Blog Post – Access to Social Housing and Section 15 reports.

April 22, 2024

In recent months we have seen an increase in issues related to Section 15 reports presenting at our free legal advice clinics.  

What is a Section 15 report and why does it matter? 

Under sections 14 and 15 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1997, local authorities can request the background information of a person who has applied for social housing. This information, known as a Section 15 report, can be requested from another housing authority, other specified organisations or persons, including An Garda Síochána.  

Section 15 reports are often requested by a local authority just before they make an offer of housing to an individual. The contents of these reports can have a significant impact on whether that offer is made, or whether the individual has been suspended from the list.  

Despite the potential far reaching impact of a Section 15 report, local authorities often refuse to disclose the report to the person affected, giving them no opportunity to review or respond to its contents. 

What is the local authority’s obligation in relation to the disclosure of Section 15 reports?

All local authorities are legally obliged to disclose the contents of a Section 15 Report to the person who is the subject of the report as a matter of natural justice and fair procedures. There is no general lawful basis for local authorities to refuse to disclose Section 15 Reports where requested, under the Freedom of Information Act 2014 or otherwise.

However, there is no consistent policy or transparency across local authorities around the disclosure of these reports to the individuals concerned, and many refuse to disclose them outright. 

A positive outcome for our client 

Recently, we were delighted to have a positive outcome for a client who had been suspended from the housing list by their local authority on the basis of a Section 15 report prepared by An Garda Síochána.  We appealed the suspension,  and our client was reinstated to the housing list. In January, after six years living in emergency accommodation, she and her family finally received an offer of social housing.  

In the course of our work on this case, we encountered huge difficulties in accessing the Section 15 report relating to our client, with even our request for the report under the Freedom of Information Act 2014 being denied. At no point was our client given an opportunity to read or respond to the contents of the report. This created real challenges for our client in trying to appeal her suspension from the housing list. 

We made a complaint on behalf of our client to the Office of the Information Commissioner, and following an investigation, the local authority reversed its position and released a copy of the report to our client. Significantly, the local authority in question reviewed its policy, and committed to disclosing all Section 15 reports going forward. 

Next steps 

We have since written to the Housing Agency and the Department of Housing, requesting that all local authorities are reminded of their constitutional duty to disclose Section 15 reports, and to ensure consistency and transparency across the board. 

How can we help you? 

Contact us for free legal advice in the areas of homelessness, housing, employment, environmental, social welfare, family and children’s law. Appointments can be booked by phoning 01 847 7804 or visiting our website to book an appointment online.