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 Header Item Written Answers Nos. 32-45
 Header Item Telephone Support Allowance
 Header Item Disability Activation Projects
 Header Item Social Welfare Appeals Waiting Times
 Header Item State Pension (Contributory)
 Header Item Departmental Projects
 Header Item Social Welfare Overpayments
 Header Item Pension Provisions
 Header Item Illness Benefit Appeals
 Header Item National Minimum Wage
 Header Item JobPath Programme
 Header Item Employment Rights
 Header Item Farm Assist Scheme Administration

Thursday, 4 April 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 981 No. 5

First Page Previous Page Page of 66 Next Page Last Page

Written Answers Nos. 32-45

Telephone Support Allowance

 32. Deputy Bríd Smith Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty the estimated cost of full restoration of the telephone allowance including to those who may qualify but do not live alone; and her plans to address the issue in the next period.  [15657/19]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty The telephone allowance scheme was an element of the household benefits package (HHB).  The decision to discontinue the telephone allowance was estimated to provide annual savings of €48 million at that time.  These savings meant that my Department was able to retain the other valuable elements of the household benefits package such as the electricity and gas allowance and the television licence. 

The cost of the telephone allowance scheme had risen significantly each year, as the number of eligible customers grew.  At the end of September 2013 before it was discontinued, there were almost 396,000 receiving the telephone allowance compared to approximately 316,000 people in 2007.  This was an increase of 25%, or an average increase of nearly 4% per annum.

The value of the telephone allowance before it was discontinued was €9.50 per month (equivalent to €114 per annum).  Therefore, the cost of restoring the allowance at this level in 2019 might be estimated at approximately €52 million per annum, although the precise figure would depend on a number of factors.

While the telephone allowance was an important measure for vulnerable persons, the nature of the market has been transformed in recent years with deregulation, mobile services and bundled services including television, broadband and telephone.  It makes the former notion of an allowance covering handset rental, standing charges and a number of calls somewhat outdated, when similar assistance can be achieved by increasing the rate of core payments, which benefit people regardless of whether they have a landline or not, and which can be spent by the recipients either on their landline-related costs, or on an alternative good or service of their own choosing.

Any decision to restore the telephone allowance would require additional funding for the HHB scheme and would have to be considered in the context of overall budgetary negotiations. 

Separately, the new telephone support allowance (TSA) which was announced in Budget 2018 is a weekly payment of €2.50.  The TSA is not the same as the Telephone Allowance that was part of the HHB package, and has different qualifying criteria to the HHB Package.  Approximately 129,000 customers are in receipt of the TSA payment.  The estimated full year cost of the scheme is over €16 million.

The primary objective of the TSA is to allow the most vulnerable people at risk of isolation, including the elderly and those with disabilities, access to personal alarms or phones for security.  The risk of social isolation is clearly higher for those living alone than those who live with other people, especially where they have limited personal resources.  Therefore the criteria for the allowance were framed in order to direct the limited resources available to my Department in as targeted a manner as possible.  Accordingly, to receive the allowance a customer of my department must be in receipt of a qualifying payment and also in receipt of the Living Alone Allowance and the Fuel Allowance.  

People who live alone would be considered among those most at risk of social exclusion, and this payment, along with the Living Alone Allowance, are also in part recognition of the greater challenges facing some of those living alone, in avoiding poverty.  The deprivation rate of couples over 65 is less than half that recorded among those over that age who live alone, and while there are people living alone who have significant personal resources, this allowance is only paid to those who satisfy the means test of Fuel Allowance to ensure it is targeted at those most in need.

While the schemes operated by my Department are constantly reviewed, any decision to extend the scheme to people who are not in receipt of the Living Alone Allowance would have to be considered in the context of overall budgetary negotiations.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Disability Activation Projects

 33. Deputy Willie O'Dea Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty the reason the budget for activation for persons with a disability is slightly lower in the 2019 Estimates than in 2018; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15533/19]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty The 2019 Rev Estimate for Disability Activation Supports provides for an allocation of €15.3m in 2019.  This is an increase of €1.45m on the 2018 outturn which was €13.9m.

  The following table provides the details for 2018 and 2019:

- 2018 provisional outturn 2019 REV estimate 2019 REV vs 2018 outturn % variance
Disability Activation Supports        
Ability 4,612 5,000 388 8.4%
Employability 8,869 9,910 1,041 11.7%
Disability Employment Support Grants 431 450 19 4.4%
Total Disability Activation Supports 13,912 15,360 1,448 10.4%
Wage Subsidy Scheme 22,321 24,720 2,399 10.7%
Partial Capacity Benefit 18,422 19,370 2,399 5.2%

Social Welfare Appeals Waiting Times

 34. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty the extent to which efforts are being made to reduce the waiting time for the hearing of various social welfare appeals; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15624/19]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty The Social Welfare Appeals Office functions independently of the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection and of the Department and is responsible for determining appeals against decisions in relation to social welfare entitlements.

