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 Header Item Written Answers Nos. 211-222
 Header Item State Pension (Contributory) Eligibility
 Header Item Supplementary Welfare Allowance Eligibility
 Header Item Invalidity Pension Appeals
 Header Item Domiciliary Care Allowance Applications
 Header Item Social Welfare Rates
 Header Item Carer's Allowance Appeals
 Header Item Wind Energy Guidelines
 Header Item Water Charges Administration
 Header Item Social and Affordable Housing Provision
 Header Item Local Authority Housing Standards
 Header Item Commencement of Legislation

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 961 No. 2

First Page Previous Page Page of 86 Next Page Last Page

Written Answers Nos. 211-222

State Pension (Contributory) Eligibility

 211. 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 if eligibility for a State pension contributory will be reviewed in the case of a person (details supplied); her plans to review circumstances such as in the case of this person in the interest of equality and fairness; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [47214/17]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty According to the records of my Department, the person concerned has a total of 442 paid full-rate social insurance contributions. As this is less than 520 full-rate social insurance contributions, one of the qualifying conditions for state pension (contributory), the person is not entitled to the state pension (contributory) and was notified in writing of this decision on 23 November 2015.

Where a person who has been engaged in caring duties applies for state pension (contributory) their entitlement to the homemaker’s scheme may be examined. The homemaker’s scheme will not, of itself, qualify a person for a state pension (contributory). The qualifying conditions for the pension must also be satisfied, requiring a person to have entered insurable employment before the age of 56, have paid a minimum of 520 full-rate social insurance contributions (credited contributions do not satisfy this condition) and achieve a yearly average of at least 10. As the person concerned does not satisfy the qualifying conditions for state pension (contributory), the homemaker’s scheme is not applicable in this case.

If the person concerned feels that there are any periods of employment which have not been accounted for in the social insurance record they should send documentary evidence to my Department and the matter will be investigated.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Supplementary Welfare Allowance Eligibility

 212. 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 if a person (details supplied) can be provided with a supplementary welfare payment as opposed to jobseeker's allowance; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [47237/17]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty The person concerned was in receipt of illness benefit from 18/6/16 until 27/5/17. He received an interim payment of supplementary welfare allowance (SWA) for one week while his claim for jobseekers allowance was processed and he has been in receipt of jobseekers allowance with effect from 29/5/17.

In addition, the person concerned submitted an application for invalidity pension with effect from 16/6/17 and the claim was disallowed. He has appealed this disallowance and is awaiting a decision. In line with the Department’s normal activation measures, the person concerned was referred to the JobPath service on 19/8/17. However, it has now been decided to defer this engagement pending a decision on his appeal and in the meantime his payment on jobseekers allowance will be maintained.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Invalidity Pension Appeals

 213. 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 progress to date in the determination of an appeal for invalidity pension by a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [47259/17]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty The Social Welfare Appeals Office has advised me that an appeal by the person concerned was registered in that office on 23 October 2017. It is a statutory requirement of the appeals process that the relevant Departmental papers and comments by the Deciding Officer on the grounds of appeal be sought. When these papers have been received from the Department, the case in question will be referred to an Appeals Officer who will make a summary decision on the appeal based on the documentary evidence presented or, if required, hold an oral appeal hearing.

The Social Welfare Appeals Office functions independently of the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection and of the Department and is responsible for determining appeals against decisions in relation to social welfare entitlements.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Domiciliary Care Allowance Applications

 214. Deputy Tom Neville Information on Tom Neville Zoom on Tom Neville asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty the status of an application for a domiciliary care allowance by a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [47277/17]

Minister of State at the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Finian McGrath): Information on Finian McGrath Zoom on Finian McGrath The Department is currently experiencing delays in the processing of Domiciliary Care Allowance (DCA) claims due to an increase in claim volumes and the need for more detailed decisions to be provided, following a High Court ruling. Corrective actions are in place, including having additional deciding officers assigned to the scheme. As a result average processing times have reduced over recent weeks and at present it is taking 17 weeks on average to finalise an application.

