Means-testing of asylum seekers’ allowance risks ‘pushing families into poverty’, say support groups

Refugee support organisations question Government’s timing of announcement ahead of elections

The Government should extend child benefit or an equivalent payment to families in direct provision if it proceeds with plans to reduce or withdraw daily expenses allowances, refugee support groups have said.

Civil-society organisations also questioned the Government’s timing in announcing the new income assessment for international protection applicants in advance of elections, noting that “this power has existed for many years”.

The Department of Social Protection announced last week it would begin means-testing the daily expenses allowances distributed to people 18 years or over living in direct provision and international protection settings.

The advice comes amid concerns that some asylum in seekers in employment are still claiming allowances.


The State has had the power to means test the earnings of international protection applicants living in State-provided housing since 2018, when Ireland opted into the European Union (recast) Reception Conditions Directive. The Department of Justice also said in 2018, when announcing asylum seekers’ right to enter the labour market, that those with jobs could be required to contribute to the cost of their accommodation under directive.

The directive states the Government is entitled to halt the daily expenses allowance if a person’s salary over 12 weeks exceeds the support payment.

However, implementing a means-tested system without proper consultation or assessment of how this will impact families and children who are already surviving on “insufficient” payments is very problematic, says Irish Refugee Council chief executive Nick Henderson.

“We recognise means testing is a feature of the payments system but the baseline people are starting from is very low. Multiple research, including ours from the autumn, shows that the daily expenses allowance is insufficient and falls short of delivering its recipients enough support to meet the minimum essential standard of living. The payment has remained the same amount since 2018.

“We’d be really concerned [about] what assessment has actually been done to work out the impact this will have on people.”

Fiona Hurley, chief executive of the Nasc migrant rights group, said that without assessment the scheme would “push more families into poverty” and remove the financial resources of people who are saving for a deposit to move out of direct provision.

“This mechanism has been there for them to implement for years but they’ve done it now without any consultation with anyone, which is quite concerning,” said Ms Hurley. “These poverty levels for children have been well flagged by NGOs and ombudsman for years. There needs to be proper consultation.”

Lucky Khambule, head of the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland, said early access to the labour market for international protection applicants would enable people to “live independently” and “not be 100 per cent dependent on the State”.

Asylum seekers can apply for permission to work five months after they have applied for international protection in Ireland. The 2020 advisory group, led by Catherine Day, recommended that labour market access permission be made available within three months of lodging an asylum application.

“Let people work as soon as they’ve registered [for international protection],” said Mr Khambule. “Nothing happened to the country when they issued the right to work to more than 100,000 Ukrainians. Nothing will break if they do the same with asylum seekers. Everything that is done with asylum here is based on the fear of the pull factor. Asylum seekers are now finding themselves in horrendous conditions, yet people are still coming in. If you do things the right way, it doesn’t create a draw factor. People will come anyway.”

International protection applicants living in State provided accommodation are entitled to an allowance of €38.80 per week for an adult and €29.80 for a child. Those without accommodation and on a waiting list for a place to stay receive an increased adult rate of €113.80 per week.

There are currently 30,463 people seeking international protection and living in State provided accommodation, including 7,494 children. Some 1,923 men are awaiting an offer of accommodation, according to Government data.

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak is an Irish Times reporter and cohost of the In the News podcast