All claim decisions taken by the Department’s Deciding Officers and Designated Persons are appealable to the Chief Appeals Officer.  In any year about 85% of all claims are awarded by the Department and just 1% are appealed.  Nevertheless, the Department is concerned that these cases are dealt with as quickly as possible.

Accordingly, significant efforts and resources have been devoted to reforming the appeal process in recent years.  As a result, appeal processing times in respect of all schemes improved between 2011 and 2017 from 52.5 weeks for an oral hearing in 2011 to 26.4 weeks in 2017 and from 25.1 weeks for a summary decision in 2011 to 19.8 weeks in 2017.  The corresponding processing times for the year 2018 were 30 weeks for an oral hearing and 24.8 weeks for a summary decision.

The time taken to process an appeal reflects a number of factors including that the appeals process is a quasi-judicial process with appeals officers being required to decide all appeals on a ‘de-novo’ basis.  In addition, appeals decisions are themselves subject to review by the High Court and decisions have to be formally written up to quasi-judicial standards.  Other factors that influence appeals processing times include the quality of the initial decision – in this respect the Department has changed the decisions process in respect of medical schemes, in order to provide more information to the claimant.  I am advised by my Department that this will help to reduce the number of appeals over time.

In addition, a number of new Appeals Officers have joined the Appeals Office over the past 12-18 months, to replace staff leaving on retirement.  Given the complexity of the appeals process it takes some time for new staff to be trained up and develop expertise and this has led to somewhat longer processing times during this period.  The Chief Appeals Officer has advised me that appeal processing times continue to be a priority for her Office.

Finally, where a claimant has been refused a social welfare payment, regardless of the scheme involved, and is appealing that decision, if their means are insufficient to meet their needs it is open to them to apply for supplementary welfare allowance in the interim.

If their application for supplementary welfare allowance is refused, they can also appeal that decision.  The supplementary welfare allowance appeal will be prioritised for attention within the Appeals Office as soon as the appeal file and submission is received from my Department.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

State Pension (Contributory)

 35. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty the extent to which women or men who have insufficient contributions to meet the requirements for qualification for the old age pension are now being accommodated; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15623/19]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty A person is required to have 520 contributions paid to qualify for the State Pension (contributory).  It is reasonable to require people who seek a contributory pension to have made at least 10 years paid contributions into the Social Insurance Fund which finances it, over 50 years of working age life.  While it was lower in the past when PRSI coverage was less widespread, legislation was introduced in 1997 to increase this threshold to 520 weeks, or 10 years of contributions.  A fifteen year period was allowed pass between that legislation being enacted and the threshold being raised to this level, which would have been sufficient for most people to achieve the required contributions.

For those who do not qualify for the State Pension (contributory) (SPC), there are other State pension payments available.

Notably, they may qualify for the State Pension (non-contributory) which is a means-tested payment (based on their share of household means) with a maximum payment of 95% of the SPC.  If their spouse has a contributory pension, they may qualify for an increase for a qualified adult (based on their own means), amounting up to 90% of a full rate SPC pension.

Consequently, if a person does not receive a State pension after pension age, they have significant means and have made little or no contribution to the Social Insurance Fund over their working life. Introducing a new pension entitlement for such people would reduce the resources available for other pensioners, most of whom have less means than they do, and who have contributed significantly more to the Social Insurance Fund.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Departmental Projects

 36. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan Information on Thomas P. Broughan Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty the consolidation project being undertaken by the Law Reform Commission on the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005; the cost of the project; the estimated timeframe for completion of same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15367/19]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty My Department has recently commenced working collaboratively with the Law Reform Commission for the purpose of preparing and publishing a Revised Version of the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005.  This will incorporate all amendments to the SWCA 2005 which have (to date) been made in 26 Social Welfare Amendment Acts and, to a lesser extent, in 14 other Acts of the Oireachtas.  The Revised Act will also include editorial details of the several hundred Statutory Instruments made under the SWCA 2005, or made under earlier legislation but continued in force by Section 362(2) of SWCA 2005.

The Law Reform Commission has prepared and published 360 Revised Acts covering a wide spectrum of legislative codes.  To date the Social Welfare Acts were excluded from this process mainly, I understand, due to their size.

