We have recently been working on several cases where families have been recognised as homeless by the housing authority and have been put on the ‘self-accommodation option’, which means they are obliged to source their own hotel accommodation to meet their emergency accommodation needs. For vulnerable families, they are frequently unable to source such accommodation and are left at ongoing risk of rough sleeping and subjected to chronic instability and insecurity that is having wide-ranging and negative impacts on the families, including young children.
Over the course of the last year, we have advocated for several families initially refused emergency accommodation by their housing authority and have successfully had them recognised as homeless. See our previous blog on these cases. Once recognised as homeless, the housing authority provides emergency accommodation pursuant to Section 10 of the Housing Act 1988.
Section 10 allows broad flexibility for the manner in which that emergency accommodation is provided. Over the last six months, there has been a move away from housing authorities booking homeless families directly into hotel accommodation; rather families are being told to source their own accommodation on the basis that the Council will pay for it, once sourced. This is called the ‘self-accommodation option’.
We are advising several families who are particularly large, are members of the Travelling Community, or are non-nationals with imperfect English. Our experience is that these families are simply unable at present to source hotel accommodation to accommodate their families or are only able to source is on a very haphazard night to night basis at various locations across greater Dublin area.
The impact of the absence of accommodation and/or chronic instability in accommodation on these families is in many cases dire. It is often impossible for parents to get their children to school. In one case we are acting in, the children have attended school just twenty percent of the school year so far; the children are stated to be presenting as withdrawn and unable to engage in classes, due to their excessive absences. We have seen a deterioration in mental and physical health, as families sleep in cars for prolonged periods. We have seen sustained separation of young children from their parents, as the parents are obliged to accommodate their children with extended family members to avoid having to sleep in the car with them. We are seeing families getting into debt while they try and meet their daily expenses which are heightened during periods of chronic instability.
In one case, we have resorted to litigation to challenge the manner in which the Council is providing emergency accommodation to one such vulnerable family. We have argued that the Council has a duty to perform its functions under section 10 of the Housing Act 1988 in a rational and reasonable manner and to provide accommodation to persons defined as homeless in the Act of 1988, which it is failing to do in this case. We contend that the Council has failed to vindicate the rights of the family in the exercise of its statutory powers pursuant to the 1988 Act. We have argued that the fundamental rights provisions of the Constitution can, in certain circumstances, place positive obligations on State bodies exercising statutory and also cite the protections of the European Convention on Human Rights. We have also highlighted the failure of the Council to vindicate the rights of the young children who are affected.
It is clear that the current system of ‘self accommodation’ is failing these vulnerable families yet we have seen no recognition by housing authorities of the very negative impact of obliging vulnerable families to source their own accommodation or evidence of a change of approach. We would welcome a process at the point of being recognised as homeless, that identifies the specific needs of homeless families and ensures that a suitable accommodation option is provided at the outset, thus reducing the overall negative impact of homelessness on each family.
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