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 Header Item Written Answers Nos. 333-345
 Header Item Rent Supplement Scheme Payments
 Header Item Exceptional Needs Payment Eligibility
 Header Item Jobseeker's Allowance Payments
 Header Item International Agreements
 Header Item Social Welfare Appeals
 Header Item Unemployment Levels
 Header Item Social Welfare Appeals
 Header Item Community Employment Schemes Cessation
 Header Item Social Welfare Overpayments
 Header Item State Pension (Contributory) Eligibility
 Header Item Supplementary Welfare Allowance Eligibility
 Header Item Social Welfare Benefits Data

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. 333-345

Rent Supplement Scheme Payments

 333. 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 correct level of rent support payable in the case of a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [16005/19]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty The person concerned is in receipt of the correct Rent Supplement payable, i.e. the rate applicable for a single person resident in the Kilcock area of County Kildare. 

  The Rent Supplement claim is currently being reviewed and the Community Welfare Officer has requested supporting documentation from the person concerned in order to maintain the correct Rent Supplement payable.

   I trust this clarifies matters for the Deputy.

Exceptional Needs Payment Eligibility

 334. 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 if an exceptional needs payment will be facilitated in the case of a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [16009/19]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty The Community Welfare Officer (CWO) with responsibility for the area in which the person concerned resides advises that no application for an exceptional needs payment (ENP) has been received from the person concerned.

  An application form has issued to the person concerned this week.

  I trust this clarifies matters for the Deputy.

Jobseeker's Allowance Payments

 335. 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 level of jobseeker's allowance being paid in the case of a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [16011/19]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty According to departmental records the person concerned has not made an application for Jobseeker's Allowance and therefore no allowance is being paid.  It is open to them to submit an application to their local Intreo Centre .

  I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

International Agreements

 336. 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 she has direct contact with other jurisdictions with which a bilateral arrangement for social welfare exists with particular reference to the need to ensure a smooth and expeditious process in dealing with claims, particularly in circumstances in which contributions in two or more jurisdictions arise; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [16014/19]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty Ireland has negotiated Bilateral Social Security Agreements with a number of countries.  The main purpose of these Agreements is to protect the pension rights of people who have worked and paid social security contributions in Ireland and the countries with which Ireland has such agreements.  This is achieved by allowing reckonable social security contributions paid in one or more of these countries to be aggregated with Irish full-rate social insurance contributions for the purposes of qualifying for certain contributory payments in Ireland or in these countries.

Liaison arrangements are in place with the relevant authorities of the countries with which Ireland has Social Security Agreements in order to facilitate the operation of these arrangements.

If the Deputy has a particular case in mind where there have been difficulties or delays and provides my office with details of it, I will have the matter examined.

Social Welfare Appeals

 337. 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 steps she can take to ensure the minimum waiting time for dealing with appeals having particular regard to the hardship caused to those awaiting decisions over long periods resulting in some cases homelessness and desperation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [16015/19]

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. There has been some improvement for the first three months of 2019 with an oral hearing decision taking on average 28 weeks and a summary decision taking 23.8 weeks.

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 expect 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.

Unemployment Levels

 338. 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 of long-term unemployment here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [16016/19]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty Government policy to reduce unemployment is twofold.  The policies set out in the Action Plan for Jobs have created an environment in which business can succeed and has led to the creation of almost 400,000 jobs in Ireland  since the economic low point of 2012.  Secondly, through the  Pathways To Work strategy, my Department ensures that as many new jobs as possible are filled by people taken from the live register, particularly the long-term unemployed.

  To date, these policies have been effective in reducing long-term unemployment.  For example, most recent data from the Labour Force Survey shows that the rate of long-term unemployment in Ireland has fallen from a peak of 9.5% in 2012 to 2.1% by the fourth  quarter of 2018.  Ireland has therefore already brought the long term unemployment rate below 2.5%,  a target set out in Pathways to Work 2016-2020.  This downward trend is welcome and reflects the impact of government policy to create more jobs and reduce unemployment.

  Activation policy continues to focus on support measures for the long-term unemployed.  The Pathways to Work 2016-2020 strategy prioritises long-term unemployed people, most notably through the roll-out of JobPath to engage more systematically with this group; targeted wage subsidies under JobsPlus; and through reserved places for long-term unemployed jobseekers on employment and training programmes. 

  The following table shows the most recent end of month statistics on the number of people availing of a range of activation programmes targeted primarily at the long-term unemployed.  Statistics for February 2019 are compared with those for February 2018.  Demand for places has fallen in line with a reduction in overall unemployment levels.

  Activation Programmes (February 2018 and February 2019)

Activation Schemes Feb-18 Feb-19
Back to Work Enterprise allowance scheme – self-employed strand. 9,188 6,075
Short-term Enterprise Allowance 344 286
Total - Back to Work schemes 9,532 6,361
     
Part-time Job Incentive 414 287
TÚS - Community Work Placement Initiative 6,347 6,373
Gateway (2013) (This programme closed in December 2018) 38 0
Other Activation Programmes 6,799 6,660
     
Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme (VTOS) 3,309 3,019
Back to Education Allowance 10,704 8,665
Total - Back to Education Courses: 14,013 11,684
     
Community Employment Schemes (excluding Supervisors) 21,717 21,388
FAS (SOLAS) full time training for the unemployed 5,823 5,545
TOTAL 57,884 51,638


  Over the coming years, we must make sure that our citizens are equipped with the skills to take up jobs of the future and avail of the opportunities arising from a modern economy.  Future Jobs Ireland 2019 has been launched by Government replacing the Action Plan for Jobs to deliver the required policy reforms to build a resilient workforce and innovative and competitive economy in a changing world of work.  

