The EEC Equality Directive 79/9 and the subsequent Supreme Court case (Hyland v Minister for Social Welfare, 1989) led to the change in treatment of non-married cohabiting couples in the social welfare code. The Court ruled that it was unconstitutional for the total income a married couple received in social welfare benefits to be less than the couple would have received if they were cohabiting. Accordingly, couples who are married and cohabiting are treated identically to couples who are cohabiting but not married for social welfare purposes since the Social Welfare Act No 2, 1989. There are no plans to change this.
I am unclear what the Deputy has in mind when he refers to the individualisation of the social payments system. If the Deputy means that one or both members of a couple who are cohabiting could receive the full personal rate of the relevant social welfare assistance payment, irrespective of their partner’s means, then this would be prohibitively expensive.
The Report of the Working Group Examining the Treatment of Married, Cohabiting and One-Parent Families under the Tax and Social Welfare Codes looked at this area of social policy. They published their report in 1999. The Group found the individualisation of social welfare payments to be very complex and did not reach agreement on introducing total independent treatment. They found that full individualisation would carry with it significant cost implications.
There is no current costing available and no plans to change the treatment of cohabiting couples.