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 Header Item Written Answers Nos. 283-300
 Header Item Schools Building Projects
 Header Item Schools Building Projects
 Header Item Early Childhood Care and Education
 Header Item Employment Rights
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Supports
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Supports
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Supports
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Supports
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment
 Header Item Disability Allowance
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Supports
 Header Item Social Welfare Eligibility
 Header Item Invalidity Pension
 Header Item Social Welfare Payments Administration
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Supports
 Header Item Personal Public Service Numbers

Tuesday, 13 October 2020

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 999 No. 2
Unrevised

First Page Previous Page Page of 100 Next Page Last Page

Written Answers Nos. 283-300

Schools Building Projects

 283. Deputy Patricia Ryan Information on Patricia  Ryan Zoom on Patricia  Ryan asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley the status of a new building for a school (details supplied); to appraise recent developments; her plans to bring this project to fruition; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30329/20]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley The major building project for the new school referred to by the Deputy has recently been authorised to issue Letter of Acceptance to the preferred bidder.

  Subject to no issues arising, it is envisaged that construction will commence shortly with a contract duration of approximately 20 months.

Schools Building Projects

 284. Deputy Patricia Ryan Information on Patricia  Ryan Zoom on Patricia  Ryan asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley the status of a new building for a school (details supplied); her plans to appraise recent developments; her plans to bring this project to fruition; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30330/20]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley The major building project for the school referred to by the Deputy is included in my Department’s Construction Programme which is being delivered under the National Development Plan. The project is currently at Stage 1 of architectural planning which entails preliminary site surveys, location suitability and initial sketch scheme.

  A review in 2019 of the demand for post-primary provision in the area resulted in an increase in the schedule of accommodation to cater for up to 1,300 pupils.   

  The Stage 1 report has recently been received by my Department. Upon review, my Department will then be in contact with the school and its design team with regard to the further progression of the project.

Early Childhood Care and Education

 285. Deputy Holly Cairns Information on Holly Cairns Zoom on Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley her views on increasing the school transport remote area grant to reflect the cost for children that live on an island and attend school on the mainland; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30345/20]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley School Transport is a significant operation managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department.

  In the 2019/2020 school year over 120,000 children, including over 14,200 children with special educational needs, were transported in over 5,000 vehicles on a daily basis to primary and post-primary schools throughout the country covering over 100 million kilometres at a cost of over €219m in 2019.

  The purpose of my Department's School Transport Scheme is, having regard to available resources, to support the transport to and from school of children who reside remote from their nearest school.

  Under the terms of my Department's School Transport Schemes children are eligible for school transport where they reside not less than 3.2 kms from and are attending their nearest national or reside not less than 4.8 kms from and are attending their nearest post primary school/education centre as determined by my Department/Bus Éireann, having regard to ethos and language.

  An eligible child for whom no transport service is available may, following an application for transport within prescribed time limits, receive a Remote Area Grant towards the cost of private transport arrangements. This grant is also payable for eligible children who may have to travel 3.2 kms or more to or from a designated pick up/set down point.

  The grant amount is distance related and is payable annually at a fixed daily rate, to each eligible family, regardless of the number of children from the same family, travelling to a particular school.

  There are no plans to change the rate of the remote area grant.

Employment Rights

 286. Deputy Louise O'Reilly Information on Louise O'Reilly Zoom on Louise O'Reilly asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys her plans to tackle bogus self-employment. [29957/20]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The deliberate misclassification of a worker as a self-employed contractor for PRSI purposes, in a situation where they are actually working as an employee, is wrong. My Department’s role is to ensure the correct class of PRSI is being returned for individuals, in order to protect their PRSI contribution record and scheme entitlements and to ensure the correct flow of funds into the Social Insurance Fund. Work is ongoing in my Department to tackle such misclassification across the economy.

Cases of misclassification of employment status are detected through employer inspections and investigations of queries by employers and workers. Cases are sent to the Department’s Scope Section for a decision. This section usually handles between 1300 and 1500 PRSI-related cases each year of which 5-7% relate to employment status.

