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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