Policy and legislation

Key legislation relating to homelessness in Ireland includes the Health Act, 1953 and Childcare Act, 1991, the Housing Act 1988 and most recently the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009.

Chapter six of the Housing (Misc Provisions) Act 2009 provides a statutory structure to address the needs of people who are experiencing homelessness. The Act outlines a statutory obligation to have an action plan in place and the formation of a Homelessness Consultative Forum and a Statutory Management Group.

The Housing Act,1988 was introduced following intensive lobbying by a coalition of voluntary organisations, the National Campaign for the Homeless. The Act provided the first legal definition of homelessness in Ireland.

The legal definition of homelessness

Section 2 of the Housing Act, 1988 states that a person should be considered to be homeless if:

(a) there is no accommodation available which, in the opinion of the authority, he, together with any other person who normally resides with him or who might reasonably be expected to reside with him, can reasonably occupy or remain in occupation of,

Or

(b) he is living a hospital, county home, night shelter or other such institution, and is so living because he has no accommodation of the kind referred to in paragraph (a), and

(c) he cannot provide accommodation from his own resources.

While the 1988 Act does not impose a duty on housing authorities to provide housing to people who are homeless, it does clearly give responsibility to the local authorities to consider their needs and expand their powers to respond to those needs. Specifically authorities may house homeless people from their own housing stock or through arrangement with a voluntary body. The Act also enables the local authority to provide a homeless person with money to source accommodation in the private sector.

In addition to the provisions relating to direct responses to people presenting as homeless, Section 10 of the Act enables local authorities to provide funding to voluntary bodies for the provision of emergency accommodation and long term housing for people who are homeless.

The 1988 Act requires that local authorities carry out periodic assessments of the number of people who are homeless in their administrative area, as part of their housing needs assessment. The first assessment was carried out in 1989 with follow up assessments every three years. See the most recent assessment here.

Other legislation related to homelessness

The other main legislation that deals with homelessness in Ireland includes the Health Act 1953 and the Child Care Act 1991.In practice, what does the legal definition mean?

In practice, the legal definition translates into four types of homelessness.

The visibly homeless are people who are: 

  • living rough, or
  • sleeping in designated emergency accommodation such as a hostel

The hidden homeless are people who are:

  • staying with relatives or friends because there is no alternative accommodation for them, or
  • remaining in institutional care because there is no affordable accommodation for them

People at risk of homelessness have housing but are likely to become homeless through:

  • economic difficulties, or
  • the threat of violence

People rough sleeping are:

  • not in contact with emergency services, and
  • not staying in emergency accommodation

Other definitions of homelessness

The European Observatory on Homelessness operating with FEANTSA (the European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless) has a more detailed definition of homelessness.