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 Header Item Written Answers Nos. 361-381
 Header Item Social Welfare Appeals Delays
 Header Item Rent Supplement Scheme Applications
 Header Item Carer's Allowance Applications
 Header Item Respite Care Services
 Header Item Carer's Allowance Appeals
 Header Item Pension Provisions
 Header Item Pension Provisions
 Header Item Back to Education Allowance Applications
 Header Item Carer's Allowance Applications
 Header Item Fuel Allowance Applications
 Header Item Invalidity Pension Appeals
 Header Item One-Parent Family Payment Appeals
 Header Item Departmental Staff Careers

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 787 No. 3

First Page Previous Page Page of 96 Next Page Last Page

Written Answers Nos. 361-381

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton   Question No. 361 answered with Question No. 351.

Social Welfare Appeals Delays

 362. Deputy Emmet Stagg Information on Emmet Stagg Zoom on Emmet Stagg asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton the reason an appeal lodged in 2010 in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare has not been dealt with by the social welfare appeals office. [56714/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton Invalidity pension is a payment for people who are permanently incapable of work because of illness or incapacity and who satisfy the contribution conditions. Following a review of continued entitlement, invalidity pension was stopped for the person in question on 27 January 2010, on the basis that the recipient was working without permission. An overpayment was assessed for the period 19 October 2006 to 27 January 2010 as the Department was satisfied that the person in question was self-employed and had no prior written approval during that period. The person concerned was notified of this decision and of his right to appeal to the independent Social Welfare Appeals Office. An appeal was lodged and the file and all relevant papers are being forwarded 18 December 2012 to the Social Welfare Appeals Office for determination.

Rent Supplement Scheme Applications

 363. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton when a review of an application for rent supplement will be completed in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [56720/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton As part of the review process of the rent supplement application the person concerned has been asked to submit documentation and upon receipt of the requested documentation the review will be processed.

  Question No. 364 withdrawn.

Carer's Allowance Applications

 365. Deputy Jim Daly Information on Jim Daly Zoom on Jim Daly asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton the position regarding a carer's allowance payment in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Cork; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [56732/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton I confirm that the department received an application for carer’s allowance from the person in question on the 8th   September 2011. This application was refused on the grounds that the caree in question was not medically eligible for carer’s allowance and that full-time care was not being supplied in this case. A letter issued on the 4th of July 2012 refusing the allowance. The person in question subsequently submitted further documentation and medical evidence for review on 17th   of July 2012. On completion of all the necessary investigations as part of this review, a decision will be made and the person in question will be contacted directly with the outcome.

  Question No. 366 answered with Question No. 312.

Respite Care Services

 367. Deputy Dara Calleary Information on Dara Calleary Zoom on Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton the number of respite care grants being paid on a county basis in tabular form; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [56743/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton The respite care grant (RCG) is an annual payment made automatically to people in receipt of carer’s allowance, carer’s benefit, or domiciliary care allowance from my Department. Other people who are not in receipt of one of these payments, but who are providing full time care and attention can also apply for the grant via separate application.   The total number of persons in receipt of respite care grant at end November 2012 is approximately 70,000.

  The percentage of persons in receipt of RCG, who are not in receipt of a primary scheme, is 7%. The numbers of RCG, by scheme, who received the grant in 2012 are shown in Table 1 below. However, the information requested in relation to customers resident in individual counties is not available on a county basis.

Table 1 - Respite Care Grant Number of Carers (at end November 2012)  

Carer’s Allowance Carer’s Benefit Domiciliary Care Allowance Stand-alone RCG Total
38,000 * 1,000 26,000 5,000 70,000
  *Note - Approximately 52,000 people are in receipt of carer’s allowance, of whom approximately 14,000 are also in receipt of domiciliary care allowance. Persons who are in receipt of both receive one respite payment. These people are shown under domiciliary care allowance in the above table.

  The Government had to make very difficult decisions in the course of Budget 2013. In order to protect core weekly payments which people receive such as pensions, disability and carer’s allowance we had to look very carefully at other additional payment such as the respite care grant. As part of Budget 2013, the respite care grant is being reduced by €325 to €1,375 per annum. I am aware that this reduction in the grant is significant and has implications for carers and their families; however, given the enormous pressures on the expenditure of my Department, I am not in a position to reverse this decision.

Carer's Allowance Appeals

 368. Deputy John McGuinness Information on John McGuinness Zoom on John McGuinness asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton if an appeal for carer's allowance claim will be expedited in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [56744/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton I confirm that the department received an application for carer’s allowance from the person in question on the 23rd   January 2012. The person concerned was refused carers allowance on the grounds that the care recipient is not so disabled as to require full time care and attention as prescribed in regulations. He was notified of this decision, the reasons for it and of his right of review or appeal. Additional medical evidence was received and forwarded to the Department’s medical assessor for consideration. However, this information did not alter the opinion of the medical assessor and the decision remained unchanged.

  The person concerned appealed this decision to the Social Welfare Appeals Office and submitted further medical evidence in support of the appeal. This information has been forwarded to the medical assessor for further consideration. If the outcome remains unchanged a submission will be prepared and his file and papers will be forwarded to the Social Welfare Appeals Office for determination.

