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 Header Item Written Answers Nos 63-84
 Header Item Departmental Staff Redeployment
 Header Item Departmental Reports
 Header Item State Pension (Contributory) Eligibility
 Header Item Artists' Remuneration
 Header Item Pension Provisions
 Header Item One-Parent Family Payment Eligibility
 Header Item Social Welfare Appeals Data
 Header Item Budget 2017
 Header Item Supplementary Welfare Allowance Expenditure
 Header Item One-Parent Family Payment Eligibility
 Header Item Social Welfare Payments Waiting Times
 Header Item Housing Assistance Payments Data
 Header Item Rural Social Scheme
 Header Item JobPath Implementation
 Header Item Direct Provision Payments
 Header Item Social Welfare Appeals Waiting Times
 Header Item Citizen Information Services
 Header Item Jobseeker's Benefit
 Header Item JobPath Implementation
 Header Item Community Employment Schemes Eligibility

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 946 No. 2

First Page Previous Page Page of 109 Next Page Last Page

Written Answers Nos 63-84

  Question No. 63 answered orally.

Departmental Staff Redeployment

 64. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the extent to which adequate personnel remain available throughout his Department to ensure a speedy seamless process for dealing with all applications for various payments including means testing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17846/17]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar My Department, like all Government departments and agencies, is required to operate within a staff ceiling figure and a commensurate administrative staffing budget, which for this Department has involved reductions in staff numbers.

The staffing needs for all areas within the Department are continuously reviewed, taking account of workloads, management priorities and the ongoing need to respond to new and increasing demands in a wide range of services. This is to ensure the best use is made of all available resources with a view to providing an efficient service to those who rely on the schemes operated by the Department.

Departmental Reports

 65. Deputy Thomas Pringle Information on Thomas Pringle Zoom on Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar his views on the contents of his Department's report into seasonal workers in County Donegal and the barriers in accessing basic social welfare payments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17849/17]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I gave a commitment at Dáil Report Stage of the Social Welfare Bill 2016 that I would ask my officials to examine the issue of jobseeker’s benefit and the treatment of part-time and seasonal workers, including those categorised as having subsidiary employment. As a result, my Department is currently undertaking two reports – one in relation to the subsidiary employment daily earnings limit of €12.70 and the second in relation to the duration of jobseeker’s benefit.

My intention is to present these reports to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Social Protection for its consideration shortly. The timeframe is ambitious but I am committed to producing the reports as quickly as possible so that they can inform Budget 2018 discussions.

State Pension (Contributory) Eligibility

 66. Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin Information on Fiona O'Loughlin Zoom on Fiona O'Loughlin asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar his plans to implement changes to the State contributory pension criteria to ensure that persons that had a break in their insurance contribution records while in receipt of farm assist due to periods of low farm income are not deprived of full State contributory pension; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17842/17]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar The farm assist scheme was introduced in 1999 to provide income support for low income farmers. It replaced the former smallholders’ unemployment assistance payment. In line with the then existing arrangements for unemployment assistance (including smallholders) and pre-retirement allowance, the income of farm assist recipients was exempt from class S PRSI for self-employed workers.

Recipients of farm assist who had previously paid Class S social insurance had the option of paying voluntary contributions to maintain their social insurance record, provided they satisfied the qualifying conditions. Since 1 January 2007, the exemption from class S PRSI has been removed and those receiving jobseeker’s allowance and farm assist are subject to Class S PRSI as self-employed contributors on their self-employed income, provided their annual income is €5,000 or more.

I have no plans to amend legislation regarding the State pension (contributory), to award a maximum rate payment to pensioners who had such a period during 1999-2006 when they were exempt from PRSI.

