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Social housing in breach of EU law

Date:23.10.2017

Tenants Welcome European Committee of Social Rights Finding That Ireland Has Failed To Provide Adequate Housing Conditions on Local Authority Estates

The decision is a result of a collective complaint, the evidence for which was gathered over five years through the work of Community Action Network with the support of Ballymun Community Law Centre, and The Centre for Housing Law, Rights and Policy at NUI Galway.

The complaint was lodged in 2014 against Ireland on behalf of local tenants by FIDH, the International Federation for Human Rights, with the support of affiliate member FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres) along with PILA (Public Interest Law Alliance).

The Council of Europe provides for groups whose Human Rights as set out in the EU Revised Charter of Fundamental Rights are not being protected by the State to take a Collective Complaint.

The Committee announced its decision on October 23rd, 2017, finding that Ireland was in violation of Article 16 of the Revised Social Charter, which protects the right of the family to social, legal and economic protection, including the provision of family housing.

Commenting on the Committee's decision, Mikayla Sherlock, Managing Solicitor, Ballymun Community Law Centre said, "This is a significant judgment that could affect thousands of people living in council homes across the country who are entitled to live in clean and safe housing. The Law Centre is proud to have been part of this collective action and would like to thank the residents in reaching this point. We broadly welcome the decision and will track developments with interest as steps are taken by Local Authorities to address the issues identified".

Full release below 23.10.2017

Tenants Welcome European Committee of Social Rights Finding That Ireland Has Failed To Provide Adequate Housing Conditions on Local Authority Estates

Local authority tenants have welcomed a landmark decision by the European Committee of Social Rights, published this morning. The decision has found that Ireland has failed to take sufficient and timely measures to ensure the right to housing of an adequate standard for many families living in local authority housing across the country.

The Committee found Ireland in violation of Article 16 of the Revised Social Charter, which protects the right of the family to social, legal and economic protection, including the provision of family housing.

The Committee recognised that the conditions advanced by the complaint go the core of adequate housing. In particular, it found that frequent sewage invasions, persistent dampness, mould and contaminated water experienced by tenants raise serious concerns as to both habitability and access to essential services. The Committee also raised the impact on tenants of delays and stalling of regeneration programmes

It is estimated that close to 355,000 people live in local authority housing in Ireland. There are over 130,000 local authority homes in total.

The decision is a result of a collective complaint, the evidence for which was gathered over five years through the work of Community Action Network working with tenants from 20 local communities, closely supported by The Centre for Housing Law, Right and Policy at NUI Galway and Ballymun Community Law Centre. It was lodged in 2014 against Ireland on behalf of local tenants by FIDH, the International Federation for Human Rights, with the support of affiliate member FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres) along with PILA (Public Interest Law Alliance).

Debbie Mulhall, who has lived at Dolphin House in Dublin’s south inner city all her life, said that the European Committee’s decision was a welcome affirmation of the years of difficult campaigning that tenants have undertaken to improve their dire living conditions and to meet their right to adequate housing.

“This decision recognizes for the first time that that it is the state’s landlords, the local authorities, that have failed to take the adequate measures necessary to ensure our basic right to proper housing,” she said.

“For years, tenants have put forward proof that we are living in unacceptable, unhealthy and uninhabitable conditions,” she continued. “This has been constantly disputed. We have been consistently told that the dire conditions are of our own making, that persistent damp and mould is caused because of drying clothes or steaming pots, for example. This decision puts an end to this and finds that our right to housing of an adequate standard has been violated.”

Cecilia Forrestal of Community Action Network (CAN) said that she was hopeful that the Government would see the European decision as a positive contribution to its overall housing vision and would take the necessary steps to bring its laws, policies and practices back into line with European housing standards. Member states are obliged to take steps to address any violations found by the European Committee.

“This is an important benchmark decision and it demands a serious response,” she said. “We urge the Minister for Housing particularly to see this decision as a positive contribution to Irish housing policy. Nobody wants to see Irish State housing being run down. These Irish citizens have a right to a decent home, in particular the children living in State housing.”

Eilis Barry, CEO of FLAC, said that the decision marked a milestone in tenants’ long campaign for their rights.