Applications are processed in date of receipt order, having regard to the complexity of each individual case. An application for DCA was received in the Department from this lady on the 23rd August 2017. While it is not feasible to provide an exact date for when a particular application will be finalised, the applications currently being finalised were received in July 2017. This application will be considered by a Deciding Officer and the decision notified as soon as possible.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Social Welfare Rates

 215. 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 if her attention has been drawn to a recent report (details supplied) which highlights the additional living costs for visually impaired persons and the differential rate of their minimum essential standard of living; her views on the report; the steps she will take to address its findings; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [47321/17]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty The findings of the recent National Council for the Blind of Ireland (NCBI) and Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice (VPSJ) report on a minimum essential standard of living (MESL) for a single adult with vision impairment have been made available to my Department. The results of this research are a useful contribution to analysis on the issue of income adequacy in general. This research is an adaptation of the VBSJ’s studies on the minimum essential standard of living for the general population, which have estimated the level of income needed to meet an individual's / household's physical, psychological and social needs, and which is calculated by identifying the goods and services required by different household types in order to meet these minimum needs.

The findings show that the cost of an MESL is estimated to be higher for a person with vision impairment than for members of the general population who have full sight. Overall, the additional cost in 2016 for an individual with vision impairment was €44.54 more than the cost for a single adult in the main MESL (€241.22).

People with vision impairment who require income support can apply to the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection for a blind person’s pension. This is the only scheme for a specific disability operated by the Department and was introduced almost 100 years ago in 1920. To be eligible for this payment, the applicant must satisfy a number of conditions set down by legislation: be at least 18 years of age and under the pension age; be so blind that he or she either cannot perform any work for which eyesight is essential or cannot continue his or her ordinary occupation, satisfy a means test, and satisfy the habitual residency condition.

There are currently some 1,280 people in receipt of a blind person’s pension at a cost of some €13.5 million in 2017.

Alternatively, the disability allowance payment can be claimed by a person with vision impairment which substantially restricts them in undertaking suitable employment. The current rate of payment for both the blind person’s pension and the disability allowance is €193 per week for a single person. Budget 2018 provides an additional €5 per week for each of these payments, bringing the rate up to €198 per week next year.

Primary weekly social welfare payments are intended to enable recipients to meet their basic day-to-day income needs. Recipients may also be entitled to a range of other payments, both cash and non-cash, which are considered secondary in nature. In this regard, recipients of the blind person’s pension or disability allowance may also be entitled to a free travel pass and the household benefits package. In addition to these, I understand that the Health Service Executive operates a supplement means-tested scheme – the blind welfare allowance – for blind people receiving certain welfare payments, including the blind pension. The current rate of payment is €58. 50 per week for a single person.

Any further increases in the rates of primary and secondary payments to persons with disabilities including those with vision impairment would have to be considered in the context of the annual budgetary process..

Carer's Allowance Appeals

 216. Deputy Martin Kenny Information on Martin Kenny Zoom on Martin Kenny asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty the reason an appeal for carer's allowance by a person (details supplied) has not been addressed; if the appeal will be expedited; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [47323/17]

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

  The Department periodically reviews claims in payment to ensure that there is continued entitlement. Following a review in this case it was determined that the evidence did not indicate that the requirement for full-time care was satisfied.

  The person concerned was notified on 25 November 2015 of this decision, the reason for it and of her right of review and appeal. The person concerned requested a review of this decision and submitted additional evidence in support of her application. However the decision remained unchanged.

  Following several subsequent reviews, it was determined that the evidence did not indicate that the requirement for full-time care was satisfied. The person concerned was notified of the most recent outcome on 17 February 2017, the reasons for it and of her right of appeal.

  The person concerned appealed this decision to the Social Welfare Appeals Office (SWAO) on 4 March 2017. A submission in support of the decision was prepared and forwarded to the SWAO on 6 Nov 2017 for determination.

  I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Wind Energy Guidelines

 217. Deputy Robert Troy Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy the expected timeframe for the new national wind energy guidelines to be put on a statutory basis. [47193/17]

 219. Deputy Robert Troy Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy when he expects the new national wind energy guidelines to be put on a statutory basis. [47221/17]

Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government (Deputy Eoghan Murphy): Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy I propose to take Questions Nos. 217 and 219 together.