However, a person aged over 66 with limited PRSI contributions over the course of their life may claim a State pension (non-contributory) if they have an income need, and this entitlement is not based on payment of social insurance contributions. The maximum weekly rate is €227, i.e. over 95% of the maximum contributory pension rate. While it is means-tested, there are very significant disregards which are to the benefit of claimants, and over 70% of such pensioners are paid at the full rate.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Artists' Remuneration

 67. Deputy Niamh Smyth Information on Niamh Smyth Zoom on Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar if he has had discussions with the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs regarding the establishment of a specific social protection payment for artists; if there interdepartmental initiatives planned to ensure support for artists; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17715/17]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar One of the initiatives announced as part of the Creative Ireland Programmewhich was launched by the Taoiseach in December was that the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs in conjunction with my Department would devise a mechanism during 2017 to assist self-employed artists who have applied for Jobseeker’s Allowance.

  I have been in contact with my colleague the Minister for Arts on the matter and officials of our two Departments have already begun working on this initiative in consultation with the Arts Council. Details of the pilot scheme will be announced as soon as possible.

Pension Provisions

 68. Deputy John Brady Information on John Brady Zoom on John Brady asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the assurances he can give to persons living here receiving a pension payment from the UK as a result of Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17955/17]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar It is important to state that the current arrangements for social security between Ireland and the UK have not changed. All social welfare payments, including pensions, continue to be paid as normal.

Furthermore, social security arrangements between the UK and the EU27 also have not changed. The future operation of arrangements will, of course, be determined as part of the complex process of negotiating the UK’s exit from the EU.

Clearly, a key area of concern is the impact of Brexit on the current reciprocal arrangements for social security schemes, including pensions, and services between Ireland and the UK, including Northern Ireland. The Government's long-term objective is to ensure that the reciprocity of civic rights and social welfare rights and entitlements, which currently exist for Irish and UK citizens moving within Ireland and between Ireland and Britain under the Common Travel Area (CTA), are safeguarded and maintained.

To that end, I have strongly emphasised the importance of this in my meetings with my counterparts in the UK and other EU member states

In addition, as a member of the North-South Ministerial Council and the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, I will take every opportunity to protect and advance this objective as will my officials.

There are 10,250 customers of the Department in receipt of British Retirement Pensions (BRP) who are in receipt of State pension non-contributory (SPNC). Separately there are 152 customers, who are in receipt of BRP, and are qualified adults on their spouse’s SPNC. As this is a means tested pension and the level of their pensions is adjusted to take account of their BRP, the amount of their payment has been impacted as a result of currency fluctuations. Where requested by the customer and in an effort to minimise any hardship, the Department urgently reviews the pension payable in line with current EU regulations governing currency conversion rates. Such reviews, however, involve a full assessment of the customer’s means. An increase in SPNC might not always be warranted when all means are updated and reassessed. A total of 445 such requests have been made by customers in recent months.

One-Parent Family Payment Eligibility

 69. Deputy Mick Wallace Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar his plans to raise the cut off age of the one-parent family payment to 14 years of age or to introduce additional measures to assist lone parents with children between the ages of 7 and 14, in view of the fact that recent SILC data shows that almost 60% of persons living in one parent households experience deprivation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17848/17]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar The latest CSO Survey on Income and Living Conditions (SILC) for 2015 shows that the deprivation rate for lone parent households fell from 58.7% in 2014 to 57.9% in 2015.

  The full impact of the recovery is not reflected in these figures. Macro-economic and labour market indicators show continued economic and employment growth. The social impact assessment of Budget 2017 showed that average household incomes increased for working lone parents by 1.2% and non-earning lone parents by 4.5% against a 1% gain for the average household.

  This SILC data for 2015 also shows that being at work reduces the consistent poverty rate for lone parents by three-quarters, highlighting that the best way to tackle poverty among lone parents is to assist them into employment.

  All lone parents on a jobseeker’s transitional payment gain access to a one-to-one meeting with an Intreo case officer and associated activation supports for up to 7 years in order to improve the individual’s employment prospects. Any change to the current policy would delay access to this essential service and would be a retrograde step in tackling poverty among lone parents.   

  There are no plans to raise the cut off age of the one parent family payment to 14 years of age.

  Any additional measures to assist lone parents with children between the ages of 7 and 14 would have budgetary implications and must be agreed as part of Budget 2018 discussions.

  Question No. 70 answered with Question No. 43.

