Social Housing Support includes a wide range of support such as local authority housing, approved housing body housing, housing assistance payment and the rent accommodation scheme. Social housing support is administrated by local authorities in accordance with the Housing Acts. This means that the way support is decided and what needs are prioritized may vary depending on the area. The complicated nature of the process can be especially taxing for autistic adults, who may be uncomfortable with phone calls and face to face interaction. It can also be a source of distress for parents of autistic children who will likely be involved in similar long-term applications for diagnosis, clinical supports, and education.
Even after the application process, challenges can emerge. The offered housing may not be suited to the autistic person’s sensory needs or can be distant from their place of work or (if children) the specific school which matches their support needs. We have therefore compiled an autism-specific guide to applying for social housing support and what you can expect in this process.
Are Autistic People Entitled to Housing Support?
At present there is no explicit constitutional right to housing in Ireland except for very urgent and exceptional circumstances. There is, however, a right to apply for social housing and for fair procedures to apply to you in that application. In order to qualify for social housing support, an applicant must apply to their local authority who will assess whether they are eligible and whether they have a housing need. A local authority will take into account a number of factors such as income and residence when assessing whether an applicant is eligible for social housing. However, a local authority cannot apply an eligibility criteria that is not provided for in law. Once an applicant is deemed eligible for social housing support, a local authority will assess whether there is a need for housing support. A local authority will do this by looking at a number of factors. Once an applicant is deemed to be eligible for and in need of social housing support they will be included on the record of qualified households. What ‘need’ is considered a priority may vary depending on local authorities. Applicants may also seek to be awarded priority for social housing. Commons form of priority offered by local authorities include exceptional medical circumstances, exceptional social grounds, homelessness. Autistic people and their families may wish to apply for a priority for social housing support such as exceptional medical priority.
Under the Housing Act “the housing authority shall obtain and have regard to a report from a medical practitioner…where priority is claimed on grounds consisting of, or including, exceptional medical grounds.” Given that understanding of autism can be varied, even among medical professionals, an autism diagnosis does not guarantee social housing support under the Exceptional Medical Grounds priority list. While a medical practitioner is legally included in evaluating the application, current legislation does not make any reference to what area of medicine this professional may be working in or whether they may have sufficient knowledge of the disability mentioned in the application.
Up until recently, there was very little guidance on what type or form of medical evidence was required. Experience differed between local authorities. The new social housing application form does provide more detail as to what evidence or documentation will be accepted a local authority as part of their assessment.
Accessibility of Process and Housing:
However, there has been some development which, while not guaranteeing a successful application, provides more clarity for autistic people and their families. A new form was introduced in April 2021 known as the Disability/Medical Information Form. This form is standard across all local authorities and has now outlined the concept of medical professionals further to include consultants, GPs, mental health nurses, public health nurses and social workers. Under this system, the relevant professionals should provide a letter detailing how the current housing situation may be exacerbating the condition of the disabled applicant and how appropriate housing assistance can remedy this. It is crucial to have a supportive medical professional who writes a strongly worded letter linking current wellbeing and future wellbeing to housing. ‘We support them in their application for housing’ is not sufficient. It needs to be ‘this type of housing is required as a necessary step in meeting this person’s support needs.’
As mentioned above, each local authority will have different priorities for how social housing is allocated. This can be discovered by looking up your council’s allocation scheme, all of which are freely available online. The local authority is bound by whatever scheme they have in place, and many local authorities include criteria on medical priority in their allocation scheme.
In certain areas Exceptional Medical Priority appears to largely apply to physical access needs such as wheelchair users. Guidelines may be set out at individual local council level, which may make it difficult to identify what sets a successful application for housing assistance for an autistic person from an unsuccessful one.
Living with Housing Assistance:
While an individual has valid needs, whether they are based in Carlow or Dublin; the population and rental situation can also affect how social housing is considered. While many apply for assistance with the hope of receiving local authority approval or from an approved housing body, more applicants are being pushed towards HAP as a result of a lack of social housing supply.
Local authority dwellings and approved housing may present their own disadvantages for autistic people. Living in the former means their status would be local authority tenants, meaning it may be take longer to introduce certain adaptations or reasonable accommodations as they must be approved by the local authority: meaning the option to take up a dispute via the Residential Tenancies Board is not available. While the process of eviction is far more complex under the local authority scheme, in the case of approved housing bodies your relationship is more like a private tenant and you are accountable to the residential tenancies board.
- While HAP is becoming the dominant form of housing assistance, it is far from ideal for autistic tenants and their families. First, under HAP the family must find their own private rented accommodation within the HAP limits; the local authority will not source it. This can present difficulties to autistic adults or families with an autistic child because they may need to be near a certain school, services or familiar place.
- Secondly, while HAP rent limits vary from council to council, certain urban centres like Dublin rent levels have outstripped HAP rates, so people are paying a top up to their property owner as well as what they are already paying the local authority.
- Thirdly the manner in which HAP applicants are treated by local authorities on their housing lists differs between local authorities. From a legal point of view your housing need may be deemed to have been met if you apply for HAP and the housing authority may remove applicants from the housing list based on this. Applicants are always advised to check with their local authorities how their application will be treated and to confirm their interest in remaining on the housing list. If HAP is not suitable in the long term, it’s crucial to apply to transfer from HAP to another form of social housing within two weeks of receiving a HAP payment to ensure the time already spent on the list is considered by the local authority. The main advantage HAP has over local authority dwellings is that the tenant will have the same rights under the RTB as any other private renter.
Overall, even if an individual/family is considered eligible for social housing support and put on the list, autistic people and their families must consider the possibility that their housing providers may not be equally aware of autism. Under the Equal Status and Disabilities act, the provision of goods and services procured by public housing must be accessible to people with disabilities unless it is out of price range or likely to cause unreasonable delays