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 Header Item Written Answers Nos. 678-691
 Header Item Rent Supplement Scheme Applications
 Header Item Domiciliary Care Allowance Applications
 Header Item Jobseeker's Allowance Eligibility
 Header Item Rent Supplement Scheme Applications
 Header Item National Internship Scheme Places
 Header Item Universal Social Charge Payments
 Header Item Rent Supplement Scheme Appeals
 Header Item Labour Court Recommendations
 Header Item Carer's Allowance Applications
 Header Item Carer's Allowance Eligibility
 Header Item Carer's Allowance Applications
 Header Item Invalidity Pension Applications

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 774 No. 1

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Written Answers Nos. 678-691

  Question No. 678 answered with Question No. 672.

Rent Supplement Scheme Applications

 679. Deputy Jack Wall Information on Jack Wall Zoom on Jack Wall asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton the position regarding an application for rent allowance in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [37635/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton The person concerned was refused rent supplement on the 15th September 2011 as his income was in excess of the prescribed limit. The Department has not received any new information in relation to his application since the initial refusal. If the person concerned wishes to appeal the decision, he must appeal directly to the Appeals Office. The Appeals Office functions independently of the Department and is responsible for determining appeals against decisions on social welfare entitlements. An appeal can be sent in writing to Social Welfare Appeals Office, D’Olier House, D’Olier St, Dublin 2.

  Question No. 680 answered with Question No. 667.

Domiciliary Care Allowance Applications

 681. Deputy Michael Moynihan Information on Michael Moynihan Zoom on Michael Moynihan asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton when a decision will issue on a domiciliary care allowance application in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Cork.  [37657/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton I confirm that the department is in receipt of an application for carer’s allowance from the person in question. The application is with a deciding officer for a means assessment and a full decision and will be processed as quickly as possible. When a decision is made the person concerned will be notified directly of the outcome.

Jobseeker's Allowance Eligibility

 682. Deputy Paul J. Connaughton Information on Paul Connaughton Zoom on Paul Connaughton asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton if she believes that it is fair that a cohabiting couple's total income before tax is taken into account when assessing for jobseeker's assistance, if each partner will benefit from the other's tax credits; and if she will make a statement on the matter.  [37670/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton The social welfare and tax systems have evolved over time and in response to a variety of factors, including Constitutional imperatives as interpreted by the Courts, changing social trends and EU Directives.

  The EEC Equality Directive 79/9 and the subsequent Supreme Court case (Hyland v Minister for Social Welfare, 1989  ) led to the change in the 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 unmarried and cohabiting.

  The social welfare code recognised the couple status of opposite sex co-habiting couples and treated married and opposite sex co-habiting couples in a similar manner for means testing and other purposes for many years prior to the enactment of the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act, 2010. Following the enactment of that Act, further changes in the definition of a couple for social welfare purposes were introduced in the Social Welfare and Pensions Act, 2010. These changes amended the social welfare code to recognise the introduction of civil partnership. In addition, the code was also amended to treat cohabiting same sex couples in the same way as cohabiting opposite sex couples. Consequently, married couples, civil partners, same sex cohabiting couples and opposite sex cohabiting couples are treated in the same manner for means testing purposes for jobseeker’s allowance and other means tested schemes.

  For means testing purposes, account is taken of the income and assets of both the claimant and his or her spouse/partner, including the earnings of the claimant and spouse. Where either or both of a couple has earnings from employment, the gross earnings less PRSI contributions, pension contributions and trade union subscriptions are assessed as means. Deductions in respect of income tax are not allowable.

  Given the full equality of treatment of couples within the social welfare system as described above, I consider the current arrangements fair. The income tax arrangements and legislation for married couples, civil partners and cohabiting couples generally are a matter for the Minister for Finance.

Rent Supplement Scheme Applications

 683. Deputy Patrick Nulty Information on Patrick Nulty Zoom on Patrick Nulty asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton if she will confirm if the freephone number for the central rents unit serving Dublin 15 has been moved, and replaced with a Lo-call number; if so if she will re-instate the freephone number given the difficulties it is causing rent supplement applicants, many of whom have very limited means and for whom the expense of ringing the Lo-call number is prohibitive; and if she will make a statement on the matter.  [37698/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton The freephone number which operated for the Central Rents Unit serving Dublin 15 was operational while the Unit was attached to the HSE. This number was attached to the HSE building housing the Unit and did not transfer with the Unit to the Department. A Lo-call number was then implemented for the Unit.