It is important to point out that these cases do not always involve a deliberate or fraudulent misclassification of an employee as being self-employed. Sometimes it happens that both employer and employee are genuinely mistaken in their approach and are happy to correct the position once the Department’s officials make a determination.

Where misclassification of employees is detected, social insurance arrears are assessed by Social Welfare Inspectors and collected as required. Under the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005, there are specific offences in relation to employment contributions.

There are approximately 380 Social Welfare Inspectors appointed nationwide who carry out work across the various social welfare schemes and whose work can include employer inspections. More than 100 of these Inspectors are members of the Department’s Special Investigations Unit who work to detect social welfare fraud. Inspections are also undertaken jointly with other agencies including the Revenue Commissioners and the Workplace Relations Commission.

A number of Social Welfare Inspectors work in a dedicated unit – the Employment Status Investigation Unit (ESIU) – which focuses solely on targeting potential cases of false self-employment. Since it began its operations in Q4 2019, the ESIU has been carrying out investigations in a wide range of sectors of the economy. The Unit carries out both its own projects and works in liaison with other Inspectors and agencies nationwide.

In order to raise awareness among employers and workers, an inter-departmental working group has been working with the social partners to revise the Code of Practice for determining employment or self-employment. It is my intention to place the revised Code on a statutory footing. I also intend to bring forward new legislative proposals to combat the deliberate misclassification of employees, including:

- anti-victimisation measures to give workers recourse to the Workplace Relations Commission if they feel they have been victimised by their employer as a result of questioning their employment status, and

- the introduction of a new criminal offence of wilfully misclassifying a worker as being self-employed.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

 287. Deputy Cormac Devlin Information on Cormac Devlin Zoom on Cormac Devlin asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys her plans to increase the basic rate of the old age pension or provide a special Covid-19 top up for the duration of the pandemic in view of the additional costs associated with the Covid-19 pandemic such as purchasing personal protective equipment, PPE. [30020/20]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys As the Deputy is aware, the Government has been seeking to implement and operate supports during the COVID-19 emergency that are targeted where most needed to ensure continued economic activity and reduce the risk of poverty.

The State Pension is the bedrock of the pension system in Ireland. It is extremely effective at ensuring that our pensioners do not experience poverty. The Government is committed to ensuring that this remains the case. This Government is also acutely conscious of the need to consider the sustainability of the State’s finances. Accordingly, any changes to State Pension payment rates would need to be considered in the overall policy and budgetary context.

Recipients of State pension payments may already have access to a range of additional supports, subject to satisfying eligibility conditions. These supports include the living alone increase, household benefits, telephone support allowance, free travel and fuel allowance. In this context, in March of this year, as part of Government COVID-19 response measures, the Fuel Allowance scheme was extended by four weeks until Friday, 8th May 2020. At a cost of €31.5 million, the extension of the fuel season for over 352,000 existing eligible households was put in place, to ensure that the most vulnerable groups, particularly older people in receipt of State pensions, were provided with additional targeted financial supports. This extension meant that the 2019/2020 Fuel Season ran to the latest end date of any season in the last 30 years.

The Deputy will be aware that my Department also operates both Exceptional and Urgent Needs Payments as part of the Supplementary Welfare Allowance scheme for people of any age, who have an exceptional or urgent need which they cannot meet from their own resources. Payments are made at the discretion of the officers administering the scheme taking into account the requirements of the legislation and all the relevant circumstances of the case. The scheme is administered by the Community Welfare Service of the Department.

While I fully understand that these are difficult times for many people, any further economic measures can only be considered while taking account of the overall budgetary context and the availability of financial resources.

I trust this clarifies the position for the Deputy.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

 288. Deputy Cormac Devlin Information on Cormac Devlin Zoom on Cormac Devlin asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys her plans to increase the basic rate of the carer's allowance or provide a special Covid-19 top-up for the duration of the pandemic in view of the additional costs associated with the Covid-19 pandemic (details supplied). [30021/20]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The Government acknowledges the important role that family carers play and is fully committed to supporting carers in that role. This commitment is recognised in both the Programme for Government and the National Carers’ Strategy.

