Under the Reception Conditions Regulations, access to reception conditions is provided to a person who has given an indication of intention to seek asylum where he or she does not have sufficient means to have an adequate standard of living. An asylum applicant is defined by the International Protection Act 2015 as a person who has made an made an application for international protection in accordance with section 15, or on whose behalf such an application has been made or is deemed to have been made. A recipient is a person who has indicated a wish to apply for international protection or someone who has lodged their claim, and who has not ceased to be a recipient. The Regulations do not apply to persons who fall outside of the scope of the EU Recast Reception Conditions Directive (e.g. people living in Direct Provision accommodation with status or people who have been issued deportation orders).
Throughout much of 2021, newly arrived asylum seekers were subject to medical checks at Dublin airport. Applicants were screened on the basis of health questionnaires, subject to temperature checks and were required to self-report symptoms of COVID-19. Applicants were then transferred to designated facilities, usually hotels, for the purposes of self-isolation. According to government policy, newly arrived applicants were required to self-isolate for a two-week period, however, in the experience of the Irish Refugee Council, individuals and families were often kept in quarantine for extended periods, sometimes up to 28 days. This delayed the commencement of the protection process for many applicants and consequently, access to PPS numbers, medical cards, Daily expenses allowance (DEA) etc.
Following isolation, newly arrived applicants were transferred to temporary emergency accommodation centres due to a lack of capacity in the Direct Provision System. In normal circumstances, newly arrived applicants are provided information around support services as well as rights and entitlements. However, those who were quarantined for extended periods and subsequently temporarily accommodated found themselves cut off from these supports and access to information. This was compounded by delays with completing the s.13 interview at the IPO. Many applicants who are released from quarantine and attended the IPO to make an application for international protection were advised that owing to COVID-19 restrictions, they would be invited back at a future date to complete it. Until the completion of this interview, applicants were unable to access PPS numbers, Daily Expense Allowance or medical cards. This had serious implications for applicant’s mental health. Applicants also reported restricted access to food, hygiene products, laundry services and appropriate winter clothing while resident in post-quarantine temporary accommodation.
Following the roll-out of the vaccination programme, newly arrived applicants who were fully vaccinated were not required to undergo mandatory hotel quarantine. However, in the experience of the Irish Refugee Council this policy was applied arbitrarily, with a number of applicants still being required to undergo quarantine for a two-week period, despite being fully vaccinated on arrival in Ireland.
Owing to the increase in COVID-19 cases in the latter part of 2021, applicants were once again required to self-isolate on arrival in Ireland. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that applicants who test negative after a week of isolation will be released from mandatory quarantine and transferred to temporary accommodation.
Additionally, in the experience of the Irish Refugee Council, at the outset of the COVID-19 a number of clients experienced difficulty in accessing accommodation at the very early stages of the pandemic. The Irish Refugee Council Independent Law Centre assisted several individuals who had their material reception conditions withdrawn after being refused re-entry to Direct Provision accommodation centres. This occurred in circumstances where clients had been absent from their centre for more than one night, in order to visit family or friends, or for the purposes of employment. In many cases, there was no written reason provided for the withdrawal and the possibility of withdrawal of accommodation on the basis of absences was not communicated widely prior to the policy being implemented by IPAS. Residents were told that in order to re-access accommodation, they would be required to make a formal request to IPAS.
Individuals were prevented from accessing emergency accommodation and owing to delays in re-accommodation, a number of clients became street homeless or were forced to stay in cars or with friends. Some clients had to wait up to 10 days prior to accommodation being restored and this only occurred after IRC entered direct written correspondence with IPAS, with intervention by IRC’s CEO to senior IPAS staff. With advocacy and assistance from IRC, reception conditions were restored in the vast majority of cases.
Provision of reception conditions at a designated place
The entitlement to Reception Conditions is expressly subject to two requirements:
- Material reception conditions are made available only at a designated accommodation centre or a reception centre (which is an initial accommodation centre where protection applicants are first accommodated before another accommodation centre is designated). In effect, this guarantees that reception conditions are provided through the existing system of Direct Provision.
