Hotel discriminated against homeless family by demanding credit card

Hotel discriminated against homeless family by demanding credit card

Sinéad Lucey

A hotel discriminated against a homeless family by refusing to honour a booking unless provided with a credit card, the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) has ruled.

Legal rights group FLAC has welcomed the WRC’s decisions in four linked discrimination complaints taken by a family against Charleville Park Hotel, whose conduct the adjudicator said “fell below the threshold of decency that reasonable people expect of the hospitality sector”.

At the WRC hearing in January 2022, FLAC’s clients gave evidence of booking accommodation at the hotel online in September 2018 after they were declared homeless and provided with an emergency payment to assist them in accessing accommodation.

However, on their arrival, the hotel insisted that they could not honour the booking unless the family provided a credit card. In his decision, the WRC adjudicator found that the hotel “had full knowledge that the complainant, as a social welfare recipient and in receipt of housing assistance, would not readily have a credit card and, therefore, that such an insistence was a device used on this particular occasion to deny the [family], the right to equal treatment in the provision of accommodation”.

In addition to awarding the family a total of €22,000 in compensation, the adjudicator ordered the hotel to “revise its requirement on credit card bookings so that the policy does not infringe upon its obligations under the Equal Status Acts”. The WRC reached similar findings in its decisions on separate discrimination cases taken by another Traveller family against the hotel.

Sinéad Lucey, managing solicitor at FLAC, said: “”The outcome in these cases is extremely significant for FLAC’s clients and also provides an important clarification of the scope of the housing assistance ground under the Equal Status Acts.

“That ground is usually invoked in cases where landlords refuse to accept tenants in receipt of HAP or rent supplement payments. Today’s decisions clarify that the ground also covers other forms of accommodation including hotel accommodation where someone may require access to accommodation on a short term emergency basis.”

She added: “FLAC’s clients were tremendously brave to pursue this case. However, it is unlikely that they would have been able to do so without legal representation. Legal aid is not available in cases of discrimination heard by the WRC, regardless of the severity of the conduct concerned, the vulnerability of the victims or the complexity of the case. This must be urgently addressed by the forthcoming review of the civil legal aid scheme.

“The cases also illustrate the importance of the Equal Status Acts in combating the discrimination faced by marginalised and vulnerable communities. The ongoing review of the Equality Acts must ensure that the legislation is as effective as possible.

“In particular, the review must ensure that the barriers to members of the Traveller community pursuing discrimination cases against hotels and other licensed premises are removed, including by repealing section 19 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2003, as the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission recommended recently.”

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