Pension Provisions

 369. Deputy Eoghan Murphy Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton if she will provide an explanation as to the necessity to require registered pension schemes to generate a funding standard reserve of 15% of scheme assets at a time when such schemes have difficulty, due both to the reduction in assets caused by the requirement to pay a levy of 0.6% of such assets for four years and the requirement to calculate scheme liabilities in the most conservative manner in relation to sovereign bonds, in achieving a minimum funding standard of 100%. [56758/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton The Government is very aware of the serious funding challenge facing pension schemes. There are significant structural and affordability problems with defined benefit (DB) pension schemes due to a range of factors such as an under-estimation of longevity, poor investment decisions and the impact of the downturn in financial markets. The investment losses in Ireland were the highest in the OECD because of the high proportion of equities in pension fund portfolios, with some two-thirds of assets in equities compared with an average of just over one third in the 20 OECD countries where data are available.

A review of the DB model which included consultation with stakeholders was completed in 2011. The consultation resulted in a broad consensus that DB schemes as currently organised are vulnerable to shocks and the introduction of a risk reserve would provide a level of protection for scheme members against future volatility in financial markets. I accept that the requirement for a risk reserve presents an added challenge for schemes, however, guidance issued by the Pensions Board identifies options which schemes can consider in meeting this requirement by 2023.

The level of the risk reserve required will reflect the level of risk undertaken by the scheme’s investment strategy and it is estimated that this reserve will add approximately 8% to the scheme liabilities. A risk reserve of 15% would indicate that the scheme is over reliant on equity investment. It should also be noted that the requirement to hold a risk reserve is not being introduced immediately. Schemes are aware that the requirement to hold a reserve is a being introduced in 2016 and schemes will have until 2023 to satisfy this requirement. The pension promise associated with DB schemes is generally regarded as unconditional. If the scheme winds-up, the only practical way the promise can be fulfilled is to buy an annuity policy from an assurance company that guarantees a continued pension for the lifetime of the pensioner and their dependants. If the funding standard is changed in such a way that understates the cost of the benefits then the member will be misled about the ability of the scheme to meet its obligations.

I understand that a small number of European countries have eased their pension solvency requirements in response to the downturn in financial markets. I am satisfied that in all cases, the solvency regime after those changes continues to be more onerous that the current Irish regime. Overall the changes made to DB schemes are intended to reduce schemes’ exposure to risks and provide greater security for scheme members. Issues in relation to the pensions levy is a matter for the Minister for Finance who announced the pension fund levy as part of the Jobs Initiative. The levy will apply for a period of 4 years from 2011 to 2014.

Pension Provisions

 370. Deputy Eoghan Murphy Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton further to Parliamentary Question No. 116 of 30 June 2011, if, in respect of Government plans to increase the retirement age to 66 in 2014, there is a provision for those who are presently contractually obliged to retire at age 65 and will retire in 2014 and will therefore not be entitled to receive their contributory pensions until one year after they finish work , in particular in view of the fact that jobseeker's allowance will now only support them for nine months of that year. [56759/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton Raising State pension age and the abolition of the State pension (transition) is a necessary step in ensuring the sustainability of pensions into the future. The population share of those aged 65 and over is expected to more than double between now and 2051, from 11% to approximately 23% in 2050. In contrast, the working age to pensioner ratio is projected to decline gradually from 5.3 /1 to 2.1/1. This has obvious and significant implications in relation to the future costs of State pension provision. The fundamental principle involved here is that people need to participate in the workforce for longer and they need to contribute more towards their pensions if they are to achieve the income they expect or would like to have in retirement.

The Social Welfare and Pensions Act, 2011 provides that State pension age will be increased gradually to 68 years. This will begin in 2014 with the abolition of the State pension (transition) thereby standardizing State pension age for all at 66 years. The State pension age will be further increased to 67 years in 2021 and to 68 years in 2028. Even with these changes to State pensions expenditure is projected to increase from approximately 5.8% of GDP in 2010, to almost 8.3%% in 2060. The standardisation of State pension age at 66 removes the retirement condition associated with State pension (transition) which acts as an incentive to leave the workforce and has been widely criticised as a barrier to older people remaining in employment. There is no retirement condition attached to the State pension (contributory) which is currently payable from age 66.

From 2014, any individual aged 65 and unable to remain in, or find, employment would be entitled to apply for a social welfare payment based on the normal criteria. At present, my Department is working with the relevant agencies of State who have a role to play in identifying and breaking down barriers to remaining in work past the age of 65. The continued participation of older people in the labour market must be encouraged and facilitated to meet the challenge of an ageing society. Collectively, we need to change our mind-set to working longer. In the workplace, employers should try to retain older employees and create working conditions which make working longer both attractive and possible for the older worker.

