Homelessness and the right to housing

What is homelessness?

There are many different reasons why people become homeless. Perhaps you have lost your rented accommodation, or had to move out of your home because your relationship has broken down. You may be staying with family or couch surfing with friends. Or you may be homeless for more complex reasons and have additional needs due to addiction or mental health issues.

What is the definition of homelessness?

You are considered homeless if one of the following applies to you:

  • There is no accommodation available that you and any other person who normally lives with you, can reasonably stay in. This is in your local authority's opinion.
  • You are living in a hospital, county home, night shelter or other such institution, and you are living there because you have no suitable accommodation
  • You are unable to provide accommodation from your own resources. This is in your local authority's opinion.

This definition of homelessness is outlined in the Housing Act 1988.

In general, you may be considered homeless if you are:

  • Sleeping rough
  • Staying in an emergency hostel or refuge
  • Staying in bed and breakfast or hotel accommodation on a temporary basis
  • Staying temporarily with friends or family because you have nowhere else to go
  • Squatting (occupying a building illegally)

Information about practical supports if you are homeless

If you are homeless, you can find practical information in our page housing and other supports for homeless people. We also have a page that lists different agencies and organisations that provide services to people who are homeless as well as one that describes specific supports for young people who are homeless.

The right to housing

There is no legal right to housing in Ireland. However, local authorities have a responsibility to provide housing for adults who cannot afford it themselves, and Tusla must provide accommodation for children who are homeless or in need of care.

In December 2022, the Government committed to a referendum on the right to housing in the Programme for Government.

The Housing Commission was set-up to work on housing policy issues, including developing proposals for the wording for a constitutional referendum on the right to housing.

In late 2023, the Housing Commission completed their report. The Government is now reviewing the report and considering the next steps.

Who is responsible for housing homeless people?

Local authorities’ responsibilities

Local authorities do not have a statutory obligation to house people, but they do have general responsibility under the Housing Act 1988 to provide housing for adults who cannot afford it for themselves. They may help with accommodation either:

  • By providing housing directly
  • Through arrangements with approved housing bodies and other voluntary bodies

They may also provide funding to voluntary bodies for emergency accommodation and for long-term housing for homeless people.

The HSE’s responsibilities

The Health Service Executive (HSE) has general responsibility for the health and in-house care needs of homeless people. This means that local authorities are responsible for the costs of providing accommodation while the HSE provides funding for the care and welfare needs of homeless people, including in-house care.

Tusla’s responsibilities

Tusla is responsible for providing accommodation for children under 18 who are homeless or in need of care. This is outlined in the Child Care Act 1991. They may also provide aftercare facilities for young people aged over 18. Read more on our page on youth homelessness.

Housing policy

The Government’s policy on homelessness is based on a housing-led approach. It aims to secure long-term housing for people who are homeless, with additional social supports if necessary. This policy is covered in a number of different plans and policies.

Housing for All

In 2021, the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage published Housing for All - a New Housing Plan for Ireland. This plan sets out the Government’s housing plan for Ireland to 2030. One of the plans aims is to end homelessness by 2030. The document outlines 4 different pathways to achieving this:

  • Supporting homeownership and increasing affordability
  • Ending homelessness, increasing social housing delivery and supporting inclusion
  • Increasing new housing supply
  • Addressing vacancy and efficient use of existing housing stock

Housing First

Housing First works to secure permanent secure accommodation with extensive wrap-around supports for people who are sleeping rough or have been in emergency accommodation for a long time.

These wrap-around supports can include health supports to help with addiction or mental health issues. This helps the most vulnerable homeless people to maintain secure tenancies. The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage has published its Housing First Implementation Plan for 2022 – 2026. This lists the number of people it intends to help with this programme over the next few years.

Youth Homelessness Strategy

The Government launched a 3-year Youth Homelessness Strategy in November 2022. This focuses on ending homelessness for young people aged 18-24. The 3 main aims of the strategy are to:

  • Prevent young people from entering homelessness
  • Improve the experiences of young people entering homelessness
  • Assist young people in exiting homelessness

National Homelessness Action Committee

The National Homelessness Action Committee is a cross-governmental and inter-agency group set up in 2021. They are responsible for working across Government to ensure that actions in the Housing for All plan are carried out. The committee also have a role in addressing emerging homeless-related issues and in developing responses to these issues.

Who monitors homelessness levels?

The number of people who are homeless is monitored to make sure there are enough homeless services and to help develop housing policy. This is done in a number of ways:

  • Local authorities carry out assessments of housing needs every year. The homeless people included in this assessment are those who are registered with the local authority and have been assessed as being in need of housing. The most recent housing need assessment was carried out in 2022.
  • The Census of Population counts everyone living in Ireland every 5 years. It provides comprehensive information about the number of homeless people.
  • The Dublin Region Homeless Executive conducts a rough sleeper count in the Dublin region every 6 months.
  • The Government publish monthly reports on levels of homelessness based on information gathered by local authorities.

Further information

In Dublin, the Dublin Region Homeless Executive is responsible for the co-ordination of services for homeless people. In Cork, the Cork City Homeless Forum has produced a guide to homeless services in Cork (pdf).

Focus Ireland lists the latest homelessness figures on the Focus Ireland website.

Read more about homelessness on the website of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage.

Page edited: 20 December 2023