Returning emigrants facing social welfare and housing barriers
People left ‘vulnerable’ with no income because of ‘unacceptable delays’
Some returning emigrants are being refused social welfare because of lack of access to information on the Habitual Resident Condition. Photograph: Peter Muhly
Irish citizens returning home from abroad are facing significant barriers to housing and social welfare, a Government committee has heard.
Representatives from Safe Home Ireland, Crosscare and The Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas say lack of knowledge, delays in administration and the current housing problems are plunging some returning emigrants into crisis situations.
The committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade heard that many people are blocked from returning to Ireland because those with children or a partner from non-European Economic Area (EEA) countries are not automatically given a visa, and when applying for the visa from Ireland, the partner is not eligible to work.
Richard King, from Crosscare, said: “The reason a majority of people return is to be closer to family, they left Ireland after college and now want to come back to raise their family here, but this process acts as a deterrent and is difficult.
“One Irish citizen I dealt with in New Zealand is pregnant and cannot return home because they cannot survive if she and her partner cannot work for six months.”
It was noted that EU citizens who have a non-EEA partner do not face the same visa requirements, meaning returning Irish citizens have a “lesser” status than current EU citizens.
Another growing trend for returning emigrants being refused social welfare is because of lack of access to information on the Habitual Resident Condition (HRC).
The 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 by social welfare officials 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 applicants face delays of several months with no income at all while awaiting a decision on their case.
Danielle McLaughlin from Crosscare said the people facing these issues are some of the most vulnerable returning home.
“In majority of these cases individuals face vulnerable situations with no income or family support,” she said.
“Last year, we dealt with 280 queries and worked directly on 18 cases on HRC, and every case successfully appealed.
“There is a five to nine month long delay and those surveyed said the process was intimidating, demeaning, and made them feel guilty.”
She added those dealing with the process expressed misconception, lack of information and said it was actively deterring emigrants returning home.
Karen McHugh, from Safe Home Ireland, referred to one case of an Irish citizen returning to care for an elderly uncle who was turned down for carers allowance and not considered a “habitual resident”.
The man, who was saving the state over €52,000 a year by caring for his family member, won his appeal five months later, however was told he would not have money for another month, which is likely to be January 2019.
The committee chair, Fianna Fail’s Brendan Smith, said there was a “totally unacceptable” delay in carer allowances applications and said every committee member had faced similar issues with their own constituents.
Demonstrating that they fulfil the HRC requirement can be a particular challenge for former prisoners returning to ireland, according to Ciara Kirrane from the Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas, as can aaccessing a PPS number for older former prisoners who have not lived in the country for decades.
“Given the relatively small number of former prisoners seeking to reurn each year and the cahallenging circumstances they fface, we recommend allowance be made for the relevant forms and assessments to be commenced and/or completed prior to their return,” she said.
The groups asked that the 30 recommendations produced in the Indecon Economic Report on Addressing Challenges Faced by Returning Irish Emigrants be acted upon, as since the report was published no time frame has been set or seen any productive action taken.
They also asked that provisions be made in the current housing allocation system for returning emigrants, especially for returning elderly people who want to spend their remaining life in Ireland.