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.’

 

 

 

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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

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

 

 

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

 

 

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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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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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Equality Rights Alliance Seminar

On Friday June 30th Mercy Law were delighted to attend the Equality and Rights Alliance’s (ERA) seminar ‘A New Roadmap for our Equality and Human Rights Infrastructure’. The seminar provided ERA’s members an opportunity to come together and examine the progress of the law in Ireland since the publication of ERA’s Roadmap to a Strengthened Equality and Human Rights Infrastructure in 2011. Speakers on the day included Eilis Barry, CEO of FLAC; Niall Crowley, ERA Chair and Damien Walshe, ERA Coordinator.

Among the issues discussed was the public sector duty introduced by s. 42 of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014. This section places a positive duty on public sector bodies to have regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, promote equality of opportunity and treatment and protect human rights. To give effect to this duty, a public body is required to set out in its strategic plan:

  1. An assessment of human rights and equality issues relevant to the functions and purpose of that body
  2. Any policies, plans or actions to address those issues.

The public body must then report on its developments and achievements in that regard in its annual report. All of this information must be accessible to the public.

Niall Crowley, ERA Chair, addressed the seminar on developing a values-based approach to the public sector duty. This involves inviting a public body to develop a statement on their values and identify aims and objectives flowing from those values. Niall noted that public bodies have an appetite to define their values but there is still a challenge in ensuring systems are developed to give reality to them. There was debate over the value of having public bodies define their values if in practice they are not acting in a way that respects human rights and equality. However, all were in agreement that the principle of placing a positive duty on public bodies is valuable and work should be done to identify the full and precise extent of this duty.

Overall, the event highlighted the need for a commitment to equality and human rights from the government. This would include an increase in resourcing for these sectors, and utilising the budget to achieve economic and social equality. The event unfortunately marked a pause in ERA’s work due to funding cuts. Without a dedicated organisation to fight for equality in Ireland, there is an even greater burden on other civil society organisations to put equality at the forefront of their work and fill the gap left by ERA. To view the work achieved by ERA to date and all of their publications, you can visit their website here.

 

 

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MLRC training in social welfare law, delivered by Professor Gerry Whyte, Associate Professor, School of Law, Trinity College Dublin – July 2017

In July, Professor Gerry Whyte, Associate Professor, School of Law, Trinity College Dublin, and Director on the MLRC Board of Directors, will deliver a comprehensive training course on social welfare law.  The course will provide a detailed overview of social welfare law. The purpose of the course is to provide participants with an up to date comprehensive review of social welfare law, to help them in their advocacy and work for their clients in respect of social welfare law issues.

The topics covered in the course will include:

  • 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

Venue:

MLRC, 25 Cork Street, Dublin 8

Course dates and times:

The workshops will be held over three weeks in July.  Participants would be expected to attend all five workshops to receive maximum benefit from the training. The training schedule is:

  • Tuesday 4 July 2017: 9.45am to 1pm
  • Thursday 6 July 2017: 9.45am to1pm
  • Tuesday 11 July 2017: 9.45am to 12 noon
  • Thursday 13 July 2017: 1.45pm to 4pm
  • Tuesday 18 July 2017: 9.45am to 12 noon

 

Among the feedback from participants who attended this course last year:

“The training sessions were excellent in content, presentation and venue. Thank you. And great value for money.”

“’Well pitched.  Gerry was excellent but also got great insight from the comments and questions of other course participants.”

“Very clear, structured and concise notes – really useful for further reference.”

“Found it very useful, will be using it in my day-to-day work.”

All participants noted it would make a large difference and improvement to the way they do their job. 

How to book a place on this course:

The cost per participant is €60 for all five workshops.

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 social welfare law training please contact Danielle Curtis, MLRC Administrator, at Mercy Law Resource Centre on 01 4537459 or by email info@mercylaw.ie by 5pm on Thursday 29 June.

We would be very happy to hear from you!

 

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MLRC delivers training on housing to staff of Dundalk and Drogheda CICs

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

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

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, as well as information on how to access information under the Freedom of Information Act.

