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 Header Item Written Answers Nos. 644-668
 Header Item Regional Development Policy
 Header Item Local Authority Functions
 Header Item Action Plan for Rural Development
 Header Item Seniors Alert Scheme
 Header Item Local Improvement Scheme Funding
 Header Item Exceptional Needs Payment Applications
 Header Item Jobseeker's Allowance Eligibility
 Header Item Public Services Card
 Header Item Public Services Card Data
 Header Item One-Parent Family Payment Eligibility
 Header Item Homemakers Scheme
 Header Item State Pension (Contributory)
 Header Item State Pensions
 Header Item State Pensions Reform
 Header Item Departmental Reviews
 Header Item Rent Supplement Scheme Administration
 Header Item Social Welfare Benefits Eligibility
 Header Item Social Welfare Benefits Eligibility
 Header Item Social Welfare Benefits Applications
 Header Item State Pension (Non-Contributory) Eligibility
 Header Item Labour Activation Programmes
 Header Item Community Employment Schemes Eligibility
 Header Item Carer's Allowance Applications
 Header Item School Meals Programme

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 960 No. 1

First Page Previous Page Page of 95 Next Page Last Page

Written Answers Nos. 644-668

Regional Development Policy

 644. Deputy Carol Nolan Information on Carol Nolan Zoom on Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development Information on Michael Ring Zoom on Michael Ring if the functions of his Department extend to ensuring balanced regional development; his views on a recent EUROSTAT report that states that over 50% of development is in the Dublin region; his plans to ensure balanced regional development; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42347/17]

Minister for Rural and Community Development (Deputy Michael Ring): Information on Michael Ring Zoom on Michael Ring The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, on behalf of the Government, is currently coordinating the preparation of a new National Planning Framework for Ireland to guide national, regional and local planning and investment decisions for the years ahead. The Minister has published a draft of the Framework, "Ireland 2040 - Our Plan", for public consultation.

The National Planning Framework will, among other issues, address the future development direction of our cities, towns and rural areas.  In this context, Ireland 2040 underpins two key policy initiatives which come under the remit of my Department: the Government’s Action Plan for Rural Development, which is seeking to maximise the economic and social potential of rural Ireland; and the Framework Policy for Local and Community Development which seeks to create vibrant, sustainable and self-determining communities across Ireland.

I and my Department are actively involved in the development of the Framework, with a particular focus on ensuring that development is balanced and recognises the contribution of the regions to the long-term sustainable economic growth of Ireland.

My Department is also responsible for progressing the Atlantic Economic Corridor, AEC, proposal, which aims to contribute to effective regional development by creating sufficient scale along the western part of Ireland to attract additional business investment, to grow jobs and to support vibrant local communities. 

Earlier this year, I established a Taskforce to progress the AEC proposal.  The Taskforce comprises representatives from the business sector, key Government Departments, public bodies, and the third-level sector. 

In addition, my Department has responsibility for oversight of the Western Development Commission, which has a particular remit in relation to the economic and social development of a number of specific counties in the western region.  These are counties Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Roscommon, Mayo, Galway and Clare..

Local Authority Functions

 645. Deputy Carol Nolan Information on Carol Nolan Zoom on Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development Information on Michael Ring Zoom on Michael Ring the measures he plans to put in place to ensure that local authorities are prepared for the roll-out of broadband once the tender process is concluded; the cost of the measures; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42348/17]

Minister for Rural and Community Development (Deputy Michael Ring): Information on Michael Ring Zoom on Michael Ring The report of the Mobile Phone and Broadband Taskforce, which was published last December, recommended the assignment by each Local Authority of an officer with responsibility for broadband and mobile phone services. The function of this officer is to act as a single point of contact for telecommunications operators on the roll-out of telecommunications infrastructure, as well as to increase awareness of, and stimulate demand for, broadband services.

The Department of Rural and Community Development has provided funding to all 31 Local Authorities to co-fund the assignment of a Broadband Officer.

The remit of the Broadband Officer is primarily to manage interactions with any company that is seeking to roll out telecommunications infrastructure in their county.  The Broadband Officers will also work with the winning bidder(s) in respect of the roll-out of the National Broadband Plan in the areas to be covered by State intervention. Broadband Officers are also involved in helping to develop local digital strategies to ensure that full use is made of the new broadband infrastructure once it is in place.  

The telecommunications providers have widely welcomed the assignment the Broadband Officers by the Local Authorities and are actively engaging with them.

The Department of Rural and Community Development has, additionally, established two Regional Action Groups involving all Local Authorities to ensure consistency in their engagement with the telecommunications operators and to identify and address obstacles to the roll-out of telecoms infrastructure. A number of sub-groups has been established to progress individual work items associated with the roll-out of high-speed broadband.

The appointment of Broadband Officers is just one of 40 actions contained in the report of the Mobile Phone and Broadband Taskforce.  An implementation group has been established to oversee the delivery of the Taskforce recommendations.  Progress Reports from the Implementation Group are published on a quarterly basis, with the third report due shortly..

Action Plan for Rural Development

 646. Deputy Carol Nolan Information on Carol Nolan Zoom on Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development Information on Michael Ring Zoom on Michael Ring his plans to commission research on the impact of Brexit on rural communities as committed to in the Action Plan for Rural Development; when this research will be commissioned; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42349/17]

Minister for Rural and Community Development (Deputy Michael Ring): Information on Michael Ring Zoom on Michael Ring The Action Plan for Rural Development, which was published in January of this year, envisaged that a piece of research would be commissioned on the impact of Brexit on rural areas.

