Sarah and her husband Eamon have until June to try to find a new home for their family.
Speaking in the Dáil last week, People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett raised the cases of families and individuals affected by homelessness in the south Dublin area. Each day this week, TheJournal.ie speaks to some of the people whose lives are in turmoil as a result of Ireland’s homelessness crisis.
SARAH AND EAMON* and their family have to be out of their home by the end of June.
The young married couple have been living with their children in a private rented house in south Dublin for the past four years.
They previously had a home in the Dún Laoghaire area, but had to move out about five years ago when they both lost their jobs.
The family moved back into Eamon’s mother’s house to save money, before they found the house they are now living in.
Sarah went back to college and graduated as a nurse. She currently works full-time in a nursing home. Eamon also went back to college and has two years left before he finishes his degree.
The family previously received the rent supplement payment to help them afford their rent for a number of years. Last year, their landlord said they should move onto the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP).
“We went on rent allowance because I was in college getting my degree, so we figured it would be a good way to help us get our lives back on track,” Sarah tells TheJournal.ie.
“So then last year the landlord asked us to go on the HAP, he said it would be better security for him and us,” she says.
He gave us our notice there about 2 weeks ago. He wants to get out of the HAP and settle. We have to be out by June.
“We thought we were settled”
The couple have four children (ages nine, five, three and two) and Sarah is pregnant and due to give birth in five weeks.
Their five-year-old son has autism, and Sarah says he is finding the news that they will be evicted very hard.
“We thought we were settled here [in this house],” says Sarah.
I’m qualified and I’m working now so we thought we were okay.
The news that the landlord was selling came as a shock for them both.
“They said that they couldn’t afford to maintain the rent at the levels they were at. And they were selling up all their properties and getting out,” she says.
The landlord had raised the rent previously in the last 24 months. Under new rent cap legislation introduced in Dublin at the end of last year, they would have been unable to raise it again before two years had passed.
The rent could have only gone up by a maximum of 4% when they did raise it, which the landlord found unsustainable.
HAP not accepted
Since they learnt that they would soon be evicted, Eamon and Sarah have been frantically searching for a new place to live, and a landlord that will accept HAP tenants.
The Housing Assistance Payment was introduced in 2014 as a form of social housing support for people who have a long-term housing need.
Under HAP, rent is paid to a landlord by a local authority (in Sarah and Eamon’s case, South Dublin County Council) on behalf of the tenants.
The tenants then have to pay a weekly contribution to the local authority based on how much they can afford. Households must source the accommodation themselves and there is also a limit to how expensive the rent can be.
The payment is designed to eventually completely replace rent supplement (which Eamon and Sarah were on before they switched last year).
The key differences between the two are that tenants are allowed to work while they’re in receipt of HAP; and the payment is given to the landlord on time, not in arrears (which is the case with rent supplement). This is in order the make the arrangement more favourable for landlords.
HAP is a form of social housing support, so tenants who secure accommodation through HAP are removed from their local authority’s social housing waiting list, as their housing needs are deemed to be met. They have the option to go on a HAP transfer list instead.
The couple are on the HAP transfer list now, but Sarah says the 10 years they spent on the council housing waiting list in Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council now no longer counts for them.
It is also illegal for landlords to say that you won’t accept HAP when advertising a property for rent. But Sarah says that the couple have been refused on multiple occasions.
“As soon as you mention you’re on the HAP you don’t get anything,” says Sarah.
“They respond – you get emails asking can you confirm if you’re on the HAP – then they don’t get back to you.
It’s illegal to do that but they still do. They just don’t get back to you.
The couple generally don’t get a response to their initial request for a viewing, and Sarah says that the accommodation is generally far above the limits allowed under HAP. But they apply anyway as they feel there is no other option.
HAP is a key part of reducing the number of homeless people as laid out in the Government’s Housing Action Plan launched last year.
PBP TD Richard Boyd Barrett raised Sarah and Eamon’s case (among others) in the Dáil last week. He pointed to the fact that the payment isn’t fully secure, as the private landlord can decide to sell the house and evict the tenants (which isn’t the case with typical, council-owned properties).
Addressing Enda Kenny in the Dáil last week, Boyd Barrett said that HAP was failing as a form of social housing support.
“[These families are] now being evicted from the supposedly secure social housing support that you said it would provide for them,” he said to Enda Kenny.
Sarah says that her grandmother has recently moved form her council-owned house where she used to live to a nursing home in the Dun Laoghaire area.
She has asked Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council could the family take over the tenancy, but was told they can’t as she hasn’t been on the rent book for the house (as she moved out when she was 19).
Sarah is due to have her baby in five weeks. She will finish up working soon and was admitted to hospital with high blood pressure due to the stress last week.
The family are desperately trying to find somewhere else to live in time, but if they don’t they have been told that they will have to register as homeless.
“We’re going to have to register as homeless with five children in June,” says Sarah.
We don’t know what’s going to happen. We could end up in homeless accommodation.
Of their children, Sarah says that her nine-year-old daughter and five-year-old son with autism are taking the news badly.
“For my son he just can’t get his head around it. But it’s different for him because he has autism he wouldn’t process that information the way we would,” she says.
“He worries about things like not being able to bring his toys with him or leaving his stuff here.
“Ever since we told him, he’ll just start crying sometimes. And when we ask him what’s wrong he says, ‘I’m worried’, or ‘I’m sad’, or ‘I don’t want to go’.”
*Only Sarah and Eamon’s first names have been used in order to protect their identities