Social Welfare Appeals Data

 71. Deputy Bobby Aylward Information on Bobby Aylward Zoom on Bobby Aylward asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the average time it takes for a file to be sent from the carer's allowance section in County Sligo to the social welfare appeals office in Dublin once the file has been requested by the latter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17455/17]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar Carer's Allowance (CA) is a means-tested social assistance payment, made to persons who are providing full-time care and attention to a person who has a disability such that they require that level of care.

During 2016, the CA section which is based in my Department’s office in Longford, processed 31,881 applications. Each decision notice offered the recipient a right of review and appeal.

When a person appeals a decision, the Social Welfare Appeals Office (SWAO), which is independent of the Department, send a notice of the appeal to the CA section requesting a statement from the deciding officer showing the extent to which the facts and contentions advanced by the appellant are admitted or disputed.

At that stage a different deciding officer reviews in full the original decision which is under appeal and any additional statement or evidence provided as part of the appeal. It is quite often the case that additional information and evidence is supplied by the appellant at this stage, which may require further investigation by a Social Welfare Inspector or Medical Assessor.

This review can take some time and can sometimes result in a revised decision by the deciding officer which means an appeal is no longer required. In 2016, 751 such cases were successful on review, resulting in the withdrawal of the appeal. In another 2,581 cases, the original decision was not revised and a statement on behalf of the deciding officer was sent to the SWAO to assist in their consideration of the appeal.

The average time taken between my Department receiving these requests from the SWAO and issuing the statements to the SWAO was 44 days; this figure includes time spent re-investigating and reviewing these cases.

Reducing this waiting time is a priority for my Department and we are working hard to make this happen. Operational processes, procedures and the organisation of work are continually reviewed to ensure that appeal processing capability is maximised.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Budget 2017

 72. Deputy Willie Penrose Information on Willie Penrose Zoom on Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the proposals announced for his Department in budget 2017 that have yet to be implemented; and when they will be implemented. [17590/17]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar My priority in Budget 2017 was to help ensure that everyone benefits from the recovery - including retired people, people with disabilities, carers, lone parents, farmers and people who are unemployed. In doing this I sought to balance the improvements to social welfare payments with measures designed to make sure that the system also works for people who are in employment, including self-employed people.

  On Budget Day, I announced the first general increase in all weekly rates of payment since 2009. A €5 increase in the maximum weekly rates of payment for all social welfare payments took effect in March, with proportionate increases for qualified adults and those on reduced rates of payment. Approximately 1.5 million people are benefitting from this increase.

  I am also extending social insurance benefits for the self-employed. Since last month, self-employed contributors can now avail of the Treatment Benefit scheme, which includes free eye and dental exams, and contributions towards the cost of hearing aids and contact lenses.

  I also introduced changes to improve the financial benefit of work for lone parents who take up some employment. The income disregards for the One Parent Family Payment and Jobseekers’ Transition payment increased by €20, from €90 to €110 per week, reversing, in part, previous reductions. This change improves the level of take-home earnings of lone parents. For example lone parents earning €110 per week or more, saw their take-home income rise by up to €15 per week from January 2017.

  A number of Budget 2017 measures will take effect from later this year, most significantly, from December, self-employed contributors will be eligible for the Invalidity Pension. For the first time, this will give self-employed people access to the safety net of a guaranteed income support if they have the misfortune of experiencing a debilitating illness or injury that prevents them from working.

  Treatment benefit entitlements will also be extended from October 2017 so as to provide further dental and optical benefits to both employees and people who are self-employed.

  In addition from the commencement of the next academic year in September, a €500 annual Cost of Education Allowance will be made available to Back to Education Allowance participants with children. This will help parents, including lone parents, to return to and remain in, education.

  Also from September, young jobseekers under the age of 25 will be entitled to receive the full maximum rate of jobseeker’s payment of €193 per week when they engage in educational activity under the Back to Education Allowance scheme. This is an increase of €33 or 21% on the current level of payment.

  Finally, also from September, Budget 2017 provides for the inclusion in the School Meals scheme of an additional 80 schools not currently part of DEIS but deemed to require this support following the recently launched DEIS Plan 2017 by my colleague, the Minister of Education and Skills. In addition for the first time in many years, School Meals will be extended to schools outside of DEIS, with the phased extension of the scheme to breakfast clubs in non-DEIS schools from September 2017.   