  My predecessor as Minister, in conjunction with my colleague, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, announced an emerging "preferred draft approach" to the review of the 2006 Wind Energy Development Guidelines in June 2017.

  A copy of the announcement is available on my Department’s website at the following link:

http://www.housing.gov.ie/planning/guidelines/wind-energy/coveney-and-naughten-announce-key-development-review-wind-energy-development-guidelines.

  As part of the overall review, a strategic environmental assessment (SEA) will be undertaken on the "preferred draft approach" to the revised Guidelines before they come into effect. This is in accordance with the requirements of EU Directive 2001/24/EC on the assessment of the effects of certain plans and programmes on the environment, the SEA Directive.  SEA is a process by which environmental considerations are required to be fully integrated into the preparation of plans and programmes which act as frameworks for development consent, prior to their final adoption, with public consultation as part of that process.

  It is envisaged that the SEA process will take approximately nine months and tendering to engage the necessary expertise to carry out that process is currently underway.  In light of the SEA requirements, it is expected that the revisions to the Guidelines will not be finalised and come into effect until 2018.  In the meantime, the current Guidelines remain in force.

  When finalised, the revised Guidelines will be issued under Section 28 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended.  Planning authorities, and, where applicable, An Bord Pleanála must have regard to guidelines issued under Section 28 in the performance of their functions generally under the Planning Acts.

Water Charges Administration

 218. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy the way in which water charges will be dealt with for students paying the charge through property management companies (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47213/17]

Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government (Deputy Eoghan Murphy): Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy The Water Services Bill 2017 is currently being considered by the Oireachtas. The Bill provides for Irish Water to make refunds to customers who paid domestic water charges since 1 January 2015. In making the refunds the guiding principle for Irish Water will be to make refunds directly to the account holder. In the instance where a Management Company is the Irish Water account holder and where that company paid domestic water charges it will be necessary for the individuals concerned who paid their water charges through this medium to engage with the relevant management company. I understand that Irish Water has, as part of the preparations for making refunds, engaged with the Residential Landlords Association of Ireland to ensure that the refund of domestic water charges operates as efficiently and effectively as possible in landlord/tenant situations.

Question No. 219 answered with Question No. 217.

Social and Affordable Housing Provision

 220. Deputy Joan Burton Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy his plans to make provision for affordable housing for young persons in employment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47245/17]

Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government (Deputy Eoghan Murphy): Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy The Government recognises the housing affordability pressures faced by households with low to moderate income in parts of the country where housing costs are highest. Therefore, housing affordability has been examined by my Department, in consultation with the Housing Agency, local authorities and other stakeholders as part of the targeted review of Rebuilding Ireland. 

  The examination was carried out under the generally accepted premise that housing is deemed affordable where households, particularly low  or moderate income households, are paying no more than a third of their disposable income on meeting their accommodation needs.  

The work took account of the measures already taken to make housing more affordable. These include the  streamlined planning system for large-scale housing developments; reduced development contributions; the €226 million LIHAF funding, the impact of Rent Pressure Zones and changes to apartment guidelines in 2015.  

  It also took account of the additional housing affordability measures contained in Budget 2018. As announced, there will be a second phase of the LIHAF infrastructure fund with an Exchequer contribution of €50 million to unlock additional lands for housing.

  I have also secured funding of €25 million, to be provided over 2018 and 2019, to unlock local authority owned land specifically to deliver affordable housing. Local authorities have already worked very successfully with co-operative housing bodies in delivering infrastructure on local authority owned sites so that co-operatives can make affordable housing available. This model is to be made available on a far greater scale.

  The housing affordability examination is now at an advanced stage and I expect to be in a position to outline the outcome, including any additional measures, in the coming weeks.

Local Authority Housing Standards

 221. Deputy Róisín Shortall Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy his views on the finding by the European Committee of Social Rights that the standard of some local authority housing here is in violation of the Article 16 of the European Social Charter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47325/17]

Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government (Deputy Eoghan Murphy): Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy The recent findings of the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) are being taken very seriously and Ireland will provide a formal reply to the findings shortly.

