Deferrals of Social Housing Applications of those in Emergency Accommodation

We have met several new clients at our legal advice clinics in recent months who report a concern that their social housing application has been deferred, but are unsure if this is correct, because they have not received any written notification of any decision from the local authority. All of the clients we have met recently have been in emergency accommodation, so the impact of any such decision can be very serious: it may mean they are stuck in emergency accommodation for the period of deferral.

To give further detail by way of example: We recently met with a family who have been in homeless emergency accommodation for over one year. The family have been on the housing list for this period and have had homeless priority on the housing list. During the course of the year, the family have stayed in regular contact with the local authority to check the status of their social housing application. At one such contact by telephone, the family was advised that their social housing application had been blocked. No further details were provided. That a decision to defer the social housing application for two years had in fact been made, was only established after their keyworker and subsequently Mercy Law took up correspondence with the local authority to clarify the position and seek an appeal of that decision.

We have dealt with several cases involving deferrals of social housing applications in recent years. It should be noted that local authorities have the power to defer social housing applications on the basis of estate management grounds, and ordinarily cite previous criminal convictions or anti-social behaviour as a basis for those deferrals. In our work on recent deferral cases, we have identified a worrying absence of fair procedures impacting particularly harshly on those applicants who are in emergency accommodation. While the local authority can defer an application for social housing for a period ordinarily in the region of two years, the way in which the decision to defer is arrived at must be in compliance with fair procedures and in line with standards of good administration.

We have identified two broad concerns in relation to the decision-making in recent deferral cases.

Firstly, we have identified shortcomings in the manner in which the decisions are reached and communicated. In the recent cases that have come into our clinics, social housing applicants have not been notified that a decision to defer is being considered and therefore they had no opportunity to respond to any allegations in relation to past behaviour or prospective behaviour and to explain their current circumstances which are relevant to the decision. In two cases, the applicants have not been informed that a decision to defer has been made, no decision has been provided in writing and related to this, no reasons have been provided for the decision.

Secondly, we have identified shortcomings in the decisions themselves. We note that in the recent cases we have advised on, the decisions are extremely harsh, with long periods of deferral being imposed despite there being little evidence of a future risk of anti-social behaviour. We note that the decisions fail in some cases to follow the local authority’s internal policy which sets out how such cases should be considered and assessed. In addition, and most notably in respect of the cases where applicants are in emergency accommodation, the decisions fail to take account of the impact of the decision on the family life of the applicants and fail to consider the circumstances of the family as a whole, instead relying wholly on a previous criminal conviction or past incident of anti-social behaviour.

We have assisted clients in appeals of the decisions to defer and in these appeals, have relied on the failure of the decision-makers to adhere to fair procedures and also their failure to properly apply the principle of proportionality. We have several active cases and will provide further updates as the cases progress.

 

 

Subscribe to our e-zine

Disclaimer

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

Advertisements

Alarming Upward Trend in the Number of families Facing Homelessness

Recent figures released by the Central Statistics Office and Focus Ireland give rise to serious concern over the scale of Ireland’s housing crisis. The figures reveal that 99 families, who have not previously experienced homelessness, became newly homeless in Dublin in July of this year alone. These figures mark the peak of an upward trend in the number of homeless families since November 2016.

Young families represent the changed demographic in Irish homelessness. Figures released by the Central Statistics Office following the 2016 Census reveal a startling two-fold increase in the number of homeless in Ireland since 2011.  Of the 6,906 homeless in Ireland, there are 896 families, with the majority (63%) being that a single parent, more specifically a single mother. The number of homeless children is perhaps the most chilling feature of these statistics. Of the record 2,895 homeless children in Ireland, 765 are below the age of 5. This makes such children the single largest group of homeless individuals in the country. It appears young children are the primary victim of our housing climate, a trend that that is all too apparent from our work at MLRC.

While young family are suffering, local authorities are also feeling the pressure. With more than 70% of Irish homeless being based in Dublin, the county’s four local authorities are struggling to deal with the influx, none more so than Fingal County Council. Paul Reid, its Chief Executive, recently commented on the Council’s capacity, or incapacity, to adequately address the crises. He says the reality is that homeless families are looking for emergency accommodation faster than families are being moved out of them and into permanent residences. This back log is at the heart of the crisis. Although the Government have committed to building more social housing (include a very welcome commitment to direct builds by local authorities), these houses will not become readily available until at the earliest, early 2018. As a result, more and more unsuitable means of emergency accommodation are being relied on to address the enormous back log of homeless families facing the council.

