Lone parents will not have to contact their abusers

The head of the Department of Social Protection is emphasising that women who have been subjected to domestic abuse do not have to make attempts to contact their attacker in order to receive the lone parent’s allowance.

Department secretary general John McKeon told TDs he has told officials to take on board the realities of the cases and not tell recipients they must make efforts to seek maintenance from their ex-partners before being given the funds.

Last month, it emerged that a small number of women have been told by welfare officials they cannot receive lone parents’ financial support until they try to obtain help from their ex-partner — even in cases of domestic abuse.

The policy was heavily criticised by Women’s Aid and the National Women’s Council of Ireland, among other groups, with opposition politicians also demanding it be changed.

Speaking late last month, Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty told the Dáil “we believe women” and that once someone explains their case the claim should proceed without delay “and without the lone parent ever having to contact their abuser”.

And, underlining the comments yesterday, Mr McKeon told the latest meeting of the Public Accounts Committee he is also insisting on the new policy being implemented throughout the welfare sector:

“We’re working with Women’s Aid to make sure the policy is implemented. It is not the case the person who is in a domestic violence situation is required by the law to do that [contact their attacker].”

It is believed the department’s current IT system will be altered in light of the public comments by Ms Doherty and Mr McKeon to add a “little box” which officials can tick online to say that no letter needs to be sent out to the individual because they are a survivor of domestic abuse.

Speaking during a Dáil debate on the issue last month, Solidarity-People Before Profit TD Ruth Coppinger said the small number of women who have previously been told to contact their attacker have felt like they are being mistreated again by a disbelieving State.

During the same debate, Fianna Fáil social protection spokesman, Willie O’Dea, said he knows of a number of cases where “people were told to seek maintenance against a violent ex-partner or else lose lone parent’s allowance”.

Both Ms Doherty and Mr McKeon insist that this will no longer take place and that women in this position need to be helped by the State and their own department.

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