The Reception Conditions Regulations 2018 define “material reception conditions” as: (a) housing, food and associated in-kind benefits; (b) the daily expenses allowance; and (c) financial allowance for clothing.
Daily expenses allowance
The Direct Provision allowance, referred to as the daily expenses allowance under the Reception Conditions Regulations, is a payment made to protection applicants for personal and incidental expenses. The rate of the payment remained static for a number of years and was consistently the subject of criticism, including by the McMahon Working Group. The criticism stated that the weekly allowance was wholly inadequate to meet essential needs such as clothing including for school going children and it did not enable participation in social and community activities. The weekly allowance was also often used to supplement the food provided at Direct Provision centres. The Working Group recommended that the weekly allowance be increased for adults from €19.10 to €38.74 and increased from €9.60 to €29.80 for children. In 2020, protection applicants receive a weekly allowance of €38.80 per adult and €29.80 per child. A group of organisations called for the daily expenses allowance to be increased during the pandemic. This request was refused.
Other financial support
Following the transposition of the recast Reception Conditions Directive and the decision of the Supreme Court in the N.V.H. case (see Access to the Labour Market), access to the labour market is granted for a six-month period (renewable) once an asylum seeker has been waiting over nine months for a first instance decision. The impact of this change is felt by newly-arrived protection applicants rather than those who have already received a first instance decision and are currently in the appeal process. For this category, who remain unable to access the labour market, their time living in Direct Provision is not considered residency for the purposes of accruing entitlements to social welfare assistance. As of July 2020, a total of 6,986 applications for access to the labour market were received by the Department of Justice. 5,109 permissions had been granted, of which 3,889 (76%) were granted to residents in Direct Provision. Employers reported hiring 2,539 applicants for international protection, 1,786 of whom were residents in Direct Provision.
Section 15 of the Social Welfare and Pensions (No. 2) Act 2009 states that an individual who does not have a “right to reside” in the State shall not be regarded as being habitually resident in the State. As protection applicants do not have a right to reside in Ireland, they are excluded from social welfare. Under the IPA this prohibition remains unless a person has a pre-existing right to work on their previous status in Ireland.
The Working Group report noted that “apart from the weekly allowance, residents are not eligible to apply for other social protection supports with the exception of Exceptional Needs Payments (ENPs) and the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance.”
The Exceptional Needs Payment is a discretionary payment made by a Welfare Officer on receipt of an application for a one-off payment, rather than an ongoing liability. It is relied upon by protection applicants because it is an exception to the general rule regarding habitual residence. For example, it is often the only way to pay for transport costs. However, it is a highly discretionary payment with a limited appeals mechanism. In the experience of the Irish Refugee Council, there is anecdotal evidence that there can be wide differences in how the Exceptional Needs Payment is administered, depending on which centre the asylum seeker is living in.
At the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) was not made available to individuals who were employed and living in Direct Provision on the basis that the payment was tied to jobseekers’ allowance and constituted a form of social welfare payment for the purposes of s.15 of the Social Welfare and Pensions (No. 2) Act 2009. More than 40 organisations jointly wrote to the Minister for Social Protection requesting a €20.00 increase of the Daily Expense Allowance provided to international protection applicants living in Direct Provision. This request was refused on budgetary grounds. However, in August 2020, following sustained advocacy from various migrant rights groups, PUP was extended to people living in Direct Provision as well as applicants for international protection who live outside the Direct Provision system. The payment is payable whereby an individual meets the conditions of the scheme: they must have been in employment prior to the 13 March, lost their employment owing to the pandemic and must not be in receipt of any income from their employer. The rate payable under PUP depends on the wage the individual was paid prior to losing their employment. Where an individual earned less than €200 per week, the rate payable is €203 per week. Where an individual earned between €200-€300 per week, the rate payable is €203 and where an individual earned over €300, the rate pauable is €250. The Pandemic Unemployment Payment is due to continue until April 2021, however, it was recently announced that the payment is likely to be extended for months to come.
 Regulation 2 Reception Conditions Regulations 2018.
 Working Group to report to Government on Improvements to the Protection Process, including Direct Provision and Supports to Asylum Seekers, Final Report June 2015, para 5.30, 208.
 Advisory Group on Direct Provision, Report of the Advisory Group on the Provision of Support including Accommodation to Persons in the International Protection Process, 21 October 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3qgSmC3, 76.
 Working Group to report to Government on Improvements to the Protection Process, including Direct Provision and Supports to Asylum Seekers, Final Report June 2015, para 5.5, 203.
 Irish Examiner, ‘PUP and Covid business supports to remain ‘for many months’, says Michael McGrath’, 15 February 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3dehx4V.