Social Protection officials criticised in migrants report

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The Dole Que in Limerick on Tuesday. Pic. Brian Arthur/Press 22.A NEW report that is critical of how the Department of Social Protection deals with migrants, and includes case studies from Limerick, alleges that some people have felt threatened and abused in response to some of the behaviour and language of officials.

Irish human rights organisations, including Doras Luimní, FLAC, Nasc and Crosscare, have come together to publish the report, which examines the issues faced by migrants in Ireland when they apply for social protection.

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The report, called ‘Person or Number? 2’, is critical of how the Department of Social Protection deals with migrants. It identifies key shortcomings including rudeness, inappropriate behaviour, inappropriate or abusive language and instances of racism.

One case study alleges that a woman was shockingly told by a DSP officer in Ireland that they should go back home. Another man was allegedly informed, “you and your wife are not entitled to anything. Too many people from **** are coming here to take benefits for free.”

According to CEO of Doras Luimni, Karen McHugh, the Department of Social Protection has made significant progress in terms of their dealings with migrant issues.

“We very much value their cooperation on these matters of relevance to our clients. However, as this report makes clear, some migrants continue to face a multitude of barriers and difficulties when it comes to accessing social welfare,” Ms McHugh commented.

“In particular, customer service issues are evident from case studies throughout the country, which in some instances amounted to abusive language and behaviour. In Limerick, we are fortunate to have a good working relationship with officials from the Department, but it is clear that on the whole there are considerable improvements to be made in order to bring it to an adequate standard of public service,” she said.

The report recommends the establishment of a Performance Monitoring, Evaluation and Implementation Unit in the Department to raise the quality of practice and decision making at the front line. It also recommends the introduction of name badges for frontline staff to improve customer service, decision making and accountability.

In response to the report, a spokeswoman for the Department of Social Protection pointed out that the first Person or Number report in 2012 led to the establishment of the Migrant Consultative Forum. Through the Forum, she stated, officials of the Department of Social Protection have engaged in a “meaningful” way with the relevant NGOs.

“In relation to the latest report, like the first report, it draws heavily on a number of case studies – in this case 35 – as its main source of information. The 35 cases, while important individually, need to be seen in the context that the Department pays about 1.45 million customers each week and nearly 88.5 million payments were made last year.

“The Department handles a very large volume of cases and payments and at all times seeks to uphold the highest standards of customer service. It is important to note that in the majority of these cases, customers do not have cause to either complain or appeal. That does not appear to have been taken into account in these findings,” said a DSP spokeswoman.

“Nonetheless, for the 35 people in the case studies, they experienced difficulties in accessing their social welfare entitlements and that shows that, despite the work undertaken to date and the emphasis the Department places on excellent customer service, there is always room for improvement.”