A key element of Ireland’s current reception regime for asylum seekers is the direct provision allowance payment. Direct provision allowance was introduced in April 2000, and set at a rate of €19.10 per week for adults and €9.60 per week for children. The rate of direct provision allowance increased for children in 2015 to €15.60, and was equalised for adults and children in August 2017 to €21.60 per week . In June 2015, the McMahon Report (paras. 5.27-5.30) recommended an increase in direct provision allowance for adults and children. It was recommended that the weekly adult rate increase to € 38.74 and weekly child rate to € 29.80 (qualifying child allowance under general social assistance payments). This recommendation has not yet been implemented.
Will Ireland’s opt-in to the Reception Directive have any impact on Direct Provision Allowance?
Article 17(5) of the EU Reception Directive states that where Member States provide financial allowances or vouchers, this shall be determined with reference to the levels of financial support, levels that are set down in law or by practice, which may be provided to a Member State’s own national. However, nothing prevents Member States from providing applicants for international protection with lesser allowances/voucher levels, in comparison to nationals of the Member States.
Financial Assistance Payments to Asylum Seekers in Select European Union Countries
Comparing financial assistance payments for asylum seekers across the European Union can give rise to difficulties. In some countries, the financial allowances must cover food, housing, clothing, heating and other material reception conditions. In other countries (such as Ireland), accommodation and food is provided, and a low level of financial allowance granted to asylum seekers.
One commonality within all EU Member States is that financial allowances for asylum seekers are generally lesser than minimum social assistance/social welfare rates for citizens and those with a secure residency status within the State.
With varied standards of living across the EU, drawing simplistic analogies and comparisons should be avoided. Even the information provided below is subject to caveats, or with additional payments/in-kind provision granted to asylum seekers, such as pregnant women.
Portugal: In the first year a single adult will receive €261.99 per month. This must pay for food, housing, and transport. For a family (with two adults and a child): the head of the household receives the €261.99 payment per month, the other adult in the household €183.39 per month, and each child receives €130.99 per month.
Germany: Different rates of financial allowances are provided, depending whether a person is housed in an accommodation centre, or has to source their own housing. For a single person in an accommodation centre (where food, heating, sanitation etc. is provided), she will receive €135 per month. A couple will receive €122 each per month, while there is a sliding scale for any dependent children determined by age. For persons not in accommodation centres, these rates increase. For a single person meeting their own housing needs, she will receive €351 per month. A couple will receive €316 each per month, while there is a sliding scale for any dependent children determined by age.
United Kingdom: Asylum seekers will be provided with accommodation, and will receive financial allowances weekly of €36.95 per person. Expressed as a monthly payment, this will be around €160.11 per month. This will generally have to cover food and travel. Medical treatment is provided by the N.H.S.
Sweden: For asylum seekers in accommodation centres, a single adult will receive €76.50 per month, with food, heating etc. provided in the accommodation centre. For a couple in an accommodation centre, the rate of payment is €60 each per month. Each child of the couple will receive €38 per month. For those in private accommodation, this may be paid by the Migration Agency in Sweden, and financial allowances are: €225 per month for a single person; €194 per month each for a couple; and where there are children, an allowance of between €117 and €158 per month (depending on age).
Direct Provision Allowance & the EU Reception Directive
The Court of Justice of the European Union noted that the level of financial allowances under the Reception Directive:
… must be sufficient to ensure a dignified standard of living adequate for the health of applicants and capable of ensuring their subsistence.
In addition, the level of financial allowances must preserve family unity and protect the best interests of the child. The question of best interests of the child and direct provision allowance is one potential avenue, at least in the political sphere, for challenging the rates of direct provision allowance in Ireland. The UCC Child Law Clinic report on their consultation with children in the direct provision system, highlighted that older children very much perceive themselves as being ‘different’ or ‘poor’ in comparison to their non-asylum seeking peers. The older children in this consultation spoke about how little the direct provision allowance payment is, and not being able to go on school trips or socialise with classmates due to this.
Given that there is no consensus amongst EU Member States subject to obligations under the Reception Directive as to the benchmark that financial allowances for asylum seekers should be set at, it appears unlikely that Ireland’s opt-in to the Reception Directive will require (but certainly will not prevent) an increase to direct provision allowance. Rather, what may be needed is a regular review of direct provision allowance to ensure that it meets the needs of those subject to the direct provision system. Simplistic comparisons between differing amounts paid in other EU countries should be avoided. The key benchmark for determining rates of direct provision allowance should be with reference to the standards of Irish society, and rates of payment that may be needed to ensure inclusivity within Irish society.