Thursday, 8 December 2005
Department of Social and Family Affairs
Question 158: To ask the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will address the issue of pensions for Irish missionaries returning here for holidays; the number of persons affected and if it will be restored by excluding these persons from the habitual residency condition. [38528/05]
The requirement to be habitually resident in Ireland was introduced as a qualifying condition for certain social assistance schemes and child benefit with effect from 1 May 2004. The old age non-contributory pension scheme is one of the schemes affected. The basis for the restriction contained in the new rules is the applicant's habitual residence. The restriction is not based on citizenship, nationality, immigration status or any other factor.
The effect of the restriction is that a person whose habitual residence is in the United States, Europe, Africa or elsewhere is not paid certain social welfare payments, including old age non-contributory pensions, on arrival in Ireland. The question of what is a person's habitual residence is decided in accordance with European Court of Justice case law, which sets out the grounds for assessing individual claims.
Each case received for a determination on the habitual residence condition is dealt with in its own right and a decision is based on application of the guidelines to the particular individual circumstances of each case. Any applicant who disagrees with the decision of a deciding officer has the right to appeal to the social welfare appeals office. The habitual residence condition does not affect missionaries returning to Ireland on a permanent basis. They still qualify immediately for an old age pension or any other social welfare support on the same basis as heretofore if they meet the standard criteria.
The application of the habitual residence condition has to be compatible with EU law and other international and national legal obligations and it is not possible in applying the condition to discriminate in favour of any particular group or nationality. It is not possible to waive the habitual residence requirement in respect of Irish missionaries who return home on holiday.
While exact details of the occupation of claimants assessed under the habitual residence condition are not maintained, it is estimated that 206 old age non-contributory pension claims made by religious have been decided on since 1 May 2004. Of these cases, 142 were deemed to satisfy the habitual residence condition, while 64 were found not to satisfy the condition.
The habitual residence condition is being operated in a very careful manner to ensure that the social welfare system is not open to everyone who is newly arrived in Ireland, while at the same time ensuring that people whose cases are appropriate to the Irish social welfare system have access to the system when they need it.