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housing assistance

Tenants awarded 'substantial compensation' for discrimination by landlord

They were awarded compensation ranging from €13,300 to €15,000.

THREE TENANTS HAVE been awarded compensation after the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) found they had been discriminated against by their landlord who refused to facilitate their access to the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) scheme.

Flac (Free Legal Advice Centres), which represented the tenants, has welcomed the decision.

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. To date there had been no determination by the WRC as to whether the new ground extended protection to existing tenants who become entitled to social housing support during the course of their tenancy.

Three almost identical cases were brought against the same landlord to the WRC and heard together. The landlord contended that they were not obliged to accept HAP as the new law did not apply to existing tenants.

The three tenants were awarded compensation ranging from €13,300 to €15,000.

Flac acted for all three complainants, identified as Tenant A, B and C. The tenants were referred to Flac by a Citizens Information Centre which assisted the tenants in lodging their complaints with the WRC and advocated on their behalf.

The cases were heard together in March of this year. It was argued on behalf of the tenants that the protection under equality legislation extended from the pre-tenancy phase through to the ultimate termination of the tenancy, and that the legislation would be ineffective if it did not protect sitting tenants.

The decision of the WRC clarifies that the protection from discrimination extends to not only prospective tenants but also existing tenants.

‘Very significant’

“This decision by the WRC is very significant as it clarifies 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,” Flac’s chief executive Eilis Barry said.

In this case, our clients were all under severe financial pressure and one client was borrowing from relatives to meet their rent obligations. They were advised by the local authority that they were eligible for HAP, which would have reduced the impossible financial pressure on each of them as low-income families.

Flac’s managing solicitor Sinéad Lucey said the landlord in question “declined to accept the new arrangement” and repeatedly refused to complete the necessary paperwork “although there was no financial loss to the landlord in doing so and the rent would, from that point onwards, be paid automatically by the State”.

“This case makes clear that tenants who are entitled to housing assistance to meet the cost of their rented accommodation can feel more secure in asserting their right to avail of such financial assistance.

“The awards made in these three cases are significant and should send a strong message to landlords that to refuse to facilitate tenants with access to social housing supports including rent allowance and HAP may have serious consequences,” Lucey added.

In her decision, the WRC adjudication officer said it was difficult to understand the landlord’s attitude towards “model” tenants who had always paid rent and honoured the terms of their tenancy agreements.

The officer outlined the various benefits of the payment from the perspective of both the tenants and the landlord. She said landlords must comply with the Equal Status Acts in the same way they are bound by the Residential Tenancies Acts and Housing Act.

She ruled that the discrimination was on the more serious end of the scale, causing considerable financial hardship to each of the tenants. They were awarded sums of €14,977, €13,365 and €14,405. She ordered the landlord to take the required action to enable each of the tenants to participate in the HAP scheme.

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