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HSE had 'no proper basis' to refuse payment for woman and suicidal daughter

Kileni, who fled South Africa after the murder of her husband and suffered Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, waited over a year for the payment awarded to her.

Image: Woman image via Shutterstock

IN 2007 KILENI* came to Ireland with her 14 and 15-year-old daughters as an asylum seeker. She and her two daughters fled South Africa because she feared for their safety following the murder of her husband.

The three were placed in ‘Direct Provision’ accomodation which provided them with food and shelter while their refugee status was being processed.

They were also paid a weekly allowance of €19.10 per adult and €9.60 per child.

In August of the following year, Kileni and her daughters moved to Dublin to stay with a friend, mainly because of her concern about the deteriorating mental health of one of her girls and because conditions in the hostel were unsatisfactory.

The 15-year-old was subsequently hospitalised following a suicide attempt and after discharge from hospital was placed in foster care on  a voluntary basis.

Application for allowance

In November of that year, Kileni’s application for a Supplementary Welfare Allowance (SWA) was refused. She appealed to the HSE and was again refused before appealing to the Social Welfare Appeals Office which ruled that she was entitled to the allowance of €197.80 a week for her and €24 for her daughter, having left ‘Direct Provision’ accommodation.

Despite this decision and subsequent responses from the appeals office, the relevant Superintendent Community Welfare Officer queried the outcome and decided to pay Kileni the direct provision rate of just €19.10 per week for herself and €9.60 a week for the daughter still living with her.

Kileni had no consistent source of income for herself and her family as she was unable to take up employment pending her application for humanitarian leave to remain in Ireland.

The HSE corrected its position only following intervention by the Ombudsman’s Office and in January 2011 the appeals office decision was finally implemented and an arrears payment of €11,882 was paid to the woman.

However, shortly after the implementation of the decision, the HSE decided to review Kileni’s entitlement and found her to be ineligable for the allowance, pending the outcome of an appeal and again paid her the reduced rates.

Some months later, following another separate appeal, Kileni had her allowance entitlement restored.

No proper basis

In a report, the Ombudsman has found that the HSE had “no proper basis for its actions” and that the “failure caused significant adverse consequences over an extended period for the family”.

“It is quite rare, in the experience of the Ombudsman’s Office, that a decision of an appeals officer would not be implemented in full,” Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly said in her report. “In law, the decisions of a Social Welfare Appeals Officer are ‘final and conclusive’”.

The Ombudsman said that the decision to investigate took account of Kileni’s contention that the very long delay in paying her allowance caused her and her family significant financial hardship and extreme distress.

In the normal course, not having money for food, for rent, for clothing is self-evidently a huge trauma for any family. In the particular circumstances in which she found herself, the trauma for Ms Kileni and her family must have been very significant.

“There was a question as to whether the delay in paying SWA might have exacerbated the mental health difficulties of Ms Kileni’s daughter and whether the delay created an obstacle to that daughter being reunited with her family,” the report said.

In addition, Kileni herself had her own mental health difficulties and was found to be suffering Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome arising from experiences before coming to Ireland. She was attending counselling provided by a support service for victims of torture.

The report recommends that a “time and trouble” or “consolatory” payment be made to the woman of €3,000 by the Department of Social Protection because the allowance is funded through that department.

*This is not the woman’s real name and was used in the report to protect her identity.

Here are some numbers if you need to speak with someone:

  • Samaritans 1850 60 90 900 or email jo@samaritans.org
  • Teen-Line Ireland 1800 833 634
  • Console 1800 201 890
  • Aware 1890 303 302
  • Pieta House 01 601 0000 or email mary@pieta.ie
  • Childline 1800 66 66 66

Read: Australia defends decision to leave asylum-seekers’ bodies in Indian Ocean>
Read: Moving teens to Direct Provision causes “uncertainty and fear”>

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