My Department provides income supports to carers such as Carer’s Allowance, Carer’s Benefit, Domiciliary Care Allowance and the Carer’s Support Grant. Combined spending on all these payments to family carers in 2020 is expected to exceed €1.3 billion.

Carer's Allowance is a means-tested payment for carers who, on a full-time basis, look after certain people in need of full-time care and attention, where the carer's income falls below certain limits. At the end of September 2020, there were 88,156 people in receipt of Carer's Allowance. The provisional outturn on Carer’s Allowance for 2020 is estimated at €916 million.

In addition, a carer whose work ceases as a result of COVID-19 and whose situation qualifies them for the COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment, is able to receive that payment along with their current carer income support, whether Carer’s Allowance or Carer’s Benefit.

Furthermore, despite the substantial extra financial demands due to the COVID-19 crisis, I announced that the Carer’s Support Grant would continue to be paid to carers this year at an estimated cost of over €230.84 million. The annual grant of €1,700 is available to all carers providing full-time care to an older person or a person with a disability, regardless of their means or social insurance contributions. This grant can be used for any purpose at the discretion of the carer and it is not taxed. Other people who are not in receipt of a social welfare payment but who are providing full time care and attention to someone who requires that level of care are also eligible and can apply for a grant.

At the end of June 2020, almost 127,000 grants were paid to carers receiving the Carer’s Allowance, Carer’s Benefit or Domiciliary Care Allowance and to other full-time carers who are not receiving any of these payments. Applications for the 2020 grant can be submitted up until 31 December 2021, and it is expected that further applications will be received before the closing date.

Apart from these income supports specifically in place for family carers, my Department also provides support under the Supplementary Welfare Allowance scheme. The Department may make an exceptional needs payment (ENP) to help meet essential, once-off expenditure which a person could not reasonably be expected to meet from their weekly income. ENPs are administered by the Community Welfare Service (CWS) of the Department. ENPs are payable at the discretion of the CWS officer taking into account the requirements of the legislation and all the relevant circumstances of the case.

The provision of medical supplies such as PPE is a matter for the HSE and the Department of Health.

The Deputy will be aware that payments made by my Department to carers are set out under legislation. There is no provision to make the type of top-up payment outlined by the Deputy.

Finally, I can assure the Deputy that I am very aware of the key role carers play in society and the particular challenges they face in light of Covid-19 and I will continue to keep the range of supports available to carers under review. Any improvements or additions to these supports, including rate changes, can only be considered in a budgetary context and in the light of available financial resources.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

 289. Deputy Cormac Devlin Information on Cormac Devlin Zoom on Cormac Devlin asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys her plans to increase the basic rate of jobseeker's allowance or provide a special Covid-19 top-up for the duration of the pandemic in view of the additional costs associated with the Covid-19 pandemic (details supplied). [30022/20]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys Any changes to the rates of social welfare schemes, including jobseeker's allowance, will be considered in a budgetary context, having regard to all available resources.

  Any person who is experiencing financial hardship may be eligible for financial supports under the means-tested supplementary welfare allowance scheme including an Exceptional or Urgent Needs Payment.

  I trust that this clarifies the position.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

 290. Deputy Cormac Devlin Information on Cormac Devlin Zoom on Cormac Devlin asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys her plans to increase the basic rate of all disability and illness payments or provide a special Covid-19 top-up for the duration of the pandemic in view of the additional costs associated with the Covid-19 pandemic (details supplied). [30023/20]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys My Department provides a suite of income supports for those who are unable to work due to an illness or disability. It is important to note that entitlement to these supports is not contingent on the nature of the illness/disability but on the extent to which a particular illness or disability impairs or restricts a person’s capacity to work.

  Apart from these income supports, my Department also provides a support under the Supplementary Welfare Allowance scheme. The Department may make an exceptional needs payment (ENP) to help meet essential, once-off expenditure which a person could not reasonably be expected to meet from their weekly income.

  ENPs are administered by the Community Welfare Service (CWS) of the Department and are payable at the discretion of a CWS officer taking into account the requirements of the legislation and all the relevant circumstances of the case.