Following discussions between my Department and the Law Reform Commission a Departmental official is working with the Commission to publish the SWCA 2005 on a Revised basis.  The work is being undertaken in full compliance with the Commission’s Operational Manual for the Preparation of Revised Acts.

It is envisaged that the work will take at least 12 months to complete.  Given that the work involved is being undertaken by an existing staff member of my Department and by existing staff of the Law Reform Commission, it is not envisaged that this project will give rise to any additional costs.  I am advised by my Department that the work when completed will be very beneficial and will ensure that the body of Social Welfare law will be more accessible and can be kept up-to-date into the future.

Social Welfare Overpayments

 37. Deputy Willie O'Dea Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty the number of overpayments made in 2018; the number and percentage of same that were a result of fraud; and if she will make a statement on the matter.  [15532/19]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty The majority of people in receipt of a payment from my Department receive what they are entitled to.  Nevertheless, my Department recognises that abuse of the welfare system is an on-going reality and must be tackled proactively.  The Department’s anti-fraud and control measures are designed to prevent and detect fraud, ensure effective oversight of schemes, pursue the prosecution of offenders where appropriate and recover any overpaid entitlements identified.   

  Overpayments of social welfare assistance and benefit payments arise as a consequence of decisions made under the relevant sections of the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act, 2005 (as amended).  Where an overpayment is raised, my Department is obligated to make every effort to recover sums overpaid.

  Overpayments arise in relation to past events where a Deciding Officer has sufficient evidence that a person has been paid an amount in excess of their entitlement for a given period.  This can arise where a person has received a payment at a rate above that which they should have received or where they are paid beyond the relevant date. 

  Fraud overpayment cases arise mainly on foot of false declarations by customers concerning their employment, income or family status. 

  In 2018, some 7,700 cases where an element of fraudulent activity was suspected and the associated value of these cases was €29.7 million.

  I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Pension Provisions

 38. Deputy Willie O'Dea Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty the status of the IORP II directive; if she will apply for a derogation for self-directed pension schemes; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15531/19]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty The transposition of the IORP II Directive will result in significant improvements to the regulation and governance of funded occupational pension schemes in Ireland.  While the Directive provides for the possibility of derogation from specific Articles for smaller schemes, I believe that members of smaller schemes should get the same protections and oversight as members of large schemes. 

The value of investments held in many schemes fell substantially during the financial crisis.  This highlighted the need for stricter regulation and greater protections, especially for small schemes investing in riskier unregulated markets.

Concerns in relation to this sector are particularly around the protection of the consumer and the money they have invested, the riskiness of investments, the charges that apply, and the standard of governance.  Accordingly, the Government has decided that the provisions of the Directive should apply to all funded occupational pension schemes.  Money saved for pension purposes should be properly protected to ensure that people have adequate income for their retirement years. 

Under the Directive the underlying principle for capital investment is for schemes to invest in  accordance with the 'prudent person' rule and other specific rules set out.  It is recognised that there should be an appropriate level of investment freedom for schemes within prudent limits and this is reflected in the rules.  Assets must be predominantly invested on regulated markets, i.e., at least 50%.  This allows adequate scope for investment in instruments with a long-term economic profile and non-listed undertakings such as property and infrastructure.  In this regard, the application of the Directive is prospective, not retrospective.  This means that existing investments and borrowings can remain in place.  After transposition all single member schemes, including Small Self-Administered Schemes, who are the only schemes currently allowed to borrow, will not be allowed to enter into new borrowing arrangements, except for short term and liquidity purposes.  All of their future investments will have to be made in accordance with the investment rules in the Directive.

While small self-administered pension schemes may continue to invest in the Irish economy, including property and SMEs, the assets of the scheme must be properly diversified to avoid excessive reliance on any particular asset and thereby minimise risk in the portfolio as a whole.

Such diversification has been proven to reduce investment risk.  This approach will enhance consumer protection so that pension savers have adequate income for their retirement years. 

The Pension Authority advises that there are approx. 100,000 single member schemes and that c. 98% of these schemes are already compliant with the investment rules of the IORP II Directive.   

Officials in my Department, supported by the Pensions Authority, are managing the transposition process of the IORP II Directive.  This is a substantial Directive and my Department is working towards transposition into Irish law as early as possible in 2019.  Once that is done, and to ensure that schemes are informed of their obligations under the Directive, the Pensions Authority will also undertake a communication campaign on the implementation of the Directive.  The Authority will engage and consult with industry stakeholders and trustees on implementation of the new regulatory regime and related codes of practice.  The emphasis of this engagement will be on providing sufficient support, time and information in order for industry and trustees to plan for and make the changes needed.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

  Question No. 39 answered with Question No. 6.