In their feedback, attendees described the session as:

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

It was very enjoyable, especially the case studies“;

“Very well delivered in an understanding manner”;

“Trainer very knowledgeable and open to questions. Good use of case studies”;

Attendees also gave feedback t they found the handouts were 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.

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Launch of the Ombudsman for Children’s Annual Report 2016

In May, Mercy Law Resource Centre was delighted to attend the launch of the Ombudsman for Children’s 2016 Annual Report. We would like to extend our congratulations to the office of the Ombudsman for producing such a detailed and comprehensive report.

In 2016 the Ombudsman saw an increase in the number of housing complaints received. Concerns relating to housing and accommodation accounted for 5% of these complaints. However, the Ombudsman believes that the proportion is far higher in reality, referencing Ireland’s 2,000 homeless children.    Access to suitable housing accounted for 78% of these complaints. Two of the principal issues which arose in this context related to suitable housing for children with disabilities and homelessness. 10% of complaints related to traveller accommodation and 9% related to neighbourhood suitability and anti-social concerns.  Key concerns which repeatedly arose included the administration of prioritisation schemes, the adaptation of housing for children with disabilities and transparency in decision making and communication.

The Ombudsman has been proactive in advocating that children be considered and planned for in the process of formulating housing policy and legislation. Notably, the office raised these concerns with the Department of Housing, Community, Planning and Local Government during the drafting of the Rebuilding Ireland Plan 2017. MLRC welcomes the Ombudsman’s commitment to further pursue this area in 2017. The importance of advocating for change in homeless policy is crucial to achieve lasting change in the prevention and reduction of homelessness in Ireland.

The following two cases which the Ombudsman was involved in this past year from our experience exemplify the problems which many families across Ireland are facing:

Sophie: Availability of housing for a child with disabilities

Sophie, aged 10 years, has a number of medical issues which affect her mobility. Her family were granted priority transfer on medical grounds, however, there had been no change in their position since 2014. The family were negatively impacted by anti-social behaviour in the area and Sophie was fearful and anxious as a result.

The Ombudsman contacted the local authority and established that while the family were high priority on the housing list there was no accommodation suitable for Sophie’s needs available or immediately forthcoming. The Ombudsman requested that a safe temporary transfer be arranged for Sophie until a more permanent fixture could established, in order to diminish any further adverse impact on Sophie’s health.

A temporary home was identified by the local authority within five weeks which was suitable for Sophie’s needs and was close to her extended family and school. Furthermore, the local authority has identified a permanent, specifically adapted house that will be available for the family in 2017.

Sarah: Impact of Rising Rents and Resulting Homelessness

Sarah, aged 7, has hydrocephalus and other medical needs. Her family became homeless following the sale of their private rented accommodation. The family advised the local authority of their impending homelessness but were informed that they would be unable to avail of any homeless services until the presented as homeless. They were advised of the supports available to them to help maintain their tenancy but were unable to do so. When the family presented to the Ombudsman they had been living in homeless accommodation for a number of months and had spent several nights in their car when it was not possible to source accommodation.

The Ombudsman contacted the local authorities and raised concerns about the length of time a child on both the medical priority list and the homeless waiting list was spending in hotel accommodation and the effect that this was having on the health and education of the child. During the investigation of the case an appropriate property was offered to Sarah and her family.

MLRC welcomes the annual report and looks forward to working with the Ombudsman for Children in the coming months on the pressing issue of children in homelessness.

 

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MLRC is recruiting a locum solicitor to join the MLRC team

MLRC is now recruiting a Locum Solicitor.

This is 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 Locum Solicitor position will be offered as a fixed purpose six month contract, covering a period of maternity leave. The position is full-time with immediate start.  The salary offered with this position is commensurate with experience.

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

To download the application form, please click here

Please send completed application (cover letter, CV and application form) as one attachment  to danielle@mercylaw.ie.

The closing date for receipt of applications is 5pm on Friday 23 June 2017.

 

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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.

