Dáil Éireann - Volume 638 - 26 September, 2007

Written Answers. - Social Welfare Code.

Deputy Joe Costello asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of Irish [210] nationals who have been refused social welfare payments under the two year habitual residence requirement introduced in 2004; the number of persons, other than Irish nationals who have had payments refused on the same grounds; if he has plans to review or relax the restriction; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20728/07]

  Deputy Martin Cullen:The requirement to be habitually resident in Ireland was introduced as a qualifying condition for certain social assistance schemes and child benefit with effect from 1st of May 2004.

The basis for the restriction is the applicant’s habitual residence. The restriction is not based on citizenship, nationality, immigration status or any other factor. The question of what is a person’s “habitual residence” is decided in accordance with European Court of Justice case law, which sets out the grounds for assessing individual claims.

Decisions to the effect that applicants satisfy the habitual residence condition are made in the majority of cases at claim acceptance stage by Deciding Officers at local level throughout the country. Complex cases that require detailed consideration are sent to a central section in Dublin or are examined in dedicated units in the scheme areas.

For the period from 1 May 2004 to 31 July 2007, the number of habitual residence complex cases decided was 56,366. The number of applications decided in respect of Irish citizens was 14,358, of which 1,387 (10%) were disallowed. The number of cases decided in respect of persons other than Irish nationals was 42,008 of which 12,505 (30%) were disallowed.

Each case received for a determination on the Habitual Residence Condition is dealt with in its own right and a decision is based on application of the guidelines to the particular individual circumstances of each case. Any applicant who disagrees with the decision of a Deciding Officer has the right to appeal to the Social Welfare Appeals Office.

Nationals of the European Economic Area (EEA) who take up employment in the State are protected under the EU Regulations governing social security for migrant workers. Migrant workers from outside the EEA qualify for social insurance benefits in respect of the unexpired part of their work permits if they satisfy the normal qualifying conditions. The habitual residence condition does not apply in these cases. Such workers may also satisfy the habitual residence condition for receipt of social assistance payments and child benefit.

The habitual residence condition is being operated in a careful manner to ensure that Ireland’s social welfare system is protected, while at the same time ensuring that people whose [211] cases are appropriate to the system have access to it when they need it.

The reason for the introduction of the habitual residence condition in May 2004 was to ensure that persons who have not worked in Ireland or who have not established habitual residence in Ireland should not avail of assistance schemes or child benefit.

The operation of the condition was reviewed by my Department in 2006 and it is not proposed to introduce any changes to the current policy in this regard as the original reason for the policy is still valid.