EU resists bid to cut cash for children not living here
THE EU is resisting Irish pressure to relax its social protection rules which would allow the Government to cut child benefit payments to non-resident children.
Since joining the EU in 1973 Ireland has been bound by rules that ensure foreign parents working in Ireland get the same child benefit rates as Irish parents, as long as they work and pay tax in the country.
The rates apply even if the children live outside the state.
Social Protection Minister Joan Burton was in Luxembourg yesterday to press the EU's social affairs chief on the case, asking him to investigate the effects of the payments on the Irish social welfare system.
"People expect child benefit to be spent on children living in Ireland," said Ms Burton.
"People in the country who contribute to the social security system through tax and PRSI need to be confident that the money is being spent in the best way possible," she added.
The Department for Social Protection says that in 2010 it paid €15.4m to 7,814 non-resident children, less than 1pc of the €2.1bn child benefit budget.
Ms Burton said that most of the children were resident in Poland and Latvia.
Child benefit payments in Ireland start from €140 per month for the first and the second child, with premiums for third and additional children.
Ms Burton says that the children's allowance is higher in Ireland because the State does not provide added benefits for parents such as free or subsidised childcare, and says that support should be paid according to the cost of living in the child's home country.
"The rates for Poland and Latvia are significantly below the Irish level, at around €20 or €30 per child," she added.
"We would like the commission to look at this and look at ways to secure the integrity of the Irish social welfare system."
The UK and Denmark also "have issues" with certain cross-border social welfare payments, said Ms Burton.
The commission says it is sticking to the EU rules.
"We have not been thinking about changing the rules here, and especially not about restrictions," said EU social affairs chief László Andor.
"EU law is designed to ensure governments cannot discriminate against migrant workers from EU countries who are entitled to social security benefits from the day they start work."