RETURNING emigrants are among those being denied welfare support in Ireland due to the incompetence of Government officials, an Irish charity has claimed.
More than 700 people sought help from Crosscare Information and Advocacy Service last year after finding themselves facing homelessness because they had no income of any kind.
But the charity revealed in its first annual report that many were entitled to State support. That includes returning emigrants who were denied benefits due to the poor service they received in welfare offices.
“That can leave someone in extreme circumstances and can even lead to them becoming homeless,” said Crosscare’s Sarah Owen.
“These are generally people who returned to Ireland in very difficult circumstances, such as people who are fleeing domestic violence.”
She added that returning emigrants from around the world, including Britain, face particular difficulties because social welfare officers are providing insufficient information about what evidence they need to qualify for benefits.
As a result some are being denied help because they have not submitted enough information to prove that they now live in Ireland. They are then facing waits of up to a year before they can appeal the decision.
“People are not aware of what they need to provide in terms of documentation and so on to show that their centre of interest is Ireland, not the country they are returning from,” Ms Owen explained.
“That is where there is a gap. On presenting at a social welfare office people are not being told what criteria are used to assess whether they are habitually resident or not. So they fill in the form and presume that is enough, which it is not generally.”
In its report, Crosscare claims to be witnessing large volumes of people in vulnerable situations who are losing out on State support because of the poor service provided in welfare offices.
As well as returning emigrants, this includes homeless people and refugees.
A total of 6,000 people came to the charity’s Dublin office last year, but it said it was not able to work with 1,000 of them due to the over-demand for its services.
Of those it did help, the majority needed support either with getting social welfare payments or clarifying their immigration status.
Almost 1,000 were at risk of homelessness, while 600 were homeless already.
Crosscare said it had grown frustrated at the Department of Social Protection after two years of “good engagement” had not lessened the difficulties faced by its clients.
Ciara Mc Grath, the charity’s project leader for housing & welfare, added: “It is vital that our social protection mechanisms are less defensive, more user-friendly and to be accessible and navigable by the people who need them most.”
Case study: Sean
Sean was deported to Ireland from Africa due to overstaying his visa. Originally from Dublin, he had not lived in Ireland for over twenty years and had no contact with his remaining family in Ireland from whom he was estranged.
On his return he had no income or place to stay, and was referred to us by the Salvation Army on the morning of his arrival. Sean had an initial consultation with a specialised information and advocacy officer, identifying his specific needs and what steps needed to be taken to re-establish his life in Ireland. An action plan was worked out.
As Sean had no proof of his identity or his deportation, we obtained a copy of his emergency travel document and deportation papers from our contacts in the Irish Embassy in the country from which he returned. We then advocated on Sean’s behalf with the Homeless Persons Unit for him to be granted an emergency social welfare payment.
We arranged for Sean to access emergency accommodation via the Homeless Freephone for one night while his application for social housing support was assessed by Dublin City Council.
Once Sean was accepted onto the waiting list for social housing support, we helped him find private rented accommodation in Dublin and access Rent Supplement. We also supported him to apply for a medical card and engage with broader health and wellbeing supports.
Sean is now living in his own place and is in receipt of Rent Supplement and Jobseeker’s Allowance while he looks for employment.