Landlord who refused Hap threatened eviction if complaint made, WRC told

People ‘shouldn’t be allowed to get away with treating tenants like that,’ hearing told

A landlord couple have been accused of using the threat of eviction to try and shut down a complaint to the Workplace Relations Commission over their refusal to accept the housing assistance payment´ (Hap).

Tenant David Paul Smith told the commission that his family went into debt trying to make rent and that he had experienced “the most amount of stress in my life”.

“I feel like people like that shouldn’t be allowed to get away with treating tenants like that,” he added.

Mr Smith has made a complaint under the Equal Status Act against his former landlords, Martin and Hillary Shields of Ard Ross Park, Crossmaglen, Newry, Co Down, on the grounds of a refusal to accept Hap.


An equality tribunal has heard Mr Smith was paying €680 a month at the time to rent a house in Monaghan and that his family was entitled to a grant paying €530 of that sum.

Mr and Mrs Shields did not appear at Tuesday’s equality hearing and it was submitted on behalf of the complainant that there was no response to the Equal Status Act written notification he had sent by registered post to the address he had for the landlord.

“I asked her if she received it and she said no, she didn’t receive it,” Mr Smith told the adjudicating officer Breiffni O’Neill.

Owen Duggan from Threshold, representing the complainant, told the hearing that Mr Smith first asked about Hap when he moved into the property with his partner and eldest child in October 2017.

He submitted there was no contemporary record of this but said Mr Smith made further requests on numerous occasions until he sent a text on 28 July 2020 to Mrs Hillary Shields, when it was refused.

The couple “explicitly stated that they would not accept Hap on behalf of the tenant,” he said. Mr Duggan referred to several cases which he said established as precedent the principle that a sitting tenant is entitled to the same protection against discrimination under the Equal Status Act as a prospective tenant.

Mr Duggan submitted a thread of text messages sent between Mr Smith and Mrs Shields between 28th and 29th of July 2020, in which the subject was raised.

One of the replies read: “You were told when you moved in that he didn’t accept Hap.”

Mr Duggan said “he” referred to Mr Shields.

He said his client informed Mrs Shields that he was entitled to claim Hap and told her he had been advised to send a written notice of discrimination under the Equal Status Act if they did not comply.

“Mrs Shields implicitly threatened the tenant’s tenancy by stating she would be ‘going to move into the house’ if Mr Smith continued in this matter, further compounding Mr Smith’s precarious situation regarding his tenancy,” Mr Duggan submitted.

He said it was his client’s submission that the text messages went beyond a contravention of the Equal Status Act and “victimised the tenant by further seeking to punish him and his family with an eviction should they push the matter any further and pursue the matter through the WRC”.

“By their actions and their refusal to comply with the tenant’s request, Mr and Mrs Shields have clearly discriminated against the tenant in this instance.”

“The tenants were in a particularly vulnerable and precarious situation in that they could not afford to continue to pay rent without housing assistance, which they were entitled to by law,” he added.

The WRC heard that the couple had their second baby while they were renting from the Shields, with a third on the way towards the end of their tenancy.

Mr Smith told the hearing his family went into arrears on their utility bills to make sure they kept their tenancy.

“It was the most amount of stress in my life,” he said. “Every week trying to come up with the rent – our home like. Everything else was falling behind, the bills and everything.”

“How did you manage financially without Hap?,” Mr O’Neil asked.

“We just had to find a way. I’m in some debt now because of that,” Mr Smith said.

“I feel like people like that shouldn’t be allowed to get away with treating tenants like that,” he added.

Mr Duggan said the total loss to Mr Smith over the 46 months of the tenancy was €6,883. He said this was a conservative estimate which did not take into account an instruction to local authorities that they could raise the cap on Hap by 20 per cent at their discretion.

Adjudication officer Breiffni O’Neill said that even though the family had continued to live at the property, he could only consider any alleged claim of discrimination retrospectively from the date of the complaint to the WRC on September 7th 2020.

“[So] in order to be compensated for the initial period after that original complaint, we would have to begin a second procedure to the WRC, when in actual fact we’re out of time on that particular window of time?” Mr Duggan asked.

He said that was “quite unsatisfactory” in view of the length of time it had taken the WRC to list the case for hearing.

“My hands are tied by what the law says,” Mr O’Neill said. “I can only look back from the date of the complaint form, I can only go back from that. I just wanted to say it to you now rather than putting it in my decision,” he said.

Mr O’Neill said he would issue a decision within a fortnight.