State seeks to change EU child benefit rule

 

THE GOVERNMENT is lobbying for changes to EU-wide rules to cut the cost of paying child benefit to parents living in Ireland who claim for non-resident children.

New figures show 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.

The total cost of making child benefit payments to families of non-resident children in 2010 was €15.4 million, according to figures released on request to The Irish Times.

The cost of paying child benefit to the parents of non-resident children 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.

It is now declining as migrants leave the State due to the recession.

No figures were released giving a detailed breakdown of where all 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 own state.

The parent’s home country usually pays the standard rate of child benefit in that country, which in Poland is €11 per month.

The Irish exchequer must then top up this payment to the full Irish child benefit rate worth €140 per month for a first and second child.

Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton said yesterday the issue of child benefit payments for non-resident children would have to be looked at in an EU context.

“I think it is really important that people in Ireland have confidence that, particularly in times of scarce resources, benefits are paid to people who need them.

“This will have to be examined in the context of the cost of living in the country where the child is resident. We will discuss this with our EU partners,” she said.

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 child benefit for their children based in Poland.

A commitment to seek a change in the rules at EU level was included in the programme for government.

Ms Burton is likely to raise the issue when she attends her first EU council of ministers meeting in Brussels in the coming months.

But the Government faces an uphill struggle to persuade member states to amend the rules on entitlements to child 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 they work in.

Any changes to the rules on entitlements would require a hugely complex negotiation involving all 27 member states.

Most states would probably argue that if the Government is concerned about the high cost of claims by parents of non-resident children it could reduce its own child benefit rates. Ireland has among the most generous child benefit rates in the EU, despite reducing the benefit in recent budgets.

NON-RESIDENT BENEFITS COSTS

2010 ..... €15.4 million

2009 ..... €19.7 million

2008 ..... €20.9 million

2007 ..... €4.77 million

2006 ..... €2.2 million

2005 ..... €720,000

Source: Department of Social Protection