The Government is planning a crackdown on child benefit payments to ensure that EU migrant workers do not abuse their entitlements.
The cost of paying child benefits to migrant workers, including the new €1,000 supplement for children under six, is estimated to rise to around €100m next year.
Minister for Social Affairs Seamus Brennan said new controls would be introduced to ensure that the payments went only to those who were entitled to them.
“We need migrant workers here because they’re good for the country, they’re contributing enormously to the economy and under EU law, they’re entitled to child benefit here to get support for their families back home,” he said.
“But because there’s so much movement of migrant workers in and out of the country, there’s a need to keep greater tabs on the situation.”
The new controls will be phased in by the end of this year and will include random house visits and employment checks by social welfare inspectors. There will also be cross-checking of records with the Revenue Commissioners to see if workers are legitimately employed and paying taxes and PRSI.
The Government sees the controls as necessary given the huge disparities between Irish child benefit payments and other countries, particularly in the 10 new EU member states. The parent of a child here is paid around €150 a month in child benefits, but in Latvia, Poland and Lithuania, the equivalent payments are €9, €11 and €36 respectively.
Under EU law employees from any member state can claim child benefit in the country they are working in, even if their children are living in their home country, and Irish emigrants have used the measure in the past.
But Fine Gael claimed that the Government failed to take account of the 200,000 EU migrant workers living here when introducing its new childcare supplement in the last Budget. It estimated that the combined cost of the paying the child supplement and child benefits to the workers could be as much as €150m.
Since the party raised the issue last March, the number of child benefit applications from EU migrant workers has increased from 80 a week to 350 a week.
The Department of Social and Family Affairs estimates that paying the childcare supplement to EU migrant workers on behalf of children living here or abroad will cost between €1m and €4m this year, while the cost of child benefit is likely to be around €20m.
However, it believes that the cost could rise to up to €100m next year if the present level of applications continues. The number of migrant workers claiming child benefits may rise from around 15,000 now to 30,000 next year.
The Department of Social and Family Affairs pays around €2bn each year in child benefits to one million children and has an overall budget of €14bn.