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 Header Item Written Answers Nos. 9-17
 Header Item Unemployment Levels
 Header Item Money Advice and Budgeting Service Remit
 Header Item Employment Support Services
 Header Item Social Welfare Appeals Data
 Header Item Departmental Staff Data
 Header Item Community Employment Schemes Places
 Header Item Social Welfare Appeals Waiting Times
 Header Item Proposed Legislation
 Header Item Social Welfare Eligibility

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 800 No. 4

First Page Previous Page Page of 92 Next Page Last Page

Written Answers Nos. 9-17

Unemployment Levels

 9. Deputy Willie O'Dea Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton her views on addressing the problem of under-employment across the country; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18954/13]

 54. 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 way the Action Plan on Jobs 2013 will tackle the problem of underemployment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18649/13]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton I propose to take Questions Nos. 9 and 54 together.

Underemployment is defined by the Central Statistics Office as a situation where people are working part-time, are willing to work additional hours and are actually available to work those additional hours. The number of people classified as underemployed rose significantly during the crisis, from 81,000 at the end of 2008 to 146,000 at the end of 2011 and remained unchanged through to the end of 2012. This type of increase is typically observed at the start of all downturns and is evidence that some employers put workers on part-time employment as part of an adjustment strategy to cope with the reality of recession. The most recent data indicate that almost one third of all part-time workers are underemployed.

Some people classified by CSO as underemployed receive income support from my Department to supplement their earnings in employment. The number of such casual and part-time workers included in the Live Register, for example, rose from about 20,000 in early 2008 to almost 90,000 at the end of last month. In addition, other persons classified as underemployed may be receiving payments from my Department under the Systematic Short-time Working Scheme, under schemes such as Community Employment and Tús that provide part-time temporary employment, and under other working-age schemes such as the One Parent Family Payment scheme.

A key factor driving this rise in underemployment is the weak labour demand in the domestic economy. The approach to reducing underemployment is the same as that for reducing unemployment. The Government's primary strategy to tackle both unemployment and underemployment is to create the environment for a strong economic recovery by promoting competitiveness and productivity through the Action Plan for Jobs. Through the Pathways to Work strategy, we are trying to ensure that persons on the Live Register are in a position to take up full-time job opportunities as they arise. This is being done through a range of activation measures to provide support and assistance to jobseekers combined with a renewed focus on building relations with employers in order to encourage recruitment of people from the Live Register.

Measures of particular relevance to counteracting underemployment are those that incentivise employers to give full-time jobs to persons who are currently on the Live Register (including the underemployed), most notably the Employers PRSI Incentive and the Revenue Job Assist Scheme. These will be replaced in July of this year by JobsPlus, a single simplified programme.

The Part-Time Job Incentive (PTJI) Scheme is intended as a stepping stone to full-time work partly in recognition of the reality of underemployment. It allows certain long-term unemployed people to take up part-time work and get a special weekly allowance instead of their jobseeker's payment. The Department also supports jobseekers to transition to full-time employment through the Family Income Support Scheme.

Finally, as I mentioned earlier, the Department provides income support to the underemployed to supplement their earned income, via Jobseeker’s Benefit/Jobseeker’s Allowance, provided a person is working no more than 3 days a week. Jobseekers payments paid in conjunction with such periods of casual employment may now count towards satisfying the qualifying period for access to the JobBridge Internship programme. Underemployed casual workers are also entitled to access a range of part-time training and education opportunities for unemployed people.

