The Roma community faces serious barriers and discrimination in accessing housing supports in this country, the launch of the 2020 Mercy Law Resource Centre (MLRC) heard yesterday (30 November).
Roma families who arrived in Ireland during the pandemic had to quarantine at a HSE isolation facility, and then seek access to emergency accommodation.
“These families were unquestionably homeless, but were being refused for various different reasons,” MLRC managing solicitor Aoife Kelly-Desmond (pictured) said at the launch.
“Some of these families had no choice but to end up rough-sleeping,” she added.
MLRC intervened with local authorities to get clarity on the legal approach, and ultimately threatened legal action in a number of cases. Authorities then relented and gave access to accommodation, she said.
MLRC also had several referrals from people in situations of domestic abuse, but several barriers to accommodation existed in these situations.
MLRC intervenes where legal rights are not being respected, but the body’s policy work (arising from casework) is important in making lasting changes, the managing solicitor told those attending the report launch.
All of MLRC’s clients, despite their complex needs, have the right to a safe and secure home, she said.
MLRC dealt with several clients who were refused access to housing supports due to ownership of property in another country.
“While foreign-property ownership is a relevant consideration when making an assessment for housing supports, the housing authority must assess each case on its own merits,” the report says.
The housing authority must determine whether the land or property abroad constitutes “alternative reasonable accommodation” within the relevant regulation.
In this assessment, the housing authority must assess firstly if the sale of the property would be possible; and, secondly, if the proceeds of the sale would enable the applicant to meet their accommodation needs in Ireland.
MLRC has said that, even for those who do not own property abroad, rigid applications of requirements by local authorities can disproportionately have an impact on people from outside Ireland, who may be forced to obtain onerous proof that they do not own property in their country of origin.
One client was refused access to housing supports on the grounds that they owned a property in another country.
“They were well settled in Ireland with their children, having lived and worked here for over 15 years. They owned an apartment in the EU state in which they were born, and a relative in that country had a legal right to reside in the property.
“MLRC successfully appealed the decision of the local authority arguing that (i) the accommodation abroad was not a reasonable alternative for the family, (ii) the decision interfered with the client’s right to free movement under EU law, and (iii) the local authority had not complied with fair procedures,” the report says.
In addition to direct client work, MLRC provided legal support to over 50 organisations during 2020 and gave housing and social-welfare law training to 66 organisations.
MLRC received approximately 2,500 phone calls, undertook over 1,660 pieces of legal work, and gave advice to 749 individuals and families.
However, those with limited literacy skills or without IT access struggled to access services on a remote basis as the pandemic hit.
Over 8,000 people remain homeless in Ireland, including 2,327 children.
MLRC has run a legal clinic with Focus Ireland since 2010. In 2018, the clinic was updated to a new pro-bono partnership with A&L Goodbody whose solicitors now staff the clinic, with support and training from MLRC, and with a consequent uptick in referrals.
A&L Goodbody took 65 new referrals through the clinic in 2020, and 60 of their staff attended MLRC housing-law training in 2020.