County Council Criterion for Traveller Family Access to Services Discriminatory - IHREC - Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission

County Council Criterion for Traveller Family Access to Services Discriminatory

Commission Provided Legal Representation

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (‘the Commission’) provided legal assistance to a family, including three children, in their successful challenge to the discrimination they faced due to their status as members of the Traveller community, in their application for social housing to their local County Council.

The case focused on the family’s application to be placed on the housing list within the county. The family had been living for two years in the county by the roadside in a small caravan lacking basic facilities. The Council refused their application to be included on the housing list, largely on the basis that the Council considered that the family’s roadside site was not a legal residence and, therefore, the family was not normally resident in the county.

Following a review which confirmed the initial decision, the family referred a complaint of discrimination on the Traveller ground to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC). At the hearing of the case, the Commission argued on behalf of the family that the legal regulation, that governs the appropriate housing authority to which an applicant for social housing may apply, mentions only “normal residence,” and the question of lawful residence was an additional criterion added by the Council. This criterion was not usually applied to other applicants from non-Traveller backgrounds.

The WRC, which heard the case under the Equal Status Act 2000, determined that the County Council, in interpreting normal residence as only referring to a legal residence, had introduced an additional criterion which disproportionately affected members of the Traveller community and was, therefore, discriminatory. The WRC also found that the Council does not generally question the legal tenancy of applicants residing in houses. Therefore, applying the legality requirement is clearly discriminatory towards members of the Traveller community and, in particular, in this instance, to the family.

The WRC ordered the Council to pay a total of €20,000 in compensation to the family. The WRC also directed the Council to review its policy in relation to social housing assessment regulations to remove the legality criterion when interpreting normal residence.

Under its legal functions, set out in the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014, the Commission can, in certain circumstances, provide legal assistance to a person who wishes to bring a matter of human rights or equality of treatment before the Courts or the Workplace Relations Commission

Emily Logan Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission stated:

“The Commission provided legal representation to this family, as it was important to challenge the discrimination they faced from their County Council in accessing the Council’s services because they were members of the Traveller community.

“It is essential that Local Authorities, in line with their legal obligations to eliminate discrimination, work proactively to ensure access to the range of their services irrespective of who the user is, and the Commission welcomes this determination.”

The family involved also welcomed the outcome:

The mother of the family said: “The decision of the Council made us feel worthless, like we were not wanted in our own country, and we felt that we were treated like we weren’t even human. We have rights and our children have rights, and our children have faced discrimination as children. We took the case to prove we have a voice and that we can speak up for ourselves, and we wouldn’t want the same thing to happen to anyone else.”

ENDS/

For further information, please contact:

Brian Dawson, IHREC Communications Manager,

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Notes to Editor

The full decision of the Adjudication Officer in this case is available at the following links:

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is an independent public body, appointed by the President and directly accountable to the Oireachtas. The Commission has a statutory remit set out under the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act (2014) to protect and promote human rights and equality in Ireland, and build a culture of respect for human rights, equality and intercultural understanding in the State.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is Ireland’s national human rights institution and is recognised as such by the United Nations. The Commission is also Ireland’s national equality body for the purpose of a range of EU anti-discrimination measures.

Under its legal functions set out in the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014, the Commission can, in certain circumstances, provide legal assistance to a person who wishes to bring a matter of human rights or equality of treatment before the Courts or the Workplace Relations Commission.

Assistance under Section 40 of the Act means any or all of the following

  1. the provision, or the arranging for the provision of, legal advice to the applicant;
  2. the provision, or the arranging for the provision of, legal representation to the applicant
  3. the provision of such other assistance to the applicant as the Commission deems appropriate in the circumstances;