Efforts to save money on child benefit going abroad shelved
A GOVERNMENT commitment to save money on child benefit payments to about 8,000 children living abroad has been effectively abandoned after Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton confirmed that change to existing arrangements was unlikely.
EU nationals who are working in Ireland, but whose families remain in their home countries, may be eligible under European regulations for Irish child benefit payments, which start at €140 per month.
The State paid €15.4 million for 7,741 children not resident here last year and so far in 2012, €11 million has been paid for 8,066 children.
The Coalition has tried to have the entitlement “modified” to reflect the cost of living in the country where a child is resident, as it had promised in its programme for government.
However, in a response to a parliamentary question from Fine Gael TD Simon Harris, Ms Burton conceded that “implementation of change in this area is unlikely”.
Ms Burton discussed the matter at a formal level with EU social affairs commissioner Laszlo Andor when he visited Dublin last year. Mr Andor told Ms Burton he would be extremely reluctant to change the system in case migrant workers were discriminated against.
The social security rights of people living and working in the EU are governed by European regulations which are designed to ensure that people are not disadvantaged by moving within the EU to take up work.
Child benefit is a universal welfare payment to all families with children, regardless of their financial circumstances. The monthly payment is €140 for each of the first two children, €148 for the third child and €160 for each subsequent child. It is paid to 600,000 households and costs the State €2 billion a year.
In last December’s budget, it was announced that child benefit for third and subsequent children was to be cut to €140 a month over the next two years. The Government is set to press ahead with cuts in child benefit rates in the approaching budget. A proposal for a two-tiered system of child benefit, with a flat rate and top-ups for low-income families, will be considered by the Cabinet shortly.
The rate paid to children abroad will reduce in line with incoming budget cuts.
Before child benefit is paid for non-resident children the Department of Social Protection must be contacted to establish eligibility. Certification must be provided every four months to confirm the entitlement continues.
Mr Harris asked all Ministers which programme for government commitments relating to their departments had been implemented to date.