Pavee Point says rule to stop welfare tourism causing hardship


A SET of rules introduced to prevent welfare tourism within the EU is having a “disproportionate and devastating impact” on Travellers and Roma living here, according to Pavee Point.

The rules, known as the habitual residence condition (HRC), restrict certain social welfare benefits to people who can show that they have been living here for some time and intend to remain here for the foreseeable future. Pavee Point, which promotes the human rights of Travellers and Roma, said there was a huge variation in the way the condition was being interpreted by deciding officers in the Department of Social Protection.

In some cases whole families were unable to access disability benefits, child benefits and supports that were available to other families in similar circumstances.

Siobhán Curran, Pavee Point community development worker, said many families were experiencing serious hardship as a result. This affected school attendance, caused homelessness in some cases, and resulted in children being taken into care.

As well as being able to show that they have been living here, or between here and Britain, for two years, applicants are asked about their main “centre of interest”. Ms Curran said this was problematic for culturally nomadic communities such as Travellers.

She said Travellers and Roma also faced barriers in meeting the criteria because of low literacy levels, difficulty in accessing documentation and mistrust of officialdom.

Travellers who moved across jurisdictions were finding it difficult to satisfy the condition despite the fact that they were Irish and had spent a significant portion of their lives living here.

Ms Curran said more than 40 per cent of cases that were appealed in 2010 won their appeals.

She pointed to a need for improved decision-making in the first place.

A Department of Social Protection spokeswoman said the purpose of the habitual residence condition was to “safeguard the social welfare system from abuse by restricting access for people who are not economically active and who have little or no established connection with Ireland”.

She said each case was treated on its own merits. A review of the habitual residence guidelines was completed last June. Those revised guidelines note that the HRC is “a complex condition and the length and continuity of residence in the State immediately prior to a claim is only one aspect”.

The guidelines state the applicants’ status must still be examined by reference to factors such as employment, reason for absence from Ireland and future intentions. The guidelines advise deciding officers that “an unduly harsh application of the habitual residence condition could be unlawful”.