Back to Education Allowance Applications

 371. Deputy Patrick Nulty Information on Patrick Nulty Zoom on Patrick Nulty asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton if she will reconsider plans to discontinue the cost of education allowance for back to education recipients as well as other cuts to back to education allowance; her views on whether these cuts will have serious impact on students who are trying to further their educational and employment prospects; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [56762/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton The Back to Education Allowance (BTEA) scheme remains an attractive scheme for the unemployed who wish to further their education. A person entering BTEA with an entitlement to the maximum jobseekers personal rate of €188 per week may retain this rate while pursuing a course. A significant majority of those entering BTEA do so on the maximum personal rate of payment. In addition, all Jobseekers who engage with BTEA are exempt from the underlying conditions of that payment in relation to being genuinely available and seeking work for the duration of their course, which allows them to concentrate fully on their studies. BTEA participants may also take up part time employment while engaged with BTEA without affecting their BTEA rate of payment. Participants who cannot find employment for summer months between academic years are also allowed to sign on the Live Register and receive a jobseekers payment for this period where an entitlement exists.

  While the cost of education allowance will not be payable to new and existing BTEA participants from January 1st   2013, other Budget changes introduced from this date apply to new entrants only and do not affect those already furthering their education through BTEA. New entrants aged under 25 years old continue to be incentivised to further their education through BTEA. From January 1st   2013 under 25’s on age reduced jobseekers payments will have their weekly payments increased to €160 per week if they engage with BTEA. This represents a €60 per week increase for 18-21 year olds whose maximum weekly jobseekers payment is €100 and a €16 per week increase for 22-24 year olds who have an entitlement to a maximum weekly jobseekers payment of €144. Only in cases where means exist will the weekly rate fall below €160 and means will now be assessed against the new maximum rate of €160, ensuring even those with means will receive an incentive for participating in education through BTEA.

  From January 1st   new entrants aged over 25 years old entering BTEA on a reduced payment due to means will continue to receive this entitlement. This entitlement is based on a means test carried out by my Department and is the rate deemed appropriate to an individual based on their unique circumstances.

  Question No. 372 withdrawn.

Carer's Allowance Applications

 373. Deputy Denis Naughten Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton when a decision will issue on an application for a carer's allowance in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Leitrim; the reason for the delay; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [56794/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton I confirm that the department received an application for carer’s allowance from the person in question on the 20th December 2011. The application is with a deciding officer at present who is currently awaiting financial information that was requested from the client on the 28th   November 2012. Once the financial information requested is received and the application is processed, the person concerned will be notified directly of the outcome.

Fuel Allowance Applications

 374. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton further to Parliamentary Question No.63 of 6 December 2012, the exact documents in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare in respect of their application for fuel allowance; and if she will make a statement on the matter.  [56796/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton The person concerned is in receipt of invalidity pension since 15 September 2011. In order to qualify for the national fuel scheme, applicants must satisfy a means assessment and be living alone or only with persons who satisfy specific criteria. On 24 May 2012, in order to determine entitlement to free fuel allowance, the person in question was asked for details regarding employment with and payment from a specific company and for full details of the income of other person(s) residing with him. To date no correspondence has been received from him regarding same. However, according to my department’s records, the claimant’s son has earnings from employment which exceed the limit allowed for entitlement to fuel allowance. His claim for fuel allowance has been refused and he was notified of the decision by a deciding officer. If the circumstances in this case have changed, the person in question should submit full details to my Department and his application for fuel allowance will be reviewed.

  Questions Nos. 375 and 376 withdrawn.

Invalidity Pension Appeals

 377. Deputy James Bannon Information on James Bannon Zoom on James Bannon asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton the position regarding an appeal for invalidity pension in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Longford; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [56802/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton The Social Welfare Appeals Office has advised me that an Appeals Officer having fully considered the evidence in the case, has allowed the appeal of the person concerned. The person has been notified. 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 on social welfare entitlements.

  Question No. 378 withdrawn.

One-Parent Family Payment Appeals

 379. Deputy James Bannon Information on James Bannon Zoom on James Bannon asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton the position regarding an appeal for one parent family payment in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Longford; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [56807/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton The Social Welfare Appeals Office has advised me that an appeal by the person concerned was registered in that office on 15th August 2012. It is a statutory requirement of the appeals process that the relevant Departmental papers and comments by or on behalf of the Deciding Officer on the grounds of appeal be sought. These papers were received in the Social Welfare Appeals Office on 13th   November 2012 and the case 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, hold an oral 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 on social welfare entitlements.

Departmental Staff Careers

 380. Deputy James Bannon Information on James Bannon Zoom on James Bannon asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton the possibilities there are for civil servants in her Department to take a career break; and if regulations pertaining to same are common to all Departments and to all civil servants. [56808/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton Staff in my Department can avail of special leave without pay for a career break for the purposes of child-rearing, other domestic purposes (eg care of a sick relative), educational purposes, travel abroad and for the purposes of self-employment. A career break can be approved for periods from a minimum of six months to a maximum of five years. The operation of the career break scheme in my Department is in accordance with the provisions of Department of Finance Circular 18/98: Special leave without pay for career breaks, which is common to staff in all Departments.

While it is open to any staff member to apply for a career break, it should be noted that the granting of a leave of absence for a career break is, in the first instance, the responsibility of local management who are required to assess the application having regard to the business demands of their area of responsibility.

  Question No. 381 withdrawn.


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