HAP recipient wins compensation for letting agency discrimination

Sinéad Gibney
Sinéad Gibney

A man who was discriminated against by a letting agency for being a recipient of the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) has won compensation through the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC).

The 32-year-old had already viewed the property, agreed a tenancy, signed the agreement and paid a deposit when he told the letting agent that he was a HAP recipient. The property was then rented to someone else.

As a father with shared custody of his two-year-old daughter, who would have stayed in the property, the man experienced emotional trauma which caused him to leave his job, suffer increased anxiety, move home and withdraw from the world, the WRC was told.

The WRC ruling noted that the letting agent had not engaged with the WRC investigation process, noting that this amounted to “staggering disrespect for a statutory tribunal”.

The WRC found that the man had been discriminated against on the grounds of housing assistance, and that the discrimination had an enduring and detrimental effect on his personal life which is contrary to the intention of the HAP scheme.

The Equal Status Acts were expanded from January 2016 to prohibit discrimination in the provision of accommodation based on a person’s eligibility for housing assistance, including rent allowance, HAP, or any social welfare payment.

The WRC ordered that the letting agent pay compensation of €8,500 to the man. It also ordered the agency to immediately equality-proof the application process for its tenancies, to include a standard operating procedure with a chronological documentation of the process to record both parties involvement in the entire process. The letting agent was finally ordered to familiarise themselves with HAP and the statutory importance of the Equal Status Act.

WRC Adjudication Officer Patsy Doyle said: “To have a housing need carries a certain vulnerability. The government body had sanctioned the complainant for a social house but did not have one available to allocate.

“HAP is a stop gap between homelessness and housing and is an empowerment for tenants and a commercially sound transaction for landlords. A universal declaration of dislike of HAP coupled with withdrawal of service constitutes a blanket ban.”

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission supported the man in bringing his case to the WRC.

Chief commissioner Sinéad Gibney said: “Landlords and letting agents need to get the message that discriminating against tenants and prospective tenants on the basis of being in receipt of rent allowance, housing assistance payments, and other social welfare payments is illegal.

“The first half of 2020 has seen almost 20 per cent of all public queries to our advice line about discrimination in services related to housing. It’s clear that we are seeing a trend of systemic discrimination against people in receipt of housing assistance payments, which needs to be tackled not only through individual complaints but through additional policy measures.”

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