  As the Deputy will be aware, changes to the various disability and illness income supports provided , including rate increases, can only be considered in an overall budgetary context and in the light of available financial resources.

  The provision of medical supplies such as PPE is a matter for the HSE and the Department of Health.

  I trust that this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment

 291. Deputy Jennifer Carroll MacNeill Information on Jennifer Carroll MacNeill Zoom on Jennifer Carroll MacNeill asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if she has considered assessing self-employed persons' income for the pandemic unemployment payment as income minus expenses rather than their gross wage (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30024/20]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The Pandemic Unemployment Payment was introduced as an emergency measure to provide an income support to those who had lost their employment as a result of Covid. In order to ensure that the scheme was simple and accessible for the unprecedented number of applicants, a flat payment rate was introduced. This rate was the equivalent of the rate for a two-person household.

From 26 June 2020, the Pandemic Unemployment Payment moved to 2 rates of payment, and a 3 rate structure is in place since 17 September. These changes more closely link the rate of payment to the amount that individuals previously earned and make the scheme more targeted and fair. In determining the rate payable, the objective was to ensure that recent earnings were taken into account.

The rate of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment for a self-employed person is calculated by reference to their reckonable income in either 2018 or 2019, whichever is the greater. Details of reckonable income are supplied to the Department by the Revenue Commissioners, and are supplied net of business related costs, including capital allowances. When submitting returns to the Revenue Commissioners, self-employed persons can offset business related costs against gross trading income, with the resulting assessment to tax and PRSI based on net profits.

I hope that this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Disability Allowance

 292. Deputy Jackie Cahill Information on Jackie Cahill Zoom on Jackie Cahill asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if she will address the case of a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29564/20]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys Based on the evidence supplied in support of their application for disability allowance (DA), this person’s application was disallowed on the grounds that they had means in excess of the statutory limit. They were notified in writing of this decision on 6 July 2020.

  The person concerned requested an appeal to the independent social welfare appeals office (SWAO). The decision of the SWAO was to disallow this appeal and the person concerned was notified in writing of the outcome. An AO’s decision is final and conclusive in absence of any fresh facts or evidence.

  Social welfare legislation provides that, for social assistance schemes, all income and capital (such as savings, investments and property other than the family home) belonging to the claimant and his or her spouse/partner, where applicable, are assessable for means assessment purposes.

  If a claimant is married, in a civil partnership or cohabiting, the Department will assess the couple's means when carrying out a means test for a social assistance payment. This is the case even if only one of the couple is actually claiming a payment. The purpose of this means assessment is to maintain the overarching policy of ensuring that social welfare expenditure is targeted to those who need it most.

  The person concerned may have an entitlement to invalidity pension (IP) which is not a means tested payment. It is a payment for people who are permanently incapable of work because of illness or incapacity and for no other reason and who satisfy the pay related social insurance (PRSI) contribution conditions.

  To qualify for IP a claimant must, inter-alia, have at least 260 (5 years) paid PRSI contributions since entering social insurance and 48 contributions paid or credited in the last or second last complete contribution year before the relevant date of their claim. Only PRSI classes A, E , H or S contributions are reckonable for IP purposes.

  A claimant must be regarded as permanently incapable of work, which is defined as:

  - incapacity for work of such a nature that the likelihood is that the claimant will be incapable of work for life

   or

  - an incapacity which has existed for 12 months prior to the date of claim, and where the Deciding Officer or an Appeals Officer is satisfied that the claimant is likely to be unable to work for 1 year from the date of claim.

   I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

 293. Deputy Jennifer Murnane O'Connor Information on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor Zoom on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if the criteria for the white van grant (details supplied) will be extended; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29612/20]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys As announced in the July Stimulus package, the enterprise support grant was extended to assist eligible self-employed, including sole traders, who exit the COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment or jobseekers schemes after 18th May 2020 to re-start their business which was closed due to the impact of the pandemic. Funding of €12 million has been provided for this grant.