Since the publication of the Action Plan, a number of papers and commentaries has been published on the potential impact of Brexit on Ireland, including rural Ireland.  In addition, a number of sectorial workshops on the issue has been held with local communities and other stakeholders by several Government Departments, including the former Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. 

In light of these developments, I do not propose to commission the carrying out of further research on the impact of Brexit at this time.  However, the Government is continuing to work, through various State agencies, to provide support and advice to businesses on how to prepare for and address the possible impacts of Brexit..

Seniors Alert Scheme

 647. Deputy Carol Nolan Information on Carol Nolan Zoom on Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development Information on Michael Ring Zoom on Michael Ring the funding allocation for the senior alert scheme over each of the past ten years; the number of beneficiaries of the scheme per year, in tabular form; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42350/17]

Minister for Rural and Community Development (Deputy Michael Ring): Information on Michael Ring Zoom on Michael Ring My Department is responsible for the Seniors Alert Scheme, which encourages support for vulnerable older people in our communities through the provision of personal monitored alarms to enable them to continue to live securely in their homes with confidence, independence and peace of mind. Funding is available under the scheme toward the purchase by a registered community-based organisation of equipment, i.e. a personal alarm and/or pendant, which is provided to the elderly person participating, while the associated monitoring and service charges are the responsibility of the individual participant.

  The scheme commenced in 2010, replacing the Scheme of Community Support for Older People. The allocations provided from 2010 to 2017 and a number of beneficiaries in each of these years are outlined in the following table. 

  The scheme is administered on my Department's behalf by Pobal. Following a recent review of the scheme, a new version of the Seniors Alert Scheme will be launched shortly.

. Allocation €000s Beneficiaries
2010 1,948 6,306
2011 2,436 7,910
2012 2,524 9,142
2013 2,321 10,597
2014 1,706 7,120
2015 1,539 6,705
2016 1,800 7,301
2017 2,300 4,558

Local Improvement Scheme Funding

 648. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development Information on Michael Ring Zoom on Michael Ring the extent to which Kildare County Council can apply for and obtain funding under the local improvement scheme in the future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42418/17]

Minister for Rural and Community Development (Deputy Michael Ring): Information on Michael Ring Zoom on Michael Ring On 21 September, I announced the provision of €10 million for a Local Improvement Scheme, LIS.  This is a nation-wide scheme which supports improvement works on private and non-public roads.

My Department wrote to Local Authorities, including Kildare County Council, in August to establish the level of demand for an LIS scheme this year. The Local Authorities were advised that any request for funds would be subject to their capacity to complete the proposed works in 2017, and funding availability.

Kildare County Council indicated that they would not be requesting funding under the LIS for 2017.

The level of funding available for the LIS in 2018 will be considered in the context of the 2018 Budget and Estimates process.  If funding for the scheme is available in 2018, I anticipate that the scheme will again be open to applications from all eligible Local Authorities, including Kildare County Council..

Exceptional Needs Payment Applications

 649. Deputy Róisín Shortall Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty the basis on which a decision to refuse a request for clothing allowance was made in respect of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 11; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [42492/17]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty The person concerned applied for an Exceptional Needs Payment, ENP, on 4 September 2017. The application was refused as it was considered reasonable that they could provide clothing from their total household income. Their means were in excess of the Supplementary Welfare Allowance rate.   

  The legislative basis for this decision is Section 201 - Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005.

  The person concerned has been advised of the right to seek a review of this decision.

  I trust that this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Jobseeker's Allowance Eligibility

 650. Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty if a mortgage repayment to a lending institution paid by a person living apart from the person's spouse on a property in both their names and in which the spouse lives would impact on the calculation of the spouse's entitlement to jobseeker's allowance; and if she will make a statement on the matter.  [42506/17]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty Social welfare legislation provides that, in the assessment of means for jobseeker’s allowance, account shall be taken of any property owned other than the family home, other capital such as savings, and any income including non-cash benefits.

Non-cash benefits are defined in legislation as, “the net cash value to the person of his or her annual housing costs actually incurred and paid by a liable relative insofar as the cash value exceeds €4,952 per annum".

A spouse or civil partner is a liable relative. Accordingly, in the case where a mortgage is being paid by a spouse who is living apart from a claimant, this will be assessed as means.

It should be noted that mortgage payments are considered as maintenance payments for means-testing purposes. Maintenance payments are assessed at 50% when in excess of €95.23 per week (€4,952 per annum). These arrangements ensure that there is always an incentive to receive a maintenance payment. .

Public Services Card

 651. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien Information on Jonathan O'Brien Zoom on Jonathan O'Brien asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty the value of the contract with a company (details supplied) to produce the public services card; the funding it has received to date; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [42511/17]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty The contract with Biometric Card Services, BCS, was signed in December 2009. The value of this contact was just under €18.3 million (excluding VAT) for the production, personalisation and distribution of three million Public Service Cards, PSC, plus associated helpdesk services. To date, BCS have been paid €22.9 million (excluding VAT).

