Sinn Féin Senator Lynn Boylan will tomorrow introduce legislation that seeks to remove the discriminatory policy of treating Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) as income when it comes to applying for Civil Legal Aid.
Currently, low income households who are eligible for local authority housing, but who are in subsidised private rental accommodation, are being treated differently to local authority tenants.
HAP was established in 2014 due to rising rents in the private sector and a chronic shortage of local authority houses.
Speaking ahead of its introduction in the Seanad tomorrow, Ms Boylan said:
“Everyone knows that Housing Assistance Payments go directly to the landlord and not to the tenant, so treating HAP as income is deeply unfair and is disproportionately impacting on women.
“The issue was brought to my attention by a number of organisations who work directly with women who have experienced domestic violence.
“Thanks to the work of FLAC, the financial contribution is waived for victims of domestic violence, however that ends when it comes to subsequent legal matters such as access to children and maintenance payments.
“Civil Legal Aid was established in Ireland after the 1979 European Court of Human Rights found that it was unreasonable to expect an individual untrained in the law and procedures to represent themselves. Yet, this is what we are asking people to do by assessing HAP as income.
“Individuals who are in receipt of HAP are low income households, and many are topping up their rent due to HAP caps not meeting the market rent increases.
“Therefore, it is unfair and unreasonable to expect somebody in that situation to have the means to pay for private legal representation.
“So, we are effectively leaving people to represent themselves in the courts in direct contravention of the European Court of Justice ruling.
“The Government response when I have raised this issue in the past was disappointing, therefore I have no choice but to bring forward this Bill.
“I sincerely hope that the Government will see sense, support this Bill, and bring an end to this discriminatory barrier to justice.”