Ruling could have significant implications for separated parents’ entitlements
by Fiona Gartland
The Irish Times, Friday 31st October 2014
A High Court ruling that the Department of Social Protection must reconsider a decision to grant only single person’s rent allowance to a separated father of four could have significant implications for parents in similar situations.
In a ruling delivered yesterday, Ms Justice Marie Baker found the department’s decision-making process when assessing the man’s application was flawed.
Its deciding officer applied the wrong legal test by assessing only the father’s accommodation needs without having any regard to the complexity of his family relationships,“the accommodation needs of the children when they are visiting their father” and the “intrinsic interconnectedness” of those needs with those of their father.
She found given the joint custody arrangements the children could not be viewed as living primarily with one parent, or having one “primary” carer, as the department’s deciding officer had found. The needs of the children were more complex, had been assessed by their parents as involving joint custody, and could not be met in one location only, she said.
The judge said the department must reconsider its decision in light of her findings.
The Dublin man cared for his children full-time in the family home in the west before separating from his wife in 2011 and moving back to the capital to seek work. He applied for maximum rent supplement of €900 in July 2012 but his application was rejected.
His solicitor, Moya de Paor, said yesterday her client was delighted with the ruling. She said the effect of the department’s decision to treat the man as a single person when assessing rent supplement meant he had been unable to have any meaningful access to his children since he moved to Dublin.
“This has been very distressing for him and for his children, who have also been denied their right to the care and support of their father,” she said.
“The judgment raises significant issues in relation to fathers’ rights as custodians of their children and, in particular, children’s rights to the care and support of their father.”
Focus Ireland also welcomed the ruling. Advocacy manager Roughan McNamara said the housing charity had regularly come across similar cases. Problems with accommodation put considerable strain on parents who have split up, he said.