In our news blog of 26 April, we noted that we have had a worrying increase over these summer months of very urgent queries into our office from homeless families, often with young children, being refused emergency accommodation by local authorities. This puts them at serious risk of rough sleeping and complete destitution and have a devastating impact on the families. This problem is continuing and increasing.
MLRC solicitor Rebecca Keatinge spoke on RTE’s Drivetime on Monday 4 July about this issue. MLRC’s client, Jade, spoke about her experience of this desperate situation. To listen back, please click here.
When we have helped families in this situation, advocating for them to the local authority, the local authority most usually accepts that they are homeless and gives them emergency accommodation. We are extremely concerned that other families may be affected and that local authorities in some instances are not meeting their legal obligations to these vulnerable families.
Our experience is that families when they present to the local authorities as homeless and are refused emergency accommodation, the reasons for the refusals of emergency accommodation vary, and include: refusal on the basis that the family has alternative accommodation, with for example, extended family, or refusal on the basis that the family has intentionally or voluntarily made themselves homeless.
Definition of “homeless” and legal entitlements when a person is homeless
Section 2 of the Housing Act 1988 sets out the conditions for deciding who qualifies as homeless. Under this Act, you will be regarded as homeless if:
- there is no accommodation available which, in the opinion of the local authority, you could reasonably occupy, and
- in the opinion of the local authority, you are unable to provide accommodation from your own resources.
This definition covers both you and anyone else who normally lives with you or might reasonably be expected to live with you. You will also be regarded as homeless if you live in a hospital, county home, night shelter or similar institution because you have no other accommodation and, again in the local authority’s opinion, you are unable to provide accommodation from your own resources.
Section 10 of the 1988 empowers the local authority to provide accommodation to a homeless person or provide financial support for a homeless person to source accommodation (known as the self-accommodation option). There is a statutory entitlement to a housing assessment that extends to an assessment as to whether or not you are homeless.
Representing families who the Council has unlawfully refused to recognise as homeless – an alarming increase in such cases
In the cases we have dealt with, we have corresponded with the local authority and sought written reasons for their decision. Our experience is that families are provided with emergency accommodation shortly after we have got involved and before a substantive response is received to our correspondence. This is obviously an enormous relief to the families, who nonetheless face a lengthy stay in a hotel before securing any longer-term accommodation.
We are alarmed by the number of families that we are meeting, and representing, with this issue. We are calling on Minister Coveney, in the Housing Action Plan to be published in the coming weeks, to address this issue – to make adequate emergency accommodation available; and to ensure that local authorities carry out fair and lawful assessments when a person presents to them as homeless.
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