Homeless couple win case over council’s failure over housing application decision
Couple, aged in their 60s are illiterate and had significant health problems
A vulnerable homeless couple with significant health problems have won their High Court action against South Dublin County Council aimed at compelling it to decide their application for social housing support made more than a year ago.
Mr Justice Michael McGrath found the council breached its obligations under the applicable law in not dealing with the couple’s January 14th, 2019, application within the specified 12-week period. The appropriate relief is to grant a declaration in favour of the couple and he will hear submissions about the precise wording of that on a later date, he said.
The couple, aged in their 60s from Romania, are illiterate, do not speak English and have not worked here since they came in 2006. Both have suffered cancer conditions in the past and have a range of ongoing health issues. They were assisted by the Free Legal Advice Centres in applying to the council for housing supports after they became homeless in 2018.
A notice of termination issued for their private rented accommodation, where they had lived from 2011 with their extended family, after the house was possessed by a bank.
They were offered emergency accommodation on a night to night basis but left after three nights because of regularly being subject to anti-social behaviour. They also found it unsuitable to their needs, particularly their health needs, and went to stay with a relative in cramped conditions where they sleep on a couch. Represented by Siobhán Phelan, with Lewis J. Mooney BL, instructed by Flac, they initiated proceedings in July 2019 seeking orders compelling the council to decide their January 2019 application for housing supports.
Ms Phelan disputed that the couple’s work record had any relevance to their application, noting they are EU nationals in receipt of disability benefit. The council maintained it could not deal with the January 2019 application because it had decided in January 2018, and so informed the couple, it could not fully assess an earlier housing application by them “at this time” until they had shown evidence of 52 weeks’ employment here.
In his judgment on Thursday, Mr Justice McGrath said the issue at the heart of the debate was whether the January 2019 application was a valid application for the purposes of the statutory regime. Regulation 12.1 of the Social Housing Assessment Regulations 2011 provides, subject to proper completion of the application form and the provisions of 12.2, the housing authority “shall” deal with the application within 12 weeks and either accept or refuse it, he said.
He rejected the council’s arguments this challenge involved a “collateral attack” on the council’s decision of January 2018 on their earlier application. That January 2018 decision was to seek further information and it amounted to a decision “to defer a decision” until the couple’s circumstances changed or the criteria in a 2012 Department of Housing Circular concerning social housing supports for non-Irish nationals were re-assessed.
There was nothing in the Housing Act 2009 or the 2011 regulations that precluded consideration of a fresh application, particularly where circumstances have changed, he said.
He was satisfied the regulations provide for assessment of housing need of persons at a particular time in their lives. In this case, there was a stated change in circumstances because, in 2017, the applicants were living in rented accommodation while in 2019 they were described as homeless and their health situation had also changed.
Therefore, the January 2019 application had to be addressed by the council in accordance with its statutory obligations to make a determination, he held. The primary purpose and intent of the 2009 Act under which the 2011 regulations were made is to ensure an assessment is carried out and a determination is made whether a household qualifies for support. To leave the period of assessment “open indefinitely” would appear “to run contrary to this purpose”.
He was satisfied the council failed to comply with its obligation to deal with the January 8th, 2019 application within the specified 12 weeks.