The Irish Courts handed down two helpful and interesting decisions late last year. In the first case the Supreme Court recognised the makeup of modern families which it said the local authority needs to take into account and must assess each case individually on its fact. In the second case, the High Court considered the limitations on when alternative accommodation can constitute a barrier to accessing social housing support.
In Fagan v Dublin City Council, the Supreme Court ruled that the local authority had misapplied the law by operating a blanket policy in respect of determining the household composition of separated parents with access to children. This case related to a separated father, Mr Fagan, who had overnight access to his three children three days a week. Although Dublin City Council registered the children’s mother as a separated mother with three children, the Council recognised Mr Fagan’s housing need as that of a single person living alone, and as a result he was only entitled to the level of HAP available to a single person household. The Court held that the local authority was not entitled to take resources into account when assessing the household’s composition under section 20(1) of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 and that each assessment should be made on a case by case basis taking the applicant’s particular circumstances into account. This case therefore leaves the door open for separated parents with access to their children to have their household needs properly recognised by Dublin City Council and to potentially secure an increased rate of HAP to reflect that need.
The High Court case, Zabiello v South Dublin County Council, concerned a Polish couple living in Ireland. The couple previously owned a flat in Poland which they gifted to their son prior to making a housing application with South Dublin County Council. The council refused their application on the ground that if the flat had been sold for value, the sales proceeds could have assisted the applicants with their housing needs. Simmons J held that as Regulation 22 of the Social Housing Assessment Regulations 2011 is worded in the present tense, only property currently owned by applicants should be considered alternative accommodation. Simmons J also considered in what circumstances proceeds of sale could be considered to “to secure suitable accommodation” and found that the term “secure” suggested a level of permanence. He found that prior ownership of property cannot render a household permanently ineligible for social housing support. The Court held that the council had acted ultra vires in refusing to accept the couple’s application in circumstances where the value of the property at the time it was gifted to their son was circa €12,000, and that these proceeds would have depleted by the time the application was submitted to the council 4 years after they ceased to own the property.