Judgment on rent supplement raises issues about parental rights

Analysis: department should have taken account of father’s joint custody


by Fiona Gartland

The Irish Times, Friday 31st October 2014


Hundreds of parents, often fathers, who have separated from their spouses have trouble availing of access to their children because they do not have suitable accommodation in which they can stay. Yesterday’s judgment will help some of them.


Ms Justice Marie Baker’s ruling means the Department of Social Protection will have to reconsider its decision to grant only single person’s rent supplement to a separated father of four who has joint custody of his children.


She found the department’s decision-making was flawed and took an overly narrow view of the test it should have applied.


The judge’s decision took into account the man’s circumstances, including his joint custody of the children, the location of the family home and that he had given up that home as part of a separation agreement.


It will not have implications for all separated people seeking rent supplement, but a significant number will be in a similar position to the man in this case.


Yesterday the father, who is unemployed and cannot be named by order of the court, said he was delighted with the result and hoped the decision would help other people.


After separating from his wife, who remained living in the west with their four children, he moved to Dublin to seek work and was taken in by his parents.


In 2012, he applied for rent allowance and said he was initially told he would get an allowance to include his children.


He found accommodation with a rent of €900 a month, but when the department came back with a formal decision, the answer was a firm “no”.


“I tried to appeal it, I went to Patrick Nulty [TD] at the time and I asked him would he help me with it. We wrote and tried to explain to them everything about where the kids were and that when they came up it was an overnight thing.”


Lost accommodation

But his appeal failed, he lost the accommodation he had been hoping to take and he remained living with his parents.

“It was hard on my parents taking me back and being under their feet and then the four kids coming up as well,” he said.


“My sister has been letting me stay in her one-bedroom apartment when I had the kids; she goes back to my ma’s . . . but it’s not easy for them.”


Though his ex-wife has no problem with him taking the children, he hasn’t been able to see as much of them as he should because of his accommodation difficulties.


“I feel after the separation the kids really needed me then and I needed to spend more time with them and I just couldn’t do it,” he said.


He said he worries he may not now be able to find a place given the dramatic increase in rents over the last few years and the cap on rent allowance.


His solicitor, Moya de Paor of Community Law and Mediation Northside, said the department should have taken account of the rights of the applicant as a father and as a joint custodian of his children and the rights of the children to the care and support of their father.


“We are delighted with the decision of the High Court in this case,” Ms de Paor said.


“The judgment raises significant issues in relation to father’s rights as custodians of their children and in particular children’s rights to the care and support of their father.”