Homelessness and the right to housing

Introduction

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.

Under the Housing Act 1988 you are considered homeless if one of the following applies to you:

  • There is no accommodation available that, in the opinion of the local authority, you and any other person who normally lives with you, can reasonably stay or remain in
  • 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, in the opinion of the local authority, unable to provide accommodation from your own resources

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)

Our document on housing and other supports for homeless people describes the services and supports that are available for homeless people. We also have a document that lists a number of agencies and organisations that provide services to people who are homeless as well as one that describes the particular arrangements for young people who are homeless.

The right to housing

There is no legally protected right to adequate shelter and 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 2014, a Constitutional Convention recommended that the Constitution be amended to include a specific right to housing, but this did not proceed. The recommendation was also included in a number of later bills which have failed, because it is thought to be at odds with how private property is considered in the Constitution. A number of political parties and homeless organisations are now calling for a referendum on this issue.

Who is responsible for housing homeless people?

While local authorities do not have a statutory obligation to house people, they do have general responsibility under the Housing Act 1988 to provide housing for adults who cannot afford to provide it for themselves. They may help with accommodation either by providing housing directly or through arrangements with voluntary housing organisations and other voluntary bodies. They may also provide funding to voluntary bodies for emergency accommodation and for long-term housing for homeless people.

The Health Service Executive (HSE) has general responsibility for the health and in-house care needs of homeless people. In terms of funding, 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 (the Child and Family Agency) has responsibility under the Child Care Act 1991 for providing accommodation for children under the age of 18 who are homeless or in need of care. It may also provide aftercare facilities for young people aged over 18. Read more in our document 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, see gov.ie for more information.

A High Level Homelessness Task Force was established in July 2020 to provide a forum for key organisations working to address homelessness. It also provides input on the implementation of the commitments on homelessness in the Programme for Government.

Monitoring homelessness levels

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

  • Local authorities carry out assessments of housing need 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 2020.
  • The Census of Population counts everyone living in Ireland every 5 years. It provides comprehensive information about the number of homeless people in the State. See Census of Population 2016 – Profile 5 Homeless Persons in Ireland for the most recent information.
  • The Dublin Region Homeless Executive conducts a rough sleeper count in the Dublin region every 6 months.

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.

Focus Ireland lists the latest homelessness figures on the Focus Ireland website and has an information guidebook Working to end homelessness.

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

Page edited: 4 May 2021