The increase in costs arises from changes to processes, enhancements/improvements to the security of the card, and from delays impacting the timetable for production of the cards. Following the award of the contract, the then Data Protection Commissioner requested that each recipient of a PSC should contact the helpdesk as proof that the PSC had been delivered correctly. This increased the helpdesk costs from €347,000 (excluding VAT) as per the contract, to payments to date of €2.597 million (excluding VAT). Security features for cards have been improved and enhanced over the lifetime of the contract. To ensure that the PSC met the best international security standards, a Kinegram was added at a total cost of €1.140 million excluding VAT. Extending the contract period to the end of 2017 from the end of 2016 resulted in an increased price per card amounting to approx. €0.5 million to date excluding VAT. Costs associated with the deployment of the free travel variant of the PSC in 2012 amounted to just over €700,000 excluding VAT.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy..

Public Services Card Data

 652. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien Information on Jonathan O'Brien Zoom on Jonathan O'Brien asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty the information that the public services card holds; and the information that the public services card has the capacity to hold. [42514/17]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty The data that may be displayed and/or electronically stored on the Public Services Card, PSC, is set out at sections 263 (1A) and 263 (1B), respectively, of the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005 (as amended). The following sets out where each data item appears or is stored on the PSC:

  - the name of the person: Face of PSC and Chip;

  - the personal public service number, PPSN, of that person: Rear of PSC, Chip, and Magnetic stripe;

  - a photograph of that person: Face of PSC and Chip;

  - the signature of that person: Face of the PSC and Chip;

  - the issue number of the public services card: Rear of the PSC and Chip;

  - the expiry date of the PSC: Face of the PSC and Chip;

  - the date of birth of that person: Chip and Magnetic stripe;

  - the place of birth of that person: Chip;

  - the sex of that person: Chip and Magnetic stripe;

  - the nationality of that person: Chip;

  - all former surnames (if any) of that person: Chip;

  - all former surnames (if any) of the mother of that person: Chip.

  Like all smart cards, the PSC has the capacity to hold data in any electronic format and for any purpose. However, as stated above, only data that is provided for in sections 263 (1A) and 263 (1B) can currently be displayed and stored on the card. Any proposal to change this would require amendments to primary legislation.

  I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

One-Parent Family Payment Eligibility

 653. Deputy Willie O'Dea Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty if she has considered the independent review of the changes to the one-parent family payment which was agreed to during the passage of the Social Welfare Act 2016; her plans regarding same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [42531/17]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty The Social Welfare Act 2016, enacted on 19 December 2016, included a commitment that a review of the changes to the One-Parent Family Payment, OFP, scheme since January 2012 would be laid before the Houses of Oireachtas within nine months of the enactment of the Act.

The review was to assess the financial and social effects of the OFP changes taking into account the effects on welfare dependency and the poverty rates of those affected. The scope of the review included the long-term age-related policy changes to the scheme that were implemented since January 2012, in addition to the shorter-term changes required to achieve savings across all social welfare expenditure over the same period on foot of the economic downturn.

In order to complete the review, Indecon carried out a detailed quantitative and econometric analysis of a number of relevant datasets to assess the impact of the changes on lone parents. The review also included one of the largest surveys targeting one-parent families in Ireland, with 33,000 lone parents surveyed. Responses were received and analysed from almost 3,700 lone parents who were directly affected by the changes. This provided an excellent opportunity to gather the views and experiences of lone parents affected by the changes.

I have received the review, and I laid it before the Houses of the Oireachtas on Monday, 9 October 2017, as provided for in the Social Welfare Act, 2016. I welcome a number of positive findings in the review:

- The policy changes introduced have been successful in increasing employment and in reducing welfare dependency – the reforms increased the probability of both employment and of higher employment income;

- Responses to the survey showed that the percentage of lone parents in full-time employment increased from 15% to 22%;

- Welfare dependency rates fell in the year after One-parent Family Payment was lost, and continued to fall in subsequent years.

I believe that these findings indicate that the broad policy intentions of the changes are having positive results and making real changes to the lives of lone parents, where they have been able to transition into employment.

I acknowledge, however, that the review has also raised a number of matters of concern:

- Many of those who lost the One-parent Family Payment remain unemployed, or are in low paid or part-time employment;

- The balance of evidence indicates that there is an increased probability of being at risk of poverty as a result of the changes;

- Further supports, aimed at assisting lone parents to obtain full-time employment or increased hours of work, need to be put in place.

The impacts on lone parents arose from the combination of the policy changes to the scheme, and from the imposition, simultaneously, of the financial cuts imposed to welfare schemes across the board, arising out of the economic downturn. I and my predecessors have already taken action in recent Budgets to improve the position of lone parents, for example by progressively increasing the income disregarded for those on Jobseekers Transition, JST, from a low of €60 a week to €110 a week, and by targeting improved, tailored activation measures toward this group to assist them into training and employment.

For example, lone parents who wish to participate in education can continue to receive support from the Department either through the retention of their primary payment or Family Income Supplement, or they can transfer to the Back to Education Allowance. Furthermore, to support lone parents to participate in education, SUSI grants (both maintenance and fee grants) are payable concurrently with One-parent Family Payment and Jobseekers Transition. Therefore, a lone parent can participate in education and receive the dual support of the One-parent Family Payment/Jobseekers Transition and the SUSI maintenance grants.

Where lone parents are on Jobseekers Allowance, they can, should they wish to participate in education, transfer to the Back to Education programme. The additional childcare supports coming on-stream are also of particular benefit to lone parents.

I consider that these measures are a step in the right direction, and I am working to ensure that there is no loss in the momentum to enhance the support for lone parents. The review points to the need to intensify both the engagement with lone parents as they move off One-parent Family Payment, and the activation supports available, and I am requesting my officials to prioritise this.

