“FLAC: Potential Tenant found to have been discriminated on the ‘housing assistance ground’ by the Circuit Court”
15 March 2019
FLAC today welcomed the finding of the Circuit Court that its Client, Mr. Damien Keogh, had been discriminated on the ‘housing assistance ground’, when a landlord informed him that she did not accept HAP.
FLAC acted for Mr. Keogh, in the landlord’s appeal from a successful decision in the Workplace Relations Commission. This is the first appeal, to FLAC’s knowledge, of a discrimination case from the WRC on the ‘housing assistance ground’ to the Circuit Court. Mr Keogh had also been assisted by his local Citizens Information Service in his initial complaint to the WRC.
Mr. Keogh, a single man living in homeless accommodation had been HAP approved for a number of years. He had been trying to secure accommodation for some time when he inquired about an advertised vacancy for a one room apartment. He had advised the landlord by email that he qualified for HAP and had all his paperwork ready. The landlord responded promptly to his inquiry that ‘... we do not accept HAP at the minute’. The WRC had held in Mr Keogh’s favour and the landlord was ordered to pay him the sum of €2,000.
The landlord appealed the decision to the Circuit Court and the President of the Circuit Court, Mr Justice Groarke, today upheld the decision of the adjudicating officer of the WRC that Mr. Keogh had indeed been discriminated against. The Appellant landlord maintained that she did not have sufficient knowledge about the HAP scheme to participate in it. In his judgement Mr Justice Groarke noted that although there was no ‘mala fides’ (bad faith) in the Appellant landlord’s action, lack of knowledge of the law is not a defence and that there was discrimination in Mr Keogh’s case. While he reduced the award from €2000 to €1000, he also awarded legal costs against the landlord in favour of Mr. Keogh.
Eilis Barry, Chief Executive of FLAC welcoming the outcome of the Appeal stated:
“It is important that this new legislative provision which protects people in receipt of the HAP payment is found to be effective. Landlords need to be aware of this important protection and ensure that they do not discriminate against potential and existing tenants in receipt of HAP”.
Mr Keogh’s case is representative of the difficulties faced by people trying get out of homelessness. Mr Keogh expressed relief at the outcome of the appeal and expressed the hope that his ongoing efforts to secure a home would be successful. He added:
“This was my chance to get out of homelessness. The apartment was like heaven compared to my current living conditions”.
The scope of the Equal Status Acts, which prohibit discrimination in the provision of goods and services, was expanded from January 2016 to prohibit discrimination in the provision of accommodation based on a person’s eligibility for housing assistance. This includes rent allowance or the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) or any payment under the social welfare acts.
- FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres) is a human rights organisation which exists to promote equal access to justice. As an NGO, FLAC relies on a combination of statutory funding, contributions from the legal professions and donations from individuals and grant-making foundations to support its work.
- FLAC offers basic legal information through its telephone information line (1890 350 250). Free legal advice is available from volunteer lawyers through a countrywide network of advice clinics – more at www.flac.ie/help/. FLAC also campaigns on a range of issues including consumer credit, personal debt, fairness in social welfare law, public interest law and civil legal aid. FLAC has issued numerous analyses and policy statements calling for a fairer mortgage arrears resolution process.
- You can read the anonymised decision of the WRC, which is the subject of this appeal at https://www.workplacerelations.ie/en/Cases/2018/December/ADJ-00015004.html
- The complaint was brought under section 6(1)(c) of the Equal Status Act 2000 prohibiting discrimination in the provision of accommodation or any related services or amenities under all protected ground. The Equality (Miscellaneous Provision) Act 2015 inserted a new Section 3(3)B to the 2000 Act forbidding discrimination on a ‘housing assistance’ ground between tenants who are in receipt of housing assistance and those who are not. This provision outlaws housing assistance discrimination at all stages of providing rental accommodation –advertising vacancies, making offers of new tenancies, treatment of tenants during their tenancy and in ending tenancies.
What is HAP? - HAP is a form of social housing support provided by all local authorities. HAP means that local authorities can provide housing assistance for households who qualify for social housing support, including many long-term Rent Supplement recipients. Under HAP, local authorities will make a monthly payment to a landlord, subject to terms and conditions including rent limits, on a HAP tenant’s behalf. In return, the HAP tenant pays a weekly contribution towards the rent to the local authority. This ‘rent contribution’ is based on the household income. It is calculated in the same way as the rent paid by a tenant of a local authority owned property. More info available on www.hap.ie
In August 2017 in a similar case supported by FLAC, the Workplace Relations Commission awarded compensation to three tenants who had been discriminated against when the landlord refused to facilitate their access to the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP). This decision by the WRC was significant as it clarified not only that landlords cannot reject prospective tenants eligible for the housing assistance payment solely on that basis, but also that the new housing assistance equality ground also applies to existing tenancies.