Supplementary Welfare Allowance Expenditure

 73. Deputy Willie O'Dea Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the budget allocated for supplementary welfare allowance from 2014 to date; his views on whether the budget is sufficient to meet demand; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17859/17]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar The supplementary welfare allowance (SWA) scheme provides assistance to eligible people in the State whose means are insufficient to meet their needs and those of their dependants. The main purpose of the scheme is to provide immediate and flexible assistance for those in need who do not qualify for payment under other State schemes.

  Supports provided under the SWA scheme can consist of a basic primary weekly payment and/or a weekly/monthly supplement in respect of certain expenses, including rent, as well as single exceptional needs payments (ENPs) and urgent needs payments (UNPs). The budget allocated for the SWA schemes for 2014 to 2017 are set out in the following tabular statement.

  The SWA schemes are subject to a means test and are demand led. There has been a reduction in the numbers receiving support through the SWA schemes which can be attributed to the overall improvement in the economy, improvements in administration and policy changes in recent years. Claim processing times have improved with the introduction of the Intreo centres and establishment of integrated decisions teams which has reduced recourse to basic SWA payments.

  I can assure the Deputy that the SWA scheme is kept under review to ensure that it continues to support those most in need of assistance.

  Exchequer Provision for SWA schemes 2014 to 2017

Scheme2014

Outturn
2015

Outturn
2016

Outturn
2017 (REV)
Basic Supplementary Welfare Allowance*€85.3m€91.7m€89.0m€85.4m
Rent Supplement€338.2m€311.1m€275.3m€252.6m
Mortgage Interest Supplement €20.9m€11.9m€6.6m€4.1m
ENPs and UNPs€31.3m €31.1m€32.2m€31.5m
Other Supplements€9.8m €7.4m€6.2m€4.6m
Total€485.5m€453.2m€409.3m€378.2m


 From 2015, the Estimate provision for Direct Provision Allowance is recorded separately.

One-Parent Family Payment Eligibility

 74. Deputy Gino Kenny Information on Gino Kenny Zoom on Gino Kenny asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar if he will review the way maintenance is calculated for lone parents; the detail of the policy of cutting the income of lone parents that are not receiving maintenance from the absent parent; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17717/17]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar My Department is not responsible for the calculation of maintenance payments between individuals. The arrangement of maintenance is a Family Law matter under the remit of the Department of Justice and Equality.

It is important to clarify to the Deputy that there is no current policy to reduce payments to lone parents where they are not in receipt of maintenance from the absent parent. The one-parent family payment (OFP) and jobseeker’s transitional payment (JST) schemes require the claimant to make efforts to seek maintenance in order to qualify for their payment. This condition is satisfied once efforts are made to seek maintenance such as a consensual agreement, participation in structured mediation, court proceedings etc. The condition is considered satisfied in situations of domestic abuse.

In cases where a maintenance arrangement is in place but ceases to be paid the lone parent can present relevant evidence to his/her local Intreo Centre and request that his/her payment is reviewed. For court order maintenance cases the lone parent can apply for a discharge/variation summons or maintenance summons from the court clerk. Depending on the outcome and whether maintenance recommences this could involve an additional review of the payment by the Intreo Centre.

Social Welfare Payments Waiting Times

 75. Deputy Niamh Smyth Information on Niamh Smyth Zoom on Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar if he will expedite waiting times for jobseeker's benefit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17459/17]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar My Department is committed to providing a quality service to all its customers. This includes ensuring that applications are processed and that decisions on entitlement are made as quickly as possible. The average processing time for Jobseekers Benefit claims awarded in March 2017 was 1 week, which exceeds the overall performance targets set for the scheme.

