Tuesday 23 July 2019

Separated dad wants State to pay for house big enough for visiting children

Ms Justice Marie Baker is hearing the case
Ms Justice Marie Baker is hearing the case

Tim Healy

A SEPARATED father wants the State to pay enough rent supplement so he can get a home big enough to allow him have regular visits from his four children with whom he has open and overnight access.

In a case with implications for the entitlements of one parent families in similar circumstances, the Dublin man, currently unemployed, argues he should not be treated as a single person in his rent supplement application.

The High Court heard his children live with their mother, who is working, and her new partner in the family home in another city.

For a number of years until his separation in 2011, the man cared for the children full-time at home while their mother worked.

He returned to Dublin in early 2012 to try to find work and he lives with his parents.

While he and his children have been deemed eligible for social housing, he has been told he will be on a waiting list for five years.

He is challenging a decision by a deciding officer, upheld by an appeals officer, that he is entitled only to the €475 monthly rent supplement payment made to single persons.

He wants €900 to cover rent of a house which could accommodate himself and regular visits from his children and also give effect to the wish, supported by his ex-wife, of his oldest child, aged 16, to live with him.

Ms Justice Marie Baker has been asked to determine issues including if there is a legal requirement to consider the man's family circumstances and whether his being treated as a single person for rent supplement purposes amounts to a breach of his family rights under the Constitution and European Convention on Human Rights.

If the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005 precludes children of a separated father being considered "qualified children" in his application for housing support if they already have accommodation with their mother, those provisions are unconstitutional, it is claimed.

The proceedings are against the Minister for Social Protection, the Chief Appeals Officer and the State and the man is represented by the Northside Community Law Centre.

Outlining the case, Dervla Browne SC, for the man, said he was not arguing he was entitled to a particular amount of rent supplement but rather challenging the decision to treat him as a single person for the purposes of assessing rent supplement.

He was also challenging the refusal of the Chief Appeals Officer to review his case.

In an affidavit, the man said, while his family facilitates some visits to him by his children, he is very concerned, due to not having suitable accommodation,  he cannot respond to their obvious need to spend more time with him. 

Since he moved to Dublin, he has been unable to have reasonable access to his children and the refusal of adequate rent supplement had severely affected his family unit and the emotional well being of himself and his children, he said.

The last time he saw them was a month ago when they came to Dublin for three nights and he and they stayed with his brother for two nights and one night with his sister.

Cormac Corrigan SC, for the respondents, said a core issue in the case was whether there is an entitlement to refuse the man the level of rent supplement sought by him. 

The man's children are not parties to the case and he may only seek to ascribe rights to himself, counsel added.

The case continues.

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