  The policies being pursued by Government to create jobs and reduce unemployment have been effective and they will support further reductions in long-term unemployment and add to the substantial improvements in the labour market that have been seen over the last few years.

Social Welfare Appeals

 339. 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 due process and natural justice remains paramount in the context of dealing with social welfare recipients whose cases come under review; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [16017/19]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty My Department is committed to ensuring that the principles of due process and natural justice are followed in all claim decisions.  This applies equally to decisions at initial claim stage and when claims are subsequently reviewed. The Department’s guidelines on Decision Making and Natural Justice are published on the website - www.welfare.ie. This message is reinforced through guidelines, bulletins and staff training.

  As part of the process of finalising a decision, the deciding officer or designated person (in the case of the administration of payments under the Supplementary Welfare Allowance provisions), is required to engage with the person concerned and offer them the opportunity to provide additional information in support of their claim. In addition, the customer may seek a review or may appeal any decision made under the Social Welfare Acts to the independent Social Welfare Appeals Office.

  If there is a particular case that the Deputy is concerned about, he should bring it to my attention and I will ask my officials to examine it.   

  I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Community Employment Schemes Cessation

 340. 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 if an extension of employment will be facilitated for participants in community employment schemes in which sponsors are anxious that they continue; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [16018/19]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty Community Employment (CE) is a positive initiative that enables the long-term unemployed to make a contribution to their communities whilst up-skilling themselves for prospective future employment.  It helps to break the cycle of unemployment and improve a person’s chances of returning to the labour market. 

  The CE scheme has a budget to support around 21,600 participant places in 2019.  At the end of March, there was a total of 21,470 participants on the scheme.  This leaves a total of 130 budgeted vacancies this year.

  CE schemes are typically sponsored by groups wishing to benefit the local community.  My Department agrees participant numbers annually with each CE sponsor organisation who are responsible for the recruitment of participants and for identifying suitable work placements.

  CE sponsors can promote their scheme vacancies within their local communities.  Various methods of promoting CE have also been arranged between my Department and local schemes, including targeting potentially eligible jobseekers to attend CE Job-fairs, where details of CE vacancies and employment opportunities are provided. In addition, CE sponsors can advertise their vacancies free of charge on the Department's JobsIreland website, www.jobsireland.ie.  The process of posting vacancies is relatively straightforward and a tailored video is available online to assist sponsors. 

  A number of changes to the terms and conditions of participation on CE was introduced in 2017.  The main purpose of these changes was to broaden the availability to a greater number of people on the Live Register and to standardise other conditions around the length of time a person can participate on a programme.

  The general qualifying age for CE for those on the Live Register was reduced from 25 to 21 years.  Participants between 21 and 55 years on CE are entitled to one year on the programme, this can be extended by up to 2 more years if they are engaged in a recognised training or education award that is helping them progress towards employment.  All CE participants age 55 and over can avail of 3 consecutive years on a CE scheme.  Since 1st June 2018, I am also facilitating persons to take up a placement on CE while also attending their JobPath provider.  The overall limit of participation on CE is 6 years from 1st January 2007 (7 years if on a disability payment).

  Participants over age 62 are allowed to participate on a continuous basis up to the State Pension age on the CE Service Support Stream (SSS), subject to availability of places on the SSS, satisfactory performance on the scheme and to annual approval by the Department.   The places allocated for these participants within each individual CE scheme are subject to limitation criteria.  

  While participation on CE is a stepping stone back to employment, these positions are not full-time sustainable jobs.  Nevertheless, I am fully committed to the future of community employment schemes , and I want to see them sustained. 

  The Government agreed to establish an Interdepartmental Group (IDG) to explore the most appropriate organisational arrangements, in particular in respect of CE schemes whose primary focus is social inclusion and the delivery of social services.  The first meeting of the IDG was held last week and it is expected that the Group will report to Cabinet by end of Q2 2019.

  Any CE sponsor organisation who has recruitment concerns should contact their nearest Intreo Centre who will provide assistance.

  I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Social Welfare Overpayments

 341. 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 steps she continues to take to insure against the occurrence of overpayments that result in recovery and consequent hardship with particular reference to cases in which the overpayment was not as a result of an oversight or negligence on the part of the applicant; and if she will make a statement on the matter.  [16019/19]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty Overpayments of social welfare assistance and/or benefit payments arise as a consequence of decisions made under the relevant sections of the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act, 2005 (as amended). 

Official or departmental error overpayments arise where a Deciding Officer has incorrectly applied legislation, or incorrectly calculated the rate payable, or failed to act on information received from a claimant that disqualifies or reduces the value of the claim. 