Money Advice and Budgeting Service Remit

 10. Deputy Billy Kelleher Information on Billy Kelleher Zoom on Billy Kelleher asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton the role of the Money Advisory Bureau under the new personal insolvency regime; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18939/13]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton MABS, which comes within the remit of the Citizens Information Board, provides a high quality service which assists people who are over-indebted or in danger of over-indebtedness, in particular those on low incomes. In 2013 some €19 million has been allocated to fund MABS while the Citizens Information Board has a budget of some €47.4 million. I am very pleased that sanction has been given for 16 temporary staff to be assigned to MABS for up to 2 years, to establish an Approved Intermediary Service as part of the new Insolvency Service. The CIB and MABS National Development Limited are working closely to ensure that the appropriate structures are in place within MABS to implement this new and important statutory role. They have also engaged proactively with the Insolvency Service to ensure that the Approved Intermediary Service is fully operational in time for the establishment of the Insolvency Service. The Personal Insolvency Act 2012 provides for a Debt Relief Notice (DRN) for persons with no assets or income with unsecured debts of up to €20,000. With the assistance of an Approved Intermediary, a person may apply for a DRN which will allow for the full write-off of qualifying unsecured debt after a three year supervision period. The Citizens Information Board (CIB), which has the statutory responsibility for the Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS) has agreed to my request that MABS be an Approved Intermediary for the purpose of processing applications for Debt Relief Notices. Those who can avail of DRNs are typically part of the MABS core client cohort of people on low incomes in debt or in danger of falling into debt.

  I am satisfied that MABS will play an important role in the new arrangements for dealing with debt and will continue to provide a high quality personal service to assist people in overcoming their indebtedness and managing their finances.

Employment Support Services

 11. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton the number of staff within her Department committed to employer engagement as part of the pathways to work strategy, the use of private contractors in the INTREO activation service; the number of INTREO offices opened across the State; the amount planned in the future; the amount of money spent on INTREO offices across the State to date in 2013; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18942/13]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton As the Deputy will be aware, the ‘Pathways to Work’ policy commits to the provision of more regular and on-going engagement and greater targeting of activation places and job opportunities for those who are unemployed. It also aims to increase engagement and incentivise employers to provide more jobs for people who are unemployed. A dedicated Employer Engagement Unit was established in 2012 to coordinate the Department’s engagement with employers. The unit includes staff dealing with JobBridge, the European Job Mobility Portal (EURES), and the National Contact Centre, which hosts the Jobs Ireland website, as well as staff providing policy and coordination support to employer engagement across the country. There are over 35 staff working in the Employer Engagement Unit. In addition there are approximately 400 staff in the Department's regional divisions who work on employment services with both employers and jobseekers. As part of this structure there are 13 dedicated officers at senior management level leading the engagement process with employers at a regional level.

Turning to the issue of contracting, as part of its employment service provision, the Department already contracts with other providers for the delivery of both the Local Employment Service (LES) and Job Clubs. Employment services, including career planning, engagement with employers and job search assistance, are provided under contract by these organisations to clients who are activated by the Department. The Department funds this contracted provision to the value of approximately €25m per annum and these organisations employ approximately 390 staff, who are engaged in the provision of these services.

The Department is at present considering how it might supplement its existing delivery capacity through the further expansion of contracting. The Department has engaged external services in a variety of areas such as Local Employment Services and Job Clubs. The Department retained the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion (CESI) in November 2012 to provide expert advice with regard to the potential for, and the design of, a contracting model based on a risk sharing payment structure. The Department is currently considering the CESI report and will in due course finalise its own position. It is important to note that, although the term ‘private contracting’ is used in some quarters to indicate service provision by organisations outside of the direct state sector, experience in other countries indicates that the voluntary and not-for-profit sectors feature strongly in the supply-chain.

As set out in Pathways to Work, the introduction of the new Intreo service is a multi-annual project. The first ten Intreo offices went live in 2012. These are Sligo, Arklow, Tallaght, Kings Inns, Ballymun, Buncrana, Coolock, Dundalk, Finglas and Killarney. A further 2 offices are now providing the full Intreo service in Newcastlewest and Blanchardstown. Preparations are underway in a further 8 offices and it is expected that a total of 43 offices will be delivering the Intreo service by the end of 2013. The remaining offices will be providing the integrated service by the end of 2014.

Expenditure on the rollout of Intreo offices to date in 2013 is estimated at €1.9 million. The estimated final cost for Intreo will be in the region of €8m. These costs are kept under close scrutiny as the Department is committed to securing value for money in implementing the introduction of the various elements of the service. These figures compare favourably to experience in other countries.