The Department’s employment services provide a case-managed approach to assist lone parents to avail of various opportunities within an ever-improving labour market. This case-managed approach will be developed further, specifically to offer more tailored and holistic progression plans for lone parents that better reflect their individual circumstances.

The move to more tailored progressions plans for lone parents will incorporate supports to access the childcare, education and training and other appropriate supports that they require to, in turn, access the labour market. These changes should help to improve the living standards of, and reduce the risk of poverty faced by, lone parents.

I intend to continue to prioritise supports for lone parents, particularly those which incentivise work over welfare. I intend also to provide for the further review of the scheme. As there is a time lag before the benefits of labour market reforms appear, I anticipate that this review will include data to the end of 2018..

Homemakers Scheme

 654. Deputy Willie O'Dea Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty the estimated cost of backdating the homemaker's scheme to 1970 in incremental steps of five years from 1994; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [42532/17]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty To ensure that individuals can maximise their entitlement to a State pension (contributory), all contributions, paid or credited, over their working life from when they first enter insurable employment until pension age are taken into account when assessing their entitlement and the level of that entitlement.

The homemaker's scheme makes qualification for a higher rate of State pension contributory easier for those who take time out of the workforce for caring duties. The scheme, which was introduced in and took effect for periods from 1994, allows up to 20 years spent caring for children under 12 years of age, or caring for incapacitated people over that age, to be disregarded when a person’s social insurance record is being averaged for pension purposes, subject to the standard qualifying conditions for State pension contribution also being satisfied. This has the effect of increasing the yearly average of the pensioner, which is used to set the rate of his or her pension.

While the Deputy has requested the estimated cost of backdating the homemaker scheme to 1970 in incremental steps of five years from 1994, there are a number of factors that make it difficult to estimate that cost for specific year bands. In the first instance, it should be noted that there are 20 methods by which someone can qualify for a contributory pension depending upon their PRSI record, and so the impact of incremental changes to the Homemakers scheme is not possible to estimate without doing an analysis of the actual contribution records of potential claimant groups.

There are further data-related issues which make it even more challenging. For example, much of the data (e.g., child benefit records) used in the operation of the scheme at present for periods from 1994 is not readily available in computerised form for periods prior to 1984. Any projection, therefore, has to make assumptions regarding the composition of gaps in contribution records.

Costing multiple partial backdatings over a range of years would require very detailed analysis of the distribution of gaps in individual records during particular periods, an estimation of which gaps were driven by child rearing and which are a result of alternative reasons, and then re-calculation of those individual entitlements under the various qualification rules.

While no analysis of the particular proposal contained in the Deputy’s question has been conducted, it is clear that any backdating would entail a significant and ongoing cost to the Social Insurance Fund. It is estimated that backdating it in respect of periods before its introduction in 1994 would cost some €290 million per year, and this figure would rise at a faster rate than the overall rise in the cost of State pensions. Limiting that backdating to 1970 would moderate that cost somewhat. However, it is unlikely to have a significant impact, as the bulk of the cost would likely arise in the years immediately prior to 1994 and would decrease the further number of years from which backdating was taken.

Where someone does not qualify for a full-rate contributory pension, he or she may qualify for an alternative payment. If a person's spouse has a contributory pension, he or she may qualify for an increase for a qualified adult, amounting up to 90% of a full-rate pension. Alternatively, one may qualify for a means-tested non-contributory State pension, which amounts to up to 95% of the maximum contributory rate.

Work is under way to replace the yearly average system with a Total Contributions Approach. Under this approach, the rate of pension paid will more closely reflect the total number of contributions made by people, not when they paid them. The position of homemakers is being carefully considered in developing this new system of calculating the contibutory State Pension.

It is hoped that this approach to pension qualification will replace the current one from 2020. Following publication of the current actuarial review of the Social Insurance Fund, a refined proposal will be developed. My Department will conduct a period of consultation with relevant stakeholders, including interest groups, representative bodies and the Oireachtas. Following the consultation period, I will submit a proposal to Government seeking approval for the new approach, and then proceed to introduce legislation to give effect to this reform.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy..

State Pension (Contributory)

 655. Deputy Willie O'Dea Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty the estimated cost of reversing changes made to the eligibility criteria for the contributory State Pension in 2012; and if she will make a statement on the matter.  [42533/17]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty As a result of more people living to pension age and living longer in retirement, the number of State pension recipients is increasing year on year. This has significant implications for the future costs of State Pension provision. This demographic change alone is expected to increase spending on pensions by over €220 million this year – not including the impact of rate increases.

The current rate bands applying to the SPC were introduced from September 2012, replacing previous rates introduced in 2000. These rate bands more closely reflect the social insurance contributions history of a person than those in place between 2000 and 2012.

It is estimated that to revert to the previous bands from January 2018 would result in an annual cost of over €60 million in 2018, and this annual cost would increase by an estimated €10 million each following year (e.g. it would be expected to cost some €70 million in 2019). This estimate reflects the numbers of those in receipt of reduced-rate SPC payments, and does not include those who are claiming an alternative payment at a higher rate than their reduced SPC entitlement, and who might qualify for a higher rate of SPC if such a change were introduced. This estimate also assumes that any such change to rate bands would generally be implemented from a current date and as a result would not generate retrospective arrears.