The Central Rent Unit dealing with parts of Dublin 15 is keeping all means of contact under review to ensure that clients are able to access it as required and in this regard will shortly introduce a central email address so that customers will have an additional method of communication.

National Internship Scheme Places

 684. Deputy Dara Murphy Information on Dara Murphy Zoom on Dara Murphy asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton the reason JobBridge has not been widened to include the blind person's pension as well as disability benefit; and if she will make a statement on the matter.  [37716/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton The National Internship Scheme provides internship opportunities of either 6 or 9 months for unemployed individuals in organisations in the private, public and community voluntary sectors and at present is limited to individuals who are in receipt of a Live claim (Jobseekers Allowance/Jobseekers Benefit/One Parent Family Payment/Disability Allowance) or are signing on for credits for at least 3 of the last 6 months (78 Days).

  The Scheme has made significant progress to-date. Over 9,900 internship placements have commenced since 1st July 2011, with 4,817 internships in place as at 6th September 2012 and over 1,800 opportunities presently advertised on www.jobbridge.ie . Our records indicate that almost 40% of individuals who have participated in JobBridge have progressed into employment immediately on completion of their internship placements. This represents very significant progress in a short period of time. Further information on outcomes will be ascertained pending the independent evaluation of the Scheme which is currently ongoing.

  The eligibility to access the National Internship Scheme is based on the overall objective of labour market policy in ensuring a pathway to appropriate employment, training and education opportunities for the unemployed. It is important that as employment opportunities become available they are taken up by those in receipt of a Live Claim. The structure for achieving this objective is through a reinvigorated National Employment Action Plan (NEAP) which currently provides the framework for engaging with the unemployed.

  Given the scale of the unemployment crisis, the key objective of labour market policy and of the NEAP will be to keep those in receipt of a Live Claim close to the Labour Market and prevent the drift into long-term unemployment. This will ensure that those availing of activation measures such as the National Internship Scheme will, while retaining social welfare unemployment payments and a top up allowance of €50, get an opportunity to engage in the workplace, get work experience and so be in a position to avail of employment .opportunities as the economy improves. As such, the policy objective is to prioritise scarce resources to those in receipt of a Live Claim so as to increase their chances of gaining employment thereby ensuring a reduction in Exchequer costs over time.

  For the reasons outlined above, the JobBridge Scheme is not currently open to those in receipt of blind persons pension or disability benefit. However, all aspects of the Scheme including eligibility criteria will be reviewed following the independent evaluation of the Scheme.

  It is worth noting that those in receipt of blind persons pension are eligible to participate on the Work Placement Programme.

Universal Social Charge Payments

 685. Deputy Sean Fleming Information on Seán Fleming Zoom on Seán Fleming asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton if she will consider including the universal social charge as an exclusion from income similar to the exclusion of PRSI and travelling expenses of €20 per week when considering applications for the back-to-school clothing and footwear allowance; and if she will make a statement on the matter.  [37736/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton The back to school clothing and footwear allowance (BSCFA) scheme provides a one-off payment to eligible families to assist with the extra costs when their children start school each autumn. The Government has provided €63.7 million for the scheme for 2012 and has assisted some 161,500 families to date.

  A person may qualify for payment of BSCFA in respect of a qualified child or children if they are in receipt of a social welfare payment or Health Service Executive payment, or participating in an approved employment scheme or attending a recognised education and training course and have household income at or below certain set levels.

  Under the conditions of the BSCFA scheme, income assessed from employment includes earnings before tax, excluding PRSI and travelling expenses of up to €20 a week.

  I have no plans to revise the income assessment for the BSCFA scheme at this time.

Rent Supplement Scheme Appeals

 686. Deputy Finian McGrath Information on Finian McGrath Zoom on Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton the position regarding rent supplement in respect of a person (details supplied). [37742/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton The application made by the person concerned was disallowed as his means were found to be in excess of the limit. He has lodged an appeal with the Social Welfare Appeals Office and the matter is currently being considered by there.

Labour Court Recommendations

 687. Deputy Sean Fleming Information on Seán Fleming Zoom on Seán Fleming asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton if she will supply a list of all Labour Court recommendations that have been issued in respect of her Department and organisations under her aegis that have not been complied with in full; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [37759/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton The Department does not normally use the Labour Court for dispute resolution, the relevant forum in this regard is the civil service Conciliation and Arbitration Scheme.

