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"Prove you are homeless": What rights and access to services do homeless people have?

Can you vote? How do you get medical treatment? The user’s guide.

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HOMELESSNESS DOESN’T JUST mean having no roof over your head – it causes all sorts of problems that aren’t quite as obvious as the issue of shelter.

It makes everything more difficult – including getting an income, education, medical care… even voting.

So what are your rights and what services can you access as a homeless person living in Ireland?

The core need after shelter is income. If a person in a homeless crisis doesn’t have an income and is not receiving social welfare, they may be entitled to payment under the Supplementary Welfare Allowance (SWA) scheme.

However, Focus Ireland reports that some people accessing the SWA scheme are being asked to ‘prove’ they’re homeless by showing receipts for one or more nights in emergency accommodation.

The Department of Social Protection said there is no requirement for homeless people to give receipts for emergency accommodation in order to get a payment.

But the homeless charity said that, “While this is the formal position, in practice customers on the ground advise that their payment has often been conditional on providing such receipts to deciding officers.”

It added that many homeless people don’t use emergency accommodation due to personal issues such as safety, mental health, addiction, and so this practice can push vulnerable people into total destitution.

Medical treatment

If a person doesn’t have their own medical card to cover medical treatment and they are homeless they can access medical treatment through organisations such as Safetynet.

The Safetynet Primary Care Network for Homeless Health Services is a networking organisation for nurses, doctors and voluntary agencies providing primary health care to homeless people in Dublin, Cork and Galway.

Some homeless hostels and facilities across the country have generic medical cards that can be used to cover people using its services to access medical services.

This system was reviewed and included in the State’s Implementation Plan on the State’s Response to Homelessness.

It stated that, “The use of the generic card is strictly for emergency situations only.”


Children in families that are experiencing homelessness can have a far greater difficulty accessing education.

This is generally because they don’t have a firm base and may have to move schools a number of times or travel long distances to school.

One mother in emergency accommodation told how she had to commute on buses for two hours each way to get her children to school and that included a 30-minute walk which she described as ‘a nightmare’ in the winter.

Barnardos recently expressed concern that many children living in temporary accommodation are turning up to school hungry, wet and cold.

The right to vote

While every Irish citizen has the right to vote it can be more difficult for homeless people to vote as they may have difficulty meeting the proof of identity criteria.

As people who don’t have a polling card need proof of ID this can act as a barrier to voting.

Also, in order to vote an individual must be registered on the register of electors but public information in relation to this can be poor.

The bottom line

While many services are available to homeless people, the problem ultimately lies in the lack of a home. Focus Ireland said:

Not having a home makes everything that much more difficult – finding employment, eating healthily, managing your health, ensuring that there are no breaks in your social welfare payments, all aspect of the life of the individual or family are made more difficult.

Pic: Andrew Bennett via Flickr/Creative Commons

Read: You can catch up with all the rest of our Homeless Ireland series here>

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