Tuesday 20 February 2018

Homeless family now granted emergency accommodation after council refused eligibility due to mother's 'choices'

High Court. Stock Image
High Court. Stock Image

Aodhan O'Faolain

A homeless mother and her four children, one with epilepsy, have got a court order on consent overturning a Council's refusal to consider them eligible for emergency accommodation.

South Dublin County Council had found the family ineligible for emergency accommodation in October on foot of its view their homelessness since late September arose from "choices" made by the woman.

The family, represented by Mercy Law, sued the Council in the High Court and the case settled this week on terms including Mr Justice Robert Eagar making a consent order quashing the Council decision.

As a result, they have been in emergency accommodation since Tuesday and have also been put on the Council's housing list.

Their case is among several similar actions by homeless individuals and families.

Prior to Tuesday, the family stayed some ten days in a three bedroom council house with a friend of the woman and her three children. That friend had said she could not continue to put them up, the woman said.

An unemployed care worker, the woman said they previously got accommodation some days with Focus Ireland through the Family Housing Assistance Team (HAT) funded by the Council but she was told on October 10th they could not access the Family HAT because the Council had not registered her as homeless.

The Council considered their homelessness arose from "choices" made by the woman, including to surrender a council tenancy in Tallaght in 2015 and take the family to England so her teenage son could pursue a sporting career.

It argued she was "responsible for her homelessness by virtue of her own choice and voluntary acts" and it was not obliged to provide the "same degree of support for persons whose homelessness is brought about themselves by their own choices or actions".

The woman is a native of Nigeria who came here in 2000.

She became a naturalised Irish citizen in 2013 and all four children are Irish citizens. She lived in the Tallaght area from 2006, worked part-time for periods and did some voluntary work. 

She had a council tenancy in Tallaght from 2014 but surrendered that in June 2015 to move to the UK. The children attended school here until they went to England and are back in school here since they returned.

The family got council accommodation while in England and the woman got some part-time work but they returned here last September. The woman said they returned for financial reasons, she was unable to fund her son's sporting interest, and because her children missed Ireland.

She denied she had made her family homeless and argued it was the fact they are homeless, not the reasons why, that should decide their application for emergency accommodation. "The specific reasons why we came to be homeless do not reduce the extent of our need," she said.

The woman claimed she was forcibly removed from the Council's offices on October 6th last, one of “numerous” dates she sought emergency accommodation.

Responding to the Council's claim she was "escorted" from the offices rather than forcibly removed after refusing requests to leave, she said she had “pleaded” with staff to reconsider their refusal to accommodate her "as I had nowhere to go with my family that night". She also explained her son was unwell and gave details of an epileptic fit he had suffered.

The staff "were not happy with me and told me to leave", she said. Two security men came in and told her: “Out,out, your time is up, get out".

"I was too scared to refuse to leave," she said. She went directly to Focus Ireland  who “supported me".

She claimed the Council had no legal basis for determining she was not eligible for emergency accommodation.

The Council had denied its refusal was irrational and unreasonable and involved misapplication of its statutory powers having regard to obligations under the Constitution and European Convention on Human Rights.

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