Burton asks EU for rule change on child benefit


THE GOVERNMENT will ask EU states today to support its proposal to amend EU rules governing the payment of child benefit to parents living in Ireland who claim for non-resident children.

Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton said yesterday she wanted the European Commission to carry out an impact assessment on how EU regulations on benefit payments are affecting national social welfare systems.

“This is the first formal opportunity we have had to raise the issue with our EU partners, although it has already been flagged by our diplomats.

“It’s the beginning of a conversation on this issue,” said Ms Burton, who is attending her first EU Council of Ministers meeting in Luxembourg today.

The Department of Social Protection is paying child benefit in respect of 7,814 children living in other EU states to some 4,923 families based in Ireland.

The cost of making child benefit payments to families of non-resident children in 2010 was €15.4 million, the department says.

This cost soared to €20.9 million in 2008, up from €720,000 in 2005, due to high levels of immigration from central and eastern Europe from 2004 onwards.

No figures were released giving a detailed breakdown of where the 7,814 children live. But previous estimates from the department suggested up to 80 per cent of parents getting child benefit for non-resident children were Poles.

Parents from EU states who travel to Ireland to work are eligible for the same level of child benefit payments as Irish parents, even when they leave their child behind to live in their home countries.

The parent’s home state usually pays the standard rate of child benefit in that country, which in Poland is about €17 per month and €21.99 in Slovakia.

The Government wants to have the entitlement to child benefit payments for non-resident children modified to reflect the cost of living in the state where a child is resident.

This would enable the Government to pay less to Polish parents living in Ireland who are claiming for children based in Poland.

Ms Burton said child benefit payments in Ireland were high in comparison to many other EU states, particularly in eastern Europe.

She said this reflected the fact that the Irish State did not provide the same level of childcare services to parents as many of its EU partners but instead paid higher child benefit.

Ms Burton said she had raised the issue recently with European commissioner for social affairs Laszlo Andor in Dublin.

She said the commissioner had not supported the Irish proposal for changes to the EU rules governing entitlements to benefits.

These rules have been applied by all member states since Ireland joined the union in 1973 and are based on the concept that the worker is paying tax and contributing in the state in which they work.

However, Ms Burton said several EU states including Britain and Denmark had recently raised similar issues about the negative impact that EU regulations were having on their national social welfare systems.

She said an impact assessment that would analyse the situation across the EU was the best way to proceed on the issue.

Earlier this week British employment minister Chris Grayling announced a major review of benefits paid to foreign nationals resident in Britain.

He described the payment of child benefit to parents of non-resident children as an “anomaly” that was causing concern among other capitals in Europe.

He said he had held “many conversations in the last few months with fellow employment ministers in other EU countries and there is a mounting debate about a need for rule changes that will set out exactly where and when benefits should be paid”.