Refusal of emergency accommodation for man with cancer among cases handled by Flac

Free legal aid centre says significant unmet need in relation to housing and homelessness

The man was left destitute because it was judged he was not eligible for social welfare payments. Photograph: iStock

The man was left destitute because it was judged he was not eligible for social welfare payments. Photograph: iStock

 

A foreign national who was seriously ill from cancer was refused emergency accommodation until High Court proceedings were taken against the local authority involved.

The man was an EU citizen who came to Ireland and worked as a painter until he became seriously ill in 2016.

He was diagnosed with cancer and had other difficulties with his hearing and his sight.

He was left destitute because it was judged he was not eligible for social welfare payments as it was deemed he did not qualify for the habitual residence condition which is a set of criteria EU citizens must fulfil before receiving social welfare support in Ireland.

The man’s case has been highlighted in the Free Legal Aid Centres (Flac) annual report.

The organisation, which provides free legal advice to individuals and groups, initiated High Court proceedings challenging the refusal to grant him emergency accommodation.

Flac looked for injunctive relief against Louth County Council and the Minister for Housing.

Flac proved to be successful in arguing that a circular which governed the provision of housing to non-Irish nationals was incorrectly applied in his case and was also contrary to EU law concerning the free movement of workers.

Louth County Council decided not to contest the case and provided the man with emergency accommodation.

Flac concluded that the case arose because local authorities were incorrectly relying on a departmental circular to “restrict access of extremely vulnerable people to emergency accommodation in the midst of a housing crisis”.

Flac chief executive Eilis Barry said there is “significant unmet legal need in relation to housing and homelessness”.

Flac believes the Government should establish a dedicated court/tribunal which can deal with problem mortgage arrears on a case-to-case basis with a view to proposing resolutions.

It also recommended that legal aid be made available to people facing family home repossessions by financial institutions or local authorities.

A total of 25,817 people received legal advice last year from volunteer lawyers at legal advice clinics or legal information from Flac’s Telephone Information and Referral Line.

There were 12,003 calls to Flac’s telephone helpline and the main queries related to family law (25.9 per cent), employment (9.9 per cent) and housing (7.1 per cent).

Some 13,814 individuals received legal advice from volunteer lawyers at clinics run in conjunction with the Citizens Information Service at 66 locations nationwide. Family law (34.5 per cent), employment (15.8 per cent) and wills/probate (9.2 per cent) were the most common legal queries.