The main beneficiaries from such a decision would be younger (post-September 2012) pensioners who both:

a. haven’t sufficient paid contributions into the Social Insurance Fund to qualify for a contributory pension at the maximum rate, or for the 98% rate applying to those with a yearly average of €40-47 weekly PRSI contributions paid or credited per year; and

b. do not qualify for means-tested pension payments at the maximum rate because, in addition to their state pension, they also have means above a certain level (e.g. they are in receipt of an occupational pension and/or own a second residential property).

The savings created by the new rate bands were an alternative to cutting the core rate of pensions, at a time when Exchequer savings were required, and other social protection payments were being reduced across the board. Had a similar approach been taken with pensions, affecting everyone over State pension age – regardless of their means and their contribution record – the hardest hit would have been pensioners with no additional incomes, notably those paid a non-contributory State pension, and widows and widowers living alone on only one pension payment. A very significantly higher proportion of such pensioners are women, and this approach would have been expected to result in more women over 65 years of age experiencing consistent poverty, relative to men of the same age. The most recent CSO statistics show that this negative outcome has been avoided.

The alternative approach, taken by the Government at that time, made savings in respect of the contibutory State pension by making rates of payment for new pensioners more reflective of contribution history, while maintaining the rates of payment for non-contributory and Widows/widowers pensions, as well as for contributory pensions paid to those who had contributed into the Social Insurance Fund throughout their working lives (i.e. with a yearly average of 40 or more). This approach safeguarded those most vulnerable pensioners, while avoiding undermining the contributory system, which is the basis for collection of PRSI, which funds the SPC on a "Pay-As-You-Go" basis.

Where people do not qualify for a maximum-rate contributory pension in their own right, the social protection system provides alternative methods of supporting such pensioners in old age. Where their spouse has a contributory pension, they may qualify for an Increase for a Qualified Adult amounting up to 90% of a full-rate pension, which by default is paid directly to them, and is subject to a personal means-test. Alternatively, they may qualify for a means-tested non-contributory State Pension, based on their household means, amounting up to 95% of the maximum contributory pension rate. There are very significant income and capital disregards in these means tests, which result in the large majority being paid at the maximum rate.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy..

State Pensions

 656. Deputy Willie O'Dea Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty the cost of reintroducing the State transition pension; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [42534/17]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty The Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2011 provided that State Pension age will be increased gradually to 68 years. This began in January 2014 with the abolition of the transition State pension, available from the age of 65 for those who satisfied the qualifying conditions, thereby standardising State Pension age for all at 66 years of age, which is the current State Pension age. This will increase to 67 years of age in 2021 and to 68 years of age in 2028.

In most cases, it is hoped that workers will continue to work up to the new State pension age. Where this is not possible, and where a person is available for work, there are specific measures which apply to someone claiming Jobseeker’s Benefit from a date after their 65th birthday. Where qualified, these recipients may continue to be eligible for that payment until reaching pension age.

In 2013, the cost of the transition State pension was €137 million. Its abolition was not expected to save that amount of expenditure in full, as some people who were affected would alternatively claim working age payments such as Jobseeker's Benefit (albeit at a lower rate than the rate of the State pension), or may claim an Increase for a Qualified Adult in respect of their spouse’s pension.

However, it is estimated that well over half of that cost has been saved each year as a result of this measure, and this would be expected to increase as (a) the number of 65-year-olds increases, (b) the change results in a higher percentage of people working while aged 65, and (c) there have been two Budget increases in the rate of the State Pension since then. It is estimated that the net saving in 2018 is likely to be in the region of €84 million, and this is expected to rise to €87 million by 2020. These figures do not include future rate increases. Reversing this decision would, therefore, significantly increase the annual cost of State pensions and would reduce the funds available to pay for any future increases in the rates of the payment.

The Deputy should note that 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. While such a contract may originally have been entered into with a retirement age of 65 years, in the context of the previous State Pension arrangements, there is no legal impediment to the employer and employee agreeing to increase the duration of employment for one or more years, if both parties wish to do so.

In January 2016, an Interdepartmental Group on Fuller Working Lives, chaired by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, was established specifically to examine the implications arising from prevailing retirement ages. The final report of the Group made a number of recommendations to support working and retirement practices. This included a request to the Workplace Relations Commission to prepare a Code of Practice under Section 42 of the Industrial Relations Act, 1990, to help manage the engagement between employers and employees regarding retirement issues and longer working. The final report, the recommendations of which were accepted by Government in August 2016, is available on the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform’s website.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy..

State Pensions Reform

 657. Deputy Willie O'Dea Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty the steps which have been taken by her Department to date in establishing an auto-enrolment pension system; and if she will make a statement on the matter.  [42535/17]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty  Pensions reform is a priority for my term as Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, and I can confirm the Government’s intention to publish and commence the implementation of a pensions reform plan in the coming months. Perhaps the most fundamental reform measure which will be contained within this plan will relate to the development of a new auto-enrolment supplementary retirement savings system for employees without pensions coverage.

  The rate of supplementary pension coverage in Ireland is 47% of the working population, and this reduces to 35% when the private sector is considered in isolation. While the State pension provides a reasonable basic level of income and guards against poverty in retirement, if measures are not taken to address this low rate of supplementary coverage, many future retirees will experience unwanted reductions in living standards when they reach retirement.

  Auto-enrolment will see a transition from the current and purely voluntary supplementary pension system to one which will, subject to certain parameters, automatically enrol employees into a quality-assured retirement savings system. This reform, where the saver will maintain the freedom of choice to opt-out, will encourage long-term saving and asset accumulation among those who may otherwise suffer a reduction in living standards at retirement. It will increase the well-being, financial security and independence of future retirees.

