FLAC welcomes Ombudsman's Report on HSE failure to pay award to asylum seeker

12 June 2013

Legal rights group FLAC today welcomed a report from the Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly that highlights serious failings at several different levels by both the Health Service Executive and the Department of Social Protection towards a vulnerable woman and her children.

FLAC, which represented the woman at the centre of the Ombudsman's report at a later stage of her case, welcomed the Ombudsman's robust criticism of the failures of the HSE and Department of Social Protection as well as highlighting the unsatisfactory nature of the direct provision system for asylum seekers.

FLAC said the report highlighted the difficulties faced by families forced to rely on the unsuitable accommodation in the direct provision centres and the punitive attitude shown to a family that had to leave direct provision for well documented health reasons. FLAC noted as well that the community welfare services had also failed to implement a subsequent favourable appeal decision in this case for a period of almost six months and only did so after repeated pressure from FLAC.

The Report recorded an alarming failure by the community welfare services to implement a favourable and legally binding decision by a Social Welfare Appeals Officer in an appeal taken by ethnic minority health advocates Cairde. This was apparently based on an assumption that no asylum seeker families could qualify for benefits outside direct provision. Regrettably this is an attitude that FLAC has come across in other cases as well, based on negative attitudes to asylum seekers and migrant workers.

FLAC very much welcomes the comments in the Ombudsman's report that question the appropriateness of the direct provision system, especially for families, and the impact of that system on the mental health of both adults and children who have spent long periods in direct provision centres. These comments echo the findings of FLAC's 2010 report, One Size Doesn't Fit All, which found that the system of direct provision did not comply with either domestic or international human rights standards.

FLAC calls for a review of this widely criticised system at a time when the numbers of asylum seekers have dropped very substantially, making it more feasible to develop a system that would allow asylum seekers to work and to live in the community and avoid the dangers of isolation and ghettoisation.

FLAC Senior Solicitor, Michael Farrell commented that "the Ombudsman's investigation emphasises the need to place people at the heart of a fair and efficient social welfare system, in particular those who are at real risk of destitution because of poor administrative decisions and lengthy delays on the part of the Department of Social Protection".



Editors' notes:

  1. FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres) is a human rights organisation which exists to promote equal access to justice for all. As an NGO, FLAC relies on a combination of statutory funding, contributions from the legal professions and donations from individuals and grant-making foundations to support its work.
  2. FLAC offer basic legal information through our telephone information line - 1890 350 250- and free legal advice through a network of 80 volunteer evening advice centres. FLAC also campaigns on a range of issues including personal debt, fairness in social welfare law, public interest law and civil legal aid.
  3. The Ombudsman's complete report is available online.
  4. For further information on the social welfare appeals system see FLAC (2012) Not Fair Enough: Making the Case for Reform of the Social Welfare Appeals System. The Not Fair Enough report and an Executive Summary are available to download as PDFs from the FLAC website as well as a briefing note, a checklist of human rights principles for the social welfare appeals system and presentations on the appeals system from the Ombudsman who launched the report, the Law Centre Northern Ireland and the Chief Appeals Officer.
  5. FLAC also has three guides to aspects of the social welfare system which are free to download from its website: