Civil servants fear 'over-analysis of cases' for Habitual Residence Condition, study finds'

Some civil servants deciding on the merits of the Habitual Residence Condition feel there is too much discretion when deciding who qualifies, with a study finding an "over-analysis of cases" which can lead to backlogs.

Some civil servants deciding on the merits of the Habitual Residence Condition feel there is too much discretion when deciding who qualifies, with a study finding an "over-analysis of cases" which can lead to backlogs.

The Habitual Residence Condition (HRC) requires a proven close link to Ireland and must be satisfied for any application for a social welfare payment to succeed. It has been viewed as a safeguard against so-called 'welfare tourism' and statutorily-appointed Deciding Officers or Determining Officers rule on each case.

The study, called 'Understanding how decision-makers practice discretion in the context of the Habitual Residence Condition (HRC) in the Republic of Ireland' by Majka Monika Ryan and Martin Power, involved interviews with 12 men and 11 women who had worked in the public service for between six months to 28 years. Ten had worked in the Department of Social Protection for more than 20 years.

According to the study: "Our participants indicated that a majority of disallowed cases are appealed. While such scrutiny increases accountability and motivates decision-makers to thoroughly examine potential disallowances; it may also have a negative impact on them.

"The lack of confidence and the resulting uncertainty has a direct impact on decision-makers' performance at work. It leads to over-analysis of cases (mostly those that are potentially thought of as disallowances) which takes a long time and results in a backlog of cases."

Others said their role was about protecting the public purse and distinguishing between deserving and undeserving clients. One deciding officer said: "A lot of people abuse the system there is no doubt about that."

One appeals officer said if the Department wants to save money "suddenly that’s a goal. And if that’s a goal it can affect the decision. And that can affect the culture".

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