Family fleeing domestic violence sent to wrong housing service
Mother referred to new communities unit although she had legal Irish residency
Dr Niall Muldoon, Ombudsman for Children: “The issue of children living in homeless accommodation is not going away.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
A mother and her children who moved out of their home because of domestic violence were “erroneously” referred to a housing service for new communities by Fingal County Council, an investigation by the Ombudsman for Children has found.
It also found the “bureaucratic nature” of amending applications for social housing following domestic violence represents “undesirable administrative practice”.
The investigation report, published by the Ombudsman for Children’s Office on Monday, said the mother and her children were homeless for two years after leaving the domestic violence situation.
“Mistakes were made by Fingal County Council and, while we cannot say for sure that these errors delayed the family being housed, it did cause stress for the family and was not in the children’s best interests,” it found.
The case centred on the experiences of the large family after they left a domestic violence situation in 2013. They were initially placed in a women’s refuge before living in homeless accommodation, including B&Bs and hotels.
The report said when the mother presented to the council as homeless in August 2013, she was referred to the new communities’ unit, although she had legal residency. It was practice across the four Dublin local authorities at the time to refer anyone who presented as homeless and who was not Irish to the unit.
However, the complainant had lived in Ireland for a long time and should have been assessed for housing support.
Fingal County Council acknowledged the complainant clearly was eligible for social housing as she had been on the list with her ex-partner since 2006 and her application for social housing supports should have been dealt with in the same way as an Irish person’s.
It was six months before the central placement service assumed responsibility for managing the family’s emergency accommodation. In that time, the family was without a stable home and the children’s mother had to present to the new communities’ unit every week.
“They slept on bloodstained mattresses, they were crammed into rooms with four sets of bunk beds, they were placed in accommodation where they were exposed to the mother’s ex-partner or his friends, and, like every other family living in B&Bs and hotels, the mother could not cook for her children or allow them to have friends over,” director of investigations Nuala Ward said.
She said the family was also forced to go through an unnecessarily bureaucratic process to ensure their housing application could progress separately from that of the mother’s ex-partner.
“This process was a huge burden on the family, and again did not take into consideration the best interests of the children,” Ms Ward said.
Ombudsman for Children Dr Niall Muldoon said the housing complaints received by his office showed clearly that children are not seen as individuals who have rights that must be respected. “Children are merely an add-on to parents or guardians in housing policy and legislation,” he said.
“The issue of children living in homeless accommodation is not going away, in fact it is worse than ever with 2,777 children homeless as of the end of May. Children cannot be ignored in housing policy anymore.”