‘We loved being there but then they wanted to put the rent up’

Family in Dublin living just below social welfare radar

Bernadette Mills and Khalid Lamii, who are now living in a one-bedroom apartment in Avocal House, a homeless hostel in Temple Street West, assisted by  Focus Ireland. Photograph: Cyril Byrne.

Bernadette Mills and Khalid Lamii, who are now living in a one-bedroom apartment in Avocal House, a homeless hostel in Temple Street West, assisted by Focus Ireland. Photograph: Cyril Byrne.

Wed, Sep 11, 2013, 01:15

When Minister for Finance Michael Noonan puts the finishing touches to the budget next month, he could be forgiven for not having the precise case of Bernadette Mills uppermost in his mind. But her’s is the type of case that perhaps should guide at least some of the Minister’s thinking.

Bernadatte, her husband Khaild, and their two-year-old daughter Amira, are a family just below the social welfare radar, living precariously on an edge over which they could topple at any moment.

“We were living in Rathmines [in Dublin] four or five years ago,” says Bernadatte at the start of a story that ends with her living in homeless accommodation in the city centre. “Then Amira came along and we had to get a two-bedroom place.”

And so they moved to Kimmage, to a two-bed apartment not far from Bernadatte’s family in Walkinstown. The rent was €850 a month, a major draw on her salary of about €300 a week in a local supermarket.

“We loved being there, but then they wanted to put the rent up to €980 and we just couldn’t afford it,” she says.

The result was a move into her mother and father’s home, also shared by four siblings. “I was living on a floor in mam’s,” she says.

Khalid, a glazier who lost his job two years ago and hasn’t been able to find employment since, receives €179.60 on the dole. When landlords become aware of the family’s tight income, apartment availability evaporates and now they live in a one-bedroom apartment in Avoca House, a homeless hostel in Temple Street West, assisted by Focus Ireland and Dublin City Council. There, she says, they have to be in by 11pm and cannot have visitors.

Because Bernadette works 35 hours a week, she falls outside the State’s rent support scheme under which applicants working more than 30 hours a week are deemed to be in full-time employment and therefore ineligible for consideration.

“They don’t go on how much income you have,” says Bernadette, bewildered, but on the hours you have. “I’ve worked for 11 years and I’ve never asked for any help. I’ve never been on social welfare. Now I’m asking and it’s ‘no’ all the time.”