Council sued by ‘vulnerable’ homeless couple seeking housing supports

Couple from Romania with health problems bring action against South Dublin County Council

Council says the 2011 social housing assessment regulations provide that it decides the eligibility of a social housing application.  Photograph Nick Bradshaw

Council says the 2011 social housing assessment regulations provide that it decides the eligibility of a social housing application. Photograph Nick Bradshaw

 

A homeless couple aged in their 60s and with significant health problems have sued South Dublin County Council in an effort to compel it to decide their application for social housing support.

The couple, from Romania, are illiterate, do not speak English, and medical reports show they are “extremely vulnerable” and not suitable for emergency accommodation on a night by night basis, their counsel Siobhán Phelan SC told the High Court on Friday.

Both have suffered cancer conditions in the past and have a range of ongoing health issues, the court heard.

They were assisted by the Free Legal Advice Centres (Flac) in applying to the council for housing supports.

In a letter to the council, the man told it: “Please help me as soon as possible, we don’t have anywhere to go.”

The couple have been here since 2006 and became homeless in 2018 after a notice of termination issued for their private rented accommodation, where they had lived from 2011 with their extended family. The termination notice came after that house was possessed by a bank, the court heard.

They were offered emergency accommodation on a night to night basis but left that after three nights because of regularly being subjected to anti-social behaviour.

They also found it unsuitable to their needs, particularly their health needs, and have instead been staying with a relative in cramped conditions. She has no bed space for them and they sleep on a couch.

They want to be able to stay in accommodation close to their extended family, Ms Phelan said.

Represented by Ms Phelan, with Lewis J Mooney BL, instructed by Flac, the couple have sought orders, in judicial review proceedings, compelling the council to decide their January 2019 application for housing supports.

Ms Phelan said the council was legally obliged to decide that within 12 weeks and Flac went to “every appropriate length” to afford the council an opportunity to make a decision before securing leave for judicial review in July 2019.

The couple’s case is that the council has a mandatory obligation under sections 19 and 20 under the Housing Act, and under the relevant regulations, to assess the application within 12 weeks if no additional information is required. No such information was sought, Ms Phelan said.

The council’s failure to decide the application amounted to a breach of duty, including statutory duty and unreasonable and irrational exercise of statutory power, she submitted.

Contrary to what the council argued, the January 2019 application was a “fresh” application which had to be decided within 12 weeks, she said.

She also disputed the couple’s work record had any relevance to their application, noting they are EU nationals in receipt of disability benefit and that other councils had provided social housing supports to non-Irish nationals who did not have 52 weeks employment here.

The council, represented by Conleth Bradley SC, with Karen Denning BL, opposes the proceedings which came before Mr Justice Michael McGrath on Friday.

It says the 2011 social housing assessment regulations provide that it decides the eligibility of a social housing application.

It says it had in March 2017 received an undated and unsigned application from the couple for social housing which was not processed for reasons including the volume of applications and then ongoing legal proceedings concerning a Department of Housing circular setting guidelines for assessing social housing by non-Irish nationals. Those proceedings later settled on confidential terms.

It maintains it had not “refused” the couple’s application and they were told in January 2018 it could not carry out a full assessment of their application at that time but it might be considered when they could provide details of 52 weeks employment in the State.

Because the applicants had not challenged that January 2018 decision, they were not entitled to the relief sought, it says. They were out of time to challenge the January 2018 decision and not entitled to more time to bring a challenge. No new decision was issued by it in January 2019, it says.

It also says, because no clarification has been received from the Department of Housing concerning the circular for assessing applications for social housing support from non-Irish nationals, it remains bound by that circular.

The hearing has been adjourned, to resume on January 31st.