The Irish High Court has ruled against a single father who was allocated one-bed social housing which he deemed to be unsuitable for his family.
Darren Fagan is the single father of three children and a tenant in local authority housing. He is in a co-parenting arrangement with their mother under which they share the duties of rearing the children. This allows Mr Fagan overnight access to his children during the week. He has in place an ‘Overnight Access Agreement’ issued by the Council which facilitates the arrangement.
Despite this, Mr Fagan was allocated a one-bedroom unit by the Council as this was judged to be a sufficient dwelling under the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009. Under Section 20(1)(c) of the Act, it states that such units are for “2 or more persons who do not live together but who, in the opinion of the housing authority concerned, have a reasonable requirement to live together.” Mr Fagan therefore made an application to the High Court as to the interpretation of this legislation, and claimed that the Council never carried out a proper assessment of his family and living situation, as per Section 20 of the 2009 Act.
In considering what it meant to “have a reasonable requirement to live together”, the Court looked to the UK case Holmes-Moorhouse v. Richmond upon Thames Borough Council where the House of Lords defined the words “might reasonably be expected” as “an impersonal objective standard.”
Taking this observation into account when interpreting S.20(1)(c) of the 2009 Act, the Court stated “what is at play is (1) an impersonal objective standard which appeals to an objective social norm, with (2) the Act falling to be interpreted (i) with liberality having regard to its social purposes, but also (ii) with recognition of (I) the claims of others and (II) the nature and scale of the Council’s responsibilities.”
In response to Mr Fagan’s application, the Council provided that “In determining the…reasonable requirement to live together, the Council…had regard to…(1) matters required to be considered under section 20 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009… (2) information relevant to the Applicants’ housing need…(3) the purposes of the Housing Acts…(4) the accommodation available and/or to be made available to the minor applicants with their mother…(5) in accordance with s.69 of the Local Government Act 2001, the resources available to or likely to be available to the Council and the need to secure the most beneficial, effective and efficient use of such resources…(6) The prospect of under-utilisation of its housing resources in the event of allocation of bedrooms to the minor applicants in…separate dwellings… (7) The needs of others, including children, on its housing lists for multi-bedroom accommodation.”
Having considered this, the Court declared no legal deficiency in the Council’s decision-making with regards to Mr Fagan’s application for social housing. It found the “opinion of the housing authority” to be the determining factor in such applications. Provided that “the Council’s opinion is lawfully reached and held, the opinion of those others, even of this Court, does not matter in law.” Therefore, as a matter of law, the Court declined all reliefs sought by Mr Fagan.
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