FLAC urges consistent and fair decisions in Social Welfare
27 October 2010
FLAC Press Release, Wednesday 27 October 2010
FLAC calls for consistent and fair decisions in Social Welfare
FLAC, the Free Legal Advice Centres, today made a presentation to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Social Protection on the Habitual Residence Condition or HRC. Since 2004, this condition, which sets out complex rules for deciding whether people are habitually or ordinarily resident in Ireland, has been used to determine whether a person qualifies for certain social welfare payments.
Through its own information and advice services, and its contacts with other non-governmental organisations, FLAC has become aware of many cases where people have been refused or denied access to social welfare payments because those who administer the system either misunderstood or misapplied the habitual residence condition., On foot of the misunderstandings, FLAC has produced a factsheet 'Guide to the Habitual Residence Condition' to explain and clarify how this condition applies in Irish social welfare law.
"Fairness is a major issue where people have to prove their habitual residence before they can obtain social welfare payments. Many people cannot understand the rules. Often they do not know why their application has been refused. The fact that people are deterred from applying for a payment to which they may be entitled, or do not receive written refusals which can then be appealed, runs contrary to the Department of Social Protection's own guidance which clearly outlines the steps necessary to ensure fairness in decision-making," comments Saoirse Brady, FLAC's Policy and Campaigns Officer.
FLAC is urging the Department of Social Protection to make sure that all those who apply the Habitual Residence Condition, including Community Welfare Officers, do so in a consistent and fair way.
So many social welfare payments are affected by the Habitual Residence Condition that it is essential that it is applied correctly and, in instances where it does cause hardship or inequity, then its application be reviewed for groups who are already at risk of poverty and social exclusion by the very nature of their social status," concluded Ms Brady.
Crosscare and the Department of Social Protection also made presentations on the issue to the Joint Oireachtas Committee at today's meeting.
1. FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres) is an independent human rights organisation which works to promote equal access to justice for all. It runs a lo-call telephone information line giving general legal information to the public and it supports a network of evening FLAC clinics around Ireland where volunteer solicitors give first stop legal advice to people who need it and cannot afford legal representation.
2. The Joint Oireachtas Committee on Social Protection is chaired by Mr Jackie Healy-Rae, TD, and consists of 15 members of the Oireachtas. At its meeting on Wednesday, 27 October 2010, the committee addressed the Habitual Residence Condition and the Post Office Services for utility bill payments.
3. FLAC has produced a Guide to the Habitual Residence Condition which aims to explain and clarify how this condition applies in Irish social welfare law. It is available to download here or by going to http://www.flac.ie/publications/habitual-residence-condition-guide/