Garda role in ‘vetting’ Travellers for social housing criticised

Legal advice body expresses concern over information given by gardaí to local authorities

Flac’s annual report shows most queries concerned family law, employment law and wills/probate – but a third of cases now deal with housing issues alone. File photograph: Cyril Byrne

Flac’s annual report shows most queries concerned family law, employment law and wills/probate – but a third of cases now deal with housing issues alone. File photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

The role of the Garda in “vetting” Traveller families for local authorities before they can get social housing has been questioned by the Free Legal Advice Centres (Flac).

In its annual report issued on Wednesday, Flac expresses concern about cases where gardaí and local authorities exchanged information in ways that “strayed beyond the purpose” of housing legislation.

Under Sections 14 and 15 of the 1997 Housing Act, a local authority is allowed to defer or refuse a housing application if the individual has previously engaged in antisocial behaviour.

In one case, however, a council refused to assess a Traveller family as homeless after gardaí provided “extensive information” about the family, “most [of which] was inaccurate and largely based on hearsay”.

Information about driving and parking violations is shared and, according to Flac, gardaí “lacked objectivity in how they engaged in the dispute between the client and the council”.

‘Vague and imprecise’

The legislation is “vague and imprecise” about the role to be played the Garda in vetting applicants, says Flac, which recommended that gardaí be better trained on their power and obligations.

The free legal aid body’s report, published on Wednesday morning, shows most queries concerned family law, employment law, and wills/probate – but a third of cases now deal with housing issues alone.

Difficulties faced by EU citizens in getting social welfare benefits to which they are entitled, and long delays in resolving welfare appeals from all categories, were the top concerns of Flac clients last year.

Some delays see benefits cut for long periods, says Flac. A Roma woman’s rent supplement was stopped without notice in October 2016, pending an investigation. She provided requested documents.

Arrears

By December 2017, she faced homelessness. Flac began a High Court case against the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection on her behalf. The full supplement was restored four days later, and arrears were paid in full in January 2018.

Meanwhile, the habitual residence condition (HRC) rule, where social benefit applicants must prove their habitual residency in Ireland, continues to cause difficulties.

A Roma mother living in Ireland for a decade was refused child benefit for her two children, even though both had been born in Ireland and went to school here. Her appeal succeeded.

Flac complains, too, about State-imposed confidentiality clauses in settlements, which prevents “legitimate discussion of action or inaction by the State” and makes it more difficult for others to get supporting evidence.