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Ireland and the UK Sign Convention to Protect Common Travel Area Status Quo



On 1 February 2019, the Irish and UK governments signed the Convention on Social Security between the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Government of Ireland (the “Convention”) which seeks to preserve reciprocal social security rights for Irish and UK nationals after the UK leaves the EU. The Convention must still be ratified by both governments before it comes into effect. 

Currently, reciprocity of social security rights of Irish and UK nationals is guaranteed under EU law. The Convention will ensure that the status quo as regards social security rights in the Common Travel Area (CTA) is maintained post-Brexit. The CTA predates the establishment of the EU and encompasses a collection of agreements and arrangements between Ireland and the UK which allow Irish and UK nationals to travel, live and work freely within the UK, Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.

What does the Convention provide for?

The Convention applies to both UK and Irish legislation relating to social welfare payments, contributions and benefits (the “Legislation”). In Ireland, the relevant legislation is the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act 2005 and related regulations. The categories of benefits covered by the Convention include sickness, maternity and paternity, old-age, unemployment and family benefits. 

In relation to these categories of benefits, the Convention guarantees the

  • Equal treatment of Irish and UK nationals in respect of rights and obligations arising under the Legislation (Article 4).
  • Equal treatment of the legal effect of receipt of benefits and other income in Ireland or the UK, and of factors in either country which may affect an individual’s eligibility for benefits (Article 5).
  • The waiver of residency conditions under the Legislation, unless otherwise provided for in the Convention (Article 7).
  • That Irish and UK nationals will generally not be permitted to obtain multiple benefits of the same type from Ireland and the UK for the same period (Article 8). 

Part II of the Convention sets out principles on how to determine whether Irish or UK Legislation applies to employed/self-employed persons, individuals in receipt of social security benefits, civil servants and members of the armed forces or those called up for civilian service. Part II also provides specific rules which override these general principles in particular circumstances, such as where an employed person in one country is temporarily posted to work in another. 

Part III of the Convention sets out how benefit entitlements are to be calculated while Part IV outlines specific arrangements for each category of benefit covered by the Convention.

Next steps

The Convention must be ratified by both countries and each country must notify the other of the completion of their respective ratification process. The Convention will only come into force on the date of the later notification. It is expected that this date will either be 29 March 2019, in the event that the UK and the EU do not ratify the agreement on the withdrawal of the UK from the EU (the “Withdrawal Agreement”), or at the end of the transition period provided for in the Withdrawal Agreement (currently set for the end of December 2020), should the Withdrawal Agreement be ratified.
Separately, the Irish government published the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union (Consequential Provisions) Bill 2019 (the “Bill”) on 22 February 2019 which will amend certain Irish legislation if the UK leaves the EU on 29 March 2019 without a deal in place. The purpose of the Bill is to offset the effects of an abrupt UK exit from the EU. 

The Bill proposes amending the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act 2005 to permit the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection to implement the Convention before the ratification process has been completed in Ireland where she believes that the UK government has ratified the Convention. This would allow for the swift implementation of Convention measures should the need arise to ensure that reciprocity of social security rights is maintained.

Contributed by: Richard Smith. 




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