'Model tenants' awarded compensation over HAP refusal

Three tenants have been awarded compensation after the Workplace Relations Commission found they had been discriminated against by their landlord who refused to facilitate their access to the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) scheme.

FLAC (Free Legal Aid Centres) welcomed the decision, and said it was “very significant”.

Houses aerial

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

This includes rent allowance or the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) or any payment under the social welfare acts. To date there had been no determination by the WRC as to whether the new ground extended protection to existing tenants who become entitled to social housing support during the course of their tenancy.

Three almost identical cases were brought against the same landlord to the WRC and heard together.  

The landlord contended that it was not obliged to accept HAP as the new law did not apply to existing tenants. FLAC acted for all three complainants, identified as Tenant A, B and C.

The tenants were referred to FLAC by a Citizens Information Centre who assisted the tenants in lodging their complaints with the WRC and advocated on their behalf.

The cases were heard together in March this year and it was contended on behalf of the tenants that the protection under equality legislation extended from the pre-tenancy phase through to the ultimate termination of the tenancy, and that the legislation would be ineffective if it did not protect sitting tenants.

The decision of the WRC clarifies that the protection from discrimination extends to not only prospective tenants but also sitting tenants.

Speaking about the decision, FLAC Chief Executive, Ellis Barry said the decision “clarifies not only that landlords cannot reject prospective tenants eligible for the housing assistance payment solely on that basis, but also that the new housing assistance equality ground also applies to existing tenancies”.

FLAC’s Managing Solicitor, Sinead Lucey went on to say: “In this case, our clients were all under severe financial pressure and one client was borrowing from relatives to meet their rent obligations.

“They were advised by the local authority that they were eligible for HAP, which would have reduced the impossible financial pressure on each of them as low income families.

She continued: “However, the landlord declined to accept the new arrangement, saying they were not required to do so and repeatedly refusing to complete the necessary paperwork, although there was no financial loss to the landlord in doing so, and the rent would, from that point onwards, be paid automatically by the State.”

In her decision, the WRC Adjudication Officer said it was difficult to understand the landlord’s attitude towards what she described as ‘model’ tenants who had always paid rent and honoured the terms of their tenancy agreements.

The Adjudication Officer found that the discrimination was on the more serious end of the scale, causing considerable financial hardship to each of the tenants who were awarded the sums of €14,977, €13,365 and €14,405 each and ordered the landlord to take such steps as are required to enable each of the tenants to participate in the HAP scheme and accept HAP payments from the relevant local authority forthwith.

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