This new report on Migrant Access to Social Security and Healthcare: Policies and Practice in Ireland explores the proportion of non-Irish nationals in receipt of key social security benefits in January 2014, and looks at the policies and practices related to migrant access to social security.
Proportion of migrants in receipt of social security payments
No evidence was found of systematic over-representation (meaning a disproportionately high number) of migrants among social security recipients in Ireland. For example:
- In terms of the contributory Jobseekers Benefit, non-Irish nationals are under-represented (meaning that their number is disproportionately low) among recipients (accounting for 14.7% of recipients, compared to their 15.4% share of the labour force).
- In terms of the mean-tested Jobseekers Allowance non-Irish nationals are over-represented (accounting for 17.5% of recipients).
Within the non-Irish group, some differences are observed:
- Persons from the EU15-28 are over-represented among both Jobseekers Allowance and Jobseekers Benefit recipients (9.7% and 8.7% respectively), relative to their proportion in the labour force (7.0%).
- Non-EU nationals are under-represented among recipients of both Jobseeker payments (3.1% of Jobseekers Allowance and 1.6% of Jobseekers Benefit recipients), compared to 4.1% in the labour force.
A wide range of factors influences the extent to which an individual or group accesses social security, and the data can be difficult to interpret. For example, the young age profile of the migrant population may explain high rates of Child Benefit and low rates of State Pension take-up:
- Non-Irish nationals are over-represented among Child Benefit recipients (20.7%, compared to a 13.4% share of the population aged 15 and over).
- Non-Irish nationals are under-represented among State Pension Contributory recipients (1.9% of whom are non-Irish compared to 13.4% of the population aged 15 and over).
The role of residence-related conditions
Access to most non-contributory payments in Ireland depends on meeting a Habitual Residence Condition (HRC). The HRC is designed to test whether or not an applicant’s “centre of interest” is in Ireland. The term “habitually resident” is not defined in law. Assessment of the HRC requires a discretionary consideration by Deciding Officers in the Department of Social Protection in relation to five factors, including: the length and continuity of residence in Ireland, employment history, and future residence intentions.
The ‘ordinarily resident’ condition, applied to health services, requires that an applicant has been resident, or intends to be resident, in the State for at least one year in order to access public healthcare.
Problems and challenges related to migrant access to social security
The research shows that the assessment of the HRC can be challenging:
- The HRC has evolved significantly since its introduction in 2004 and reliance on a previous two-year residence requirement in Ireland or the UK is in evidence in current decision-making. This may be a legacy impact of previous training on the HRC. The removal of reference to the two-year rule from social welfare legislation is imminent, which may help to address the issue of over-reliance on this previous requirement.
- The Deciding Officer must exercise considerable discretion in making a HRC decision. NGOs working in the field argue that the assessment of the HRC is too subjective and complex for consistency in decision-making to be achieved.
- Prior to the application of the HRC an applicant must have a right to reside in the State; the legality of residence can be difficult for Deciding Officers to assess.
Irish immigration and social security policies have evolved separately and as a result certain points of ambiguity arise, for example:
- It is unclear whether an employment permit holder (whose permit is contingent on employment in a specified job) can be deemed to be “available for and genuinely seeking work” in the context of an application for jobseeker’s allowance.
- While certain non-EEA nationals’ residence permits contain the requirement to not become “a burden on the State”, the concept is not well defined.
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