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Traveller housing-needs ‘opaque’ due to lack of ethnic identifiers
Traveller housing-needs ‘opaque’ due to lack of ethnic identifiers – report Pic: RollingNews.ie

15 Jul 2021 / ireland Print

Traveller housing-needs ‘opaque’ due to lack of ethnic identifiers

Equality reviews for local authority provision of Traveller-specific accommodation show evidence of a consistent budgetary underspend, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has said.

Between 2008 and 2018, of €168.8 million allocated to local authorities for Traveller-specific accommodation, just two-thirds (€110.6 million) was drawn down.

IHREC has now made a series of recommendations, and has asked local authorities to report by the end of August, specifying the actions taken or intended within specific timeframes.

‘Structural issues’

The underspend in allocated funds is driven by both structural issues in how funding is allocated and drawn down, but also by a frequently inadequate process for identifying actual and future housing needs, IHREC has said.

Traveller-specific accommodation budgets provide for renovation and refurbishment work to existing accommodation. Spending may represent renovation or upgrade to existing sites, but not provision of new units of accommodation.

Councils highlight difficulties with securing spending approval, and reported a lack of a multi-annual budget cycle.

There are also stated difficulties in agreeing specifics of projects (design of site and type of accommodation), and protracted consultations and discussions with residents.

The planning process is also a bottleneck. 

Deficiencies in information capture

The processes for assessing the number of Travellers in a given local-authority area varies from council to council, and can be deficient in capturing accurate information.

Councils typically base current and future needs on social-housing applications, and the annual estimate of Travellers in their area.

There has been no facility for Travellers to identify themselves on social-housing application forms, and the lack of an ethnic identifier has implications for their identification and inclusion within particular housing streams.

The method of identifying Travellers’ true accommodation preference (Traveller-specific accommodation versus social housing) is not adequately transparent, or independently verified, the report says.

Exasperated by overcrowding

“There is a concern that some members of the Traveller community experience a lack of Traveller-specific accommodation, or are exasperated by overcrowding or poor hygiene conditions in such accommodation, and for this reason feel that they have no choice but to apply for social housing,” the report says.

The commission’s analysis also says there is “insufficient appreciation” of the cultural significance of horse ownership when delivering Traveller-specific accommodation services.

There is little evidence of assessment of need in relation to Traveller nomadism, according to IHREC.

A total of 22 local authorities make no reference to the Caravan Loan Scheme, which facilitates the purchase of caravans for those Travellers who wish to live on halting sites.

The lack of suitably sized units in mainstream provision for many larger Traveller families is highlighted.

Digital exclusion

Online application systems can result in digital exclusion, given poor internet access and low levels of digital literacy among Travellers.

No local authorities report specific steps taken to track Traveller experience of private rented accommodation or discrimination against Travellers in this sector.

Many local authorities reference numbers of Traveller families on roadside sites, in overcrowded settings, or availing of emergency accommodation. There is little analysis of the reasons for this growth, the particular experience of homelessness of Travellers, or the implications of Traveller culture and identity for an effective response, the report says.

Poor information on staff training

There is little information on staff training provided, or the equality and human-rights standards set for roles identified as dedicated to working exclusively with Travellers.

It is also unclear to what extent Travellers are included in local-authority housing strategies for people with disabilities.

In all, 12 local authorities set out ‘indigenous requirements’ for Travellers to be able to avail of social-housing supports and/or Traveller-specific accommodation. IHREC says this should be reviewed to ensure that there is no discrimination when compared with the requirements on the wider community in access to social housing.

There was little or no evidence of participation by the Local Traveller Accommodation Consultative Committee (LTACC), or to any consultation with local Travellers or Traveller organisations, to inform the equality review.

And while there was some evidence of good practice, in many local authority areas Travellers had little input in relation to the management of their sites.

Widespread condemnation

IHREC Chief Commissioner Sinéad Gibney said: “The State’s provision of Traveller accommodation has drawn widespread international condemnation, including from the UN, the Fundamental Rights Agency of the EU, and the Council of Europe.

“The last 12 months alone have been marked by regular and disturbing reports and testimony on Traveller accommodation, and the commission’s own legal casework has shown the appalling conditions in which many Traveller families are forced to live.

“The commission, through these equality reviews, requested councils to examine and equality-proof their system for the provision of culturally appropriate Traveller-specific accommodation, and to examine what the barriers are to the drawdown of State funding, and how these can be removed.”

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