  Preliminary work has been undertaken by officials in my Department to begin to identify the most effective, deliverable and sustainable automatic enrolment model. Previously, an Interdepartmental, "Universal Retirement Savings Group", URSG, considered the issue and concluded that building reform consensus across political, business and civil society is essential for any new system. To this end, the URSG held initial consultations with citizens, employer representatives, trade unions, the pensions industry, advocacy and interest groups, as well as Irish and international experts.

  A review of international automatic enrolment retirement systems by my officials has confirmed that success is dependent on well-tested design principles and securing member trust. To this end, further detailed evidence building and consultation will be undertaken to inform fundamental choices which are required regarding the preferred operational structure and organisational governance for a new system, as well as many design elements such as contribution levels, financial incentives and target membership. Correctly positioning/designing each of these will be critical to the success of any system.

  Subject to any Government decision regarding the manner in which this project should be progressed, it is my objective that first members would be enrolled in the new system in 2021. This project timeframe reflects the scale of such a programme and its importance as being the most fundamental reform of the Irish supplementary pension system in generations.

  I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Departmental Reviews

 658. Deputy Willie O'Dea Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty the number and subject matter of reports and reviews that has been commissioned by her Department and are currently under way, in tabular form; if an outside body has been commissioned to conduct the report and review; the expected publication dates; and if she will make a statement on the matter.  [42536/17]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty The information requested by the Deputy is currently being compiled by my officials and will be provided to the Deputy as soon as possible.

Rent Supplement Scheme Administration

 659. Deputy Willie O'Dea Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty the number of households in receipt of rent supplement by county, in tabular form; the number of households in each county that have had a rent supplement increased above the prescribed limits; and if she will make a statement on the matter.  [42537/17]

 678. Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin Information on Fiona O'Loughlin Zoom on Fiona O'Loughlin asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty the annualised cost of the average monthly rent currently paid to rent supplement recipients under the scheme; the number of families availing of the scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [42839/17]

 691. Deputy Kevin O'Keeffe Information on Kevin O'Keeffe Zoom on Kevin O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty if a mechanism whereby persons who are awaiting the outcome of their housing assistance payment, HAP, application with their local authority can be permitted to apply for and be paid rent allowance or supplementary welfare allowance, SWA, in the interim will be approved in view of the length of time it is taking for these applications to be processed.  [42996/17]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty I propose to take Questions Nos. 659, 678 and 691 together.

  The rent supplement scheme, administered by my Department, plays a vital role in housing families and individuals, with the scheme supporting in excess of 37,460 recipients for which the Government has provided €253 million in 2017. A county breakdown of rent supplements recipients as of the end of September 2017 is provided in the tabular statement below.

  The full annualised costs for the existing customer base at current blended rent supplement tenancy rates of €480 per month is approximately €220 million.

  In recognition of the ongoing rental market difficulties, my Department continues to implement a targeted case-by-case policy approach in the administration of rent supplement that allows for flexibility where landlords seek rents in excess of the rent limits. In addition, the Protocol arrangement in place with Threshold continues to operate in the areas where supply issues are particularly acute covering Dublin, Cork, Meath, Kildare and Wicklow and Galway city. To date in 2017, in excess of 1,450 recipients have been supported with increased rent payments. A county breakdown of these payments is provided in the tabular statement below.

  As the Deputies will be aware, the strategic policy direction of the Department is to return rent supplement to its original purpose of being a short-term income support, with the introduction of the housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme, available nation-wide from 1 March 2017. There are currently c. 27,600 HAP tenancies in place, of which c. 8,200 (c. 30%) are transfers from rent supplement. In addition to the ongoing transfer of long-term rent supplement recipients to HAP, the majority of new applicants seeking State support toward their rent are supported by Local Authorities through HAP rather than rent supplement.

  Rent supplement is not an interim or ancillary payment while an HAP application is being processed. However, rent supplement will continue to be paid to households who are already in the private rented sector but who, generally because of a loss of income through unemployment, require a short-term income support to pay their rent.

  Officials in my Department continue to work closely with the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and local authorities to facilitate the ongoing implementation of the HAP scheme, including the transfer of cases from rent supplement. Queries in relation to the administration of the HAP scheme should be raised with my colleague, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, or the Local Authority in question.

  I trust this clarifies matters for the Deputies.

  Tabular Statement: Rent Supplement by County at end of September 2017

County Recipients
CARLOW 428
CAVAN 312
CLARE 228
CORK 3,810
DONEGAL 170
DUBLIN 17,593
GALWAY 1,862
KERRY 1,203
KILDARE 1,999
KILKENNY 219
LAOIS 653
LEITRIM 196
LIMERICK 790
LONGFORD 293
LOUTH 540
MAYO 701
MEATH 628
MONAGHAN 152
OFFALY 319
ROSCOMMON 423
SLIGO 152
TIPPERARY 487
WATERFORD 244
WESTMEATH 919
WEXFORD 1,508
WICKLOW 1,633
Total 37,462


