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 Header Item Carer's Allowance Eligibility (Continued)
 Header Item Homeless Persons Data

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 787 No. 4

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Jan O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan] At the end of October 2012, 51,550 customers were in receipt of carer's allowance, approximately 23,000 of whom are on half-rate carer's allowance along with another primary social welfare payment.

In 2011, the amount spent on carer's allowance was €507 million. Expenditure on carer's allowance over the past ten years to the end of 2011 has increased by almost 320% and the number of claimants in receipt of carer's allowance increased by almost 250% over the same period. The habitual residence condition applies to all social assistance payments including carer's allowance. The determination of a person's habitual residence is made in accordance with five factors which are set out in legislation. These are the length and continuity of residence in the State or in any other particular country; the length and purpose of any absence from the State; the nature and pattern of the person's employment; the person's main centre of interest; and the future intentions of the person concerned as they appear from all the circumstances.

These five factors have been derived from European Court of Justice case law. EU rules prevent discrimination on nationality grounds with regard to social security, so it is not possible to exempt a particular category of Irish citizens such as returning emigrants from the habitual residence condition either in general or for carer's allowance without extending the same treatment to all EU nationals. However, the guidelines regarding determination of habitual residence address the issue of returning emigrants very specifically. The guidelines state, "A person who had previously been habitually resident in the State and who moved to live and work in another country and then resumes his-her long-term residence in the State may be regarded as being habitually resident immediately on his-her return to the State". I hope this is of help to Deputy Nash.

In determining the main centre of interest in the case of returning emigrants, deciding officers take account of the purpose of return; the applicant's stated current and future intentions; verified arrangements which have been made with regard to returning on a long-term basis such as the transfer of financial accounts and any other assets; the termination of residence-based entitlements in the other country or assistance from Safe Home or a similar programme to enable Irish emigrants to return permanently; the length and continuity of the previous residence in the State; the record of employment or self employment in another State; and whether he or she has maintained links with the previous residence and can be regarded as resuming his or her previous residence rather than starting a new period of residence.

This is generally sufficient to enable the deciding officer to determine whether an applicant's present circumstances in Ireland indicate a temporary visit or habitual residence. Relatively few returning Irish emigrants are refused social welfare payments on grounds of habitual residence. In 2011, 13,888 applications for carer's allowance were processed. Of these, 223, or approximately 1.6%, were refused on the basis of habitual residency, of which 42 were Irish nationals.

It is acknowledged that the time taken to process carer's allowance claims generally at present is unacceptable. The Department of Social Protection has implemented measures to improve the processing time for carer's allowance applications including the allocation of additional temporary resources. Following the completion of a major modernisation project, an in-depth business process improvement project was completed for the carer's allowance scheme. This project focused on optimising output and customer service and the elimination of the current backlogs. The processing of claims has been divided into two streams. One concentrates on dealing with new claim intake and processes these without delay and the other focuses on the backlog, which is ring-fenced with a clear and targeted plan for its elimination. Since the implementation of the new process the Minister is happy to report that substantial inroads have been made to the current backlog and new applications are being processed on receipt.

Deputy Gerald Nash: Information on Gerald Nash Zoom on Gerald Nash I thank the Minister of State for her detailed response. Part of the problem is a lack of clarity among the public with regard to how claims may be handled in certain offices of the Department of Social Protection. I have detected a pattern in recent times whereby once the issue of habitual residency is put forward an official may - this is not always the case - suggest there is little point in making an application because it would not be considered. Will the Minister of State clarify this? What I discern from what she stated is that perhaps there is an amount of flexibility or misunderstanding with regard to how the process works.

The Minister of State mentioned that a person who had previously been habitually resident in the State and had moved to live and work in another country and then resumed his or her long-term residency in the State may be regarded as being habitually resident immediately on his or her return to the State. This is probably an acknowledgement that in the case of an application for carer's allowance by an Irish national, an amount of discretion may be applied by the Department of Social Protection in its consideration. It is important, and it is a stated objective of the Government, that we support carers at every level of society. The Minister of State outlined the approximately €500 million expended by the State on carer's allowance and half-rate carer's allowance. This is a very important support.

As the Minister of State outlined, a small number of people are affected. In 2011, 13,888 applications for carers allowance were processed and 1.6% of these were refused on the basis of habitual residency and only 42 were Irish nationals. A good job of work could be done to clarify the situation for returning emigrants who wish to apply for carer's allowance to take care of a mother, father, aunt or uncle. There appears to be an amount of confusion. This discussion has clarified it and I encourage returning emigrants who are here to support family members to go down the route of applying for a carer's allowance, provide all of the necessary evidence and have a discussion with Department of Social Protection staff to ensure the application is processed and progressed properly.

Deputy Jan O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan I agree with Deputy Nash that there appears to be quite a bit of flexibility with regard to the various elements the officers take into account and in my original contribution I referred to the fact a person can be regarded as being habitually resident immediately on his or her return. I will certainly convey to the Minister, Deputy Burton, the issues Deputy Nash has raised. If there is a need for clarification for those implementing these guidelines I am sure the Department would be happy to provide this clarification to ensure people who are entitled to it receive carer's allowance.

Homeless Persons Data

Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan: Information on Maureen O'Sullivan Zoom on Maureen O'Sullivan While some families will struggle and find Christmas difficult it will be business as usual for many and we will see spending in shops and bars and on travel. It is good that we do not lose sight of those who are homeless. There is a story behind every homeless person and nobody makes a career decision to end up homeless. I represent Dublin Central where it is a major issue but where there are also great organisations such as the Simon Communities, Focus Ireland, Depaul Ireland, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, the Salvation Army, the Capuchin day centre and Dublin City Council. They provide vital services such as emergency services and are trying to progress strategies such as The Way Home and Pathway to Home. I acknowledge the great generosity of Irish people. Other initiatives such as Safetynet also exist.

It is difficult to obtain accurate information on homelessness for many reasons. The concept is complex. When compiling figures on homelessness does one include those who are squatting, those on a sofa for a night, those moving from sofa to sofa and those coming out of hospital, rehabilitation services or prison with nowhere to go? We know what we see on the streets five minutes from here and we have information from the housing lists and statistics. The homeless service at Dublin City Council recently found 87 people were sleeping rough in the month of November, which was the same as the previous month. We know of the very sad death of a homeless person in Wicklow recently. There has been an increase in Cork. A very frightening statistic is that from the beginning to the end of the Celtic tiger, the number of homeless people in the country doubled.

Demands on the services are increasing but the services have the same or fewer resources. I wish to speak about those in addiction who are trying to stay clean and sober but end up in the same accommodation as those still using drugs or drinking. I am glad the Minister of State is present because if the property tax is applied to social housing associations and local authorities struggling as they are with accommodation it will set them back further. They are trying to progress this and I must give them credit.

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