Friday, January 23, 2015

“PERSON OR NUMBER?” ISSUES FACED BY IMMIGRANTS ACCESSING SOCIAL PROTECTION – JANUARY 2015

This week, the Minister of State for Equality, New Communities and Culture, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, launched the report, Person or Number?, which was commissioned by a number of human rights organisations, including NASC, the Irish Immigrant Support Centre and FLAC. It is the second report of its kind with the first being published in 2012. The report examines the hardships faced by immigrants seeking to access social protection services in Ireland. 

The report is based on the analysis of 54 cases where immigrants encountered difficulty in accessing social protection, 35 of which are highlighted in the report. Many of these cases involved more than one issue. The report found several incidents of “serious customer service issues”, including some reports of racism and general rudeness towards immigrants. One such immigrant was allegedly told “‘if you are not happy, go back to ****”, in a manner described as “racist and aggressive”. Another immigrant was told “too many people from **** are coming here to take benefits for free”.

Fiona Hurley of the Irish Immigrant Support Centre, said that “Customer service issues need to be tackled as a priority, as it is unacceptable that anyone should be subjected to any kind of aggressive or abusive behaviour or racism when they present to a State service.” The report noted that while only a few of the cases examined have alleged such behaviour; any instance of this behaviour is exacerbated by the fact that such remarks are coming from someone who is effectively representing the State.

Another difficulty faced by immigrants that is highlighted in the report is poor provision of information. In three of the cases examined, people were told by their local Social Welfare Office that visiting family abroad for up to 3 weeks would not pose any risk to their payments. This information was false because in each case, the people were told when they returned to Ireland that they no longer satisfied the Habitual Residence Condition. This left each person without income while they were waiting for the outcome of the appeal of the decision. The report found that several cases had also shown that people were not told by their Social Welfare Office that they could go to their local Community Welfare Office to apply for short-term financial assistance. The report also found “significant knowledge deficits” among frontline staff regarding the qualifying criteria for some payments. To combat this, the report recommends that an audit of the level of knowledge of frontline staff would highlight areas where training is needed.

Many of the cases examined in the report illustrated the problem of significant delays in processing applications. While this is an issue for most applicants, such delays can cause significantly more difficulty for immigrants, particularly when many are unaware that they can apply for short-term assistance from their local Community Welfare Office. If immigrants do apply for this, they still must satisfy the Habitual Residence Condition if they are to receive Social Welfare payments. To help reduce these delays, the report recommends that decisions on short-term assistance should not require that the Habitual Residence Condition be satisfied as it will be examined in the initial application for Social Welfare. The report also notes some deficiencies with how the Habitual Residence Condition is applied and it also includes recommendations on how to remedy these deficiencies, for example, periodic examinations of Habitual Residence Condition decisions.

While these are some of the key issues that are noted in the report several other issues, including recommendations on how to remedy them, are also included, such as domestic violence and decisions based on speculation.


The full report is available online and can be found here: http://www.livinginireland.ie/images/uploads/Person%20or%20Number.pdf



Rebecca Keatinge
Brophy Solicitors

 

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