“The Committee’s decision sets a milestone in local authority tenants’ in Ireland long fight for their rights, which the Irish Government has so far failed to uphold,” she said. “It sets a precedent for other people living in substandard conditions across Europe and inspires them to use this valuable mechanism to challenge violations and see their right to adequate housing and other Charter rights recognised as a result of this decision.”

The decision of the European Committee also noted that no complete statistics on the condition of local authority housing have been collated for 15 years - since 2002 – and there is no national timetable for the refurbishment of local authority housing. It also noted that a significant number of regeneration programmes have not been completed, leaving many local authority tenants in unacceptable housing conditions.

The European Committee of Social Rights did not find in favour of a number of other grounds primarily because of a lack of substantive evidence due in the most part to the limited resources of the tenants and their support organisations.

For more information contact:
Edel Hackett, Tel: 087-2935207
Cecilia Forrestal, Tel: 086-1030721
Dr Padraic Kenna, Tel: 086-4176484
Rachel Power, FLAC, Tel: 087-9576399
Samuel Haryon/Audrey Couprie, FIDH, Tel: +22143552518

Further Reading
PILA 25.10.2017 European Committee of Social Rights finds Ireland has failed to provide adequate housing conditions on many local authority estates
Irish Times 23.10.2017 Inadequate council houses ‘breach rights of tenants’
Examiner 23.10.2017 Ireland's Social Housing in breach of European law

Notes to editors

1 Member states are obliged to take steps to address any violations found by the ECSR. The Committee of Ministers will now discuss this decision with a view to adopting a formal resolution to the Irish authorities based on the ECSR’s findings; the committee will follow-up on a regular basis to see what steps are taken to address the problems identified.

2 You can view the decision on the Committee’s website at: http://www.canaction.ie/can_15/www/live_site/downloads/cc-110-2014-report-en-result.pdf?gi_sn=59edc58b2a400%7C0

3 The European Social Charter is a binding human rights treaty that Ireland ratified in 1964 and again in its revised version and to allow for the collective complaints procedure in 2000. The Charter is a Council of Europe convention which guarantees economic and social rights, including the right to adequate housing and the right to social, economic and legal protection. The European Committee of Social Rights is the body in charge of upholding the Charter, with certain international non-governmental organisations holding participatory status with the Council of Europe, such as FIDH, entitled to lodge collective complaints with the Committee. States may grant representative national non-governmental organisations the right to lodge complaints against them. So far only Finland has done so. The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe is its statutory decision-making arm, made up of Ministers for Foreign Affairs from across the Council of Europe’s Member States.

4 The article of the European Social Charter which Ireland has been found to be in violation of is as follows: “Article 16, Part I: The family as a fundamental unit of society has the right to appropriate social, legal and economic protection to ensure its full development. Article 16, Part II: The right of the family to social, legal and economic protection. With a view to ensuring the necessary conditions for the full development of the family, which is a fundamental unit of society, the Parties undertake to promote the economic, legal and social protection of family life by such means as social and family benefits, fiscal arrangements, provision of family housing, benefits for the newly married and other appropriate means.”

5 The Government was invited to make submissions on the merits of the complaint, which it did in July 2015 and later in February 2016. The complainants submitted a response to the Irish Government's submission on the merits in November 2015.

6 Link to the original complaint https://rm.coe.int/168048379f

7 Link to the FIDH press release issued when the complaint was filed in July 2014: https://www.fidh.org/International-Federation-for-Human-Rights/europe/ireland/15779-social-housing-fidh-takes-ireland-before-the-european-committee-of-social

8 Link to the press release issued when the complaint was deemed admissible in March 2015: https://www.flac.ie/news/latestnews/2015/03/24/european-rights-body-to-examine-local-authority-te/

9 Link to a video made by Community Action Network and residents on the collective complaints procedure: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eZx7_TII7Sc

List of communities

Bluebell, Ballina Curra Weston, Emmet Crescent, Dolphin House, Ballybough
St. Teresa’s Gdns, Balgaddy Mary’s Mansions, Ballymun, Tyrone Place, Liberty House
Cherry Orchard, St. Mary’s Park, Matt Talbot Court, O’Devaney Gdns, Southill, Croke Villas,
Charlemont Street, Moyross, Taafe Place.