€300m worth of State benefits paid to claimants abroad
THE Department of Social Protection paid as much as €300m in pensions and other benefits to claimants living abroad last year.
Newly released figures show that benefits recipients in places as diverse as Brazil, Cyprus and Malaysia are being paid pensions, child benefits, jobseekers' allowance, disability allowances and maternity benefits.
Almost €260m was paid out in pensions alone to people living abroad in 2012.
Fianna Fail spokesman for Social Protection, Willie O'Dea, has expressed his concern at the "enormous" sum that was being taken out of the Irish economy and called on the department to examine how it can reduce the cost of paying benefits to up to 60,000 claimants in 93 different countries.
And he raised questions about how the Department of Social Protection is able to examine claims of benefits that are subject to means tests if the recipients are "living on the other side of the world".
A spokeswoman for the department explained that the claimants are entitled to the benefits regardless of where they live, citing the case of pensioners who have made PRSI contributions during their working lives.
Pensioners who have left Ireland but still qualify for the payments were most likely to live in Britain (11,229), the US (6,607) or Australia (3,761).
These include overseas residents claiming contributory and transition state pensions, as well as widows' or widowers' contributory pension.
Some far-off destinations where people pick up their pensions include Zimbabwe (6); Sri Lanka (2); Trinidad and Tobago (4); Qatar (1); Malawi (1); Jordan (2); Hong Kong (8); Fiji (1); Cambodia (1); Costa Rica (1); Guatemala (1); India (3); and Iran (1).
The figures also show that about €13.3m was paid out for child benefit to more than 5,039 families in respect of 7,922 children who live abroad, though the department did not provide specifics for where the cash was being claimed.
The Government abandoned plans last year to cut child benefits paid to EU nationals working in Ireland for their children who live abroad. The money is paid under EU regulations.
There were 13 people who claimed carers' benefit while abroad last year – in Italy, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland – totalling €140,000.
Legislation allows for carers to be paid their allowances abroad for 13 weeks if the person that they are looking after is getting medical treatment there.
More than 200 people are claiming disablement benefits, adding up to more than €1m a year, from abroad.
Legislation also allows jobseekers to claim payment for up to 13 weeks if they are looking for work in another country within the EU. The figures show that 330 people did so last year.
Mr O'Dea said: "It's an enormous amount of money going out of the economy particularly when they're cutting back on social welfare provision here. . . there has to be something in the order of another €400m cut in the coming year."
He said the department should "sit down and look at each of those schemes, look at the rules pertaining to them to see if there's anything they can do – without unduly penalising people – to at least stop the volume of money going out of the country".