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 Header Item Rented Dwellings Register (Continued)
 Header Item Jobseeker's Allowance Eligibility

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 800 No. 4

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton] As the Deputy's Fianna Fáil predecessors in this office came to understand, this was exceptionally difficult to change.

We have achieved a significant number of changes. I am disappointed that more local authorities have not placed more people and used the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, which gives security and allows people to take up work on the same terms and conditions as local authority tenants. I hope the housing assistance payment will come into force. The Department is ready to hand it over as soon as the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government is ready to take it. There is a large demand for housing in certain areas because employment opportunities are provided by large multinational companies or, for example, at the airport in my area of Fingal.

Deputy Mick Wallace is correct that one of the reasons for the rise in rents appears to be that younger couples who wish to take out mortgages are finding that the banks have been very slow to lend and that their checking procedures are lengthy. The country needs to start developing and building specific accommodation in areas in which it is required. This would provide a stimulus for the economy and help to put building workers back to work. It is an option which would be beneficial for the economy and which the Government is examining.

The review of rents is extremely extensive. Deputies need to bear in mind that rents are falling in certain counties and certain parts of the country. Some areas are experiencing very severe pressure on rents, but equally a previous survey showed that the Department of Social Protection was paying the highest rents in a locality. That does not make sense either. The Department will announce a new scheme in June when the review findings are available.

Jobseeker's Allowance Eligibility

 7. Deputy Alan Farrell Information on Alan Farrell Zoom on Alan Farrell asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton when the most recent review of the income thresholds for jobseeker's allowance took place; the changes made as a result of this review, and if there were revisions or reviews of income thresholds in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 or 2012; if she will outline the changes that were made a result of reviews in these years; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18694/13]

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton Jobseeker’s allowance is a means-tested social assistance scheme operated by my Department. My Department will spend almost €3.1 billion on the scheme in 2013, which is just over 15% of its programme spend this year. For means-testing purposes, account is taken of the income and assets of both the claimant and his or her spouse or partner, including the earnings of the spouse. Where a claimant or a spouse or partner has earnings from insurable employment, earnings less PRSI contributions, pension contributions and trade union subscriptions are assessed as means. A disregard of €20 per day is applied to the earnings for each day worked, subject to a maximum of €60 per week. The balance is then assessed at a figure of 60%. This provides for a means assessment system, whereby the two adults associated with a given claim are assessed in a similar manner with common disregards and assessment applying to both. This replaced an overly complex system which contained disincentives and poverty traps. The current system of assessment has been in place since 2007 and there have been no changes to the scheme since that date. The earnings are assessed by reference to the earnings earned in the 13 weeks preceding the date of the claim or during a period which the deciding officer considers appropriate, having regard to the circumstances of the case.

Where a person or spouse is self-employed, the claimant can apply for jobseeker’s allowance if his or her business ceases or if he or she has a low income as a result of a downturn in demand for the services. In general, a person's means will take account of the level of earnings in the past 12 months and all expenses necessarily incurred in determining the expected income for the following year. In the current climate account is taken of the downward trend in the economy.

Deputy Alan Farrell: Information on Alan Farrell Zoom on Alan Farrell I acknowledge the sizeable part of the Department's budget allocated to this scheme. However, given that the limits have not been changed since 2007, although the manner in which the allowance is allocated has changed, I encourage the Minister to review the scheme on the basis of the number of changes made to the taxation system since 2007. For example, for a family with two children with a single income of €541 a week, the additional universal social charge introduced by the previous Administration amounts to an extra €140 per month. Notwithstanding the exemption by the Government of 320,000 people from payment of the USC, it would still represent a considerable drop in the income of that family. I refer to the number of indirect taxes introduced, with more to come as a result of the economic legacy inherited by this Administration. I ask the Minister to review the income thresholds on the basis of the number of people affected. This issue is not unique to my constituency. A number of the Minister's constituents are contacting my office once a week. I refer to the particular case of a single income family in which the person concerned does not qualify for additional jobseeker supports and the family is literally destitute.

On a further issue, I refer to the educational supports to which individuals are entitled. However, if a person is not in receipt of jobseeker's allowance, he or she may not qualify for State educational supports.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton The Deputy has asked a very detailed question about a particular case about which he has been in touch with the Department. I suggest he provide me with further details about it or other cases and I can then respond in detail.

A total of 296,000 people were in receipt of jobseeker's allowance at the end of March. The allowance is paid to a significant number of adults of working age. Compared to the means test in other jurisdictions, the means test in Ireland is not considered to be unduly restrictive. It also provides for a certain figure for those who may have accumulated savings at a certain level. I will bear in mind the suggestion that there be a review of the means test. However, the Department's focus is currently on the changeover to the new Intreo system and helping people to get back to work. The family income supplement scheme has been revamped. The scheme is of valuable assistance to those working for more than a certain number of hours. The Deputy and I may have an opportunity to discuss the details of some of the cases mentioned to obtain additional information or ascertain if there has been a change in circumstances.

  Written Answers follow Adjournment.


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