Social Welfare Appeals Data

 12. Deputy Mick Wallace Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton her views on allowing persons to avail of civil legal aid when making appeals either written or oral or both to the Social Welfare Appeals Office; her views on the need to publish the decisions of social welfare appeals officers; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18973/13]

 47. Deputy Seán Crowe Information on Seán Crowe Zoom on Seán Crowe asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton if she plans to address the fact that the Appeals Office is not independent in view of the fact that it must adjudicate on decisions of her Department, of which is it a part, and appeals officers are employees of her Department, appointed by her and may return to another section after working in the Appeals Office leading to a lack of public confidence in its ability. [18843/13]

 51. Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton if she will introduce a database of appeals decisions that would be accessible to the public in view of the fact that appeals decisions could be considered quasi-judicial in character. [18835/13]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton I propose to take Questions Nos. 12, 47 and 51 together.

  The social welfare appeals process has a statutory basis in both primary and secondary legislation. In this context, Appeals Officers are quasi-judicial officers and are required to be, and are, free and unrestricted in discharging their functions.

  The appeals system was reformed in 1990 to establish the Social Welfare Appeals Office (SWAO) as a separate executive office with its own premises and staff operating independently of the Department. In the twenty years since that reform there has been no sustained or concerted criticism relating to the independence of the office or the impartiality of its Appeals Officers. The independence of the office is evidenced by the high level of appeals which were allowed in favour of the appellant (50.4%) in 2012. This issue a searchable, anonymised database was the subject of a recent High Court case, Ikraam Jama v Minister for Social Protection, 11 October 2011. The Judge in that case found that there was no duty on the SWAO to maintain a database for public access. In the course of that challenge, comparisons were drawn with the Social Security Commissioners in Northern Ireland, the Refugee Appeals Tribunal and the Equality Tribunal who do publish their decisions. In 2010, the Social Security Commissioners in Northern Ireland finalised 141 decisions, the Refugee Appeals Tribunal finalised 2,783 and the Equality Tribunal finalised 322 whereas the Social Welfare Appeals Office finalised 28,166 decisions in the same period.

  Given the volume of social welfare appeals which are decided annually (32,558 appeals were decided in 2012), the provision of such a database would be a vast and resource-intensive undertaking. For example, in creating and maintaining such a database, it would not be enough to remove names and addresses, all personal information would have to be removed so that not even a family member could recognise the case. Equally, examining anonymised cases could also be misleading given the wide range of variables between the circumstances of different individuals and where the slightest variation between circumstances might mean a different conclusion would be arrived at.

  However, it is recognised that there is a clear need to strike a balance between achieving effectiveness and efficiency in administering the appeals system and the need to ensure fair and equitable access to customers. In this regard, the   number of case studies published on the Social Welfare Appeals Office website was increased by 100 last year and it is proposed to publish a similar number this year.

  While civil legal aid is not available to appellants, my Department provides funding to a number of organisations to provide information, advice and advocacy services on a wide range of public and social services, including the Social Welfare Appeals process. These organisations include the Citizens Information Board, the National Advocacy Service, which focuses particularly on people with disabilities, and the INOU which focuses on the unemployed. In addition, funding is also provided to the Northside Community Law Centre to provide information, advice and representation on legal matters.

Departmental Staff Data

 13. Deputy David Stanton Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton the number of medical assessors currently employed by her Department; if the new panel of medical assessors has now been created; the number of persons on this panel; the number of additional medical assessors due to be recruited this year and expected start date of each; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18701/13]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton There are currently 23 Medical Assessors employed in my Department, including the Chief Medical Adviser and the Deputy Chief Medical Adviser. All of the staff in question serve on a full-time basis. As an exception to the current moratorium on recruitment in the civil and public service, my Department received sanction from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to hold a competition to appoint Medical Assessors, with a view to filling critical vacancies that had arisen following the retirement of a number of serving Medical Assessors. In addition, and in view of the critical control role that Medical Assessors play in assessing and reviewing illness related claims, sanction was also given to appoint additional Medical Assessors to fill vacancies which will be due to arise in the near future as a result of retirements. A public competition, administered on behalf of my Department by the Public Appointments Service (PAS), was held in 2012. Fourteen people were placed on the panel that was established following completion of the competitive process.

To date six Medical Assessors have been appointed from this panel, three of whom took up duty in November 2012 and a further three in March of this year. Four of those placed on the panel have subsequently withdrawn from the process. My Department has continued to liaise with the PAS with a view to appointing the four remaining candidates at the earliest opportunity. In this regard, one offer of appointment has been issued, a further two are expected to issue shortly and clearance from the PAS is expected in relation to the last candidate in the coming days.

