Ms Eva De Winter
The Department of Social and Family Affairs
Equal Status Act 2000 - Direct discrimination, section 3(1)(a) - Race ground, section 3(2)(h) - Supply of goods and services, section 5(1) - Refusal of application for social welfare benefits - Establishment of a prima facie case - Non attendance at Hearing by complainant
Delegation under the Equal Status Acts, 2000 - 2004
This complaint was referred to the Director of Equality Investigations under the Equal Status Acts 2000-2004. In accordance with her powers under section 75 of the Employment Equality Act 1998 and under the Equal Status Act 2000, the Director has delegated the complaint to myself, Brian O'Byrne, an Equality Officer, for investigation, hearing and decision and for the exercise of other relevant functions of the Director under Part III of the Equal Status Acts 2000 - 2004.
This dispute concerns a complaint by Ms Eva De Winter that she was discriminated against by the Department of Social and Family Affairs in the manner in which her entitlements to social welfare allowances were assessed. Ms De Winter, who is from the Netherlands, claimed in her original complaint form that she was less favourably treated because of her race.
The Hearing of this complaint was scheduled for 22 February 2007 in Limerick and both parties were notified by registered post of the Hearing date, time and venue in December 2006. Confirmation was obtained from An Post that both notifications had been delivered.
At 10.00 am on 22 February 2007, the respondents arrived for the Hearing. As there was no sign of the complainant, the commencement of the Hearing was delayed for 30 minutes in case she had been detained en-route.
When the complainant had not appeared by 10.30 am, I convened the Hearing explaining that, in cases under the Equal Status Acts, the onus was on the complainant to provide evidence establishing a prima facie case and that it was essential, in the interests of natural justice and fair procedures, that such evidence is provided in the presence of the respondents to afford them the opportunity to challenge any allegations made against them.
I also stated that, in the absence of the complainant to give evidence and allow the respondents to cross-examine her, it would be my opinion that no prima facie case had been established and that a decision to this effect should issue.
At the respondents' request, I agreed to afford them the opportunity to present a brief history of their dealings with Ms De Winter since she first applied for social welfare benefits in 1999. During the course of the next 45 minutes, the Department provided me with a detailed account of the applications made over the years by the complainant and how each in turn was appraised. They also explained the reasons behind the various visits that Ms De Winter had received from Social Welfare Officers in that time. The Department confirmed that Ms De Winter has been receiving benefits of one form or another on a continuous basis since 2000.
When I raised the question as to why Ms De Winter's nationality had been highlighted on her original application form, the Department explained that this was common practice where non-nationals were applying for benefits for the first time. They stated that, in cases where a RSI or PPS number was not quoted by a non-national, their nationality was circled on the form to draw staff's attention to the fact that the allocation of a fresh PPS number was required. Only after a PPS number was allocated could an applicant be considered for Social Welfare benefits.
At 11.30 am, I closed the Hearing stating that I would issue a decision shortly in the matter.
Having deliberated on the evidence provided by the Department and their account of their dealings with the complainant over the years, I consider that Ms De Winter's applications were assessed fairly and in strict accordance with established social welfare practices and that her race was not a factor in deciding her claims.
In complaints such as this, the onus is on the complainant to establish a prima facie case by appearing at the Hearing to give evidence. As the complainant in this case did not attend on 22 February 2007 and I am satisfied that she was formally notified of the Hearing date, I find that a prima facie case has not been established on the race ground in terms of sections 3(1) and 3(2)(h) of the Equal Status Acts 2000 - 2004.
Accordingly, I find against the complainant in the matter.
30 March 2007