Social Security And Free Movement

Since the early days of the EU, there have been EU Social Security measures that seek to facilitate the free movement of workers. In the absence of such coordinating measures, persons may fall between the social insurance and social security systems of a number of states in which they work, for example lacking sufficient contributions in each of them to achieve particular retirement and other benefits.

The EU rules on social insurance apply to the EU,  EEA countries and to some extent) the United Kingdom. They secure the rights of nationals of EU/EEA states and also the nationals of other states who lawfully reside in the EU state concerned.

The basic principle is that workers are covered by the social insurance system of one country at a time and pay contributions there. There are social security institutions and rules which determine the appropriate country.The general principle is that it is the state where the person actually works whether as an employee or a self-employed person, whose rules apply, and contributions are paid there. This is the case irrespective of the place of residence.

Workers who have been posted abroad for less than two years may remain insured and pay contributions in the state from which they were posted. Where persons work simultaneously in more than one country, there are rules which determine which states system should apply where they should pay contributions.

The contributor has the same rights and obligations as nationals of the country where he or she is covered. They are entitled to equal treatment and may not be discriminated against relative to such nationals.

In claiming a Social Security benefit other previous periods of insurance work and residence in other countries are taken into account when required. It may be possible to become entitled to benefits in one state which may be paid while living in another state.

Brexit Planning

The EU has put in place contingency regulation that seeks to ensure that Social Security entitlements acquired by EU 27 nationals before Brexit are protected. It only applies after Brexit

To ensure the widest possible protection for people affected by the withdrawal, the Commission has proposed a unilateral coordinated contingency approach for all EU27 Member States. The Coordinated Approach goes further than the Regulation, covering also:

  • Exportation of old-age pensions to the United Kingdom;
  • Reimbursements of healthcare and costs related to unemployment benefits for frontier workers that are ongoing at the time of withdrawal;
  • Reimbursement requests after the withdrawal date for medical treatments provided before withdrawal;
  • Medical treatment that is ongoing on the withdrawal date;
  • Reimbursement requests after the withdrawal for unemployment benefits to frontier workers residing in the UK but working in the EU27 provided by the United Kingdom before withdrawal.

Individual Member States can decide to go further.

In its no deal note planning the UK had announced similar measures for a period after a no deal Brexit.

UK Irish Agreement 2019

The UK and Ireland entered a bilateral arrangement in 2019,  effectively replicating the EU arrangements as between Ireland and the UK. It applies to UK and Irish nationals only. It essentially preserves the EU position as between Ireland and the UK nationals

If a person is working in both Ireland and the UK and lives in Ireland, social security contributions will be payable in Ireland, so long as he pursues a substantial part of his employment activity there, just as before.If a person becomes unemployed having recently worked in Ireland and previously in the UK and needs to rely on his  UK contributions to qualify for jobseekers benefit in Ireland, he will continue to be recognised as before.

If a person lives in Ireland and works in the UK and becomes fully unemployed, Ireland will be responsible for paying jobseeker’s benefit. If the working days of such a person are reduced and they become partially or intermittently unemployed, the UK will be responsible for paying any entitlements.

If a person worked in the UK, lived in Ireland and returned home at least once a week, and becomes fully unemployed, he should apply for jobseeker’s benefit in Ireland.

If a person is receiving jobseeker’s benefit in Ireland and wishes to return to the UK to seek work, his  jobseeker’s benefit may continue to be paid for either a 13 week period or until the entitlement to jobseeker’s benefit is exhausted, whichever is shorter. The Intreo Centre should be contacted to make the arrangements as there are some specific conditions to be met.

Under the terms of the agreement all existing arrangements with regard to recognition of, and access to, social insurance entitlements will be maintained in both jurisdictions.    This means that the rights of Irish citizens living in Ireland to benefit from social insurance contributions made when working in the UK and to access Social Insurance payments if resident in the UK are protected and vice versa.


There are approximately 132,000 people in receipt of a UK State Pension living in this country and approximately 1,000 customers receiving child benefit payments from the UK for children residing in Ireland.

There are 28,760 people residing in the UK who are in receipt of a state pension (contributory) from Ireland.      840 people residing in the UK are in receipt of full rate child benefit payments from my Department.   These payments are in respect of 1,830 children, 95% of whom reside in Northern Ireland.    A further 920 people residing in the UK are in receipt of child benefit supplement payments from my Department, in respect of 2,010 children, 97% of whom reside in Northern Ireland.      We want to ensure the continuation of these payments and that is the purpose of the agreement.

Continuity in Payments

The agreement means there will be no change to social welfare payments which will continue to be made as usual.     Where payments are made from Ireland to the UK or from the UK to Ireland these arrangements will also continue.   It means our citizens can be sure that their social welfare benefits and entitlements remain as they were before Brexit.

As part of the ratification process, the agreement was laid before the Houses on 7th and 8th February and it was the subject of a Dáil Motion on 12th February as a result of which we are here today.     The motion has a return date of 5 March.     Once these parliamentary procedures are completed, letters of exchange will be arranged.    The convention will be brought into effect by way of Ministerial order.

If there is a no deal Brexit, then the Convention will be required to come into effect immediately.    If there is a deal, which we all still hope there will be, then the Convention need not take effect until the end of the associated transition period.

Brexit Omnibus Act 2019

The export and payment of benefits between Ireland and the United Kingdom and vice versa can continue, in the event of a no deal Brexit, even if all the necessary steps in the ratification process are not completed on that date. These amendments to the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act 2005 are also designed to maintain the status quo in the Common Travel Area with respect to social welfare arrangements.

 There are amendments to the Protection of Employees (Employers’ Insolvency) Act 1984 which provides for the insolvency payments scheme.  The scheme covers wage related entitlements of employees who are employed in Ireland by an employer who has become insolvent in Ireland or another EU Member State, including the UK.

Once the UK leaves the EU, employers in a state of insolvency under the laws of the UK will not fall within the scope of the Act.   That means employees of those employers, who work and pay their insurance in Ireland, would no longer be covered by the protections set out in the Act unless the amendments set out in this Part of the Bill are made. The purpose l is to ensure that those employees will continue to be covered by the scheme, after a no-deal Brexit.

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