herald

Wednesday 23 August 2017

Family of seven living in a hotel room take case against Coveney

Simon Coveney ‘has failed to vindicate family’s rights’
Simon Coveney ‘has failed to vindicate family’s rights’

A homeless family of seven living mostly in one hotel bedroom raises "very significant wide-ranging" issues over the duties of local authorities and the State to homeless people in acute housing need, a High Court judge has said.

The unemployed couple and five children aged up to seven, including a baby born into homelessness, have lived in temporary accommodation at 10 different addresses in four years and in their current hotel since February.

They claim the hotel is not "an adequate home" and fails to meet South Dublin County Council's statutory responsibilities to them.

If the court finds the council has met its responsibilities under the Housing Acts, they want it to find that Housing Minister Simon Coveney has failed to vindicate their rights, particularly those of the children, under the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights Act.

Emotional

The minister, they claim, has failed to ensure families in acute housing need are not forced to live long term in conditions "wholly incompatible with the normal enjoyment of family life".

They also allege that Mr Coveney has not considered adequately or at all the educational, social, emotional, psychological and physical development needs of the children and is obliged to ensure the family get self-catering accommodation.

The family have been allocated two bedrooms in the hotel, but because the rooms are not adjoining and the age of the children they have effectively been living in one room since February.

Their claims against the council include such accommodation is unsuitable for long-term living, does not meet the council's obligations and fails to vindicate their rights.

Mr Justice Seamus Noonan said yesterday that, given the evidence the family's health and welfare are compromised, the case was urgent and raised significant wide-ranging issues.

However, the council and minister were entitled to time to address amendments made just this week to the family's case.

The case was initially brought only against the council but counsel Cormac O Dulachain, instructed by solicitor David Joyce, said on Wednesday, given the council's position on its statutory duties, they want the minister made a party and to amend their proceedings.

The judge made the necessary directions and adjourned the case with a view to a full hearing later this month on a date to be fixed. The application for leave for judicial review will proceed via a 'telescoped hearing' - involving the leave application and full judicial review being heard together.

An independent social worker consultant who assessed the family last month said their living conditions in a small stuffy hotel room would "almost certainly have a detrimental effect on the children's development and the parents' ability to provide a stable family environment".

The children's health problems included asthma and various infections, some exhibited behavioural issues, the oldest had missed school owing to frequent moves and being located some distance from their school, and the parents suffered stress-related illness.

The fact they were not permitted to cook meant they ate a lot of fast food and it was "concerning" that baby's bottles and foods were not allowed to be kept in the room.

Evicted

There is no nearby park and the children are not allowed to use public areas of the hotel to play.

The parents, both from the South Dublin County Council area and in a relationship for a number of years, have three children together. The two oldest children are the mother's.

They were designated as homeless in early 2016 and are on the council's housing list.

They were evicted from other homeless hotel accommodation at an hour's notice three days before Christmas last year - days after the youngest was born.

The council has alleged they were subject of "multiple warnings" regarding their behaviour and a "credible threat" was made to the general manager of that hotel on December 21.

Mr Joyce said the family got no opportunity to address the complaints and claimed the council breached its duties by revoking their accommodation before identifying other options.

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