Nearly 500 homeless families were supported last year by the Mercy Law Resource Centre, an independent organisation providing free legal advice and representation.
The centre’s clients included people forced to sleep rough or in their cars because local authorities refused them emergency accommodation; families with children forced to find their own emergency accommodation night after night; and Travellers in uninhabitable conditions as local authorities failed carry out essential maintenance works.
“People experiencing homelessness are often on the extreme margins of society, and face many hurdles in accessing legal services, rights, and entitlements,” the centre said in its annual report, published Monday.
Free legal aid is not available in housing rights cases.
The centre supported 1,666 people last year, including 489 families “in the deep distress of homelessness”.
Emergency accommodation conditions violating people’s and families’ rights accounted for 28.1 per cent of the centre’s cases.
Many single people “faced chronic insecurity in their emergency accommodation…Some reported dreadful conditions in some of the hostel placements, and felt unsafe accessing a bed for the night,” the report said.
The “negative impact” on families of protracted stays in hotels or hubs arose repeatedly. In representations the centre successfully relied on legal protection for family and private life, and the protections against “inhuman and degrading treatment”.
Local authorities refusing to accept people on to the social housing list or to approve applications for the housing assistance payment (HAP) accounted for 27.5 per cent of cases.
“In many of these our clients were non-Irish EU nationals”, refused due to the “overly strict interpretation or misapplication” of a 2012 circular from the Department of Housing.
The centre successfully challenged one local authority’s interpretation of the circular in the High Court. The case centred on a woman who had lived in Ireland for many years, had a child here and following the break-up of her marriage could not afford to rent without the HAP.
Homeless people refused emergency accommodation accounted for 12.4 per cent of cases.
“Some of these clients were faced with…sleeping rough, while others were forced out of necessity to live in cars or rundown caravans without any access to basic facilities.
“The reasons proffered by housing authorities…included the lack of suitable emergency accommodation, and assertions of intentional homeless and lack of local connection in the relevant local authority area.”
The report adds: “Particularly egregious cases related to ethnic minority families, often one-parent families with numerous young children, who were refused emergency provision due to a lack of suitable homeless accommodation.”
Other issues included “over-reliance” by local authorities on “self-accommodation” emergency accommodation – where families have to find their own.
“Larger families, Traveller families, non-Irish national families and those families with limited English faced serious difficulties in securing bookings in hotels and B&Bs. This exposed them to the risk of being ‘street homeless’ or resulted in them falling back on the local authorities’ wholly unsatisfactory provision of ‘one night-only’ emergency accommodation.”