Person or Number? 2: A second examination of issues faced by immigrants in accessing social protection (2014)

Discover how social welfare safeguards prevent destitution and the role of NGOs in advocating for migrants' rights.


Social Protection provides the safety net which prevents people from falling into destitution. Complaints about the Department represent the largest single body of complaints to my office. That in itself is not surprising given the high level of transactions between the Department and members of the public. The proportion of complaints is in fact a fair reflection of the number of contacts between the Department and members of our communities. In general, my Office enjoys good co-operation and the majority of complaints are readily resolved. Often, we find no fault in the decisions of the Department, but when we do, these are almost always promptly reversed. The existence of the Social Welfare Appeals Office ensures that many cases are dealt with appropriately without the need to engage with my office.

That said, the Department faces major challenges in addressing the needs of individuals who are less articulate, or have particular problems with communication, as is often the case with migrants. Communication issues are a common theme of complaints to my Office and the stories in this report powerfully illustrate the necessity to ensure that people engaging with public services are enabled to interact effectively so that they can understand their entitlements and responsibilities and effectively access the services or benefits to which they may be entitled.

The Department’s engagement with the Migrant Consultative Forum shows a positive commitment and there is no doubt that significant progress has been made. The report underlines the need for sustained effort to ensure that this progress is sustained and built upon.

The work of NGOs in supporting and advocating on behalf of migrants has played a very significant part in keeping a focus on the systemic issues while assisting individuals who are often poorly placed to seek their own rights. This report is a further contribution to public service improvement and I commend it to readers for its powerful illustration of the difficulties faced by individuals. I’m sure that it will add to the momentum for change.

Finally, I would like to urge all of those engaged in supporting migrants in accessing public services to assist them in complaining to my Office when other channels have not proved effective. As well as looking at individual complaints we are also able to identify systemic causes and seek change to address them. The report highlights the need for continued vigilance in ensuring that standards of customer care, first instance decision making and respect for diversity are consistently delivered. It will be of assistance to all in keeping a necessary focus on these issues now and in the future.


In 2011 Crosscare, Doras Luimní and Nasc came together to produce the ‘Person or Number?’ report. The report was described as follows: Person or Number? had its genesis in the shared experiences of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in assisting migrants to access their rights to social protection. As worrying evidence mounted as to how migrants were treated, three agencies, Crosscare, Doras Luimní and Nasc, came together with other national and regional NGOs, to compile a snapshot of the barriers facing migrants trying to access social protection.

Person or Number? had a total of 34 recommendations in the areas of information provision, decision making, racism, Emergency Needs Payments and other areas. The main recommendation of the report, which was launched by the Minister for Social Protection (subsequently Tanaiste) Joan Burton, was the setting up of a Migrant Consultative Forum (MCF). The MCF consists of officials from the Department of Social Protection and representatives of NGOs that work with migrants. The MCF had its first formal meeting in October 2012 under the following terms of reference.


The purpose of the Social Protection Migrant Consultative Forum is to provide a forum within which migrant stakeholders can work together to resolve issues of mutual concern and to ensure high standards of service to migrants across the social protection system.