Advice for returning emigrants applying for social welfare
What is the ‘habitual residence condition’, and how can you prove Ireland is ‘home’?
Crosscare Migrant Project’s new report ‘A hundred thousand welcomes?’ details the difficulties experienced by returned Irish emigrants applying for social welfare.
This week, Crosscare Migrant Project published a report highlighting how some returning Irish emigrants are being refused social welfare because of inconsistent decisions made by deciding officers over the Habitual Residence Condition (HRC), which requires applicants to prove their enduring connection to Ireland, and that the country is their home.
Here, Crosscare’s Irish abroad networking officer Sarah Owen shares her advice for people who have been living abroad for more than two years, who want to return to Ireland and may need to apply for social welfare payments on arrival.
Once you are back in Ireland you can apply for a social welfare payment if you need a bit of support on your return. If you’ve been away for more than two years and you are not of pension age (66+), it’s likely you’ll be applying for a non-contributory social welfare payment. These are based on an assessment of your residence in Ireland and your means, rather than your PRSI contributions history. These types of payments include Jobseeker’s Allowance, Disability Allowance, Carer’s Allowance, etc. See welfare.ie for more information.
To qualify for any of these you will have to meet certain payment specific criteria - for instance evidence of looking for work, or a disability, or of caring for someone full-time. You’ll also have to satisfy a means test to show that your income, savings or assets are below a certain amount. The other test you’ll have to go through is the Habitual Residence Condition (HRC).
What is the Habitual Residence Condition?
The Habitual Residence Condition (HRC) is a test that checks your connection to Ireland to find out if you are eligible for certain social welfare payments. It came into effect from May 1st, 2004 following the enlargement of the European Union.
When you place an application for a non-contributory social welfare payment (or a universal one like Child Benefit), you’ll need to complete a 23-page HRC1 form giving details of your circumstances. A deciding officer from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection will then assess whether you are habitually resident using these five factors:
1. Where your “centre of interest” is
2. Your employment history
3. The length and continuity of your residence in Ireland
4. The length and purpose of any absence from Ireland
5. Your future intentions
What about ‘resuming residence’?
Irish people returning from abroad who previously lived in Ireland ought to be able to satisfy the HRC once they can prove that they are “resuming” their residence in Ireland. As a returning migrant, you need to show that you have a close connection to Ireland - not just a passport, but physical residence and strong ties to the country.
The best way to do this is to provide documentary evidence to prove you have returned to Ireland for the foreseeable future. This could be proof of travelling on a one way ticket with all your belongings, evidence of closing bank accounts abroad, giving up a tenancy or selling your home abroad, ending a job abroad, or even an expired visa.
The other thing you can do is include a cover letter detailing your prior residence and employment history in Ireland before your emigration and what prompted you to emigrate. It’s also important to detail the efforts you are currently making to settle back in (e.g. enrolling your children in school, registering to vote, opening bank accounts, renting a property, exchanging your driving licence, joining the library or any local groups etc) and provide information on your connections in Ireland (such as any family you have here).
All this can be very confusing, which is why we put together a comprehensive guide to the Habitual Residence Condition. Do make sure you read through this before you place your application.
How long does all this take?
It can take anything from a few weeks to a few months for the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection to make a decision on your application. If your application is successful, you will generally receive your payment within a few days of the decision letter. Payments are normally made into your bank account or paid via the local Post Office.
It is vital that you have some savings to tide you over while you wait as although here is an interim payment called Basic Supplementary Welfare Allowance, it can often take just long to come through.
Do returned Irish emigrants find it difficult to qualify?
With more Irish people returning to Ireland in recent years, Crosscare Migrant Project reports an increase in cases whereby returned Irish emigrants have been refused a social welfare payment on return due to the HRC. That’s people who have made a planned return to Ireland as well as people returning in crisis.
We argue that this suggests that there are inconsistencies in decision making at local office level. We’ve made a series of recommendations to the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protections that we think will help avoid this - including training for front line staff, a guide to the HRC and what documents to provide, information on how to appeal, and interim support for people in need.
What if my application is refused?
Any refusals must be issued to you in writing, giving you 21 days to place an appeal with the Social Welfare Appeals Office in Dublin. This must be done in writing and must provide reasons why you believe the decision to refuse your application was incorrect. In principle it is possible to request a review by the original Deciding Officer before you place an appeal, however in our experience these are in many cases unsuccessful.
As part of your appeal an appeals officer will review your application and decide whether the original decision was made in error. In the majority of appeals cases undertaken by Crosscare Migrant Project, returned emigrants were successfully granted a payment on their original claim.
Sarah Owen is the Irish Abroad Networking Officer with Crosscare Migrant Project. They are funded by the Emigrant Support Programme of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to provide supports to Irish people emigrating from and returning to Ireland. They recently launched ‘A hundred thousand welcomes?’ a new report on difficulties experienced by returned Irish emigrants applying for social welfare. They also provide advanced advocacy support with social welfare appeals so get in touch with them if you or someone you know needs assistance with this. Contact details and more information can be found at migrantproject.ie