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Relocation costs, unsuitable houses...'no bee-keeping prospects': The reasons people give for refusing social homes

5,500 people have turned down social housing since 2016.

Image: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

SUITABILITY, FAMILY CIRCUMSTANCES and the cost of moving home were among the reasons social housing applicants refused offers from local authorities in recent years.

Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by TheJournal.ie found that almost 5,500 applicants have turned down an offer of social housing since 2016.

According to the statistics, Dublin City Council saw the highest number of refusals between 2016 and 2018, with 1,040 people turning down an offer over the three years.

Other local authorities in Dublin featured near the top of the list for the highest number of refusals, with Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown (371) and South Dublin (285) having the second- and fifth-highest totals across the country.

Donegal (344) and Sligo (305) also had comparable figures to the capital, although Dublin’s fourth local authority, Fingal County Council, featured towards the bottom half of the list with 142 refusals.

At the other end of the scale, Laois County Council had the lowest number of refusals with 16, with Westmeath (23 refusals) and Wicklow (38) the second- and third-lowest respectively.

The figures were obtained from 28 of Ireland’s 31 city and county councils, with information not supplied from Cavan County Council, Offaly County Council or Waterford City and County Council.

Local authorities are responsible for providing social housing to individuals or families on low incomes, who can’t afford to buy a home or who have a particular needs, such as individuals with disabilities.

Each local authority maintains a record of those who have applied for social housing if they are qualified for social housing support and have not yet received it.

As social housing becomes available, each local authority allocates accommodation to applicants the record, also known as its ‘waiting list’.

Last month, TheJournal.ie found that local authorities also suspended 357 applicants over the same period for refusing multiple offers of social housing within a year.

As part of FOI requests submitted for this story, each local authority provided the reasons why individuals turned down social housing between 2016 and 2018.

Some councils released the specific reasons provided by applicants, while others gave a list of categories of refusals.

These categories included: housing being unsuitable to an applicant’s needs; an applicant not liking the estate offered to them; an applicant no longer being interested in their area of choice; an applicant already living in suitable accommodation; and ‘other’ reasons.

Unsuitable housing

Across all local authorities, the most common reason why applicants refused an offer of housing was because the accommodation was deemed unsuitable to their needs.

Figures provided by councils who categorised reasons for refusal show that more than 900 applicants turned down a house because they felt it was unsuitable for them.

However, the overall figure was higher when specific reasons provided by other local authorities were taken into account.

According to documents supplied by local authorities, the reasons why applicants considered accommodation unsuitable varied widely.

Sometimes, the reason was financial, with some councils reporting that offers were refused because applicants would have to pay more to travel to work or bring their children to school if they accepted.

Others had medical issues which rendered their offer unsuitable: wheelchair users reported being offered houses that had stairs, while another applicant said they were offered housing was too damp for their child, who had asthma.

In another instance, a council offered an applicant a three-bedroom house instead of a four-bedroom house by mistake, which was deemed a ‘reasonable’ refusal.

One applicant on Meath County Council’s waiting list said they refused because they would have to buy new furniture, because the suite they owned was too big to fit into the house they were offered.

“We have seen many cases where people have been offered accommodation that is not suitable for a number of reasons,” Roughan Mac Namara of Focus Ireland told TheJournal.ie.

“For example, people have been offered a home off bus routes when the family has small children and no means of transport.

“Others have been offered areas with very little facilities such as schools, shops or employment opportunities.”

Low-demand estates

In many cases, local authorities who responded to TheJournal.ie reported applicants turning down housing because they didn’t have an interest in the area.

These refusals came in two forms: individuals who were no longer interested in the area they applied for; and those who didn’t want to live in a specific area, which were categorised as ‘low-demand estates’.

“Focus Ireland has seen that the most common reason a property is turned down is because the specific neighbourhood has problems with drugs or antisocial behaviour and families do not want to move there for this reason,” Mac Namara said.

Indeed, many applicants turned down accommodation because of concerns about anti-social behaviour.

In one local authority, applicants said there were “undesirable people” living in the area, while another applicant with the same council said it was “not an area [where] they would like to raise their son”.

Two applicants with another local authority reported that they were feuding with families in the area, while 22 applicants on the same waiting list turned down accommodation because they felt unsafe in the area when they viewed the home they were offered.

Meanwhile, others reported that the location they were offered was too isolated, with some saying they wished to live in a town but were offered accommodation in a rural area (or vice versa).

Another individual turned down an offer with a local authority because they required accommodation that was closer to a hospital, while others sought accommodation that was nearer to their child’s school.

‘Other’ reasons

Responses from local authorities also showed trends that weren’t to do with the accommodation itself or the area it was located in.

In many cases, applicants wished to remain in private rented accommodation, paid for by the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP), while others decided that they no longer required social housing at all and wanted to be removed from their local authority’s list.

In one case, an applicant was leaving the country and felt it would be unfair to take up their offer, while other local authorities also listed applicants who were “moving away” or who had sourced alternative accommodation.

Many applicants simply didn’t reply to an offer from their local authority.

Others reported errors in their original details or illnesses that rendered them unable to move at the time of their offer, while in some cases, the applicant asked to be referred to a council’s Rental Accommodation Scheme.

In one instance with Limerick City and County Council, an applicant refused because the local authority’s Homeless Action Team advised them to do so, although the reason for this was not made clear as part of the release of information to this website.

‘Garden not big enough’

However, councils also reported numerous cases where individuals turned down an offer of housing for more questionable reasons.

“There may be some cases where people are refusing for reasons that don’t really stand up, but in our experience these would be the minority,” Mac Namara said.

Among the most common reasons for refusal of this nature was the size of a house’s garden, with several councils reporting such responses.

Other offers were refused for more specific reasons.

One applicant with Meath County Council turned a house because they could not carry out a business from it, while another with Wexford County Council refused their offer because the ceilings in the house were too low.

Several applicants with Sligo County Council turned down accommodation for even stranger reasons, with reasons for refusal there including:

  • “Tiny shower space”
  • “Want a house – have accumulated a lot of fishing gear, gardening equipment”
  • “Needs a bigger back yard to develop bee-keeping prospects”
  • “My son wouldn’t be happy there, no one to play with as it’s an old person”
  • “Does not want an apartment with electrical heating”
  • “Household needs a second toilet”

Other applicants sought more car parking space, with one individual on Meath County Council’s waiting list seeking a driveway for two cars.

And others still found the surroundings, rather than the accommodation itself, problematic.

One applicant in Galway was unhappy at being offered a house in a forest, while another in Monaghan told the council that the house was too close to an electricity pole.

However, these cases represented a minority among the overall reasons given to local authorities, while Mac Namara claims they were also rare in the experience of Focus Ireland.

“While one person reason might have said ‘the garden wasn’t big enough’, this may grab attention and some headlines,” he said.

“We would firmly believe that this type of reason is definitely he exception not the rule, in our experience.”

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