It is important to note that the Committee found no violations by Ireland in respect of many of the key provisions of the Human Rights Charter, including Articles on non-discrimination, the right to protection of health, the right of children and young persons to social, legal and economic protection, and the right to protection against poverty and social exclusion.

However, notwithstanding those findings of ‘no violations’, the adverse findings against Ireland in relation to Article 16 (the right of the family to social, legal and economic protection) are currently being reviewed  and considered.  

Remedies in respect of key issues on which complaints were upheld against Ireland are already in train. The regeneration of Dolphin House has commenced since the complaint was made to the ECSR and the first phase of the project is currently on site. This phase consists of the deep retrofitting of 3 of the existing housing blocks to provide 63 refurbished apartments and 37 new build units, comprised of 28 apartments and 9 houses, to give an overall total of 100 new and refurbished units at a cost of €25.5 million. 

The regeneration of St Teresa’s Gardens is also underway and significant funding has been provided to Dublin City Council for de-tenanting, enabling works and demolitions. The new build element will commence in 2018, with 50 social homes planned for phase 1. As with Dolphin House, the Government is committed to this regeneration project and to the beneficial change in living circumstances it will bring to the residents of the area. In addition, the national Regeneration Programme continues to be rolled out in other areas in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Tralee, Sligo and Dundalk.

These projects are all yielding significant improvements to the housing conditions in the areas involved, as well as investing in social and economic programmes to support holistic improvements in the living circumstances of the areas’ residents.

The importance of a preventative maintenance programme for social housing stock has been explicitly recognised in the Government's Rebuilding Ireland Action Plan, under which all local authorities will adopt a preventative maintenance approach to housing stock management, including consistent standards and pro-active approaches, and adopt a common national re-letting performance standard. 

Other remedies will also be considered to address the ECSR findings.

Commencement of Legislation

 222. Deputy Róisín Shortall Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy the reason he has not brought into effect Chapter 2 of Part 2 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 which places an obligation on each housing authority to make a housing service plan; the steps he will take to bring this section of the Act into effect; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47327/17]

Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government (Deputy Eoghan Murphy): Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy Housing Services Plans are provided for in sections 14 -18 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009, which has not been commenced.

  Section 14 requires that each housing authority make a Housing Services Plan setting out the objectives which the housing authority considers to be reasonable and necessary for the provision of housing services having regard to the requirements of the housing strategy or strategies relating to housing supports for its administrative area.

  The first plan would be made within a time set out by the Minister, subsequent plans would be made within six months of the making of the Development Plan.

  Housing Services are defined as, among other things:

  - social housing support;

  - affordable housing;

  - the granting of shared ownership leases under section 3 of the Act of 1992;

  - the sale, or consent to the sale, of a dwelling under section 90(1)(b) of the Principal Act to a person other than another housing authority;

  - loans made under section 11 of the Act of 1992 or section 25(1) of the Housing (Traveller accommodation) Act 1998;

  - grants for works of improvement or adaptation to houses under section 5 of the Act of 1992;

  - grants and other assistance for the provision of new houses or improvement works to houses under section 6 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1979;

  - services provided to homeless persons under section 10 of the Act of 1988;

  - the provision of sites under section 57 of the Principal Act;

  - the management, maintenance and refurbishment of any dwelling, building or land of which the housing authority is the owner or which is under its management and control. 

  The provisions provide for the making of a Housing Services Plan in draft form first, its circulation to the Minister and other bodies (including AHBs and the HSE) for comments, the preparation of a report for the elected members by the Chief Executive and the adoption of the Plan by the members, with or without modification.

  While these provisions have not yet been commenced, this has not acted as an impediment to the delivery of significantly increased and enhanced housing services by local authorities and AHBs, driven by the substantially increased resources and new initiatives under Rebuilding Ireland. However, I will be keeping the matter under review, particularly in the context of the setting of new social housing delivery targets for all local authorities for 2018 onwards.


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