The sheer inadequacy of emergency accommodation is yet another dimension of the housing crises that MLRC has firsthand experience of. In our recent submission to the Minister for Housing and Planning, MLRC identified the systematic failures associated with our current emergency accommodation regime. Perhaps the most concerning failure noted in the submission, is the worrying number of unlawful refusals of emergency accommodation applications by housing authorities. Furthermore, should a family or individual be granted emergency accommodation, the over reliance on self-accommodation sees vulnerable families and individuals frequently unable to access emergency accommodation, or being placed in unsuitable hotels or B&B’s for indefinite periods of time. In our experience, the suffering of families in emergency accommodation continues to deepen. The state of limbo families find themselves in can be hugely distressing, particularly when young children are involved. Our submission calls for a number of actions to ensure that vulnerable families and individuals have their needs met at the earliest opportunity and are provided with suitable and appropriate emergency accommodation, without delay or issue.

The recent figures released by the Central Statistics Office and Focus Ireland reveal the changed demographic of homelessness in Ireland. Our own experiences at the MLRC confirm the stark reality of the housing crises. Young families and children are suffering, and while emergency accommodation measures do provide some respite, they remain a temporary and often inadequate solution to a more serious problem.  We welcome the commitments of government and local authorities to step up the response to the crisis, and hope that the acute issues we are encountering in our casework are addressed so as to alleviate the pressure on the most vulnerable of our homeless families and individuals.

 

Subscribe to our e-zine

Disclaimer

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

Thank you to all our MLRC Summer Interns, for your excellent work!

We would like to extend a huge thank you to all of our interns for their real and practical contribution with great energy and care to MLRC’s work in supporting, through our services, those who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

 

Aoibheann Durkin

MLRC were delighted to welcome Aoibheann Durkin as an intern in June. Aoibheann is a law student in Trinity College Dublin. She is going into her third year of study.  Aoibheann was the winner of best speaker in the Trinity FLAC Public Interest Law Competition and was previously involved in Enactus social justice projects.  The competition centred on the question of how constitutional rights and international human rights law apply to the issue of emergency accommodation which is inappropriate for a family’s needs, particularly children with special needs. Aoibheann has a strong interest in social justice and human rights issues and a particular interest in constitutional and public interest law.

Mary Hastings

MLRC was delighted to welcome back Mary Hastings as intern in June.  Mary is a third year law student from Trinity College Dublin.  Last year, Mary was the joint winner with Blánaid Ní Bhraonáin of the Trinity FLAC Public Interest Law Moot competition and interned with MLRC for two weeks during the summer. MLRC was delighted to welcome Mary back. We are very grateful to Mary for her contribution to MLRC’s case work, policy work and research, all of which she did with great energy and diligence and care.

Kate Weedy

MLRC welcomed Kate Weedy for the months of July and August. Kate graduated in 2015 with a BA (Hons) in History, Politics, and International Relations from UCD. Kate is currently entering her second year of the Masters in Common Law programme in UCD and hopes to qualify as a Barrister and work in Public Interest Law with a focus on human rights, asylum and immigration law, and conflict of laws.

On reflecting on her time in MLRC, Kate said:

‘My time at MLRC was such a rewarding experience. I learned so much from the solicitors there and gained first-hand experience of human rights law in practice. I was astounded by the amount of work that is done before a case even goes to court and consider myself very lucky to have been able to contribute to the incredible work that MLRC do. Their ethos and work ethic has made me even more determined to pursue a career in human rights law.’

Diarmuid Hickey

MLRC welcomed Diarmuid Hickey for the month of August. Diarmuid is a legal graduate from Trinity College Dublin, currently completing an LL.M. He enjoys property law, and volunteers with a number of legal and charitable organisations. Prior to joining MLRC he completed internships with A&L Goodbody in New York, and Eugene F Collins in Dublin.

Diarmuid worked with MLRC for a number of weeks this summer having won the TCD Law Society BAM Debating Competition.

Fionn Ryan

In September, MLRC was delighted to welcome Fionn Ryan, who worked with us as part of his Clinical Legal Education Training Programme with Trinity College Dublin. Fionn is a final year law student in Trinity College Dublin. Fionns interest lies particularly with family law, constitutional law, medical negligence and criminal law. In Trinity, Fionn is heavily involved in college life. As an active member of TCD GAA and the Law Society, Fionn also chairs Trinity’s largest active member society, the VTP, or Voluntary Tuition Programme.

On reflecting on his time here Fionn found it invaluable. Noting that learning how a legal practice operates is essential for any budding student looking to get into the field.

‘The clinics offered first-hand experience in dealing with clients. The media frenzy about homelessness can sometimes dehumanize the crises. The clinics acted as a reminder that real people are the ones who suffer.’

 

 

 

Subscribe to our e-zine

Disclaimer

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

 

 

 

MLRC welcomes David Joyce as solicitor with MLRC

MLRC is delighted to welcome David Joyce as our new solicitor and colleague. David has been working with MLRC since the end of July 2017 as a locum solicitor.

