Returning to Ireland: Social welfare and pensions

All you need to know about applying for benefits, the Habitual Residence Condition, and transferring your pension

 

This article forms part of the Returning to Ireland guide by The Irish Times, with information on jobs, housing, health and education, and advice from Irish emigrants who’ve already moved home.

Social welfare and the Habitual Residence Condition

Returning Irish emigrants should be eligible for most social welfare payments, including jobseekers allowance, the state pension, carer’s allowance or child benefit.

In accordance with EU law, Irish emigrants who are returning to Ireland to live must be treated the same as any other nationality when it comes to applying for social welfare payments. This means you will also be required to satisfy the Habitual Residence Condition in Ireland in order to be eligible – in other words, you must prove you are back in Ireland to live permanently.

Deciding officers in the social welfare office will consider a range of factors, including whether you own or lease a home here, where your close family live, where you have lived in Ireland and abroad, the length and purpose of any absence from Ireland, your employment history, and your future intention to live in Ireland.

Up to 2010, hundreds of returning Irish emigrants were being refused welfare payments every year because they were deemed not to be habitually resident, but guidelines for deciding officers have been changed and there is now no reason a returning emigrant should be denied a payment because of the HRC. 

According to the Department of Social Protection’s operational guidelines, if the claimant can show that he or she has returned to the State on a long-term or permanent basis, then he or she may be regarded as habitually resident immediately upon return.

Joe O’Brien of Crosscare, the Dublin-based charity which provides information and support to returning emigrants, says there are still “a lot of misconceptions out there” about the HRC.

“People still think they need to be living in the country for two years before they can access welfare, but this is no longer the case. The purpose of the HRC is for the State to figure out whether Ireland is your home. If you can indicate that’s the case, and you have cut ties with the country you left, you should be fine.”

The more documentary evidence you provide, the more chance you have of your application being approved.

“There are a lot of things you can do before you move back, by collecting evidence that you have left your job, evidence that your tenancy has finished, or that you have closed your bank account. Having kids enrolled in an Irish school is a very strong indicator,” O’Brien says.

Applicants can be waiting anywhere from a few weeks to a few months for a decision to be made, so Crosscare advises having as much money set aside as possible before moving home, to cover costs during this period.

O’Brien says refusals still occur occasionally, but Crosscare provides assistance with appeals, 98 per cent of which are successful.

“Problems do arise for some people who have been living out of Ireland for most of their lives, especially if most of their family is still in another country, but it is still possible for them to pass the HRC, you just have to be more careful with the case you put forward.”

For more information on the HRC and applying for social welfare on return to Ireland, see:

Crosscare’s factsheet

Citizen’s Information

FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres) factsheet

State pensions

Once you leave Ireland, you will stop making PRSI contributions which can impact on your ability to get a full state contributory pension of €233.30 a week. Requirements to qualify for this payment in retirement are strict, with the “average condition” perhaps the most onerous.

This requires a retiree to have made at least a yearly average of 10 contributions from the time they first started working. But this only guarantees a minimum pension (€92) - to get the full €233.30 a week you need an average of 48 a year.

However, depending on where you worked, you may find that it is possible to transfer your social insurance contributions. If you were in an EU country for example, your contributions will be added to your Irish social insurance contributions to help you qualify. Moreover, Ireland has bi-lateral agreements with Canada, the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Austria, Japan, Republic of Korea and Quebec, which offers a similar benefit. 

You can check your social insurance record with the PRSI Records Section in the Department of Social and Family Affairs using your PRSI number.

The Crosscare Migrant Project will also assist those who fear they don't have enough contributions for a full state contributory pension to apply for the non-contributory pension (€222 a week).

Private pensions

If you start a new job, you may also want to amalgamate an old pension into a new one. If for example, you previously had a PRSA, but are now joining an occupational scheme in your new job, consolidating the two can make sense, given that fees and charges on the PRSA are likely to be significantly higher.

However, it's not the most straight forward of processes, so you may need the help of the administrators of your new occupational pension scheme to assist you.

Finally, if you spent time working in Australia, you may or may not be aware that you may be entitled to claim back contributions made on your behalf by your employer into a pension fund.

Known as superannuation, Catherine Murphy of taxback.com says that up to 70 per cent of Irish don’t claim back these contributions, even though they can be significant.

Murphy herself for example, spent three years working in Australia, and claimed about AU$7,000 back upon her return.

Payment into a superannuation fund, which can differ depending on the sector you work in, starts when you earn more than $AU450 a month, and contributions work out as 9 per cent of your monthly wage.

As the purpose of the fund is to provide for people’s retirement, strict rules surround accessing the money before the retirement age of 65. This means that if you’re a permanent citizen of Australia you can’t claim it, but if your visa has expired, you should be entitled to claim it back.

If you changed employer, you may have to make claims for a number of different funds. You can claim back the funds yourself, or use the services of a third party such as Taxback.com. It charges a fee of AU$20 for claims of up to AU$1,000, or 20 per cent of everything over AU$1,000. According to Murphy, it offers a free estimate of your potential claim before you have to commit to anything.

This article forms part of the Returning to Ireland guide by The Irish Times, with information on jobs, housing, health and education, and advice from Irish emigrants who’ve already moved home.

Details are correct at time of update on May 25th, 2016, but readers are advised to check official websites linked to in the guide for the most up-to-date information. 

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