The ‘self accommodation option’ of emergency accommodation is failing vulnerable homeless families

We have recently been working on several cases where families have been recognised as homeless by the housing authority and have been put on the ‘self-accommodation option’, which means they are obliged to source their own hotel accommodation to meet their emergency accommodation needs. For vulnerable families, they are frequently unable to source such accommodation and are left at ongoing risk of rough sleeping and subjected to chronic instability and insecurity that is having wide-ranging and negative impacts on the families, including young children.

Over the course of the last year, we have advocated for several families initially refused emergency accommodation by their housing authority and have successfully had them recognised as homeless. See our previous blog on these cases. Once recognised as homeless, the housing authority provides emergency accommodation pursuant to Section 10 of the Housing Act 1988.

Section 10 allows broad flexibility for the manner in which that emergency accommodation is provided. Over the last six months, there has been a move away from housing authorities booking homeless families directly into hotel accommodation; rather families are being told to source their own accommodation on the basis that the Council will pay for it, once sourced. This is called the ‘self-accommodation option’.

We are advising several families who are particularly large, are members of the Travelling Community, or are non-nationals with imperfect English. Our experience is that these families are simply unable at present to source hotel accommodation to accommodate their families or are only able to source is on a very haphazard night to night basis at various locations across greater Dublin area.

The impact of the absence of accommodation and/or chronic instability in accommodation on these families is in many cases dire. It is often impossible for parents to get their children to school. In one case we are acting in, the children have attended school just twenty percent of the school year so far; the children are stated to be presenting as withdrawn and unable to engage in classes, due to their excessive absences. We have seen a deterioration in mental and physical health, as families sleep in cars for prolonged periods. We have seen sustained separation of young children from their parents, as the parents are obliged to accommodate their children with extended family members to avoid having to sleep in the car with them. We are seeing families getting into debt while they try and meet their daily expenses which are heightened during periods of chronic instability.

In one case, we have resorted to litigation to challenge the manner in which the Council is providing emergency accommodation to one such vulnerable family. We have argued that the Council has a duty to perform its functions under section 10 of the Housing Act 1988 in a rational and reasonable manner and to provide accommodation to persons defined as homeless in the Act of 1988, which it is failing to do in this case. We contend that the Council has failed to vindicate the rights of the family in the exercise of its statutory powers pursuant to the 1988 Act. We have argued that the fundamental rights provisions of the Constitution can, in certain circumstances, place positive obligations on State bodies exercising statutory and also cite the protections of the European Convention on Human Rights. We have also highlighted the failure of the Council to vindicate the rights of the young children who are affected.

 

It is clear that the current system of ‘self accommodation’ is failing these vulnerable families yet we have seen no recognition by housing authorities of the very negative impact of obliging vulnerable families to source their own accommodation or evidence of a change of approach. We would welcome a process at the point of being recognised as homeless, that identifies the specific needs of homeless families and ensures that a suitable accommodation option is provided at the outset, thus reducing the overall negative impact of homelessness on each family.

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Suitability of Emergency Accommodation

Securing suitable emergency accommodation for pregnant mother and her family

MLRC recently worked with a family who had been placed in unsuitable emergency accommodation, which, according to medical reports, presented a risk to our client’s unborn child. After MLRC made several representations on behalf of the family to the Council, they were moved into suitable emergency accommodation.

Background

We had initially worked with this family to help them access emergency accommodation. The Council had refused them this accommodation, The family, a mother and her two young children, were initially made homeless in March 2016 following a family dispute. The Council did not accept that the family could not continue to live with extended family members and refused to recognise the family as homeless and provide emergency accommodation. For the period March 2016 through to December 2016, the family relied on the goodwill of friends and family, moving frequently and often staying in highly unsuitable accommodation.

Focus Ireland referred the family to our legal clinic in late November 2016 and we then advocated on their behalf, arguing the family was homeless within the terms of s 2 of the Housing Act 1988. It took some weeks to resolve this issue with the Council and, in the absence of any response from the Council, we had instructed Counsel with a view to bringing High Court litigation. However just before Christmas, the Council accepted that the family were indeed homeless and put them on the self-accommodation option. This meant that the family had to source their own emergency accommodation and were only able to secure a booking in a B&B, located some distance from the children’s school.