  Tabular Statement: Increased Rental Payments by County: January – September 2017
County Awards under National Tenancy Sustainment Framework Awards under protocol with Threshold Total no. of increased payments by County
CARLOW 19   19
CAVAN 17   17
CLARE 0   0
CORK 6 2 8
DONEGAL 0   0
DUBLIN 589 237 826
GALWAY 11 5 16
KERRY 87   87
KILDARE 115 4 119
KILKENNY 5   5
LAOIS 0   0
LEITRIM 11   11
LIMERICK 10   10
LONGFORD 17   17
LOUTH 32   32
MAYO 8   8
MEATH 44 2 46
MONAGHAN 0   0
OFFALY 9   9
ROSCOMMON 29   29
SLIGO 0   0
TIPPERARY 36   36
WATERFORD 5   5
WESTMEATH 35   35
WEXFORD 2   2
WICKLOW 116 0 116
Overall Total 1,203 250 1,453

Social Welfare Benefits Eligibility

 660. Deputy Ruth Coppinger Information on Ruth Coppinger Zoom on Ruth Coppinger asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty her plans to revise the level of income disregarded for the purposes of means testing for those persons in receipt of Army pensions which are currently €2 per week; and if she will make a statement on the matter.  [42585/17]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty Social welfare legislation provides that for the purpose of means testing for weekly social assistance schemes, account is taken of property other than the family home owned by the claimant and his or her spouse/partner, other capital such as savings, investments and shares, and any income of the claimant or spouse.

The means test for weekly social assistance schemes provides for a disregard of €104 per annum for army pensions payments paid under the Army Pensions Acts 1923 to 1980. It should be noted that the State Pension Non-Contributory scheme has a general means disregard of €30 per week. This means that a person can receive an army pension of up to €1,664 per annum (if she or he had no other means) and still receive the maximum weekly rate of the State Pension Non-Contributory. A pensioner with income of €250 per week can still receive a minimal pension payment, which includes supplementary benefits such as the Free Travel pass, the Household Benefits package and Fuel Allowance.

The means testing of social welfare payments reflects the fact that there is an expectation that people with income are in a position to use that income to support themselves without having to rely solely on a means-tested welfare payment.

Any changes to the current arrangements would have to be considered in an overall policy and Budgetary context..

Social Welfare Benefits Eligibility

 661. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty the most appropriate payment in the case of a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [42588/17]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty The person concerned is currently in receipt of a Jobseeker's payment, the eligibility criteria for which state that the person must be available for and genuinely seeking full-time employment. Additionally, they are required, when requested to do so, to engage with the Department’s activation measures and avail of suitable education, training or development opportunities or specified employment programmes and schemes.

From the information available to the Department, it has been confirmed that the person concerned has not been referred to Tús. However, she was randomly selected to engage with the Jobpath initiative on 2 October, 2017. JobPath is an approach to employment activation which caters mainly for people who are long-term unemployed (over 12 months) to assist them to secure and sustain full-time paid employment or self-employment. Participants on JobPath will receive intensive individual support to help them address barriers to employment and to assist them in finding jobs.

If the person concerned is not in a position to engage with Jobpath or meet the other eligibility criteria of the Jobseeker's payment, she should contact her nearest Intreo Office or Social Welfare Branch Office to discuss other scheme options available from the Department that may be more suitable, given her current circumstances.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy..

Social Welfare Benefits Applications

 662. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty the proof of address which will be accepted in the case of a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [42600/17]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty The person concerned on 6 October 2017 provided a credit union statement and a letter from the householder as evidence of his current address, and advised that he has no other documentary evidence to support his residency. The matter is currently under review, and the person concerned will be advised of the outcome in due course.    

  I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

  Question No. 663 withdrawn.

State Pension (Non-Contributory) Eligibility

 664. Deputy James Browne Information on James Browne Zoom on James Browne asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty her plans to increase the allowance for savings as a means for non-contributory pension applicants.  [42629/17]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty  In assessing means for social assistance payments, account is taken of the income and the value of capital and property of the claimant.

  Social welfare legislation provides that the yearly value of property (including capital) owned but not personally used or enjoyed is assessable for social assistance payments. Such property includes all monies held in financial institutions or otherwise, the market value of shares and houses and premises owned by a claimant which may or may not be put to commercial use. However, it does not include property such as the family home, or, for example, a premises used by the claimant in carrying out a business.

  For assessment purposes, savings are assessed in the following way:

Capital – Assessment Formula   

AMOUNT OF CAPITAL WEEKLY MEANS ASSESSED
Up to €20,000 Nil
€20,000 - €30,000 €1 per each €1,000
€30,000 - €40,000 €2 per each €1,000
Over €40,000 €4 per each €1,000


  It should be noted that, for the purposes of the State Pension Non-Contributory, SPNC, the amounts above are doubled in the case of a couple. In addition, the SPNC has a general means disregard of €30 per week.

This means that a single claimant of SPNC with no other income can have savings of €40,000 (which would result in a weekly means assessment from capital of €30), and this would have no impact on their SPNC payment. Similarly, a SPNC claimant who is one of a couple can have savings of €80,000 (and no other means) and the claimant would still receive the maximum weekly rate of SPNC. Note that each member of the couple is assessed with half of the total property and income of the couple.

Furthermore, no account is taken of interest or dividend payments received in the means assessment. The assessment formula reflects the fact that there is an expectation that persons with reasonable amounts of capital and property are in a position to use that capital or to realise the value of property to support themselves without having to rely solely on a means-tested welfare payment. If the threshold were to be increased, the people who would benefit would be those who had higher levels of income or assets.   

  Any changes to the current arrangements would have to be considered in an overall policy and Budgetary context.

