Social Welfare Appeal G0110

Year: 2020

Type of Social Welfare: Disability Allowance

Deciding Body: Supreme Court

This is one of two judgments delivered by the Supreme Court in the case of Petecel concerning the refusal of an application for Disability Allowance under the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005. This particular judgment deals with the substantive issue of the legal classification of Disability Allowance, as opposed to the appellant’s entitlement to seek judicial review. The procedural issue is addressed in the earlier judgment and is detailed in Casebase Report No. G0109.

The appellant was Catalin Petecel, a Romanian national who lawfully lived and worked in Ireland from 2008-11. He was diagnosed with MS (multiple sclerosis) in 2011 and travelled to Romania for treatment. He returned to the State briefly from February to April 2012 but otherwise has remained in Romania ever since. While there, his condition deteriorated to the point that he was physically unresponsive and being cared for full-time by his mother.

In 2016, Mr. Petecel applied through his legal guardian for Disability Allowance pursuant to section 210(1) of the 2005 Act. The deciding officer refused his application on the basis that he was not resident in the State. The appellant’s solicitors sought a review of that decision pursuant to section 301 submitting that Mr. Petecel was still habitually resident in the State, as his absences were for the purpose of receiving medical care. Furthermore, it was argued that Disability Allowance was a “sickness benefit” for the purpose of Article 3(1)(a) of EU Regulation 883/2004 and therefore “exportable”. The request for a revision was refused by a second deciding officer on 9th June 2017.

Mr. Petecel sought to challenge the said refusal by way of judicial review seeking to quash the relevant decisions and obtain additional declaratory relief. The appellant grounded his leave application on two points. First, he submitted that the deciding officer had erred in finding the appellant was not habitually resident in Ireland. Second, he contended that the State had incorrectly categorised Disability Benefit as a non-exportable “special non-contributory benefit” and sought a preliminary reference to the Court of Justice of the European Union on that basis. 

When the matter came before the Supreme Court, and having determined the procedural issue, O’Malley J. invited the parties to make further written submissions on the classification issue. She was particularly interested in two issues, namely the “rehabilitative work” aspect of the earnings disregard that applied in the means test for Disability Allowance and the relevant disqualification criteria. O’Malley J. was of the view that there were elements of sections 210 and 212 of the 2005 Act that possibly indicated there may have been a medical purpose to the overall conditions of eligibility attached to Disability Allowance at the time of Mr. Petecel’s claim and sought supplemental submissions on that basis. The Supreme Court concluded that Disability Allowance was a form of social assistance payment properly classified as a non-exportable “special non-contributory cash payment” within the meaning of Article 70(2) of Regulation 883/2004. The payment was not linked to any medical purpose. Accordingly, Mr. Petecel was not entitled to Disability Allowance and his appeal was dismissed.