The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) has ordered a local authority pay €20,000 compensation to a Traveller family it discriminated against over their claim for housing.
The family was living on the roadside in a small caravan with only basic facilities for two years in the un-named county and applied for housing to the council.
The family stated that they also had family connections in the area, were effectively homeless as they were living on the side of the road and had no prospect of finding accommodation without the assistance of the county council.
However, the council refused their application to be included on the housing list largely on the basis that it considered that the family’s caravan was illegally parked on private property and therefore, the family was not normally resident in the county.
The family took five cases under the Equal Status Act against the un-named county council to the WRC and now in five separate decisions relating to the each of the five members of the family, the WRC has awarded a cumulative total of €20,000.
The mother of the family said today: “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.”
She said: “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.”
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.
The family has since secured accommodation in a neighbouring local authority area.
In the case, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) which represented the family in the case stated that the council failed to take account of the distinct challenges facing members of the Traveller community which would not be faced by members of the settled community.
WRC Adjudication Officer, Shay Henry said that the council excluded the family as they were illegally on private property.
He said: “The issue of legality is not mentioned in the regulations and in my view, the introduction of this additional criterion disproportionately affects members of the Traveller community and is therefore discriminatory.”
He said: “Furthermore, the question of the legal tenancy of people resident in houses is not generally examined by the local authority when applications are received from such residents for accommodation. The application of the legality requirement is clearly therefore discriminatory towards members of the Traveller community and in particular in this instance to the complainants.”
Chief Commissioner of the IHREC, Emily Logan 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.
She said: “It is essential that local authorities, in line with their legal obligation 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.”