- The recipient complies with the house rules of the accommodation centre. The house rules are defined in the Regulations as rules made by the Minister for Justice under the Regulations. To date, house rules have not been made under the Regulations, although house rules made prior to the Regulations continue to be applied in Direct Provision centres. Since house rules made prior to the introduction of the Regulations are not house rules made under the Regulations, this raises a question about the legal relationship between the current house rules and the Regulations; in particular, enforceability of the current house rules for the purposes of, for example, withdrawing material reception conditions.
The Regulations provide that reception conditions are only available within the structure of the existing system known as Direct Provision. This means that in order to receive material reception conditions, an asylum seeker must live in Direct Provision accommodation and must live in the particular accommodation centre designated by the authorities. In designating an accommodation centre for recipients of reception conditions, the Regulations provide that the Minister will take a number of factors into account (see Freedom of Movement). While the Regulations provide a new statutory basis for Direct Provision, in many respects, the transposition of the Reception Conditions Directive has not changed the existing structure of reception in Ireland.
Protection applicants are not obliged to use IPAS accommodation and may source their own accommodation or stay with relatives or friends. However, to do so means that the individual is not entitled to material reception conditions or State social welfare supports, e.g. rent allowance, etc. Persons living outside Direct Provision may still be able to access a medical card in line with Regulation 18 of the Reception Conditions Regulations 2018 pertaining to the Right to Health. However, in practice, access to medical cards for those living outside of Direct Provision had not been facilitated. Following numerous complaints by IRC to the Department of Health and the Ombudsman, the HSE’s Medical Card Unit recently amended their policy to enable international protection applicants who are not living in Direct Provision to obtain medical cards. Consequently, international protection applicants living outside of Direct Provision are now permitted to access medical care and prescription medication on the same basis as those living in the Direct Provision system.
Provision is made to exceptionally allow for a deviation from the prescribed form of reception under the Regulations in exceptional circumstances where: (a) a vulnerability assessment needs to be carried out to assess special reception needs; or (b) where the accommodation capacity is temporarily exhausted. The Regulations require that an alternative method of accommodation must be for as short a period as possible and must meet the recipient’s basic needs.
On lodging an application for asylum with the IPO, the applicant is referred to IPAS and brought to a reception centre near Dublin Airport named Balseskin. As noted above, due to a lack of bed space in recent years, some people have been placed straight into emergency accommodation. This is problematic as it means a person may not receive the supports that are offered at Balseskin. After a person has applied for asylum, they will be issued with a Temporary Residence Certificate, in the form of a plastic card, which sets out the person’s personal details and contains their photograph. When the Temporary Residence Certificate has been received, they will be referred to the IPAS office within the IPO building. The person is accommodated in Balseskin reception centre in order to facilitate an interview with IPO, health screening and registration for Community Welfare Service assistance. In 2019, significant numbers of people were accommodated in emergency accommodation immediately after lodging an application for international protection. Capacity in Direct Provision continued to be a significant issue throughout the last two years, with 1360 protection applicants, 174 of whom were children, housed in emergency accommodation as of June 2021. Despite a commitment by the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth to decommission the use of emergency accommodation prior to year-end, 24 emergency accommodation centres remained in operation as of December 2021.
After their initial IPO interview has taken place, the majority of asylum applicants are dispersed to Direct Provision centres in other parts of the country from Balseskin. To date, this practice has continued with the transition to the IPA and the introduction of the Regulations.
The assessment of resources
In practice, prior to receiving material reception conditions, protection applicants are asked to sign a declaration stating that they do not have sufficient independent means to maintain an adequate standard of living.
With the introduction of Access to the Labour Market for the first time under the Reception Conditions Regulations 2018, provision has been made for a reduction in the daily expenses allowance commensurate with income derived from employment. After an initial twelve-week period in employment, the relevant portion of a person’s income will be assessed. To calculate the relevant portion, the first €60 is disregarded. Schedule 2 of the Regulations set out in a table the contribution to the weekly accommodation cost that the recipient pays. Once the amount of the relevant portion is reached, it is deducted from the daily expenses allowance paid. If the amount of the relevant portion exceeds the amount of the daily expenses allowance, the daily expenses allowance is no longer paid. It is unclear in practice whether this power has been implemented.