David is a solicitor with extensive experience in housing law having worked as a Legal Officer for Threshold. David Joyce initially qualified as a Barrister at Law, having graduated from Kings Inns with a Barrister at Law Degree and a Diploma in Legal Studies. David was called to the Bar in 2005 and practiced as a Barrister for eight years. Prior to entering the legal profession he worked in community development with a number of local and national NGO’s and holds a Diploma in Community Development and Youth Work from NUI Maynooth. David was Interim Manager of LEAP (Legal Education for All Project).  He has served as a member of expert bodies such as the European Roma Rights Centre Budapest, National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism, Bar Council of Ireland, Executive of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and the National Economic and Social Forum. David is currently a member of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and the EU Fundamental Rights Agency.

We are delighted to welcome David to the MLRC team. There is no doubt that with David’s extensive experience he will help MLRC grow and build on our work providing free legal help for people at the margins of our society.

 

Photo Credit: Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission

Subscribe to our e-zine

Disclaimer

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

 

Mercy Law Resource Centre welcomes Conor Casey, Yale Bernstein Fellow, to Mercy Law Resource Centre

Mercy Law Resource Centre is delighted to welcome Conor Casey, Yale Bernstein Fellow, to Mercy Law Resource Centre. Conor previously interned with MLRC in May 2015.  For the coming year, Conor will act as a Research and Policy Officer and assist our advocacy and policy objectives in relation to utilizing international and supranational law to promote domestic legal change. This will primarily involve continuing MLRC’s engagement with international human rights bodies which supervise Ireland’s obligations in the field of housing rights; including the UN Human Rights Council, the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty, and the Council of Europe. It will also involve spearheading MLRC’s strategy of utilizing the critical findings of these international human rights forums to generate political pressure and impetus for legal and policy reform.

Prior to attending Yale, Conor completed an LLB (Law) degree in Trinity College Dublin in 2015. During his time at Trinity he was also elected a non-foundation scholar. Conor also spent a year working as a legal researcher to a Senior Counsel of the Bar of Ireland. During this time, his work focused on the field of European Union law, international environmental law, refugee and asylum law, and European human rights law. In this capacity, he was a member of the official Irish delegation to a case before the United Nations Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee, and assisted in the drafting and preparation of Ireland’s written and oral submissions. He has published work on constitutional, immigration, and human rights law in leading Irish law journals.

We are delighted to welcome Conor to the MLRC team. There is no doubt that Conor’s extensive research and advocacy experience will hugely support and strengthen MLRC’s current policy work.

 

Subscribe to our e-zine

Disclaimer

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

 

MLRC regularly hosts an open training on social welfare law, delivered by Prof Gerry Whyte, School of Law, TCD.

In July, MLRC held five open training sessions covering social welfare law issues, attended by individuals, barristers, solicitors, and staff from Focus Ireland, Sophia Housing, Citizen Information Centres, and Crosscare. The training was delivered by Professor Gerry Whyte, School of Law, Trinity College Dublin.

The training attendees gave the following feedback:

“Covers everything!”

“Interesting and well delivered training.”

“The training was absolutely excellent and I will use as a key reference point. Thank you”

“Training was offered in a clear and concise manner.”

This training provided a detailed overview of social welfare law and covered topics including:

  • Sources of social welfare law
  • Claims and appeals
  • Social Insurance
  • Social Assistance
  • Rates of payment
  • Supplementary Welfare Allowance
  • Unemployment and low pay
  • Illness, incapacity and caring
  • Family payments
  • The elderly and survivors

Professor Whyte is a leading authority on social welfare law and we are very grateful to him for delivering this comprehensive and detailed training.

If your organisation would like to arrange MLRC training on housing law & related social welfare law, please register your interest with us on 01 4537459 or by email info@mercylaw.ie.

Subscribe to our e-zine

Disclaimer

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

MLRC delivers training on housing law to staff of the office for Ombudsman for Children

As part of MLRC’s work, we provide training in housing law to organisations and individuals working in the field of homelessness. In June, MLRC held a training session in housing law for the staff of the office for Ombudsman for Children.

Our training session gave practical advice and information, to help attendees deal even more effectively with clients’ housing issues, both directly themselves and in referring to MLRC.

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 law regarding the Housing Assistance Payment; the procedure for evictions from local authority housing; and consideration of some case studies.

In their feedback, attendees described the session as:

“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”

Attendees also gave feedback that they found the handouts excellent with very informative and relevant content which will be a useful resource in carrying out their day to day work.  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, the rules or legislation around social housing and how these should operate, and useful strategies and practical steps to follow to support/advocate for clients with housing issues.

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

 

 

Subscribe to our e-zine

Disclaimer

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

MLRC delivers full day training on housing to staff of Offally, Citizens Information Centre

As part of MLRC’s work, we provide training in housing law to organisations and individuals working in the field of homelessness. In September, MLRC held a training session in housing law for the staff of Offaly CIC.

