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 Header Item Written Answers Nos. 27 - 35
 Header Item Social Welfare Code
 Header Item Jobseeker's Allowance Eligibility
 Header Item Social Welfare Benefits Waiting Times
 Header Item National Internship Scheme Administration
 Header Item Departmental Staff Data
 Header Item Departmental Properties

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 800 No. 4

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Written Answers Nos. 27 - 35

  Question No. 27 answered with Question No. 21.

Social Welfare Code

 28. Deputy Róisín Shortall Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton if she will use the opportunity of the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill later this year to provide for the reimbursement to her Department by insurance companies of social welfare payments deducted from awards of special damages in respect of loss of earnings; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18931/13]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton As the Deputy will be aware, the Department has undertaken a substantial amount of background work on this matter including direct engagement with the Personal Injuries Assessment Board and the State Claims agency as well as extensive discussions with counterparts in Northern Ireland where such as system of reimbursement is in operation. As part of this work, the Department will engage in consultations with relevant stakeholders in order to adequately assess all of the possible implications and to comply with formal Regulatory Impact Assessment requirements.

Jobseeker's Allowance Eligibility

 29. 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 if her Department will take property tax rates into considerations when means testing income to determine if an individual is eligible for jobseeker's allowance; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18693/13]

Minister for Social Protection (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. For means test purposes, account is taken of the income and assets of both the claimant and his or her spouse/partner including the earnings of the spouse. Where a jobseeker’s allowance claimant or their spouse is paying the local property tax, their means for social welfare purposes are their means before they make this payment i.e. no account is taken of such payments in the means assessment. Where a jobseeker’s allowance claimant or their spouse is paying the local property tax, their means for social welfare purposes are their means before they make this payment i.e. no account is taken of such payments in the means assessment. Any changes to the arrangements outlined above would have to be considered in the context of the on-going review of all Government expenditure and Budget 2014.

  Questions Nos. 30 and 31 answered with Question No. 21.

Social Welfare Benefits Waiting Times

 32. Deputy Noel Harrington Information on Noel Harrington Zoom on Noel Harrington asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton if she will state for each payment issued by the schemes administered by her Department the processing time that it is currently taking to process these from the date of application to the final decision to award payment ; if she will provide a further breakdown for each payment stating the time taken for the initial process to record the application on the system, the time taken to process a means test if applicable, the time to process a habitual residence check if applicable, the time to process the medical examination if applicable, the time taken to process all other checks for each payment; the steps she has taken to reduce these processing times; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18702/13]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton The Department is committed to ensuring that claims are processed as expeditiously as possible. The Table below provides details of processing times for each of the Department’s schemes in March 2013. A further breakdown of the time taken for the individual steps in the processing of claims is not available. All claims are registered promptly, in some schemes this is done through the scanning of claim documents onto the system while in other schemes this involves an officer inputting data. The time taken to perform means tests and/or medical examinations where these are required is not measured separately, while a determination on habitual residence where required is an integral part of the decision making process.

  Processing times vary across schemes, depending on the differing qualification criteria.  As can be seen from the data in the table below, schemes that require a high level of documentary evidence from the customer, particularly in the case of illness-related schemes, can take longer to process. Similarly, means-tested payments can also require more detailed investigation and interaction with the applicant, thereby lengthening the decision making process. Delays can also arise if information is required from social security organisations in other jurisdictions and where additional information has been requested from the applicant but remains outstanding. Work on clearing backlogs in some scheme areas, such as carers allowance and invalidity pension has temporarily distorted the time taken to clear claims due to the high level of reviews and appeals following backlog clearances, but the progress made will be reflected in processing times in the coming months. Both schemes are up to date with the processing of new applications, as is family income supplement for both new and renewal applications.

  As part of the Department’s programme of service delivery modernisation, a range of initiatives aimed at streamlining the processing of claims, supported by modern technology, have been implemented in recent years. Operational processes, procedures and the organisation of work are continually reviewed to ensure that processing capability is maximised. In addition, the staffing needs of the Department are regularly reviewed, having regard to workloads and the competing demands arising, to ensure that the best use is made of all available resources.

  The new Intreo service is currently being rolled-out and implemented on a phased basis. This new service integrates employment and income supports and provides for a streamlined and personalized service to clients in accessing job opportunities and availing of supports to enable them to get back to work at the earliest possible opportunity. The Intreo Centres also include a single integrated decision-making team that integrate and streamline the processes formerly undertaken by the different agencies now amalgamated into the Department. The benefits of the integrated decisions process are already visible in terms of shorter decision times and in the reduced recourse to supplementary payments in offices where integrated decisions are in operation.

  I wish to assure the Deputies that prompt processing of claims remains a priority for me. Each scheme area is continuously monitored and processing procedures reviewed to ensure that claims are paid to customer as quickly as possible.   

  Table: Claim processing times - March 2013

Scheme
Average weeks to award
State Pension (contributory)
4
State Pension (transition)
6
State pension (non-contributory)
14
Widow(er)’s Pension (contributory)
2
Widow(er)’s Pension (non-con) pension & one parent family payment (widow)
6
One Parent Family
13
Household Benefits
2
Bereavement Grant
1
Invalidity Pension
60 (claims received in the last 6 months are decided within 8 weeks. Appeals and reviews from backlog clearance are pushing out the average)
Family Income Supplement - New Claims
14 (new and renewal claims are now processed within 2 weeks of receipt)
Disability Allowance
23
Carer’s Benefit
9
Carer’s Allowance
34 (claims received in the last 6 months are decided within 13 weeks. Appeals and reviews from backlog clearance are pushing out the average)
Jobseeker’s Benefit
2
Jobseeker’s Allowance
4
Illness Benefit
1
Maternity Benefit
2
Child Benefit

- Domestic
3
Domiciliary Care Allowance
7
Back to Education Allowance
Applicants for BTEA are already in receipt of another social welfare payment before a decision is made on their entitlement to the Allowance.

