week is €1110, meaning that after a person has paid rent they are left with 21 euro for the month. With a Constitutional right to housing, there may be scope to challenge the unsustainable rent increases; the current legal framework however provides little scope to bring such a challenge.

Overall, the event marked the beginning of an alliance of people from a multitude of backgrounds, all with the common goal of establishing a basic floor of protection which would require the State to consider the right to housing and balance it with other rights when formulating policy and law. This would not mean a key to a house for all but rather it would be the first step in abolishing the crisis that currently exists in Ireland.

 

 

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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.