Illness Benefit Appeals

 40. Deputy Bríd Smith Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty if she will commission a review to ascertain the number of workers per year affected by the six-day waiting period while sick from work; and the estimated cost of restoring the waiting period to three days. [15658/19]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty Illness benefit is a short term payment made to insured people who are unable to work due to illness.  The payment is funded by the social insurance fund (SIF) through the payment of PRSI contributions by workers and employers and, in the event of a shortfall between contributions received and benefits paid, the Exchequer.  The fund is central to Ireland’s system of social protection and the Government needs to ensure that it can provide adequate and sustainable social insurance pensions and benefits for a growing and ageing population.

Current arrangements provide that payment of illness benefit begins from the seventh day of the illness.  No payment is made for the first six days, known as "waiting days”.  Waiting days have been a long standing feature of the social insurance system and are a feature of similar social security schemes in many other countries.

Many employers pay sick pay during this period, however where an employee does not have an occupational sick pay scheme they may be able to avail of the supplementary welfare scheme, subject to normal eligibility requirements.

When the current waiting day arrangements were introduced, it was projected that the full-year annual savings would amount to €22 million per year.  No specific research has been commissioned or is currently planned by the Department to establish the cost of reversing this measure.  In addition, given the cost implications, any change to the current arrangements would have to be considered within the annual budgetary context.

National Minimum Wage

 41. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan Information on Maureen O'Sullivan Zoom on Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty the way in which she can address the potential impact to the hairdressing industry due to the Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2018 and the abolition of training rates; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15652/19]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty Legislation governing the national minimum wage is set down in the National Minimum Wage Acts 2000 and 2015.  These Acts provide for the setting of a national minimum wage (NMW) and also provide that in specified circumstances, such as younger workers and trainees, a reduced, sub-minimum rate may be applied.

In September 2015, the Low Pay Commission was requested to examine the appropriateness of the subminimum rates as provided for in the National Minimum Wage Act 2000 with regard, in particular, to their impact on youth unemployment rates and participation in education.

The Commission undertook a consultation process on this subject in line with its evidence-based approach to making recommendations to Government.  The consultation process was advertised nationally seeking submissions from interested parties; and the Commission sent a targeted email to a variety of interested parties seeking submissions, including the Irish Hairdressing Federation.

A number of further contacts were made with the Federation inviting it to make a submission on this matter and to participate in the oral hearings to discuss the subject held by the Commission in February 2016.

The Commission received 15 submissions in total, none of which came from the hairdressing sector.  The Irish Hairdressing Federation did not make a submission and did not participate in the oral hearings held by the Commission.

The Commission's final report was published in February 2018.

Having examined all available evidence and the submissions received, and having considered a range of options, the Commission recommended the abolition of training rates and the simplification of the age-based rates.  The rationale for the Commission’s recommendations is set out in its reports, which are available at www.lowpaycommission.ie.

The Low Pay Commission is an independent, authoritative body on matters relating to the national minimum wage and the I am confident that the Commission gave consideration to the impact of any recommendations it made in regard to training rates.

The Commission’s recommendations were accepted by Government and the amendments to make the necessary legislative changes to the National Minimum Wage Act 2000 were implemented via the Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2018.  In the passage of the Bill through the Houses of the Oireachtas I set out the rationale for the changes, and the proposed measures received cross-party approval and were accepted without amendment.  The changes came into effect on 4 March 2019. 

Certain apprenticeships are excluded from the remit of the National Minimum Wage and it is open to the Hairdressing sector to consider whether such an apprenticeship would be appropriate in that sector.

JobPath Programme

 42. Deputy Thomas Pringle Information on Thomas Pringle Zoom on Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty if her attention has been drawn to incidences in which JobPath providers insist on seeking a commission for persons that sought work on their own accord after having attended an initial meeting with JobPath employment services despite the new employer verifying this to be the case; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15369/19]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty The JobPath service helps and supports people to identify and pursue suitable job opportunities themselves while their personal adviser will provide any appropriate support that the person may require.  This ranges from preparing their CV and assisting with the job application to financial assistance for clothing or transport costs at interview stage or in the first days of employment. 

JobPath fees are designed to cover the cost of the provision of a case management service.  Just as is the case with Intreo and the LES, the jobs secured by JobPath clients are not all secured on their behalf by the service providers.  However, the provision of the employment advisory service will, in most cases, have contributed to a client's ability to secure employment for themselves. 