Serious difficulties quickly arose with the suitability of the B&B accommodation as it did not meet the needs of our client who was pregnant. Our client, a diabetic, was admitted to a maternity hospital in January 2017 with high blood sugar levels that presented a risk to her and her unborn child. The hospital wrote to the Council directly, highlighting the particular needs of this pregnant mother, confirming the unsuitability of B&B accommodation and the need for stable accommodation where the mother could cook for herself and her family and therefore manage her blood sugar levels effectively.

MLRC’s representations

MLRC also wrote to the Council stating that B&B accommodation was documented to be unsuitable and presented a risk to the health of the mother and her unborn child. We also referred to the negative effect on the family in terms of their family life, their diet, their well-being, and the financial impact. We relied on several medical reports that had been provided and a report from the hospital social worker. We argued that the Council is obliged to comply with its duties under relevant housing legislation and that such provisions must be interpreted in a manner compatible with the Constitution and with the European Convention of Human Rights.

We contended that the Council, in providing emergency accommodation that did not meet the family’s needs, breached and/or disproportionately interfered with the constitutional and fundamental rights of the family members, including the unborn child, particularly with respect to their right to privacy and family life and their personal rights.

Fortunately, we received a positive response from the Council shortly afterwards. The family was immediately moved to alternative temporary accommodation operated by the approved housing association Respond. This accommodation is family-friendly, and has cooking and laundry facilities together with space for the children to do their homework and play. The location was also significantly better for accessing the children’s schools.

Conclusion

The outcome in this case was positive for this family but it is of concern that such an outcome was only secured after extensive engagement by MLRF and the medical team at the maternity hospital  with the Council. It is hoped that in future cases, the needs of particular families can be recognised at an earlier stage and an assessment completed determining what would be suitable temporary accommodation to meet those needs so that such accommodation can be provided at the outset.

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All information provided on this blog is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or a legal contract between this blog and any person or entity unless otherwise specified. Click here to read more.

 

MLRC delivers training on advanced housing law

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

Our training session gave practical advice and information, with a focus on:

  • An overview of housing law and the law relating to homelessness, including relevant fair procedures principles
  • Overcoming specific barriers to getting on the housing list – including the local connection test; ownership of property; and requests for evidence proving non-ownership of property
  • The application of the law regarding non-nationals accessing the housing list and/or emergency accommodation

The aim of the session was to help attendees deal even more effectively with clients’ housing issues, both directly themselves and in referring to MLRC as is useful for them. In their feedback, attendees noted that the training session will make a large difference in their work, and described the session as “excellent and very useful”, and in particular that the session shed useful light on issues including:

homeless assessment and how it differs from housing list assessment, how judicial review works”,

clarification on the eligibility of non-EEA nationals to access housing list/emergency accommodation…[and] European Convention on Human Rights relevance to applications

Information regarding the Ombudsman [and] European Convention on Human Rights Article 3 [prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment]”, and “housing circulars”.

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.

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All information provided on this blog is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or a legal contract between this blog and any person or entity unless otherwise specified. Click here to read more.

 

Conference – Making Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Meaningful, Wednesday, 29 March 2017, Mansion House, Dublin

Mercy Law Resource Centre is a member of the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Initiative (ESCRI). ESCRI is a coalition of over 60 civil society organisations that support strengthening the protection of economic, social and cultural rights in the Irish Constitution. On 29 March, ESCRI is holding a conference on economic, social and cultural rights (ESC rights). ESC rights include the right to housing.   This event will bring together a range of speakers to discuss the impact that enforceable ESC rights would have for people in Ireland. The presentations and discussions will draw on experiences from other European States where ESC rights have been given legal protection.

The details of the conference are:

What: Conference – Making Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Meaningful

When: 10.30 am to 3:30pm, Wednesday 29 March 2017.

Where: Oak Room, Mansion House, Dawson St., Dublin 2.