I place great emphasis on ensuring that all claims are processed and reviewed in a timely manner and I’m very pleased that the Department has been able to fill these critical vacancies and to frontload the appointment of additional Medical Assessors in advance of retirement thereby enabling the Department to deliver a quality service to our customers.

Community Employment Schemes Places

 14. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh Information on Aengus Ó Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton if she will provide an update on the introduction of a community employment programme for those who wish to become childcare providers; the number of places that will be available and their locations; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18824/13]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton The Department of Social Protection is improving the provision of training and work experience for CE participants on Community Employment overall. Supports for Childcare Providers are a matter for the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and not this Department. Recent developments have focused on CE schemes involved in supporting community childcare services and on CE participants who wish to pursue a career in childcare while on CE. These developments reflect the findings of a number of recent reviews - the "CE Financial Review of Schemes" (2012) and the "Review of Department of Social Protection Employment Support Schemes" (2012). In response, the Department is planning a number of improvements which will provide a clear career progression path and a structure for CE participants in Early Years Services.

Social Welfare Appeals Waiting Times

 15. Deputy Brian Stanley Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton the average waiting time for finalisation of cases in the SWAO; the number of applicants during each of the years between 2008 and 2012 who waited for the finalisation of their case more than three months, between six and eight months, between eight months and twelve months and twelve months or more. [18829/13]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton I am advised by the Social Welfare Appeals Office that the current average times taken to process appeals decided by summary decision is 27.1 weeks and 36.4 weeks for those requiring an oral hearing. These processing times are calculated from the registration date of the appeal to the date of its finalisation. The average processing to process appeals in the years 2008 to 2012 is given in the attached table. These processing times are calculated from the registration date of the appeal to the date of its finalisation. They include all activities during this period including time spent in the Department for comments by the Deciding Officer on the grounds of appeal put forward by the appellant, and any further investigation, examination or assessment by the Department’s Inspectors and Medical Assessors that is deemed necessary. A considerable period of time is added to the process when an oral hearing is required because of the logistics involved in this process.

  Generally the vast majority of cases fall within average processing times but extenuating factors, often outside of the control of the Social Welfare Appeals Office, will cause greater delays in some cases. By its nature and because it is a quasi-judicial nature, the processing of appeals takes time even at the best of times and reflects the fact that, by definition, the appeal process cannot be a quick one.

Average Processing Time of Appeals 2008-2012

Year Average processing times (weeks)

Summary Decisions
Average processing times (weeks)

Oral Hearing
2008 13.9 32.9
2009 18.2 34.8
2010 27.4 45.6
2011 25.1 52.5
2012 27.8 39.5

Proposed Legislation

 16. Deputy Dessie Ellis Information on Dessie Ellis Zoom on Dessie Ellis asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton the date on which she will introduce the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18845/13]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton The Social Welfare and Pensions (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2013 will provide for amendments to the social welfare code arising from Budget 2013 and from policy, administrative, operational and control matters. It will also make miscellaneous amendments to the Pensions Act 1990. I intend to publish the Bill in the second half of May.

Social Welfare Eligibility

 17. Deputy Joe Higgins Information on Joe Higgins Zoom on Joe Higgins asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton if she will provide figures for the number of persons who have had their unemployment assistance and unemployment benefit cut because her Department was not satisfied that sufficient effort was being made by the people concerned to find employment. [18968/13]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton A jobseeker claim can be disallowed where the customer fails to meet the conditions of the scheme, including the requirement to be available for full-time work and genuinely seeking work. Continued entitlement to payment is also subject to review on an on-going basis and in this context I assume the Deputy is referring to the application of penalty rates to jobseeker claims. Reduced payment rates (penalty rates) for jobseekers were introduced in April 2011 as a means of achieving the engagement of jobseekers with activation measures, including the National Employment Action Plan (NEAP). A penalty of up to €44 per week applies to an individual’s jobseeker payment where there is a failure to engage with this process. The total number of penalty rates applied during 2012 was 1,455. From January to March 2013 the number of penalty rates applied was 619.


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