Sunday 25 August 2019

Mother-of-two claims 'council error' is causing her family's homelessness

Gillian Dunne with her kids Rhys (13) and Michaela (14)
Gillian Dunne with her kids Rhys (13) and Michaela (14)
Gillian Dunne
Catherine Devine

Catherine Devine

A mother and her young kids are facing homelessness as she claims the council didn't alert her to changing rent supplements.

Gillian Dunne from Rush, Co Dublin claims that Fingal County Council didn't tell her that they were phasing out the supplementary rent allowance to change over to the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) scheme.

HAP payments mean that local authorities can provide housing assistance for households who qualify for social housing support.

Under HAP, local authorities will make payments on behalf of the HAP recipient directly to the landlord in respect of rent.

Gillian Dunne
Gillian Dunne

Gillian, who has been living in rented accommodation for the past seven years with her kids Rhys (13) and Michaela (14) said she received a notice in March informing her that the rented house was being repossessed.

"I went to my local social welfare office informing them of my situation and they just told me to come back when I found a new house. Since March I have since called them over 50 times leaving messages for someone to ring me back as rents had increased and I was unsure of my limit."

The mum-of-two claims that no-one from Fingal County Council responded to her calls or emails for several months.

During this time, she became ill with trigeminal neuralgia, a chronic pain disorder that affects nerves in the brain. The disorder causes sharp facial pain and can last for several minutes.

"I had to have brain surgery and even from my hospital bed I was calling the council trying to get an update on my rent allowance.

"I had viewed a few properties and I finally secured one in my town. I went to my local welfare office to be told I can no longer claim rent allowance and that I have to apply to HAP. This was four weeks before I was going to be evicted from my rented house.

"I was utterly and completely devastated. Swapping to the HAP payment system can take months to go through. I don't understand why I wasn't told way back in March when I first informed them of my situation."

Gillian contacted a local councillor pleading him to help stop their family becoming homeless.

"He was brilliant and tried to help us out but the council refused to pay the rent until my HAP application came through. I lost the property we had viewed as the landlord said it was taking too long for a payment.

"I feel let down big time by the council. I would have done the correct process in time if someone had informed me of the changes or answered my phone calls back in March."

The mum-of-two said she will squat in her rented house until the home is repossessed at some stage this month.

"I had a job interview last Wednesday and I went back to college so I could get a job like this, but I missed the interview because of the house situation. I really hope that the council can intervene and stop me and my kids from becoming homeless. I don't want my kids to have to go through this."

In a statement Fingal County Council said:

“The Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) scheme was launched in Fingal County Council on the 1 March 2017 to be introduced on a phased basis, however, for a period after this date, some existing Rent Supplement cases would have been dealt with by the Department of Social Protection.

"Indeed, some short term Rent Supplement cases are still dealt with by the DSP. New cases are dealt with under the HAP Scheme and to date, Fingal County Council has assisted applicants conclude 319 HAP Tenancy arrangements and continue to assist applicants finalise further new  HAP cases.

"The HAP team link with the Department of Social Protection as required on individual cases.It is not possible to clarify the details of the case referred to without more specific information.”

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