The time taken by my Department to process applications depends on a number of factors, including the conditionality and relative complexity that applies to the relevant scheme. The quality and completeness of the application form and other material is also an important factor. The inclusion, at the outset, of any supporting documentation that is requested is key to a customer getting a timely and appropriate decision.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Housing Assistance Payments Data

 76. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the number of persons or families that were in receipt of rent allowance that have moved to a HAP tenancy in 2017; the number in 2016; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17948/17]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar Rent supplement plays a vital role in housing families and individuals, with the scheme supporting some 44,800 recipients for which the Government has provided €253 million for in 2017.

The strategic policy direction of my Department is to return rent supplement to its original purpose of being a short-term income support scheme. Under HAP, responsibility for the provision of rental assistance to those with a long-term housing need has transferred to local authorities, under the auspices of the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government. Since 1 March 2017 HAP is available in all local authority areas.

Under the accelerated targets outlined in the Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness – Rebuilding Ireland the HAP target for 2016 was 12,000 and is 15,000 for 2017, with the aim to complete the transfers from rent supplement by 2020.

In general, persons who are in receipt of rent supplement for over 18 months are being requested to contact their local authority to have their housing needs assessed beginning the transfer process to HAP. There are currently some 20,000 active HAP tenancy arrangements in place, with 6,500 of these direct transfers from rent supplement. As of 31 December 2016, there were approximately 16,500 active HAP tenancies, of which 5,670 were direct transfers from rent supplement.

Officials in my Department continue to work closely with the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government and local authorities to facilitate the ongoing transfer of cases from rent supplement.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Rural Social Scheme

 77. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the changes made to the rural social scheme since 2011; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17611/17]

 85. Deputy John Brady Information on John Brady Zoom on John Brady asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar his plans for the future of the rural social scheme and community employment; the impact these changes will have on current participants; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17952/17]

 359. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the changes he has made to the rural social scheme since becoming Minister; if this scheme is now considered an activation scheme with a fixed term on it, as opposed to a supplementary work scheme, without limit of duration on the scheme until pension age, for low income farmers and fishermen that already have an occupation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17673/17]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I propose to take Questions Nos. 77, 85 and 359 together.

The rural social scheme (RSS) is an income support initiative which provides part-time employment opportunities in community and voluntary organisations for farmers or fishermen who are in receipt of certain social welfare payments and underemployed in their primary occupation. The RSS is a supplementary income support scheme.

The following changes have been made to the RSS since 2011:

- September 2012 - the eligibility conditions that applied to an increase for a qualified adult of a rural social scheme participant were revised. From that date, the rate of increase for a qualified adult is based on the family rate of the underlying qualifying payment. Prior to that date, an increase for a qualified adult was only payable if their gross income was less than €310 per week.

- January 2016 - the personal rate increased from €208 to €210.50 and jobseekers benefit was removed from the list of qualifying payments.

- February 2017 - an additional 500 places on the RSS were made available with effect from 1 February 2017.

- February 2017 - entrants to the RSS must be 25 years of age and over and a 6 year overall participation limit was introduced for new entrants. This ensures that a throughput of places is available and that younger people have an opportunity to explore other training or education options before participating on a long term-work programme. RSS participants who commenced prior to 1 February 2017 may remain on the scheme as long as they continue to satisfy the eligibility conditions. These new conditions only apply to new RSS participants.

- March 2017 - the personal rate of payment increased from €210.50 to €215.50.

I have seen at first-hand myself from visits to various schemes around the country over the past few months how programmes like CE and the RSS deliver both for participants and for their communities.

The Government’s commitment to these programmes is clearly demonstrated by the announcement of the additional 500 RSS places in Budget 2017, the first increase in places since 2006. Furthermore, I recently announced changes which will widen the range of people who can take part in CE, including reducing the entry age to 21 and giving a second opportunity to people who have already taken part. These changes will be rolled out following a consultation process with stakeholders in the coming weeks.

JobPath Implementation

 78. Deputy Bríd Smith Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the oversight his Department has on the operations of the private companies contracted to operate the JobPath initiative; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17843/17]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar The JobPath service which is funded by the Department is delivered by two service providers, Turas Nua Ltd and Seetec Business Technology Company Ltd.

  The JobPath model has a number of key features which enables my Department to monitor all aspects of the service provider’s performance and ensure contract compliance.