However, in the context of the transfer of a significant number of staff to the Department from the Community Welfare Service of the Health Service Executive and the Employment Support Services of FÁS, three HR related issues were referred for ad hoc arbitration in accordance with section 1.24 of the Public Service Agreement: application of the PCW agreement to staff transferring to the Department; matters relating to seniority and service; and matters relating to career development and promotion.

The recommendations relating to the first two matters above have been complied with in full and the necessary arrangements in relation to the implementation of the third issue have commenced.

The statutory agencies that operate under the aegis of the Department are the Pensions Board and the Citizens Information Board. The Office of the Pensions Ombudsman also comes under the remit of the Department. No Labour Court recommendations have been issued in respect of these organisations.

Carer's Allowance Applications

 688. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton if and when payment of an application for carer's allowance will issue in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [37769/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton I confirm that the department is in receipt of an application for carer’s allowance from the person in question. The medical assessment has been completed and the application is awaiting examination by a deciding officer for a means assessment and a full decision. The application will be processed as quickly as possible and when a decision is made the person concerned will be notified directly of the outcome.

Carer's Allowance Eligibility

 689. Deputy Nicky McFadden Information on Nicky McFadden Zoom on Nicky McFadden asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton if the current half-rate carer's allowance will remain unchanged; and if she will make a statement on the matter.  [37786/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton There are almost 52,000 people in receipt of carer’s allowance from my Department at an annual cost of over €500 million. Of these, over 22,000 are getting half rate carer’s allowance in addition to another social welfare payment at an annual cost of some €90 million.

In Budget 2012, the basic rate of carer’s allowance and the respite care grant were not reduced. The means test for carer’s allowance is one of the most generous means tests in the social welfare system. The income disregard is €332.50 per week for a single person and €665 per week for a couple. A couple with two children can earn up to €35,400 and qualify for the maximum rate of carer’s allowance, as well as the household benefits package and free travel.

In the current economic climate every scheme in my Department must be kept under review, particularly payments that are additional to a primary weekly payment. As part of the deliberative process for the next Budget, my Department will analyse, in so far as possible, the distributive and poverty impact of possible social welfare changes. These impacts will be taken into account in arriving at the final decisions on the Budget. No decisions have been made at this stage in relation to welfare expenditure for next year.

Carer's Allowance Applications

 690. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton her views on a matter (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [37807/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton The Department is committed to delivering the best possible service to its customers. Currently the average time taken to award a carer’s allowance application is 28 weeks.

I acknowledge that the time taken to process carer’s allowance claims at present is not satisfactory but I am satisfied that the Department is taking appropriate action to resolve the situation.

Carer’s allowance section has recently completed a major service delivery modernisation project to improve the efficiency with which it processes applications from clients for carer’s allowance. The project involved the development of IT functionality and associated business process re-organisation. Full deployment of the new system for Carer’s Allowance was completed in June 2012.

Following the completion of the modernisation project, an in-depth business process improvement (BPI) project commenced for the carer’s allowance scheme. This project focused on optimising output and customer service and the reduction of backlogs. The outcome of the review is the division of work into two steams. One concentrates on dealing with new claim intake and processed these without delay and the other on the backlog which is ring-fenced with a clear targeted plan for its elimination. Implementation of the plan commenced on Monday 3 September and will be closely monitored and managed to ensure it achieves its outcome. However, it will take a number of months before the backlog is reduced to an acceptable level. The allocation of available resourced to this task continues to be monitored.

I can confirm that the delay in processing applications does not result in any saving to the Department. If an application is awarded the payment is backdated to the date the application was made and all arrears due are issued.

Invalidity Pension Applications

 691. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton if a review of the refusal of an application for invalidity pension will take place in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [37811/12]

 733. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton the reason payment under the invalidity pension scheme ceased in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38094/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton I propose to take Questions Nos. 691 and 733 together.

Invalidity pension is a payment for persons who are permanently incapable of work and who satisfy the PRSI contribution conditions.

Invalidity pension was stopped for the person in question following a routine review of continued entitlement. Based on the up-to-date medical evidence provided for the purposes of the review, the medical assessor expressed the opinion that the claimant was no longer eligible for invalidity pension as he no longer satisfied the medical criteria.

The person concerned has requested a review of this decision and has submitted further medical evidence in support of his application. This evidence has been forwarded to a different medical assessor for an opinion. When this opinion is received by the deciding officer a decision will be made and the person concerned will be notified. If the person concerned is not satisfied with the outcome of the review, he will have the right of appeal to the independent Social Welfare Appeals Office.


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