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Social Welfare Bill 2012: Committee Stage (Continued)

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 786 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus Ó Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus Ó Snodaigh] As the Minister acknowledged, these are technically challenging measures. Our experience in constituency offices and councils suggests that we could identify solutions to problems that may emerge in three or four years' time.

This is a potential solution for people who may not be able to manage their money properly. We have, for example, asked that rent supplement be paid directly to the landlord. Similarly, some people cannot manage their social welfare payments fully because they are in distress, addicted or simply never learned to budget the little they have. That is the only argument I was making and I am not opposing the measure.

We do, however, put a different emphasis on overpayment and error. I recognise that overpayments should be recovered but I am being a realist in proposing an amnesty. The Minister admitted that it will not be possible to recover all of the money. At some stage the slate will be wiped clean and we are suggesting a line in the sand beyond which those who continue to commit fraud will suffer the full consequences. However, many of the overpayments are due to error. The Minister is introducing a penal regime which will take €28 from a payment of €188. That is a substantial amount given all the other changes affecting Irish society. Those who were wrong in taking overpayments should suffer the consequences and the State should recover what is owed to it but we should not put those who are at risk of poverty into poverty.

Deputy Willie O'Dea: Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea For clarity, this issue is addressed in section 13. I take it that we will have an opportunity to debate that section. I tabled two amendments to section 13 but they were ruled out of order on the basis that they could constitute a charge on the Exchequer. The clause about a potential charge on the Exchequer is becoming a joke. The most liberal interpretation possible is being made about what could comprise a charge on the Exchequer.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt The Deputy can raise the issue when we reach section 13.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton He can also oppose the section. It is a decision of the Ceann Comhairle's office.

Deputy Willie O'Dea: Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea I understand that.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton Deputies Halligan and Ó Snodaigh share a common concern about preventing people from getting into arrears and debt. The allocation to the Citizens' Information Board, including MABS, has increased by over €1 million for 2013 from €45.7 million to €46.8 million. I concur with Deputy Halligan about the valuable services that MABS supplies, including its assistance in getting people to begin saving money in credit unions.

The reason for recovering more than €2 per week is to deal with people who have been scamming the social welfare system. For someone living beside tenants who have defrauded the system, €2 per week seems like a joke. The provision on recovering arrears allows for up to 15% recovery. Deputy O'Dea will know that in most streets in Limerick the tenants draw exactly the social welfare payments to which they are entitled. It is not fair on these individuals if others who cheat the system repay at a rate of €2 per week. The vast majority of people are honest about social welfare but if we discover that someone is scamming the system we will ask him or her to pay more than €2 per week. The recovery will take up to 15% of the primary payment for the individual concerned. That will work out at up to €28 out of €188 but it sends out a message that money taken from the system is money taken from the pockets of pensioners and those on disability payments. We will have enhanced powers to recover overpayments.

I was shocked on becoming Minister to find that arrears amounted to €350 million over a lengthy period of time. These arrears were referenced in all the reports of the Comptroller and Auditor General. As an accountant and a realist, I assume that much of this money will not be recovered but I want to send out the signal that we will be recovering arrears at a reasonable rate. Just as those who get local authority tenancies can pay through the household budgeting system, which is an enormous relief to most women who are responsible for paying rents, people will not get into arrears and they will be able to use the services of MABS in a more positive framework in terms of building savings in a credit union and borrowing at the kind of rates they can afford rather than falling into the hands of those who sell credit at expensive prices.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt How stands the amendment?

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus Ó Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus Ó Snodaigh I withdraw it and we can discuss the issues arising if we ever reach the relevant section.

  Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt Amendment No. 2 is out of order.

  Amendment No. 2 not moved.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton I move amendment No. 3:

In page 3, subsection (4), line 17, to delete “Section 13” and substitute “Sections 13, 15, 16 and 17"

Section 1(4) of the Bill as published provides that the measures contained in section 13 relating to the recovery of overpayments by deduction from weekly social welfare payments will be brought into effect by way of a commencement order. It is my intention to commence these provisions early in the new year. I am proposing three Committee Stage amendments to the Bill to provide for the deferral of the dates at which the age reductions for one parent family purposes will take effect from the beginning of January 2013 and January 2014 until the beginning of July 2013 and July 2014, respectively; an amendment to the household budgeting facility in the case of local authority accommodation; and the taking into account of Sundays for the purpose of determining entitlement for jobseeker's benefit and allowance. The changes to the one parent family payment will come into effect from the beginning of January 2013. The amendments to the household budgeting facility and changes to jobseeker's benefit and allowance in respect of Sunday working will be brought into force by way of commencement order. It is my intention to commence these provisions early in the new year.


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