We had an exceptionally busy year in 2016 and during the year saw a very big increase in the number of people contacting us for advice and also an increase in High Court litigation brought on behalf of our clients.
Cases on unlawful refusal by housing authorities to provide emergency accommodation
One particularly common and acute issue that came up was the refusal by housing authorities to provide emergency accommodation to families and individuals who are homeless. We litigated on two cases on this issue last year and were successful in both of them. This blog post gave an update on one of these cases. There were several other cases that we worked on, submitting detailed legal submissions to housing authorities arguing that such refusals of emergency accommodation were unlawful and these other cases were fortunately resolved before escalating to litigation.
The refusals were most often based on a decision of the housing authority that the homeless persons presenting had alternative accommodation available to them that they could occupy, and in some cases, the housing authorities determined that applicants had become intentionally homeless and therefore did not quality for emergency accommodation. These cases for the most part involved vulnerable non-national families and families who are members of the travelling community. The cases were acute and pressing and securing a positive outcome averted families with young children having to rough sleep. You can read about and listen to our piece on RTE’s Drivetime about one such case here.
Cases on completely inadequate and highly inappropriate emergency accommodation
We also dealt with several cases involving completely inadequate and highly inappropriate emergency accommodation and also cases involving placements of families in unsuitable emergency accommodation for a very long period. We prepared detailed submissions in these cases, and obtained medical reports and other supporting evidence, to argue that families should be moved to more suitable emergency accommodation or to long term stable accommodation. We have had some success in these cases and continue to work on the issue of long term homelessness and suitability of emergency B&B and hotel accommodation, seeking creative solutions both on the casework and policy side.
Cases on unlawful barriers to getting on the housing list
A recurring theme in our casework is barriers to getting on the housing list and through the year, we assisted many clients overcoming these barriers. Getting on the housing list can be a crucial step in moving out of homelessness and accessing support services, as well as ensuring access to rent supplement/HAP. We assisted one client for example who had been trying to get on the housing list for over a year and had been homeless throughout this period. He had been refused access to the housing list on the basis that he did not have a sufficient connection to Dublin.
We argued that accessing homeless services for in excess of one year established such a connection and that it would be wholly irrational for him to return to his original council area, where he had not resided since 1981. Further details on the case can be found in our blog post here.
In another case, we challenged by way of High Court litigation a refusal to put a non-national on the housing list on the basis that she did not satisfy the provisions of Circular 41/2012. Circular 41/2012 was issued by the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government (as it was then called) in December 2012 and is entitled “Access to social housing supports for non-Irish nationals – including clarification re Stamp 4 holders”. Our client was married to an Irish national but was a victim of domestic violence. The housing authority said she would not be eligible to go on the housing list unless she made a joint application with her husband. It was only by recourse to High Court litigation that we secured a positive outcome for that client and secured her inclusion on the housing list. You can read more on issues arising in relation to the Circular here.
Cases in relation to termination of tenancies of voluntary housing association tenants
April 2016 saw a change in the law with respect of approved housing bodies and brought them under the remit of the Residential Tenancies Board. You can read our blog on the change in the law here. Towards the end of 2016, we acted in several cases before the Residential Tenancies Board Tribunal arguing that termination of a tenancy of a tenant in voluntary housing, constituted an interference in their right to home and violated their rights under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) (the right to privacy and family life). We continue to work on several cases in this vein. The core argument that runs through them is that the Residential Tenancies Board, as a public body, is obliged to act in a manner compatible with the Convention and must have due regard to Article 8 and the requirement that any person at risk of interference with the right to respect for the home must be able to have the proportionality of that measure decided on by an independent tribunal.
Cases in relation to the new evictions procedure for local authority tenants
Related to changes in the law, we advised on several cases during the year which concerned the new evictions procedure set out in the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2014. We have noted that housing authorities are become increasingly ready to rely on the new procedure. A summary of the procedure is available here.
Cases on succession to tenancy
We also acted in several succession cases, arguing successfully that occupants or tenants of a Council property enjoy a right to home that is protected by Article 8 of the ECHR and any decision to evict may only be lawful and proportionate if due regard is had to that right and in some circumstances, an offer of alterative accommodation is made.
This is a summary of the areas that the bulk of our work has been focused on but there are several other issues we have worked on. The queries we are encountering are becoming increasingly varied and complex.
We work with clients who are in an acutely vulnerable position and often come to us as a last resort having made extensive efforts to resolve the issues arising themselves. We are without exception in awe of the resilience of our clients and want to thank them for working with us. We look forward to a busy and productive 2017.
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