Tuesday 17 October 2017

'This should change' - Varadkar vows to clamp down on child benefits going to families in other EU countries

Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar wants to change a law that allows EU citizens living in Ireland claim child benefits here for children living abroad.

Yesterday the Sunday Independent revealed that Ireland has paid out almost €40m in child welfare benefits to families living in other European Union countries over the past three years.

In total, Ireland pays benefits to the families of 7,938 children living in other EU countries. The total cost has increased from €11.85m in 2014 to €13.27m last year.

Now Mr Varadkar has vowed to change this so that future payments would reflect the 'cost of living' in countries where the children are resident.

Speaking to Newstalk Breakfast, Mr Varadkar said there are around 8,000 children, who don't live in Ireland, for whom we pay benefit.

"That is based on the European law which says that child benefit is linked to where the parent lives and works and not where the child resides.

"That's not something I agree with now and I am part of a group of other countries, Germany, Austria, Denmark who want to do something that is common sense.

"This is that child benefit should be paid at a rate that reflects the cost of living and the cost of rearing a child in the country that the child lives.

'Click to enlarge'
'Click to enlarge'

"We are seeking a change to the regulations that coordinate social welfare to change this."

Mr Varadkar said it "makes no sense at all" that we are paying the high rates.

"The Irish rate is €140 a month, the German rate is €190 a month, France, Denmark, Sweden they have a high rate as well. But in countries like Romania, Poland and the Baltic countries it is only €20 a month. That reflects the cost of living in those countries being smaller."

He conceded that people "sometimes get annoyed" when they see EU freedoms being abused.

"People coming to one country and not working, but also benefits being moved from one country to another. If you want to retain public support for Europe and public support for those institutions you need to tackle these things." 

He admitted that the view in Eastern Europe would be different saying that many of these countries feel like they are losing their best and brightest to wealthier countries.

"We are strong in the view that this should change." He said that they are currently working on a wider group of reforms around social welfare.

"There is a good chance of it being achieved but it is going to be part of a bigger compromise which we think should balance things more fairly."

The payment of child benefits to the children of migrant workers has been a contentious issue among EU member states for years and was at the centre of the Brexit debate in the UK before last year's referendum. Britain pays more than £30m (€34.6m) in child benefits annually for 34,000 children who live elsewhere in the EU.

The vast majority of the cash benefits was paid to the families of more than 4,500 children living in Poland who are entitled to €140 a month per child from the Irish government.

The highest rate of child welfare in Poland is €30 and, unlike in Ireland, families are means tested.

The second highest amount of Irish child welfare goes to the UK where the families of more than 1,848 children receive benefits from the Government every month.

The third highest amount is paid to the families of 482 children in Lithuania, where the top rate of child benefit paid to parents living in the country is €34. The lowest rate is €11.38.

Ireland also pays €140 a month for 332 children in Romania where the local rate is €19. Some 182 children in Latvia receive the Irish child benefit rate - the top local payment is €34.14.

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