  Every participant is provided with a service guarantee - a baseline level of service covering frequency of engagement, personal progression planning, geographic accessibility and in-employment support. This is to prevent so called ‘parking’ of clients.

  Providers are obliged to accept all clients referred by the Department and have no role in the selection of clients which prevents ‘cream-skimming’ of the employable jobseekers in preference to jobseekers that are more distant from the labour market. The period of engagement with the service for any individual jobseeker is 52 weeks. Participation is mandatory for those who are referred.

  Fees are paid on the basis of performance. With the exception of the initial registration fee, payments are made only when a client has achieved sustained employment.

  The service providers are subject to regular audits and inspections. In addition my Department will commission regular Customer Satisfaction Surveys to ensure that services are being delivered satisfactorily.

  The first JobPath Performance report, which includes the results of the first Customer Satisfaction Survey, was published on 17 January this year and is available on the department’s website at –

   http://www.welfare.ie/en/downloads/JobPath-performance-report-January-2017.pdf.

  It is important to note that failure to achieve satisfactory customer ratings and/or failure to achieve employment placement targets may result in reductions of fees paid via the use of retention fees – in effect these are penalties that reduce fees paid by up to 15%. Where Contractors do not address the issue that gives rise to use of retention fees to the satisfaction of the Department, the Department has the right to terminate the contract.

  The Department will publish the next Performance Report in the coming weeks.

  Regular on-site checks and inspections are carried out to ensure that JobPath is delivered in accordance with the contract. To date, 29 on-site inspections have been carried out at provider service delivery locations around the country, 14 to Turas Nua and 15 to Seetec locations.

  The inspections monitor compliance with the service level agreement and the contract generally, including the suitability and standard of accommodation, staffing levels, Irish language compliance, customer service and customer feedback. Inspections may be notified or un-notified and will be conducted for the duration of the JobPath contract. The JobPath providers are registered with the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner and are subject to the provisions of data protection legislation. The providers are obliged to observe the principles of data protection, which requires that personal data is used solely for the purposes for which it is collected. Any breaches or suspected breach of the data protection legislation, in addition to being investigated by my Department, may also be referred to the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner.

  I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Direct Provision Payments

 79. Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin Information on Fiona O'Loughlin Zoom on Fiona O'Loughlin asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the way in which persons in direct provision having been granted asylum status can communicate with his Department using their hostel address; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17841/17]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar Protection seekers are offered accommodation under the system of direct provision operated by the Reception & Integration Agency (RIA) of the Department of Justice and Equality. Those who accept direct provision are provided with accommodation, food and health services together with other facilities and services designed to ensure their needs are met while seeking the protection of the State. My Department administers payment of the direct provision allowance to protection seekers residing in Direct Provision Centres on behalf of the Department of Justice & Equality.

Once a person has been granted status, they may apply for Department of Social Protection payments appropriate to their circumstances on the same basis as Irish citizens such as basic supplementary welfare allowance, jobseekers allowance or one-parent family payment and child benefit, subject to meeting the rules of the particular scheme. Payment under these schemes can be made to a person while they continue to remain resident in a Direct Provision centre prior to moving into the community.

People who have been granted protection and are seeking to establish eligibility for a social welfare payment should contact their local Department of Social Protection Intreo Centre for information. Further information is also available on the Department’s website (www.welfare.ie).

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Social Welfare Appeals Waiting Times

 80. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the extent to which long waiting periods in respect of appeals affecting various social welfare payments can be addressed in the short term, with particular reference to the cumulative effect of cessation or disqualification for a means tested payment or an insurance based payment which can result in homelessness arising from discontinuation of rent support; if these issues can be examined; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17845/17]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar Appeal processing times are kept under constant scrutiny by the Chief Appeals Officer. The Deputy will be aware that significant effort and resources have been devoted in recent years to reducing the length of time taken to finalise an appeal and that as a consequence processing times have improved quite considerably.

For example, the time taken to process appeals requiring an oral hearing has reduced from 52.5 weeks in 2011 to 24.1 weeks in 2016 and 24.5 weeks to date in 2017. Processing times for appeals determined by way of summary decision have also improved from a peak of 25.1 weeks in 2011 to 17.6 weeks in 2016 and 18.3 weeks to date in 2017.