Within the terms of the JobPath contract, a JobPath provider may submit a fee for any client who has started with the service who gains employment of over 30 hours per week and maintains it.  Payments are made at intervals of thirteen (13), twenty-six (26), thirty-nine (39) and fifty-two weeks.

The JobPath providers are required to offer in-work support to the person for up to twelve months while they remain in employment.  This includes scheduled contact with the person as well as ad-hoc contact should they need immediate support or advice, this may be particularly important for those in temporary or part-time employment to provide the specific support needed to progress to more sustainable permanent employment.

A person is not under any obligation to provide employment or employer details to the JobPath provider but, if they wish to do so and avail of the in-employment support offered, all information will be treated confidentially.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Employment Rights

 43. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty if her attention has been drawn to allegations of abuse of workers on fixed-term contracts in episodic industries; if she has discussed the role she may play in vindicating the rights of these workers; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15659/19]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty I am not aware of any specific allegations of abuse of workers on fixed term contracts in episodic industries.  I would urge the Deputy, if he has evidence of such abuse, to bring it to the attention of the Workplace Relations Commission which is mandated to secure compliance with employment rights.

  Ireland has a comprehensive body of employment legislation which protects all employees, who are legally employed on a contract of service basis.

  The Protection of Employees (Fixed-Term Work) Act 2003 applies to most employees on fixed-term contracts.

  However, it does not apply to agency workers placed by a temporary work agency at the disposition of a user enterprise or to apprentices, trainees and people in publicly-funded employment schemes such as Community Employment.  The Act does apply to agency workers employed directly by an employment agency.

  The Act provides that fixed-term employees cannot be treated less favourably than comparable permanent employees unless the employer can objectively justify the different treatment.  Any justification offered cannot be connected with the fact that the employee is on a fixed-term contract.  Employment rights legislation was recently strengthened by the enactment of the Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2018.  The Act delivers on the Programme for Government commitment to address the challenges of the increased casualisation of work and to strengthen the regulation of precarious employment.

  In a changing world, this reform ensures that the legal protections for all workers will match the conditions experienced by a modern workforce and make a real difference in the lives of thousands of workers. 

  The Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act provides that:

  - Employers shall give employees core terms of employment within 5 days of starting work.

  - Zero hours contracts will be restricted.

  - There will be minimum payments for people called into work but sent home without work.

  - A “band of hours” system will be introduced where an employee’s contract does not reflect actual hours worked.

  - There are strong anti-penalisation provisions for employees who invoke their rights under this legislation.

  - National Minimum Wage rates for younger people and trainees have been simplified.

  Where an individual believes they are being deprived of employment rights applicable to employees they may refer a complaint to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) where the matter can be dealt with by way of mediation or adjudication leading to a decision that is enforceable through the District Court.  WRC inspectors can also be asked to investigate certain breaches.  Complaints can be made on a single online complaint form available at the WRC’s website www.workplacerelations.ie.

The Workplace Relations Customer Service Section can  be contacted at Lo-call: 1890 80 80 90 or via its website www.workplacerelations.ie  . 

  I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Farm Assist Scheme Administration

 44. Deputy Charlie McConalogue Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty if the level of red tape involved in the annual forms that applicants for farm assist are required to fill out and return will be reviewed; if the level of information that is required on an annual basis will be reduced; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15366/19]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty Farm assist is a means-tested income support scheme for farmers.  To qualify for the payment, a customer must be a farmer, farming land in the State, aged between 18 and 66 and satisfy a means test.  The annual farm assist review form is a necessary part of the normal review process for these customers.

Following the Comptroller and Auditor General examination of the Farm Assist scheme in 2014 and the recommendations arising from that report the Department in response reviewed the annual declaration Farm 12 form.  The revised form provides for a detailed annual review process, which includes seeking information regarding the income generated and the operating costs of the farm all of which are required as part of the annual review process.

The means test for farm assist takes account of all income sources with certain disregards applicable to specific income sources.  Different rules apply to income from farming and other forms of self-employment.  Income from certain schemes such as the Green Low Carbon Agri Environment Scheme (GLAS), income from employment and income from property and capital are taken into account.  An examination of farm outgoings is also included in the assessment process.

Income and expenditure figures for the preceding year are generally used as an indicator of the expected position in the following year.  Details of any exceptional circumstances are also taken into account so as to ensure that the assessment accurately reflects the current situation. 

The annual farm assist review form is kept under ongoing review by my officials.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

  Question No. 45 answered with Question No. 31.


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