Saturday 21 April 2018

Irish returning home to red tape

Emigrants coming home face strict welfare rules

Emigrants returning home face a
Emigrants returning home face a "bureaucratic nightmare" when trying to access various social welfare payments
Mark O'Regan

Mark O'Regan

Emigrants returning home risk months of delay when trying to access various social welfare payments - including unemployment benefit - if they cannot prove they have moved back to Ireland permanently.

Those returning from abroad risk a "bureaucratic nightmare" in trying to show they're here long term, and not trying to defraud the system, according to a number of sources.

Under the Habitual Residence Condition (HRC), a returning emigrant must meet strict criteria to qualify for a range of social welfare entitlements.

The Government introduced the guidelines in 2004 to stop welfare fraud.

When assessing eligibility for state entitlements, the length of absence from Ireland is among the factors taken into account.

Also considered is the kind of job the person held while abroad.

However, a lack of knowledge of what is required means a growing number of people have been left "in the lurch" without the fallback of state assistance.

"It's vital all returning emigrants have all the necessary paperwork in order in plenty of time before they return to Ireland," said a source.

It comes as new figures reveal the number of Irish emigrants returning home increased again from 11,600 in 2014 to 12,100 last year as confidence returns to the economy.

Experts say the strict regulations can prove particularly stressful for those with a young family, with a parent job-hunting in Ireland, who may need social welfare to get by for at least a number of weeks.

A Department of Social Protection spokesperson confirmed that entitlements to various allowances can be held up for a variety of reasons.

She insisted the "future intentions" of a returned emigrant must be confirmed before any payment can be made.

Karen McHugh, CEO of Safe Home Ireland, an information and advisory service for returning emigrants, said delayed social welfare payments is a "real issue" for a lot of people.

"There are very strict procedures in place, and it involves a lot of paperwork. It's a challenge for some people and can cause a lot of difficulties.

"Nobody can access services without first proving that they're permanently returning to live in Ireland.

"They must be able to prove that they've ceased all links with their former place of residence.

"There must be evidence that they've closed bank accounts, given up tenancy, and that they no longer work in the country they've left.

"There has to be a paper trail of evidence, and that's where the challenge can be, if there isn't a sufficient detail provided.

"For those that are not the best at keeping on top of systems and procedures, it can be a real headache.

"Those that come home without getting their affairs in order, will face challenges in numerous areas, including social welfare, accessing housing services, and healthcare.

"With practically every process you apply for, you have to fulfil the required conditions," she added.

Sunday Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News