Thursday 19 September 2019

Homeless campaigner Erica 'refused' two house offers

Council report claims mother who took part in RTE documentary was offered apartment

PLIGHT: Erica Fleming lives in a hotel room with her daughter. Photo: Mark Condren
PLIGHT: Erica Fleming lives in a hotel room with her daughter. Photo: Mark Condren
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Homeless campaigner Erica Fleming, who lives in a hotel with her daughter, turned down two offers of accommodation, according to an internal Dublin City Council report seen by the Sunday Independent.

The briefing document states Ms Fleming was offered a two-bedroom apartment in the upmarket Dublin suburb of Mount Prospect Avenue in Clontarf around the same time she was being filmed for an RTE documentary on the homeless crisis.

Erica Fleming. Photo: Tony Gavin
Erica Fleming. Photo: Tony Gavin

The council said it "sourced and offered" the accommodation through its Place Finder service, which helps homeless people living in Dublin to find private rental tenancies.

The report says the local authority offered to pay the deposit and rent on the property which was to be paid directly to the landlord through the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) scheme.

"This offer was declined by Ms Fleming," the document states.

Shortly after this offer was made, the Dublin woman was invited to view another property through the Place Finder service, but again turned down the offer.

Erica Fleming and daughter Emily (9) in Trinity College. Photo: Tony Gavin
Erica Fleming and daughter Emily (9) in Trinity College. Photo: Tony Gavin

The report states that it is the council's understanding, from correspondences with Ms Fleming, that she is only interested in being offered accommodation in certain areas which are provided directly by the local authority or an approved housing body.

The document says she is not interested in properties paid through the HAP scheme.

"DCC has pointed out to Ms Fleming that a number of solutions regarding securing a tenancy arrangement have been offered but declined and that there is a need for shared responsibility so that every effort is made to progress out of homelessness," it states.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent two weeks ago, Ms Fleming said she has never been offered any accommodation by Dublin City Council.

Read more: 'The government needs to take this seriously' – Charity calls for reforms after homeless mum refused education allowance

She said the HAP scheme is "better than a hotel room, but it still doesn't give you the security".

"You could be okay for 12 months but a landlord could turn around in 12 months and say 'actually we can get more rent off somebody else or we are selling the property'. Because there is no back up plan with Dublin City Council, you're living in a hotel again."

Tenants in rental accommodation under the HAP scheme have the same legal entitlements as a private renter.

This includes a freeze on rent hikes for two years and an obligation on a landlord to justify any increases. It also means tenant leases cannot be terminated unless the property is being sold or given to a family member of the landlord.

When details of Dublin City Council's offers of accommodation were put to Ms Fleming last week, she acknowledged the details related to her but said it "appears" to be "inaccurate information". However, when asked what parts of the information were inaccurate she declined to respond.

Ms Fleming came to national attention when she appeared in the RTE documentary My Homeless Family, which detailed the struggle of families living in hotel rooms.

In the programme, she spoke about the HAP scheme but did not mention that the council had sourced potential rental properties.

She said she wanted the next property she and daughter lived in "to be for life".

Since the programme aired, Ms Fleming has regularly spoken publicly about her plight, including delivering a speech at the most recent Sinn Fein Ard Fheis.

She was also part of a Sinn Fein-led delegation which travelled to Brussels to address the EU commission on the homeless crisis.

Last week, Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar took the extraordinary step of issuing a statement on foot of complaints by Ms Fleming about not being able to access back-to-education state aid.

Mr Varadkar said "a lot of inaccurate information" on the state supports available to lone parents was put into the public domain relating to a "high profile individual case".

Ms Fleming, who works part-time, has written to the minister asking him to intervene when she was refused the Back to Education Allowance (BTEA) after she was accepted into Trinity College Dublin.

Mr Varadkar said the BTEA was for people whose sole source of income was social welfare, but highlighted a number of other state supports that are available to lone parents returning to education.

He added that he was "delighted" she was accepted into TCD.

Sunday Independent

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