Recovery of any sum overpaid as a result of official or departmental error is assessed on a case specific basis.  In general, recovery will be sought where the customer is expected to have an awareness that the sum being paid is in excess of an entitlement.  

As part of the process of finalising a decision and assessing an overpayment, the Deciding Officer is required to engage with the person concerned to clarify any matters relevant to the determination of entitlements.   Any person dissatisfied with a decision on an entitlement may seek a review and can appeal any decision to the independent Social Welfare Appeals Office.  A customer may also seek to review the terms of any recovery arrangement(s) they have in place with the Department. 

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

State Pension (Contributory) Eligibility

 342. 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 progress continues to be made in addressing the issue by which women have been deprived of contributory pensions having retired from the workplace while raising their families due to the marriage ban and who have made a major contribution to society in the course of their working lives; if their cases are being re-examined with a view to crediting them with sufficient contributions to enable them qualify for the State or retirement pension; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [16020/19]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty Since late September 2018, my Department has been examining the social insurance records of approximately 90,000 pensioners, born on or after 1 September 1946, who have a reduced rate State pension contributory entitlement based on post Budget 2012 rate bands.  These payments are being reviewed under a new Total Contributions Approach (TCA) to pension calculation which includes provision for home-caring periods.

Reviews commenced from 13 February 2019, the day after I signed the necessary regulations which together with provisions in the Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registrations Act 2018, which allows the increased payments to be made.  As of 28 March 2019, 11,646 of reviews have been completed.  Of these, over 8,850 resulted in an increase in payment for the pensioners concerned.  The pensioners who did not qualify for an increase in payments will continue to receive their existing weekly rate.

I have stated from the outset that it will take a number of months to complete all of the reviews due to the numbers involved and the individual nature of social insurance records.  In some cases it is necessary to engage in correspondence with the pensioner in order to clarify periods of caring, work and contribution histories.  To date, over 34,000 requests for information have issued to pensioners.  In order to process these reviews one hundred temporary staff have been recruited to the Departments offices in the north- west. 

Regardless of when a review is conducted, where an increase in payment is due, the person's rate of payment will be adjusted without delay and arrears issued backdated to 30 March 2018, or the pensioner’s 66th birthday if later.  Where a person's rate does not increase following a review, the person will continue to receive their existing rate of payment.  

Given the scale (90,000 pensioners) involved, the fact that each case requires close individual examination and that some cases are more complex than others, it would not be reasonable to expect all to be processed immediately. While this work will take a number of months to complete, it will continue until all pensioners have been notified of the outcome of their review in writing.

I would urge anyone who has yet to provide additional requested information to the Department to do so as soon as possible so that their review can be processed.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Supplementary Welfare Allowance Eligibility

 343. 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 she continues to ensure that undue hardship is not caused to recipients of social welfare payments in cases in which payments have been suspended while under review; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [16021/19]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty Basic weekly supplementary welfare allowance, or SWA, may be paid to customers awaiting the outcome of a claim or an appeal for a primary social welfare payment.  In certain circumstances, if a person is not eligible for other social welfare payments and their weekly income is below the SWA rate for their family size, a payment may be made to bring their income up to the appropriate SWA rate.  The Community Welfare Service officer will engage with a claimant to establish eligibility as quickly as possible and limit any delay to payments. 

Staff in the Department are engaged with customers throughout the entire lifecycle of their claim, including on regular reviews for all schemes on an ongoing basis.  A person’s entitlement to a social welfare payment is reviewed on a continuing basis to ensure that they continue to satisfy the conditions of the scheme.  A person’s means may also be reviewed from time to time. A customer may also request a review of their means in the light of changed circumstances at any time. 

Review decisions are not delayed unnecessarily once all the information requested from the customer at the time of review is made available to my Department.  Payments are not suspended unless there is a valid reason for doing so, for example the provision of insufficient information by the customer in response to a query, or where there is no reply from the customer.  Undue hardship for customers should not arise if there is ongoing co-operation from the customer with the Deciding Officer or Designated Person in my Department.

Social Welfare Benefits Data

 344. 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 number of applications for jobseeker's allowance received in each of the past five years to date; the number approved and rejected, respectively; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [16022/19]

 345. 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 number of applications for a State pension (non-contributory) received in each of the past five years to date; the number approved and rejected, respectively; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [16023/19]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty I propose to take Questions Nos. 344 and 345 together.

  The information requested by the Deputy is provided in tabular form. The figures for 2019 refer to January and February.

  State Pension Non-contributory

Year Registered Awarded Rejected
2013 9,429 7,445 2,351
2014 8,998 7,750 2,350
2015 9,732 7,675 2,188
2016 9,213 8,132 2,332
2017 9,187 7,577 2,139
2018 9,053 8,040 2,253
2019 1,602 1,391 394


  Jobseeker's Allowance
Year Registered Awarded Rejected
2013 227,722 180,009 18,952
2014 209,444 166,048 16,185
2015 191,781 152,807 13,255
2016 171,243 136,003 11,979
2017 155,854 124,790 10,238
2018 137,770 111,006 9,563
2019 22,772 18,231 1,597


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