Irish emigrants are at risk of poverty and homelessness on their return to Ireland because increasing numbers are being denied social welfare, according to a new report.
More than 105,000 Irish citizens have returned to Ireland from overseas since 2014. Crosscare Migrant Project, an information and advocacy service for immigrants and emigrants, has noticed “a growing trend in them being denied access to non-contributory social welfare payments” because deciding officers do not consider them to be “habitually resident” in Ireland.
The Habitual Residence Condition (HRC) requires welfare applicants to demonstrate their strong connection to Ireland, and that the country is their home, in order to qualify for non-contributory payments. These include jobseekers’ allowance, disability allowance, carers’ allowance, the non-contributory State pension and child benefit.
Under HRC guidelines, anyone previously habitually resident in Ireland and moved to live and work in another country before moving back to live here, should be regarded as habitually resident immediately on their return.
But Crosscare claims inconsistent decision making and misinterpretation of the guidelines means a number of returning emigrants are being incorrectly denied support.
A recent survey of emigrants and returnees – carried out by Indecon on behalf of the Department of Foreign Affairs – showed 52.9 per cent of respondents found it difficult to demonstrate habitual residence in Ireland.
Some are informed that they have not been in the country long enough to qualify, while others are told their “centre of interest” is deemed elsewhere, reports Crosscare.
Some applicants face delays of several months with no income at all while awaiting a decision on their case.
A number of Crosscare clients who have returned to live in Ireland from overseas have experienced homelessness and abject poverty as a result, according to the report.
Emigrants surveyed by Crosscare expressed surprise and dismay with the social welfare process on their return to Ireland, with some describing it as “intimidating”, “demeaning” and “frustrating”.
“Many of the people we work with are returning in difficult circumstances such as homelessness, joblessness and with families to support,” said Danielle McLaughlin, policy officer with Crosscare.
“Our service supports them to access the payments they are entitled to. But this can take a long time in an urgent situation which leaves them at considerable risk of abject poverty and poor health.”
The organisation received 280 queries from clients about the HRC last year, an increase of 19 per cent on 2016 and 211 per cent on 2015.
Official figures on the number of Irish citizens refused welfare because of the HRC are not yet available for 2017, but the figure for 2016 was just 79, down from 650 in 2010.
Crosscare attributes the decrease to changes to the HRC guidelines for deciding officers, and training provided by the organisation to groups in Ireland and abroad.
A training and supervision programme for welfare officers should be implemented again to ensure greater consistency in decision making, Crosscare recommended. More information should be provided for returning emigrants online about the documentation they will require to apply. And the process for decisions and appeals should be accelerated to prevent applicants being left for long periods without payment.
“We are advocating for all supports needed for families who return to allow them the dignity to find their feet in Ireland whilst they find their way back into employment,” said Ms McLaughlin.
The Department of Social Protection said it had “no particular evidence has been given to us regarding an increase in HRC disallowances”, but that it would “ engage further with Crosscare on foot of the issues raised in this report”.