Ireland: Homeless man wins discrimination case over landlord’s refusal of housing assistance tenants

A landlord in the Republic of Ireland discriminated against a homeless man by telling him that they would not accept Housing Assistance Payment (HAP), a court has ruled.

The case marks the first time a discrimination case from the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) on the “housing assistance ground” has been appealed to the country’s Circuit Court.

The Equal Status Acts, which prohibit discrimination in the provision of goods and services, were expanded in January 2016 to prohibit discrimination in the provision of accommodation based on a person’s eligibility for housing assistance.

The man in this case, Damien Keogh, was a single man living in homeless accommodation that had been HAP-approved for a number of years.

He inquired about an advertised vacancy for a one-room apartment, but was told by the landlord by email that “we do not accept HAP at the minute”.

The WRC had held in Mr Keogh’s favour and the landlord was ordered to pay him the sum of €2,000.

The landlord appealed the decision to the Circuit Court, where Mr Justice Raymond Groarke, president of the Circuit Court, upheld the decision in favour of Mr Keogh, who received support from the legal rights group FLAC.

The appellant landlord maintained that she did not have sufficient knowledge about the HAP scheme to participate in it.

In his judgment, Mr Justice Groarke noted that although there was no mala fides in the appellant landlord’s action, lack of knowledge of the law is not a defence and that there was discrimination in Mr Keogh’s case.

While the judge reduced the award from €2,000 to €1,000, he also awarded legal costs against the landlord in favour of Mr Keogh.

Welcoming the outcome of the appeal, Eilis Barry, chief executive of FLAC, said: “It is important that this new legislative provision which protects people in receipt of the HAP payment is found to be effective. Landlords need to be aware of this important protection and ensure that they do not discriminate against potential and existing tenants in receipt of HAP.”

In a similar case in August 2017, FLAC supported three tenants who won compensation at the WRC after their landlord refused to facilitate their access to the HAP.

Last week property website Zoopla announced plans to overhaul its rental adverts to ban posts which refuse to take renters on housing benefits.

The move comes after the National Housing Federation found one in ten adverts on the Zoopla website specified “no DSS” (Department for Social Security) or “no housing benefit”.

The UK Parliament’s work and pensions committee has also launched an inquiry into discrimination against benefits claimants.

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