Three tenants have been awarded compensation after the Workplace Relations Commission found they had been discriminated against by a landlord who refused to accept the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP).
The landlord had refused to facilitate the tenants’ access to the housing assistance payment scheme, a form of rent assistance administered by local authorities and available to people on local housing waiting lists. HAP was introduced to replace the Rent Supplement and payments are made directly to landlords.
In the first decision of its kind, the WRC ruled that the protection from discrimination extends to not only prospective tenants but also sitting tenants. The three cases were brought against the same landlord and heard together. The landlord contended that it was not obliged to accept HAP as the new law did not apply to existing tenants. The commission’s adjudication officer said it was difficult to understand the landlord’s attitude towards “model” tenants who had always paid rent and honoured the terms of their tenancy agreements. She also outlined the various benefits of the payment from the perspective of not only the tenants but also the landlord, and she stressed the applicable law must be followed by all parties. She found the discrimination was on the more serious end of the scale and caused considerable financial hardship to each of the tenants. One tenant was awarded €14,977, a second got €14,405, and a third was awarded €13,365. She also ordered the landlord to take steps to enable each of the tenants to participate in the Hap scheme and accept Hap payments from the relevant local authority.
The cases were heard together in March 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 WRC decision clarifies that the protection from discrimination extends to not only prospective tenants but also sitting tenants.
Since January last year, protection under the Equal Status Acts was expanded to prohibit discrimination in the provision of accommodation based on a person’s eligibility for housing assistance.
The landlord argued he was not obliged to accept the HAP payment as the new law did not apply to existing tenants.
FLAC argued, 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.
Eilis Barry, chief executive of FLAC, said: “This decision by the WRC is very significant as it 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.”
Sinead Lucey, FLAC’s managing solicitor, added: “The awards made in these three cases are significant and should send a strong message to landlords that to refuse to facilitate tenants with access to social housing supports including rent allowance and HAP, may have serious consequences.”