FLAC calls for end to age discrimination in welfare payments

9 October 2019

Following the welfare changes announced in Budget 2020, FLAC CE Eilis Barry welcomed the change to Jobseekers Allowance that will allow young people aged 25 to receive the full rate of payment from January 2020, and under 25s may access the full rate where they are in receipt of HAP or rent supplement. The Chief Executive said more needed to be done to end the discriminatory nature of how Jobseekers Allowance is paid.

FLAC CE Eilis Barry said; 

“Since different rates of payment based on age were introduced for people in receipt of Jobseekers Allowance, FLAC have said that this practice is discriminatory and must end. The Government had stated that lower rates of payment would encourage young people to take up education, training and work experience and that that existing payments were a disincentive to those under 26 to work, however yesterday’s change is an acknowledgment that this is not actually the case.  

“This change will only apply to people age 25 and those under 25 who are in receipt of HAP or rent supplement. In order to be in receipt of HAP a person must be on the local authority housing list. However, you can only go on the local authority housing list if you do not have anywhere else to go. The local authorities regard individuals as having alternative accommodation if a member of the household has a property that they could reasonably be expected to live in - including the family home. So in practical terms, it will be inaccessibly for large numbers of young people and maintains a tiered payment structure.

“Reduced payments do not provide the basis for an adequate income, or enable young adults to live at an acceptable level without significant familial support. To live independently, adults aged under 25 have the same needs as older adults and therefore require the same level of income support. However, linking the payment to receipt of HAP means those under 25 would have already had to be independent and out of the family home in order to receive the full rate. 

Jobseekers aged 25, who are currently entitled to €112.70 are to receive the full adult allowance of €203. However, those under 25 who are not living independently will remain at the reduced rate of €112.70. 

Eilis stated, “There is an assumption within the policy of paying lower rates of Jobseekers Allowance that young people can live with their parents or family and do not require the same payment as those over 26, or over 25 from January 2020, as they are financially subsidised by their family. However, there are large numbers of vulnerable young people who are LGBTQ, migrants, persons with disabilities, and Travellers who do not have access to the same level of family support.

“Applying different rates of payment based on age is a discriminatory policy and leaves young people, and those already vulnerable, at increased risk of poverty and FLAC are calling for urgent moves to restore a uniform rate of payment without age-based discrimination.” 

Eilis also welcomed the increase in funding of €1 million to the State’s Legal Aid Board for the continuation of the Abhaile Scheme, however this increase is simply not enough to meet the current demands on the service. FLAC recently called for a root and branch review of the Civil Legal Aid scheme at the launch of FLAC’s 2018 Annual Report, highlighting need to review the current waiting times, the delays, the means test, the accommodation and child care allowances, the legal aid fees, and the areas of law covered. The allocation of €1 million will not allow for any meaningful review.

The recent enactment of the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Act 2019 which gives greater powers to the Circuit Court to refuse to grant a possession order introduces a defence for potentially thousands of people in long-term arrears and a significant percentage of these people are likely to be entitled to legal aid. FLAC is concerned that the Legal Aid Board simply does not have the resources to deal with the significant increase in demand which it will now face. The Abhaile scheme cannot provide legal representation for these people. 

Eilis stated, “The Legal Aid Board is a fundamental part of the administration of justice and the rule of law, and needs a major investment of resources to deal with all kinds of cases where the greatest need is.”