The quasi-judicial nature of the appeals system means that there are inevitable time-lags involved. The time taken is proportionate to the complexity of many of the issues under appeal which require a high level of judgement, and the need to ensure due process and natural justice. The system is designed to be flexible and fair and allows for review and submission of further information at all stages which is to the benefit of the appellant.

Basic supplementary welfare allowance (SWA) may be paid to a person who is awaiting the outcome of an appeal for their primary social welfare payment. Any persons who consider they may have an entitlement under the SWA scheme should contact their local Intreo office.

Continued entitlement to rent supplement is not linked to entitlement to other Department of Social Protection schemes, however the rent supplement claim may be reviewed following a decision to disallow a primary social welfare payment as there may be a change to the claimant’s circumstances that could affect eligibility. During a review of a rent supplement claim, the Community Welfare Services (CWS) officer will engage with the claimant to establish continued eligibility as quickly as possible and limit any delay to payments. Any person in this situation is encouraged to contact the office responsible for their rent supplement claim to discuss their situation.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Citizen Information Services

 81. Deputy John Brady Information on John Brady Zoom on John Brady asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar if he will issue a policy directive to the Citizens Information Board to ensure that the MABS and Citizens Information Services are retained as they are to avoid any restructuring;; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17953/17]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar The Citizens Information Board (CIB), which has statutory responsibility for the Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS) and the Citizens Information Services (CIS), decided on 15 February 2017 to restructure the governance arrangements of these services.

As a statutory body, the Board has the sole right to make decisions on its day to day operations as it sees fit. It would not be lawful or appropriate for me, as Minister, to seek to intervene in such a decision, taken by the Board. Furthermore, the Office of the Attorney General has confirmed that Section 9 of the Citizens Information Act, 2007 does not give me such power.

CIB has not taken this operational decision lightly. It follows almost 5 years of extensive analysis of options and a detailed consultation period with all stakeholders on the need for a more streamlined governance model. The new arrangements are being implemented at local company board level only. The valuable work carried out by the employees and volunteers working in CIS services and the employees of MABS services will continue as heretofore.

The decision reduces the number of individual local CIS and MABS company boards from ninety three (93) to sixteen (16). A new regional board structure will be put in place, which will comprise eight (8) CIS boards and eight (8) MABS boards.

The changes will bring the CIS and MABS organisations more into line with modern public service governance guidelines and requirements where significant State funding is involved. The reduced company structure will better assist CIB in the fulfilment of its statutory obligations, its compliance with the Code of Practise for Governance of State Bodies, and implementation of recommendations of the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General.

In 2017, CIB is set to receive State funding of €54 million, of which €15 million is allocated to CIS services (including €13.1 million to the 42 local Citizens Information Services, €1.2 million to Citizens Information Phone services and, the balance, €0.7 million to central and other supports), and €24.6 million is allocated to the network of MABS services (including €15.4 million to the 51 local MABS, €0.3m to National Traveller MABS, €2.0 million to MABS National Development Company, €3.3million to the MABS Dedicated Mortgage Arrears initiative, €3.5 million to the Abhaile service, and the remaining €0.1m to MABS central supports).

As the Deputy may already be aware, the Board of CIB is made up of people who represent people with a sense of community ethos, people with physical and mental disabilities, victims of abuse and those with advocacy needs. It also includes representation of CIS and MABS services.

I am satisfied that the Board of CIB, mindful of the fact that all the activities of CIS and MABS are entirely funded by the Exchequer, would not take a decision that would be detrimental either to the valuable services provided locally by CIS and MABS, or to the staff and volunteers who provide them.

I am confident that the Board of CIB has made what it believes to be the most appropriate decision in the best interest of the citizens of Ireland, whom it serves.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Jobseeker's Benefit

 82. Deputy Willie O'Dea Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the progress made by his Department to address the situation whereby those who are on contracts which stipulate that they have to retire at 65 years of age are then forced to sign onto jobseeker's benefit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17861/17]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar There is no statutory retirement age in the State, and the age at which employees retire is a matter for the contract of employment between them and their employers.