Keynote address: Jamie Burton – Public Lawyer, Doughty Street Chambers, London. Jamie Burton is a public lawyer with expertise in judicial review and human rights.  He acts for claimants and defendants and regularly advises public authorities on their policies and procedures in relation to their statutory and human rights obligations.  Mr Burton is also Chair and co-founder of ‘Just Fair’, a registered charity that works exclusively on human rights issues, particularly economic, social and cultural rights. He is also a member of the Expert Panel of ‘Housing Rights Watch’ – a pan-European think-tank that works on housing and homelessness rights across Europe.  It has brought collective complaints to the Council of Europe against France, Netherlands and Ireland.

Contributors:

  • Helen Johnston – National Economic and Social Council
  • Professor Colin Harvey – Queen’s University
  • Professor Gerry Whyte – Trinity College Dublin
  • Siobhan Curran – Pavee Point Traveller and Roma Centre
  • Eoin Carroll – Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice
  • Dr Austin O’Carroll
  • Debbie Mulhall – Dolphin House Community Development Association and founding member of Rialto Rights in Action
  • Dr Mary Murphy – Maynooth University and Member of IHREC
  • Eilis Barry – FLAC
  • Dr Padraic McKenna – NUI Galway
  • Michael Farrell

 

Places are limited for the conference and so for more information on the conference and how to register, please click here.

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Changes to the law relating to termination of Approved Housing Bodies tenancies – potentially very harsh effect on tenants

On 7 April 2016, Approved Housing Bodies (AHBs), often known as voluntary housing associations, were brought under the remit of the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB).  Part 2 of the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Act 2015 (the Act) provided for this change.  The change came into effect on 7 April 2016 (by S.I. 151 of 2016). As of April 2016 there are over 500 Approved Housing Bodies in Ireland with a stock size of over 30,000 units.

This change in the law means that:

  • Approved Housing Bodies must now register their tenancies with the RTB.
  • Approved Housing Bodies now have the same rights and obligations as private landlords, with some exceptions.
  • Approved Housing Bodies’ tenants now have the same rights and obligations as private tenants, with some exceptions.

 

Over recent months, we have met with several tenants in voluntary housing who have been adversely affected by this change and through these meetings we have identified various preliminary issues and serious concerns that this change raises.

Tenants entitled to notice based on the date of the commencement of the Act – not the date of occupation – may negatively affect tenants’ security of tenure

A tenant of an AHB, like a private tenant, gains “Part IV tenant rights” when they are in a tenancy for longer than six months. This means that once a tenant remains in the tenancy for over six months they gain an automatic security to remain in that tenancy for a minimum of four years. The Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Act 2016 extends the period of a Part 4 tenancy from four years to six years. This applies to all tenancies created from 24 December 2016, the day after the signing of the Act.

The tenancy, after the first six months of the Part 4 tenancy, can only be terminated on certain grounds (contained in s 34 of the Residential Tenancies Act 2004).  Those grounds include:

  • The tenant has failed to comply with their obligations.
  • The landlord intends to sell the dwelling within the next 3 months.
  • The dwelling is no longer suited to the needs of the occupying household.
  • The landlord requires the dwelling for own or family member occupation.
  • Substantial refurbishment of the dwelling.
  • Change in the use of the dwelling.

 

In private rented tenancies the length of the tenancy starts from the date of occupation. However for Approved Housing Bodies’ tenants, under the Act, the date of occupation is the date of commencement of the Act (7 April 2016), or the date that the tenant moved in, whichever is the later.

 

This negatively affects the tenants’ security of tenure. Even if the tenant has been in occupation for, for example, 40 years before 7 April 2016, the tenancy is taken to start on 7 April 2016.  No matter how long the tenant’s tenancy actually was before 7 April 2016, or the purposes of how much notice of termination must be given, the length of tenancy is counted from 7 April 2016.  The major effect that this has is on the amount of notice that the tenant must be given of termination of the tenancy.  The length of tenancy of the AHB tenant is only counted from 7 April 2016, or the date the tenant moved in, whichever is later.

 

The following are the notice periods which must be given.

