PEOPLE from non-EU countries living and working in Ireland are being denied a place on the social housing list because of a “discriminatory and unconstitutional” circular issued by the Department of the Environment to local authorities, it has been claimed.
Last year, the department sent a directive to councils stating that only immigrants with a long-term residency “stamp 4” visa for “at least five years prior to application” were eligible to apply for social housing.
However, immigrant support group Nasc said the rule excludes a raft of people who have been in Ireland for many years and should have a right to housing.
Claire McCarthy, policy and communications officer with Nasc, said the circular was “incorrect” and that councils were not using discretion when dealing with people who are clearly staying here long term.
Ms McCarthy said the “rule” was not contained in any legislation, and yet it was being applied by local councils as if it was the law, because they have been instructed to do so by the department in charge.
“We wrote to the then minister for housing, Willie Penrose, about the issue some months ago, but we have not had a response from him.
“The circular has been quoted to us in correspondence from Cork City Council when we wrote appealing on behalf of people who we believe have been incorrectly refused access to social housing.
“We can say with a very high degree of certainty that the rule is not in keeping with the law. We hope that the new minister for housing, when appointed, will revoke the circular, which amounts to direct institutional discrimination.”
Responding to queries from the Irish Examiner, a department spokesperson said: “Departmental policy in recent years has been that as social housing support is intended to address long-term social housing need.
“Department circulars on the issue therefore, have attempted to define what situations under the immigration rules might be appropriate criteria to use to accept someone as ‘having a long-term right to live in Ireland’ and consequently be eligible to apply for social housing support.”
Ms McCarthy said that the department’s explanation made sense — but that it does not reflect what its own circular says, and which is being applied to exclude people who have a long-term right to live in Ireland.
“It is great that an explanation has finally been given for this. We have been writing to the department for months as people are getting letters of refusal based on a circular which is blatantly discriminatory and has a very narrow focus but which councils are adhering to very strictly.”
A spokesperson for the department said that guidance regarding access to social housing by non-Irish nationals was under review and updated rules would be issued to local authorities shortly.
MARIA arrived in Ireland in 2003. She held a work permit granting her permission to work for a particular family as a care worker in their home.
She looked for other work, and found another employer who applied for a work permit for her. She has been employed in the same care home for the elderly for years, and finds the work hard but rewarding.
In 2007, Maria was joined in Ireland by her husband and her 14-year-old daughter.
The family has made Ireland its home. She was granted a “stamp 4” in 2010, meaning she is now free to work for any employer. She has stayed on at the care home, where she is treated well.
In 2011, Maria applied for social housing.
The family has living in sub-standard rented accommodation for years. Maria’s daughter has asthma, and Maria worries her child’s health is affected by the damp conditions in their home. Maria and her family would prefer the security of knowing that their home is theirs for as long as they want to live there, and to pay rent to the local authority rather than to a private landlord.
Maria’s application to be put on the local authorities housing list was refused. The letter of refusal stated that “under current regulations you are required to have 5 years on a stamp 4 prior to applying for housing and therefore you are not eligible for inclusion in our social housing list”.
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