Where a person exits the workforce before reaching State pension age they may apply for either the jobseeker’s benefit or jobseeker’s allowance schemes. Jobseeker’s payments are paid to eligible jobseekers aged 18 to 66 years and all recipients of a jobseeker’s payment are subject to the rules of the scheme.

People in receipt of a jobseeker's payment must engage with my Department's activation measures and can face sanctions if they fail to do so.

However, from January 2014 these criteria were eased for people aged 62 and over. They are still able to voluntarily avail of an array of supports, which are available from my Department if they wish to return to work, training or education. Furthermore the majority of these individuals will have to register with their local office only once a year and their payments will be paid directly into their bank accounts.

Someone claiming jobseeker’s benefit from a date after their 65th birthday continues to be eligible for that payment until reaching State pension age. While the State pension age is currently 66, this approach will continue to extend their entitlement when the pension age rises to 67, and indeed a further year when it rises to 68 in 2028.

These provisions have enabled these individuals to ease their transition into one of the jobseeker’s schemes until they become eligible for a State pension on their 66th birthday.

JobPath Implementation

 83. Deputy Bríd Smith Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar if his attention has been drawn to the use of psychometric tests by operators of JobPath; if his attention has been further drawn to the fact that the administration of such tests using psychometric questionnaires contravenes international ethical guidelines; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17844/17]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar Participants on JobPath receive intensive individual support to help them address barriers to employment and to find jobs. Each person is assigned a personal advisor who assesses their skills, experience, challenges and work goals and agrees a personal progression plan that includes a schedule of activities, actions and job focused targets. I can confirm that the two companies contracted to provide the JobPath service on behalf of my Department do not use psychometric testing in performing these assessments.

However, one of the resources available to jobseekers who are engaging with the JobPath service are some simple psychometric tools that can guide a client on how to exploit their abilities and transferable skills. These tools are voluntary and are ideal for clients who want a career change or who are unclear on the employment path they may wish to take.

Community Employment Schemes Eligibility

 84. Deputy Willie O'Dea Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar if his attention has been drawn to the fact that those who are offered a place on a community employment, CE, scheme and then subsequently referred to JobPath are being denied the opportunity to participate in the CE scheme even if that is their preference; if his attention has been further drawn to the difficulties this is creating for CE schemes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17857/17]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar As the Deputy will be aware, my Department provides a range of activation supports and programmes catering for long-term unemployed jobseekers and those most distant from the labour market. These include the JobPath service and programmes such as Community Employment (CE).

The JobPath service is provided for jobseekers and the period of engagement with the service for any individual is typically 52 weeks. During that time, they receive intensive individual support to help them overcome barriers to employment and are also provided with a range of training and development supports, including online modules, career advice, CV preparation and interview skills. This is all done with a view to helping them access a job in the open labour market.

During the year, if a person is placed into a job they will continue to receive support for at least three months and up to an additional twelve months while in employment. Jobseekers who are engaged on JobPath are ineligible for CE for the duration of the JobPath intervention. However, people who have completed their year-long engagement with JobPath may, if eligible, apply to partake in a CE Scheme, after they have been assessed by one of my Department’s case officers.

CE schemes provide part-time temporary work in local communities, as a stepping-stone back to employment, for people in receipt of a range of social welfare payments including those on a long-term jobseeker’s payment. However, it is important to note that CE placements are not full-time sustainable jobs. Once a person has been offered a place on CE by a sponsor and has a start date within 4 weeks of the date that they were referred to JobPath, they can proceed to commence on CE instead. If there is a delay beyond 4 weeks due to awaiting Garda vetting, this 4 week period can be extended provided the Garda vetting application date precedes the JobPath referral date.

In general - and JobPath and CE are no exception - job-seekers are not allowed to participate in two employment activation supports at the same time. Given the need to manage the allocation of places effectively, my Department does not facilitate or encourage jobseekers to leave one scheme early in order to take up a place on another scheme.

Any CE scheme that is experiencing difficulties in recruitment should contact their local DSP Intreo office for assistance.


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