 

Length of tenancy Notice that the landlord must give  
Less than 6 months 4 weeks (28 days)
6 months or longer but less than 1 year 5 weeks (35 days)
1 year or longer but less than 2 years 6 weeks (42 days)
2 years or longer but less than 3 years 8 weeks (56 days)
3 years or longer but less than 4 years 12 weeks (84 days)
4 years or longer but less than 5 years 16 weeks (112 days)
5 years or longer but less than 6 years 20 weeks (140 days)
6 years or longer but less than 7 years 24 weeks (168 days)
7 years or longer but less than 8 years 28 weeks (196 days)
8 years or longer 32 weeks (224 days)

 

Length of tenancy Required period of notice by tenant
Less than 6 months 4 weeks (28 days)
6 months or longer but less than 1 year 5 weeks (35 days)
1 year or longer but less than 2 years 6 weeks (42 days)
2 years or longer but less than 4 years 8 weeks (56 days)
4 years or longer but less than 8 years 12 weeks (84 days)
8 years or longer 16 weeks (112 days)

 

MLRC cases on termination of AHB tenancies

We have legally represented four tenants before the RTB Tribunal on this issue. The tenants of the AHBs had been issued with 28 days’ notice of termination with no reason given.  The clients had challenged the validity of the Notice of Termination before the RTB. The RTB’s determination was that the Notice was valid.  The RTB so held, even in circumstances where the tenant had been living in their home for ten years or more.  MLRC appealed these determinations to the RTB Tribunal and we are awaiting their decision.

 

Case example

Mary has lived in her AHB home with her two children since 1 January 2006.  Under the new legislation, on 1 September 2016, the AHB served on her a 28 day Notice of Termination, without a reason, requiring that she and her family leave her home on the 29 September 2016.  The short notice period of 28 days was because, as noted above, the date of occupancy flows from the commencement of the Act, 7 April 2016, and not from the date of actual occupation, 1 January 2001.  If Mary was in private rented accommodation the tenancy period would flow from the date of occupation, 1 January 2006, which would result in Mary having to receive a 32 weeks (224 days) notice and, as she would be past the first six months of the Part 4 tenancy cycle, one of the six reasons as outlined above for a valid Notice to quit to be issued.

 

The RTB adjudication determined that the Notice was valid.  This was appealed to the RTB Tribunal. Submissions were made to the Tribunal on a number of legal issues in respect of the Notice of Termination. Foremost of these were on the rights of the mother and her children to an independent, proportionate decision on the interference with their right privacy and family life under Art 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. We submitted that this requirement applies both to the AHB and to the RTB. We are awaiting a decision from the RTB Tribunal in this matter.

 

MLRC submission

The Government, as is made clear in Rebuilding Ireland, in addressing the crisis in housing and homelessness, intends to grow the involvement of AHBs in the provision of social housing (at page 53 of the report):

“The Housing Policy Statement 2011 and the Social Housing Strategy 2020 recognise the key

contribution that AHBs have to make to the delivery of housing supports in Ireland, building

on their track record in terms of both housing provision and management. The AHB sector

has evolved in a short timeframe from the traditional grant-funded model to greater use of a

loan finance approach, reflecting the prevailing arrangements in other jurisdictions. Working with the Housing Finance Agency, 15 AHBs with certified borrower status are currently progressing projects across the country. This is a significant contribution and the Government

remains committed to enabling the sector to play a central role in the effort to meet social

housing needs….”

We respectfully note that in providing that the date of commencement of AHB tenancies for the purpose of notice of termination as being the date of commencement of the Act, 7 April 2016, is an important defect in the legislation.  It has a particularly harsh effect as many AHB tenants have particular vulnerabilities and mental health issues and facing homelessness with shortened notice is clearly a highly distressing situation.

We respectfully propose that the legislation be amended to provide that AHB tenants’ date of occupation is the date of actual occupation.  In this way, AHB tenants would be accorded the same rights as private tenants on this point.

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All information provided on this Blog is provided for information purposes and only and does not constitute legal advice or a legal contract between this between this Blog and any person or entry unless otherwise specified. Click here to read more.