Labour Activation Programmes

 665. Deputy Jackie Cahill Information on Jackie Cahill Zoom on Jackie Cahill asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty her plans to give control back to the local scheme co-ordinators in the sourcing and placing of individual scheme workers on Tús and community employment schemes in view of the fact the local knowledge of the co-ordinators is not being utilised in the current structures; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [42644/17]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty As the Deputy will be aware, my Department provides a range of activation supports catering for long-term unemployed jobseekers and those most distant from the labour market. These supports include employment schemes such as Community Employment, CE, and Tús. These schemes provide part-time temporary work in local communities, as a stepping stone back to employment. The objective of these schemes is to break the cycle of unemployment and maintain work readiness, thereby improving a person’s opportunities in returning to the labour market.

  Tús provides short-term work opportunities for those who are unemployed for more than a year. This initiative is being delivered through the network of local development companies and Údarás na Gaeltachta, known as Implementing Bodies, IBs.

  Participants are selected by a random process conducted by my Department. The selected jobseekers are informed when they have been selected and, if they agree to participate, have their contact details passed to the relevant IB. To further support the recruitment process, those fulfilling the scheme criteria can apply to my Department’s case officers to be nominated for the initiative.

  The IBs are responsible for matching the person’s skills to suit work placements available. They also provide a range of other on-the-job and mentoring supports. All of the work undertaken by Tús participants must be beneficial to the local community and be eligible for financial support. Participants are taken from a panel of eligible candidates which is maintained by the IB. When a position becomes available, the participant’s suitability is established by the IB and the community voluntary organisation.

In the case of the CE scheme, the CE Sponsors advertise their vacancies free-of-charge on the Department's JobsIreland website: www.jobsireland.ie. CE schemes can also actively advertise vacancies in their local communities. At a local level, various methods of promoting CE have been arranged between my Department and local CE schemes, including targeting potentially eligible jobseekers to attend a job fair, where details of CE vacancies and employment opportunities are provided. Interested individuals are required to meet with a case officer at their local Intreo office to determine eligibility. My Department then provides a list of referrals to the CE scheme sponsor for interview. I have no plans to change this process.

  I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Community Employment Schemes Eligibility

 666. Deputy Jackie Cahill Information on Jackie Cahill Zoom on Jackie Cahill asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty if she will review the Tús and community employment schemes regarding scheme participants who are over 60 years of age and considered by the local scheme co-ordinator to be unlikely to transition back into full-time employment in order that their participation in community work can be extended beyond the current time restrictions with no cost to the State; and if she will make a statement on the matter.  [42645/17]

: Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty As the Deputy will be aware, my Department provides a range of activation supports catering for long-term unemployed jobseekers and those most distant from the labour market. These supports include employment schemes such as Community Employment, CE, and Tús. These schemes provide part-time temporary work in local communities as a stepping stone back to employment. The objective of these schemes is to break the cycle of unemployment and maintain work readiness, thereby improving a person’s opportunities in returning to the labour market.

All participants and community groups are aware of the time limits for participation on these schemes. The participation limits aim to ensure the benefit of participation on a work scheme is available to the widest possible number of jobseekers. In addition, it is generally recognised that there is a greater likelihood of a "lock–in" effect where a scheme is of a longer duration.

With the ongoing welcome reductions in the live register, issues such as the number of places, the criteria for participation on Tús, including age limits, will all be considered in the coming months. A review of the current rule for CE, which enables a percentage of those aged 62 or over to participate on a continuous basis up to the State Pension age, is currently under way and is expected to be finalised in the coming weeks.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy..

Carer's Allowance Applications

 667. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty the eligibility for carer's allowance in the case of a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [42668/17]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty I confirm that my Department received an application for carer’s allowance from the person concerned on 22 August 2017. The application is currently being processed and once completed, the person concerned will be notified directly of the outcome.

  I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

School Meals Programme

 668. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty the amount of funding allocated in 2016 to a programme (details supplied); the amount of funding utilised in 2016; her plans for unused funds in this regard; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [42705/17]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty The school meals programme provides funding toward the provision of food to schools and organisations at a total cost of some €47.5 million in 2017. As part of Budget 2017, the funding for the scheme was substantially increased by an additional €5.5 million, which is benefitting over 50,000 additional children from September 2017 to bring the total number of schools in the scheme to some 1,700 and the number of children supported to up to 250,000.

In addition to providing some increases to existing DEIS schools benefitting almost 6,000 children, Budget 2017 funding also provides for the inclusion in the scheme, from September 2017, of up to 240 new schools supporting 47,000 children. This includes 65 newly designated DEIS schools and 174 non-DEIS schools selected in consultation with the Department of Education and Skills. This is the first time in many years that schools outside of DEIS have been invited to join the scheme.

Prior to the introduction of DEIS in 2005, all schools that were part of one of a number of Department of Education and Skills’ initiatives for disadvantaged schools were eligible to participate in the programme, which included Breaking the Cycle, Giving Children an Even Break, the Disadvantaged Area Scheme, Home School Community Liaison and the School Completion Programme. These schools have continued to remain in the scheme. In the previous academic year, 2016-17, there were 118 Breakfast Clubs and 46 Snack Clubs provided in 153 non-DEIS schools at a cost of some €968,000.

Applications for the scheme for the 2017-18 school year continue to be received and processed. It is expected that the full funding available under the scheme will be allocated over the coming weeks..


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