If an asylum seeker is in employment and their income exceeds a particular threshold, they are required to pay a contribution towards the material reception conditions received. The cost of accommodation services is stated in the Regulations as constituting €238 per week. Income up to €97 does not meet the threshold for the payment of a financial contribution. Income in excess of €97 attracts a liability, which is scaled upwards as a percentage of the weekly cost of accommodation. For income of €600.01 or over, the contribution rises to 100% of the cost, meaning that €238 per week is payable. At the upper limit, this liability comprises €952 per month for bed and board in a shared room.
The Regulations empower the Minister to serve notice in writing of a requirement to refund all or part of the cost of material reception conditions, with the possibility of recovering the amount as a simple contract debt in any court of competent jurisdiction. This will arise in circumstances where the Minister becomes aware that a person had the means to provide an adequate standard of living or concealed financial resources.
Reception for other categories of persons
IPAS also provides overnight accommodation to citizens of certain EU States who are destitute and who have expressed a wish to return to their own country. Victims of trafficking who are not protection applicants are also accommodated during a 60-day reflection period. During this period, individuals are entitled to access health and psychological services through the Health Service Executive and legal advice through the Legal Aid Board. A range of community and voluntary organisations also provide support, information and advice to victims of human trafficking.
IPAS provides accommodation for applicants up to their return to their country of origin following a negative decision. However, the increasing numbers of people remaining in Direct Provision after being granted status is causing significant strain on IPAS in the context of stretched capacity. IPAS continues to provide temporary accommodation for persons granted international protection or permission to remain in Ireland under Section 3 of the Immigration Act 1999. According to latest available figures, as of November 2021, approximately 1,640 people, with status remain in Direct Provision accommodation. In the experience of the Irish Refugee Council beneficiaries of international protection are finding it increasingly difficult to access the private rental market in the context of an ongoing housing and homelessness crisis (see Content of Protection: Housing).
 Regulations 2 and 4(1) Reception Conditions Regulations 2018.
 Regulation 4(2) Reception Conditions Regulations 2018.
 The system of Direct Provision has been in place since 2000. The increase in the numbers applying for asylum in the 1990s prompted a decision by the then government to withdraw social welfare from protection applicants and to provide for their basic needs directly through a largely cash-less system. This became known as Direct Provision, which is the system of accommodation for persons in the international protection application process in Ireland today. It continues to be the system pursuant to which material reception conditions are provided under the Regulations. Prior to the introduction of the Regulations, Direct Provision had no statutory basis. The Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) (now IPAS) was set up as a division within the Department of Justice to manage Direct Provision. While the drafting of the Regulations refers to the “Minister”, defined as the Minister for Justice and Equality, powers are exercised by RIA in practice. RIA has no statutory basis and the decision to establish it is not a matter of public record. Originally, it was intended that protection applicants would spend no more than six months living in Direct Provision.
 Regulation 7(1) Reception Conditions Regulations 2018.
 Regulation 4(5) Reception Conditions Regulations 2018.
 Regulation 4(6) Reception Conditions Regulations 2018.
 Regulation 5(1) and Schedule 1 Reception Conditions Regulations 2018.
 Regulation 5(2) Reception Conditions Regulations 2018.
 Schedule 2 Reception Conditions Regulations 2018.
 Regulation 5(4) Reception Conditions Regulations 2018.
 Regulation 5(3) and (6) Reception Conditions Regulations 2018.
 The purpose of the reflection period is to allow a victim of trafficking to recover from the alleged trafficking, and to escape the influence of the alleged perpetrators of the alleged trafficking so that he or she can take an informed decision as to whether to assist Gardaí or other relevant authorities in relation to any investigation or prosecution arising in relation to the alleged trafficking. See ‘Administrative Immigration Arrangements for the Protection of Victims of Human Trafficking’, available at: http://bit.ly/1HTRdmE.