Securing suitable emergency accommodation for pregnant mother and her family
MLRC recently worked with a family who had been placed in unsuitable emergency accommodation, which, according to medical reports, presented a risk to our client’s unborn child. After MLRC made several representations on behalf of the family to the Council, they were moved into suitable emergency accommodation.
We had initially worked with this family to help them access emergency accommodation. The Council had refused them this accommodation, The family, a mother and her two young children, were initially made homeless in March 2016 following a family dispute. The Council did not accept that the family could not continue to live with extended family members and refused to recognise the family as homeless and provide emergency accommodation. For the period March 2016 through to December 2016, the family relied on the goodwill of friends and family, moving frequently and often staying in highly unsuitable accommodation.
Focus Ireland referred the family to our legal clinic in late November 2016 and we then advocated on their behalf, arguing the family was homeless within the terms of s 2 of the Housing Act 1988. It took some weeks to resolve this issue with the Council and, in the absence of any response from the Council, we had instructed Counsel with a view to bringing High Court litigation. However just before Christmas, the Council accepted that the family were indeed homeless and put them on the self-accommodation option. This meant that the family had to source their own emergency accommodation and were only able to secure a booking in a B&B, located some distance from the children’s school.
Serious difficulties quickly arose with the suitability of the B&B accommodation as it did not meet the needs of our client who was pregnant. Our client, a diabetic, was admitted to a maternity hospital in January 2017 with high blood sugar levels that presented a risk to her and her unborn child. The hospital wrote to the Council directly, highlighting the particular needs of this pregnant mother, confirming the unsuitability of B&B accommodation and the need for stable accommodation where the mother could cook for herself and her family and therefore manage her blood sugar levels effectively.
MLRC also wrote to the Council stating that B&B accommodation was documented to be unsuitable and presented a risk to the health of the mother and her unborn child. We also referred to the negative effect on the family in terms of their family life, their diet, their well-being, and the financial impact. We relied on several medical reports that had been provided and a report from the hospital social worker. We argued that the Council is obliged to comply with its duties under relevant housing legislation and that such provisions must be interpreted in a manner compatible with the Constitution and with the European Convention of Human Rights.
We contended that the Council, in providing emergency accommodation that did not meet the family’s needs, breached and/or disproportionately interfered with the constitutional and fundamental rights of the family members, including the unborn child, particularly with respect to their right to privacy and family life and their personal rights.
Fortunately, we received a positive response from the Council shortly afterwards. The family was immediately moved to alternative temporary accommodation operated by the approved housing association Respond. This accommodation is family-friendly, and has cooking and laundry facilities together with space for the children to do their homework and play. The location was also significantly better for accessing the children’s schools.
The outcome in this case was positive for this family but it is of concern that such an outcome was only secured after extensive engagement by MLRF and the medical team at the maternity hospital with the Council. It is hoped that in future cases, the needs of particular families can be recognised at an earlier stage and an assessment completed determining what would be suitable temporary accommodation to meet those needs so that such accommodation can be provided at the outset.
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