'United Nations' of claimants costing State €150m
Michael Brennan Political Correspondent
THE State is spending around €150m a year hosting a "United Nations" of nationalities in rented properties, according to new figures.
People from 161 different countries, ranging from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, are in receipt of the free rental allowance.
They account for 39pc of the 63,000 people on the means-tested scheme, which costs a total of €390m annually and is generally open only to those who are unemployed.
Although 61pc of people on the scheme are Irish, the numbers of immigrants on rent allowance has been increasing steadily.
There are more than 3,000 from Nigeria, 3,000 from the UK, 1,950 from Poland and 1,130 from Romania. Small countries like the Bahamas, Chile, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Grenada and Honduras have just one citizen each on the scheme.
There is also just one person from the Dutch Antilles, a group of islands in the Caribbean.
Those also claiming rent supplement include 15 people from Cuba, 22 from Burma, 27 from Chechnya, 29 from Uzbekistan, 49 from Eritrea, 130 from Zimbabwe and 132 from Estonia.
Labour deputy leader Joan Burton, who obtained the figures, said it was extremely worrying if young immigrants from Eastern European states were on the rent supplement scheme due to unemployment.
The number of people on the scheme has almost doubled from 32,000 in 1995 to 63,000 this year.
Ms Burton warned that the scheme ran the risk of becoming a "poverty trap" because most of those on it would lose their benefit if they went back to work.
"The critical thing is that you need to encourage people back to work because if they are bringing up children in rented accommodation and are barred from the workforce, it's not great for the kids," she said.
However, the Department of Social Affairs defended its operation of the scheme.
A spokeswoman pointed out that significant changes were made last year to allow people to receive more wages without losing out on the allowance.