On Monday 16th of September at our 2018 Annual Report Launch, MLRC will mark ten years in operation. There is no doubt that the demand for our service has grown beyond what the founders of MLRC could have ever anticipated. To date, MLRC has provided free legal advice and assistance to 8,335 individuals and families.
In the first year of establishment, MLRC provided free legal advice and assistance to 270 individuals and families. By 2018, this number had sharply risen to 1,381. In the early years, a number of our clients were single males and females who were facing difficulties accessing the social housing list. At present, MLRC sees an increasing number of vulnerable families accessing our service, presenting with a range of issues and difficulties including access to emergency accommodation, placement in highly unsuitable emergency accommodation and placement in unsuitable emergency homeless accommodation for excessive and unduly prolonged periods. This is something which is most concerning to MLRC.
With respect of family homelessness, in 2018, MLRC provided free legal advice and representation to 452 families nationwide. This accounts for 36% of families who were recognised as homeless by the State in December 2018. MLRC also acts for a disproportionate number of ethnic minority clients, including Traveller and Roma: 77% of our current clients are of ethnic minority and from our casework, we see that this group face particular barriers to accessing housing and homeless services.
Arising from casework since 2015, MLRC has identified a number of serious concerns relating to emergency accommodation provision to homeless families with minor children:
- In 2018, MLRC assisted just over 80 families who had been refused access to emergency accommodation. These families presented to Mercy Law roofless often left with the only option of sleeping in parks, cars and uninhabitable caravans, chronically overcrowded or unsafe conditions or Garda stations. MLRC successfully challenged a number of these refusals.
- MLRC continues to act for families who have been recognised as homeless but who are placed on night by night emergency homeless accommodation. In one case in particular, our client had just been discharged from maternity hospital into night by night provision, with her new born baby who was born four weeks premature, and her fifteen month old baby. Our client was obliged to move every night for several weeks. She had no safe, secure place to go during the day and spent long periods on the streets exposing her very young children to the winter weather. Our client was unable to breastfeed her baby in comfort or to sterilise bottles in safety; she had no space to care for herself properly following discharge from the maternity hospital following the birth. Our client was not told by the housing authority or the Dublin Region Homeless Executive (DHRE) why she was on night by night provision, a lesser provision to other families; she was also not told how to resolve any issue in order to access a more stable booking. The provision was only changed following legal intervention. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case for MLRC and we have acted for several other clients in similarly distressing circumstances.
- MLRC continued to act for a number of families who were provided with ‘self-accommodate’ emergency accommodation. MLRC has acted for many families residing in hotels and B&BS and has experienced first-hand the very distressing and harmful impacts of such provision on vulnerable families in particular. It is entirely inappropriate in our view to place the obligation of sourcing emergency accommodation on individual families.
Over the last ten years, MLRC has pursued successful litigation through the Courts to vindicate our client’s rights. We have brought a number of strategic cases that have broad wider benefits to our client group. Some examples of the cases we have brought include:
- Securing stable accommodation through High Court proceedings for a victim of serious domestic violence who was refused access to the housing list on the basis that she did not make a joint application with her abusive spouse.
- Overcoming a finding of ‘intentional homelessness’ against our client and securing her and her five children access to stable emergency accommodation.
- Successfully advocating for and securing a housing transfer for a vulnerable family experiencing racially motivated anti-social behaviour.
- Bringing several successful High Court challenges to unlawful refusals of social housing applications made by EU nationals and non-Irish nationals.
- Acting in High Court cases determined favourably and setting important precedents in relation to treatment of social housing applications, in particular see Kinsella v Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown County Council 2012 IEHC 344 & Zatreanu & Ors v Dublin City Council 2013 IEHC 556.
- Represented a client up to Supreme Court level, lifting an unlawful block on his access to social welfare.
To date in 2019, MLRC has assisted 971 individuals. This is a clear indication that the demand for our service continues to grow year on year. We continue to deal with a steady flow of urgent cases and endeavour to assist our vulnerable client’s access their entitlements in dignity.