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. There was also discussion in relation to the law regarding the Housing Assistance Payment and a lively discussion about the issues arising in housing and homelessness outside of Dublin.

In their feedback, attendees described the session as:

“It was excellent, inclusive and interesting – excellent use of materials”;

Very informative, concise, easy to understand; Very relevant to issues arising with clients“;

“Very informative and excellent use of case studies”;

“Very interesting and useful. I learnt more in one day with the trainer than I have in previous programmes over 12 weeks, very relevant and practical information was covered”

“The trainer was excellent and provided lots of examples which will be very helpful going forward. She answered all questions which were raised.

 

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

Subscribe to our e-zine

Disclaimer

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

Mercy Law Resource Centre attend launch of FLAC Annual Report 2016

On July 31st, solicitors from the Mercy Law Resource Centre attended the launch of FLAC’s Annual Report 2016. Introduced by Minister for Justice & Equality Charlie Flanagan, the report outlined the details of the work undertaken by FLAC. This included responding to the 25,710 people who sought legal advice from FLAC, both through telephone referral line and their 67 clinics throughout Ireland.

Work Done this Year

FLAC Chairperson Peter Ward noted some of the positive work undertaken by FLAC throughout the past year. He praised the strong commitment of FLAC volunteers, as well as partner networks such as the Citizen’s Information Centres and other information centres which allow those in need to access legal advice. Mr Ward highlighted significant victories within the past year, including the introduction of the ‘Abhaile’ scheme, offering legal aid for those in danger of mortgage repossession, and the work of PILA, a collection of 120 Irish firms, barristers and academics. PILA provided support for the case of Robbie Sinnott and the Blind Legal Alliance, which gained private ballot facilities for those with visual impairment.

 

“Getting basic legal information and advice to people when and where they need it is the first step in ensuring access to justice.  FLAC volunteers provide this in communities all around Ireland”

 

Eilis Barry, Chief Executive of FLAC, noted the importance of a review under way into the eligibility requirements for civil legal aid. Further, she welcomed a decision of the Legal Aid Board to defer restricting access to the District Court Family Law Private Practitioners for those facing issues of access, guardianship, or custody of children. Such a move would have put further strain on a legal aid system which features delays of up to half a year for a first appointment in certain areas of the country. MLRC also welcomes the decision to defer any restriction and is very aware of the ongoing detrimental impact on applicants of the current delays in accessing legal aid.

Work still to do

Both Ms. Barry and Mr. Ward outlined that significant goals still remained for FLAC to surmount. Last March, a UN Committee recommended that Ireland abolish requirements for those dealing with domestic violence to pay financial contributions when seeking legal protection. The Law Society of Ireland echoed these calls, and yet financial impediments still stand in the way of those in need of such protections in Ireland.

Of similar significance were the budgetary constraints that limit the real application of legal aid to those in need. Ms Barry stated that “there needs to be a realistic review of its budget, there needs to be investment to be able to deal with delays”. These issues may be exacerbated by a new Assisted Decision Making Act 2015 which, while welcome, is likely to increase the strain on the Legal Aid Board. MLRC welcomes the comments of Ms Barry in relation to the limitations on access to legal aid and also highlights the absence of legal aid provision in relation to housing matters, including evictions.

Role for Mercy Law Resource Centre

Mercy Law Resource Centre deals with many of the issues outlined by the FLAC report on a daily basis. The current housing crisis threatens many individuals and families with homelessness, without adequate supports to keep it at bay.  As such, our mission is to provide free legal advice and representation for those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, while also providing training and policy research to help highlight the issues faced by our clients. In conjunction with other legal centres and volunteer groups we aim to significantly reduce the threat and effect of homelessness throughout Ireland and to ensure legal advice and representation is available and accessible to those in acute need.

 

Subscribe to our e-zine

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 MLRC’s 2016 Annual Report, by Dr. Niall Muldoon, Ombudsman for Children, Monday 25th of September at 11.30am

Mercy Law Resource Centre cordially invites you

to the launch of

Mercy Law Resource Centre 2016 Annual Report

To be launched by

Dr. Niall Muldoon, Ombudsman for Children

 Date: Monday 25th of September at 11.30am

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

Tea, coffee and refreshments on arrival

Please RSVP by Wednesday 20th of September

by email to Danielle Curtis:  danielle@mercylaw.ie or 01 4537459

 

 

The Wisdom Centre is located within the grounds of Sophia Housing, 25 Cork Street. Sophia Housing is on the corner of Cork Street and Ormond Street.  The reception is located at the Cork Street entrance.  There is limited on-street parking in the vicinity. There is also public transport from the City Centre to Cork Street by Dublin Bus numbers 77A, 77N, 27, 56A and 151.

 

 

Subscribe to our e-zine

Disclaimer

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