ASYLUM seekers who have spent years fighting for refugee status in Ireland could be entitled to claim full social welfare entitlements if they have been in Ireland long enough, it has emerged.

The loophole is likely to prove costly for the government and could encourage asylum seekers to continually make legal challenges to deportation decisions, immigration sources have said.

A briefing note issued by the Irish Free Legal Advice Centres (FLAC) said that individuals in the asylum system can satisfy conditions relating to habitual residence, which would allow them full entitlement to welfare payments.

It means they can claim child benefit and other payments instead of the standard small direct provision payments, which are made available to most refugee applicants in lieu of full welfare entitlements.

The Department of Social and Family Affairs had attempted to have all asylum applicants excluded from receiving ordinary social welfare benefits, no matter what stage of the asylum process they were at. However, a number of recent appeals by asylum seekers – all of whom were challenging a refusal of asylum by way of judicial review – have been successful.

In at least three separate cases, asylum seekers were found to qualify for habitual residence in Ireland, meaning they were entitled to welfare payments.

In one of the cases, the department was even forced to pay arrears on child benefit in a reversal that could have repercussions for the taxpayer. In a number of cases, the department has so far declined to begin making payments until a review of the cases has taken place.

A briefing document from FLAC said asylum seekers could make a strong case for welfare benefits if they could prove they had become "integrated into the local community" and did not intend leaving Ireland.