She first became homeless in November 2016 when her ex-partner burned down the apartment complex she was living in with her son.
A self-employed make-up artist, she lost her livelihood in the fire, too: her home was her studio. Clients would stop by for makeovers.
She tried to keep working once she was homeless. But the instability made it tough. “I’d been a make-up artist for eight years,” says the twentysomething woman, chatty and vivacious.
She has ripped denim jeans and a puffy jacket, and is sat at a table in a cafe in the north inner-city. She lets her hot chocolate go cold.
Since that fire, her life has been upended. She tried to settle into a new home, with help from the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP), a subsidy for people who are eligible for a social home but haven’t been granted one yet, and can’t afford the city’s high-and-climbing rents.
But she had to leave that home in October 2017 after the windows were smashed, over and over again. She spent the next three weeks in a psychiatric unit.
Now she’s been told she’s banned from HAP, something some Dublin city councillors said they didn’t even know was possible.
And she’s unclear why she’s been banned, or how to appeal. She is currently living in emergency accommodation.
Banning People from HAP
Sinn Féin Councillor Daithí Doolan, who is head of the council’s housing committee, says he hasn’t ever come across somebody who has been removed from the HAP scheme.
Some have been taken off the scheme because they got a pay rise that pushed them over the eligibility threshold, Doolan says. But that’s different.
Dublin Region Homeless Executive didn’t get back yet with figures on the number of people in the Dublin region that have been removed from HAP.
A spokesperson said they’ve asked the HAP office in Limerick, but haven’t got the data back yet.
There are circumstances in which individuals can “have their HAP payments to their landlord suspended or ceased”, says a spokesperson for DRHE.
One is not paying your monthly contribution to your local authority. When that is the case, three notification letters are sent out to you, followed by a cessation letter. If they don’t pay off the owed rent, they can’t claim HAP again, they said.
The council may also refuse, or stop providing, housing assistance if a household “has engaged in anti-social behaviour”, they said.
If a tenant leaves a property, paid for partly through HAP, and the council doesn’t think there’s good reason – overcrowding say, or exceptional circumstances – then they might also be cut off from the scheme for a year, they said.
Learning She Was Banned
The woman says it was her resettlement officer at the Abigail Centre, a women’s hostel in Finglas, who told her she had been banned from HAP.
So, with help from her keyworker, the woman tried to call the DRHE at Parkgate Street to figure out what was going on.
“We’d just be put through from person to person saying it’s not coming up on this computer that you’re banned from the HAP,” she says. “Then we said we’re better off just going in.”
When she went in with her keyworker, she says she was told in person that she had been removed from HAP.
“They never wrote me a letter, they never told me in any shape or form that I was banned from HAP,” she says.
In early December, she went again to Parkgate Street. She wanted to try to understand again, what was going on, why she had been banned from the scheme.
This time, she says, a council worker told her there was nothing in the system to say she had been.
The DRHE didn’t respond to a query about how they tell those eligible for HAP that they have been banned from getting the subsidy. “Tenants may appeal any decision made by the HAP Section in writing,” a spokesperson said.
The woman said this would be extremely difficult to do, as she isn’t sure exactly what she would be appealing.
Niamh White, who works with Aoibhneas, a refuge for women and children, says they have come across cases where women have been blamed for anti-social behaviour, when actually they were in situations of domestic violence.
“It wouldn’t be a common occurrence, but it would be an occurrence that would happen,” says White. Partners or ex-partners may sit outside women’s homes, turn up at their door screaming and shouting, and the women are evicted.
People Before Profit Councillor Andrew Keegan says he is aware that this happens. But it’s hard to get a straight answer from the council as to whether people have been removed from HAP or not, he says.
Another major problem is that Dublin City Council has no way to provide women’s refuges, says Keegan.
That’s up to the Health Service Executive (HSE). “The key point is is that it’s not in our remit. We can build houses but we can’t build refuges,” says Keegan.
The woman who has been banned from HAP says she has been told she can appeal the decision. But she still isn’t sure what exactly she is appealing, and how to appeal.
In the past year, she says, she has made numerous suicide attempts. The stress has overwhelmed her.
“I just feel like I’ve no support,” she says. “All I want is just a home for me and my child to be safe in.”
If you have been affected by anything in this article, you can contact Aoibhneas women’s refuge on (01) 867 0701 or directly through their website.