National Internship Scheme Administration

 33. Deputy Thomas Pringle Information on Thomas Pringle Zoom on Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton if her attention has been drawn to the situation in Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council owned Ballyogan Recycling Depot, aat which a number of persons have been taken on to the JobsBridge scheme which has resulted in other workers being displaced [18808/13]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton The Department is in receipt of a complaint regarding the issue raised by the Deputy and is currently examining the matter. All allegations are taken extremely seriously; displacement of existing workers by JobBridge interns is not allowed under the terms and conditions of the JobBridge scheme, is a flagrant abuse of the scheme and is not a practice that can be condoned in any circumstances. Any host organisation which is found to be displacing paid staff in contravention of the scheme rules will be disbarred from further access to the scheme. In addition, all existing internships with that host organisation will cease with immediate effect. I understand that the facility referred to in the question is operated by a private firm operating under contract with the local authority. The complaint made is currently being investigated by the Department and I am advised that an investigating officer has been in contact with both the individual who raised the complaint and with the host organisation. I expect a report on the matter to be finalised shortly.

The whole purpose of Jobbridge is to encourage job creation and to incentivise employers to offer opportunities to unemployed people. It runs counter to the logic of the scheme that it should be used to displace existing employees onto the live register and I will not tolerate such behaviour. In fact the scheme has been designed and is operated with a number of controls designed to minimise the risk of such behaviour. Specifically:

- The host organisation may not provide an internship opportunity under the Scheme to an individual with whom they have an existing employment relationship

- The host organisation cannot advertise internships if they have paid employment vacancies in the area of activity in which the internship is offered.

- The total number of internships which may be availed of by a host organisation is limited to 1 in 10 of their workforce or, in the case of very large employers, an absolute limit of 200 staff.

- Organisations must abide by a six-month cooling-off period between internships; in other words an organisation cannot ‘roll-over’ internships on a continuous basis. This limits the ability of an internship to substitute for a permanent role.

- The host organisation must commit to provide coaching and mentoring to the interns and to complete monthly compliance returns to the Department of Social Protection

- All applications from host organisations to advertise internships are reviewed and assessed against these criteria by the Department’s National Contact Centre in Edenderry.

- The Department of Social Protection proactively monitors internships on an ongoing basis. This involves the regular review of monthly compliance reports and the conduct of random monitoring site inspections. Since Jobbridge was launched 1,712 monitoring visits have been conducted.

- All complaints received from interns or members of the public are investigated. In addition to the regular monitoring regime, 275 complaints have warranted investigation since the Scheme commenced.

- To date 15 host organisations found to have breached the scheme criteria have been excluded from further participation in the Scheme.

I am satisfied that the design of the scheme together with the intensive monitoring regime operated by the Department minimises the level of displacement and acts to protect the interests of host organisations, interns and the wider labour market.

Departmental Staff Data

 34. Deputy Martin Ferris Information on Martin Ferris Zoom on Martin Ferris asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton the number of unfilled positions within her Department and their titles; and the dates on which she expects to fill these positions. [18838/13]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton The Department’s Employment Control Framework (ECF) figure, set by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER), for the total number of full time equivalent posts was set at 6,610 for 2012 is now set at 6,377 for 2013, which requires the Department to reduce the number of posts by 233 this year. The Department’s salary budget for 2013 has been reconfigured to take account of this reduced ECF. In the light of the revised ECF the Department is currently examining ways in which it can restructure its business in order to achieve its reduced staffing numbers. On that basis, only posts that are absolutely critical will be considered as to whether they can be filled. Therefore, at any given time, vacancies within my Department may change, with staff being reassigned or transferred to fill a critical post. It is not possible to provide a definitive number of unfilled positions, or to provide a timeframe as to when and if positions can be filled.

Staff redeployment is handled in such a manner as to ensure that the Department continues to meet its functions and serves its customer’s needs in an efficient and timely manner. The Department continues to meet its targets as efficiently as possible within available resources. In this regard, each week, nearly 1.5 million people receive a social welfare payment and, when qualified adults and children are included, almost 2.3 million people benefit from weekly payments. Some 600,000 families receive child benefit payments in respect of over 1.2 million children each month. In 2012 the activities of the Department included: 2 million applications processed; 87 million scheme payments made; more than 1 million control reviews; million telephone calls answered; 32,558 social welfare appeals finalised; 95,000 job opportunities advertised and; over 154,000 PPS numbers allocated to clients from more than 180 countries.

Departmental Properties

 35. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien Information on Jonathan O'Brien Zoom on Jonathan O'Brien asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton the number and locations through which her Department operates; the amount being paid in rent for each unit for each of the past three years; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18846/13]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton The Department delivers it services from approximately 970 locations throughout the country. A database which provides the locations of these offices is available on request. The payment of rent in respect of each unit is a matter for the Commissioners of Public Works who have responsibility for the provision of the Department’s accommodation. In addition to the premises provided by the Commissioners of Public Works, the Department pays rent to the HSE and FAS in respect of premises accommodating staff now transferred to the Department of Social Protection. In 2012, the Department of Social Protection paid the HSE and FAS a combined total of €2.089 million in respect of 750 of the total 970 locations.


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