Accessing the Irish social welfare system as a returning Irish emigrant
Depending on your circumstances, you may need financial assistance when you return to Ireland. The Department of Social Protection has a range of social welfare payments that give provide financial support. This document gives an overview of those payments and how you can apply for them.
Before you return to Ireland, you should find out if there are any benefits you can transfer to Ireland – see our document on Moving to Ireland and your social security entitlements.
Crosscare Migrant Project has information on what to do if you are returning to Ireland in a crisis, especially if you are homeless.
You can also get information and advice in your local Citizens Information Centre in Ireland.
Applying for social welfare during the COVID-19 pandemic
The Irish Government has introduced a range of income supports during the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. These are available to people who have lost work in Ireland, as well as those who cannot work because of illness, self-isolation, or because they are looking after their children. Supports include:
- The COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment is a new social welfare payment for employees and self-employed people who have lost employment in Ireland due to the pandemic
- Enhanced Illness Benefit is available for people who cannot work because they have been advised by a doctor to self-isolate or have been diagnosed with COVID-19 (coronavirus)
- The Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme helps employers to pay their employees during the pandemic
To qualify for these means-tested payments, you will need to show that Ireland is currently your main place of residence and that you are resuming your residence here. Some returning Irish emigrants can face difficulties with this requirement, called the Habitual Residence Condition (HRC). Your income and savings will also be assessed as part of your application. If you don’t qualify for other payments, you can also apply for an Exceptional Needs Payment.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, social welfare offices are currently operating reduced hours. They are accepting applications by post, and online through MyWelfare.ie for some payments. You will need your PPS number, and a MyGovID account for online applications.
You can find out more about returning to Ireland during COVID-19.
Can I get a social welfare payment?
To get a social welfare payment, you must apply. Your first step before applying, is to find out which payment you may be entitled to. Payments are available for:
How do I qualify for a social welfare payment?
There are different categories of social welfare payments you can qualify for, depending on your current income and whether or not you have paid enough social insurance contributions.
Social assistance payments
If you have no income or your income is low, you may qualify for a social assistance payment.
When you apply for a social assistance payment, the Department of Social Protection (DSP) assesses all your sources of income - this is called a means test. How your income is assessed in the means test depends on the payment you apply for.
To apply for a social assistance payment, you need to show that Ireland is currently your main place of residence. This is called the Habitual Residence Condition (HRC). You do not have to have been living in Ireland for a certain period of time to be considered habitually resident. You can read more about returning Irish emigrants and the HRC.
The Crosscare Migrant Project’s website also has useful FAQs on the Habitual Residence Condition.
Social insurance payments
If you have worked and paid social insurance, you may qualify for a social insurance payment.
When you apply for a social insurance payment, the DSP will check if you have enough social insurance contributions paid at the right time to qualify. You may be able to use your social insurance contributions from abroad. For short-term payments (for example, Jobseeker’s Benefit) your last social insurance contribution must be paid in Ireland. Read more about Combining social insurance contributions from abroad.
If you think you might qualify for a social welfare payment, you should apply.
How do I apply for a social welfare payment?
You apply to the DSP for a social welfare payment. You must fill in an application form and provide other supporting documentation which is assessed by the DSP. The information and documentation varies from one payment to another. The type of documentation required will also depend on your personal circumstances. However, you must normally submit some documentation with your claim form.
To apply for a social welfare payment, you must also have a Personal Public Service (PPS number). You can read more in PPS numbers for returning Irish emigrants and their families.
How quickly will I get a social welfare payment?
You should apply for a social welfare payment as soon as you can. It can take weeks or even months for the Department to make a decision on your application for a payment. While you are waiting, you can apply for an immediate payment of the Supplementary Welfare Allowance (SWA). SWA is paid if your income is below a certain limit.