A grant up to €1,000 assists people transitioning from a weekly welfare payment with the costs associated with reopening their business. A wide range of business costs are supported including salary costs of employees.

Since the launch of the grant in August, my Department has paid almost €3.6 million to over 4,000 small businesses who have reopened their business. A self-employed individual who closes their Pandemic Unemployment Payment is encouraged to send their grant application, available on www.Gov.ie, to their local Intreo Centre.

If there is a particular case that the Deputy has a concern about, the details should be forwarded to my office for review.

Social Welfare Eligibility

 294. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if women who took parental leave in 2017 or 2018 will obtain credits for this period to entitle them to social welfare supports during the Covid-19 pandemic; her plans to ensure that parents who take parental leave are not discriminated against in this regard; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29636/20]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The Parental Leave Act, 1998, as amended, allows parents to take unpaid leave to look after young children. Parental leave can be taken as a continuous block or, with the agreement of an employer, can be broken up over a period of time.

Statutory Instrument 569 of 1998 provides for the crediting of employment contributions to insured persons for each week during which the person avails of parental leave. If employment contribution credits are due, this would ensure that the person's existing cover for social insurance benefits is maintained. Parental leave employment contribution credits will not be allocated if the person has pre-existing employment contributions or credits for the same period, or if the person is not entitled to employment contribution credits by having two or more consecutive contribution years where there are no employment contributions paid or credited immediately prior to taking parental leave.

In order to request that employment contributions are credited to an person's social insurance record in respect of a period of parental leave, the person's employer must write to the Department's Client Eligibility Services, based in Buncrana, Co. Donegal, confirming the duration of the insured person's parental leave, the number of weeks leave and the exact dates to which the leave relates.

Employers must keep records of all parental leave taken by their employees. These records must include the period of employment of each employee and the dates and times of parental leave taken.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Invalidity Pension

 295. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the status of an invalidity pension appeal by a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29640/20]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The Social Welfare Appeals Office has advised me that an appeal by the person concerned was registered in that office on 2 October 2020. It is a statutory requirement of the appeals process that the relevant Departmental papers and comments by the Deciding Officer on the grounds of appeal be sought. When these papers have been received from the Department, the case in question will be referred to an Appeals Officer who will make a summary decision on the appeal based on the documentary evidence presented or, if required and subject to Covid-19 restrictions, hold an oral appeal hearing.

The Social Welfare Appeals Office functions independently of the Minister for Social Protection and of the Department and is responsible for determining appeals against decisions in relation to social welfare entitlements.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Social Welfare Payments Administration

 296. Deputy Sean Sherlock Information on Sean Sherlock Zoom on Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if she will consider facilitating a return to fortnightly social protection payments for persons that collect payments at post offices; and if such persons make such a request on the basis of ensuring that they may be allowed to take all reasonable precautions to avoid presenting themselves at post offices in person in order to adhere to public health guidelines and increase their chances to avoid crowded scenarios. [29707/20]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys Fortnightly payments were introduced by my Department to assist with social distancing measures in the context of the current pandemic.

Within any particular scheme, it is not possible to introduce different payment cycles for different individuals or for different categories of individual. All payments on each scheme, whether by collecting cash at the post office or depositing money directly into someone’s bank account, have to be processed in the same way.

Some schemes reverted to a weekly pattern in August.

I met with An Post and the Irish Postmasters Union in recent weeks. I have also listened to concerns expressed by groups such as St Vincent De Paul around the difficulties presented to our customers, including our most vulnerable, in trying to manage money on a fortnightly basis.

In this context, I announced earlier this week that all weekly social welfare payments which had been moved to a fortnightly schedule from the end of March will be fully restored to being paid weekly with effect from Monday, 2nd November 2020.

It should be noted that the period of time in which cash payments have to be collected at post offices has been considerably extended. The purpose of this change is to allow people the choice of continuing to collect payments on a fortnightly basis should they so wish in order to minimise the number of times they attend and queue in banks or post offices.

If any person has received an expired payments letter, they should contact my Department so that their social welfare payment can be reinstated.

