Charities Concerned Over Migrants Being Left Behind
The Government has revealed that more than 9,000 migrants were refused social welfare payments last year because they failed to meet the required residency standards.
But it said the total number of migrants refused benefits is probably far higher because it does not collect data on refusals for some types of benefits. Industrial action in 2010 also led to “significant” undercounting of work, said the Department of Social Protection
New figures show 9,043 nationals of countries other than Ireland and 650 Irish citizens were refused benefits in 2010 for failing to meet residency criteria. The highest number of refusals were for jobseekers allowance (6,768) and child benefit (1,431).
The Social Welfare Appeals Office granted 747 appeals against decisions to refuse benefits in 2010 and disallowed 3,399.
“The State has chosen to refuse a safety net to thousands of men, women and families”
Charities said yesterday the figures were worrying as a large number of foreign nationals were experiencing severe hardship and continuing problems with misinterpretation of rules by officials.
Crosscare Migrant Project also said the true number of migrants refused welfare may be much higher than 9,000 because the Government has chosen not to collect statistics for refusals for supplementary welfare allowance, a payment to people in dire need.
“We are seeing people refused payments every week who are in fact eligible for benefits. This can lead to homelessness,” said Crosscare policy officer Joe O’Brien.
A spokeswoman for the department said supplementary welfare refusals are not recorded due to pressure on the community welfare service. She said industrial action in 2010 had also caused some work carried out by the department not to be recorded.
“In the context of 9,693 decisions in the year, four months where 20-50 per cent of activity was recorded is likely to be significant,” she added.
She said there are “no plans for major changes” to the habitual residence rules, but its operation is kept under review.
Information released to Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin by way of a Dáil question shows 9,043 nationals of countries other than Ireland were refused welfare payments in 2010 for failing to satisfy the habitual residence rules. This condition was introduced in 2004 to prevent “welfare tourism” within the EU and assesses a person’s connection to the State to determine whether they are eligible to claim welfare benefits.
The rules are complex but in general a non-EU national who works in Ireland for 12 months or more is entitled to an emergency benefit payment called a supplementary welfare allowance. If they have worked for a lesser period they are entitled to an emergency payment for six months on condition they register as a jobseeker.
“At a time of the worst economic crisis in our memory, the State has chosen to refuse a safety net to thousands of men, women and families,” said Mr Ó Caoláin.
Economic Social Research Institute figures show migrant workers hard hit by the recession and three times more likely to lose their jobs than Irish counterparts. In 2007, some 345,800 non-Irish were employed. That has fallen 36 per cent to 220,000, leaving 125,000 people in need of social assistance.
CASE STUDY: 'I'VE LOST MY DIGNITY, PRIDE AND GOOD NAME'
MELINDA MAGYAROVA survives on weekly food vouchers worth €30 from St Vincent de Paul in Cork. She has no money for rent or ESB bills, and says she has sold her valuables to make ends meet.
The 28-year-old Hungarian is one of tens of thousands of central and eastern European workers who came to Ireland in better years and has since lost her job. She has been refused access to welfare on the basis she does not meet the habitual residence condition. “I had to sell my gold necklace, which was a gift from my parents on my graduation day . . . I am desperate,” says Magyarova. “I’ve lost my dignity, pride and good name . . . now I face eviction from my flat.”
Magyarova, who arrived in 2007, worked at an Eddie Rockets restaurant for two weeks in 2008. She lost that job, but got one with a cleaning firm. “Tax was deducted . . . I paid PRSI from the beginning . . . Also, income levy was deducted. I did not mind that I had to work seven days a week,” she says. She worked for nine months before she lost the job when her firm lost a key contract. She was refused supplementary welfare allowance in November 2010 because she was considered not to be “habitually resident”.
She appealed the decision of the community welfare officer to the appeals officer. This was rejected. She has appealed the decision to the chief appeals officer – which will take at least six months. “This is taking so long and I am really frightened that I will end up on the street soon,” says Magyarova, who says she owes €5,000 in back rent.
This week she wrote to Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton asking for help. She received an acknowledgement letter two days ago, which said the matter is “receiving attention”.
Habitual residency rules often rely on subjective decisions by welfare officers. The Crosscare Migrant Project charity believes Melinda should be eligible for six months’ emergency payments. “If someone is an EU citizen, then under EU law it’s almost certain they are entitled to temporary assistance through supplementary welfare allowance for a period of six months,” says Joe O’Brien of Crosscare.
This week the Health Service Executive was forced by a judge in Dundalk to pay Guna Levcenkova, a Latvian mother of five, €600 in emergency payments. Judge William Hamill said the district court’s intervention was to deal with the problem that “the children were not being fed” unless the accused went out “to take food”. Ms Levcenkova faces five charges of theft from supermarkets in Dundalk, which her solicitor claims was because she had no social welfare.
A solicitor for the HSE told the court it refused her application for community welfare. The State solicitor for Louth, Fergus Mullen, for the Department of Social Protection, said Ms Levcenkova had not sought jobseekers’ benefit or child benefit until this month.
Migrant hardship has been a feature of the slump, says Alice Leahy of the charity Trust. It is clear migrants “are finding it difficult to access State services. We provide them with basic health and social needs. Most are weary and tired of their situation.”
(source: Irish Times)