For the duration of the pandemic, alternative payment arrangements, such as the option to have one’s payment made directly into a current account by electronic fund transfer (EFT), are accommodated at the request of a customer to the Department. This allows for the payment to be paid directly into a current account in any financial institution, whether that be with An Post, a bank or a credit union. An Post has been kept informed of this initiative.

Finally, the rules around nominating agents to collect social welfare payments at post offices have also been changed to allow for more agent collections, whereby customers can nominated a trusted individual to collect a payment on their behalf.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

 297. Deputy John Brady Information on John Brady Zoom on John Brady asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the eligibility criteria for a person that is in receipt of the pandemic unemployment payment that wishes to apply for a course through a scheme (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29726/20]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys My Department’s Back to Education Allowance (BTEA) provides income support for jobseekers and certain others in receipt of social welfare payments who pursue full-time courses of education at second or third level. The main focus of the allowance is to assist qualifying applicants to improve their educational qualifications and their prospects of gaining employment.

The BTEA has been extended as part of the July Stimulus in response to Covid-19. Ordinarily a person must be in receipt of a qualifying social welfare payment for a minimum period before being eligible to apply for the BTEA when pursuing training or education, including SpringBoard. The qualifying period has been waived for people on coming from the Pandemic Unemployment Payment. This ensures that those who have lost their employment during the pandemic have immediate access to a range of educational options.

In order to avail of continued financial support while pursuing a full-time course, a person in receipt of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment should apply for a jobseeker payment. The BTEA is payable at the jobseekers rate.

Where someone in receipt of Pandemic Unemployment Payment wishes to pursue part-time study, including part-time SpringBoard, they can continue to receive the Pandemic Unemployment Payment while they continue to satisfy the conditions of that payment.

Any person seeking to return to education should engage with their local Intreo Centre to assess their options.

I trust this clarifies the issues for the Deputy.

Personal Public Service Numbers

 298. Deputy Claire Kerrane Information on Claire Kerrane Zoom on Claire Kerrane asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the average waiting time for persons applying for a PPS number. [29760/20]

 299. Deputy Claire Kerrane Information on Claire Kerrane Zoom on Claire Kerrane asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the number of applications received for a PPS number to date in 2020; the number approved and processed; the number being examined; and the number refused. [29761/20]

 300. Deputy Claire Kerrane Information on Claire Kerrane Zoom on Claire Kerrane asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the number of PPS number applications to be decided upon. [29762/20]

 316. Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the average wait times for a PPS number by county in tabular form; the steps she is taking to reduce wait times; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30091/20]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys I propose to take Questions Nos. 298 to 300, inclusive, and 316 together.

The SAFE registration process, which my Department uses to authenticate a person's identity when they apply for a PPSN is a face-to-face process, carried out in PPSN Centres across the country.

At the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, my Department temporarily postponed the SAFE registration process. This decision was taken to comply with HSE and WHO guidelines in respect of social distancing.

To help ensure that those who required a PPSN could get one, my Department introduced an email and postal service through which applications could be made. Figures on the numbers of applications received, or awaiting a decision, are not available as it is usually the case that each application involves a number of emails between the Department and the applicant, for example, where insufficient information or documentation has been submitted in support of the application.

For the same reason, data in respect of average waiting times, or applications by county, are not available. However, by its nature this process involves, in most cases, correspondence with the customer in respect of supporting documentation required. This means most applications cannot be dealt with instantly.

Between January 2020 and the temporary postponement of SAFE registrations, 26,278 PPSNs were allocated to people seeking a PPSN. Since then, 23,009 PPSNs have been allocated to date to people who applied through the postal and email service.

The Department has refused 6,287 PPSN applications since the temporary postponement of SAFE registrations.

It is expected that the PPSN allocation service will be resumed in PPSN Centres by Monday October 19th. This will mean a return to normal for customers seeking a PPSN; once they have completed their face-to-face SAFE registration, they will be issued with their Public Services Card, containing their PPSN, within five working days of their SAFE registration. The provision of the service, once fully resumed, will remain subject to HSE/WHO guidance.

I trust this clarifies the position for the Deputy.


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