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 Header Item Written Answers
 Header Item Written Answers Nos. 1-31
 Header Item Labour Activation Measures
 Header Item Jobseeker's Payments
 Header Item Disability Allowance
 Header Item Employment Rights
 Header Item State Pension (Contributory)
 Header Item JobPath Programme
 Header Item JobPath Data
 Header Item Social Welfare Benefits Eligibility
 Header Item Social Welfare Benefits Eligibility
 Header Item Pension Provisions
 Header Item Working Family Payment Payments
 Header Item State Pensions
 Header Item Carer's Allowance Eligibility
 Header Item Social Welfare Benefits Payments
 Header Item School Meals Programme
 Header Item State Pensions

Thursday, 4 April 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 981 No. 5

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Written Answers

The following are questions tabled by Members for written response and the ministerial replies as received on the day from the Departments [unrevised].

Written Answers Nos. 1-31

  Questions Nos. 1 to 7, inclusive, answered orally.

Labour Activation Measures

 8. Deputy Thomas Pringle Information on Thomas Pringle Zoom on Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty the timeline for the procurement process for future employment services; if a payments-by-results model for employment services will be sought despite the unsuitability of this model having been demonstrated in other jurisdictions including here; if the new model will acknowledge distance travelled by which the focus is on the development of the individual as opposed to the sole focus being on the end result of obtaining work; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15368/19]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty My Department is considering different options on the structure of any future contracts and potential models for the public employment service for the period post 2019.  My Department is progressing this matter with a view to having contracted public employment services in place from the start of 2020 and will continue to engage in the interim with the relevant stakeholders to the extent that is appropriate under EU procurement guidelines.

The future model for the public employment service will be guided by the dual principles of providing all those seeking employment with the most appropriate assistance, while ensuring, on behalf of taxpayers, a service that is effective and that provides value for money.

While my Department will continue to consider appropriate payment models for the future procurement of contracted public services, I would like to remind the Deputy that, contrary to the assertion in his question, JobPath has been a good example of how a payment by results model can work effectively.  Ireland had the benefit of learning from the experiences of other jurisdictions when designing the payment model for JobPath services.  This enabled my Department to procure a service that was based on paying JobPath providers when their clients secured proven sustained, full-time, employment.  My Department also created inbuilt rigorous inspection and complaints systems to ensure JobPath providers met the high standards set for them.

I share the Deputy's wish that any new model should have the capacity to measure the distance travelled by those furthest from the labour market and this will be at the forefront of my Department's thinking on any future contracting.

  Questions Nos. 9 to 12, inclusive, answered orally.

Jobseeker's Payments

 13. Deputy John Brady Information on John Brady Zoom on John Brady asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty the date for the publication of the report into the impact of reduced jobseeker's payments for persons aged 18 to 25 years of age which was due to be published two years ago; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15640/19]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty Reduced rates for young recipients of Jobseeker’s Allowance (JA) aged 18-25 were introduced on a phased basis to tackle high youth unemployment and prevent long term welfare dependency, and this is in line with practice in other EU and OECD jurisdictions.  If a young jobseeker participates in education or training they will receive the maximum weekly rate of payment of €203.  This includes the €5 weekly increase applied from last week, which I secured as part of Budget 2019.   

There are a number of measures in place to assist young people into employment or training.  In 2013 the EU adopted a Council Recommendation to member states on a Youth Guarantee.  Under the Youth Guarantee process case officers engage with unemployed young people, on a monthly basis, to prepare and implement personal progression plans for employment.

Where young people do not find work quickly, additional supports are offered through places on employment and training schemes, which are closely aligned to the needs of the labour market.  I also recently launched the Youth Employment Support Scheme (YESS) which is a work experience scheme targeted exclusively at young jobseekers facing barriers to employment.  Participants receive a payment of €229.20 per week.

These policies have been effective in reducing both youth and long-term unemployment.  For example, the most recent data shows that Irish youth unemployment has fallen from a peak of 31.2% in 2012 to 13.4% in March 2019.  Irish youth unemployment has fallen from well above the EU average in 2012 of 23% to below the current EU figure of 14.9%.

As an input to our review of the impact of the changed payment rates the National University of Ireland, Maynooth undertook research which examined the effectiveness of the reduced rates in encouraging young jobseekers to avail of education, training and employment.  This research was completed in late 2018 and found very positive results for those 18 year olds on JA at the age related reduced rate, noting a significant reduction from 111 weeks to approximately 50 weeks in unemployment durations.  The  detailed findings in the report will be used to inform my Department’s own review report which will be completed in the coming months.  I will arrange to provide a summary of the NUIM findings to the Deputy.

  Question No. 14 answered with Question No. 6.

Disability Allowance

 15. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty her plans to revise the method by which capital is assessed for those in receipt of disability allowance; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15509/19]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty The Department operates a range of means-tested social assistance payments.  Social welfare legislation provides that the means test takes account the income and assets of the person (and spouse / partner, if applicable) applying for the relevant scheme.  Income and assets include income from employment, self-employment, occupational pensions, maintenance payments as well as property owned (other than the family home) and capital such as savings, shares and other investments.

The assessment of capital reflects the fact that there is an expectation that people 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.

Disability allowance (DA) has the most generous capital disregard of any scheme operated by the Department.  A recipient can have up to €50,000 in savings and still receive the full rate of payment.  This is compared to €20,000 for most social welfare payments.

Any proposals to change the capital means assessment for means-tested social assistance schemes would have to be considered in the overall budgetary context.

It should also be noted that people receiving Disability Allowance (DA) may also be eligible for secondary benefits such as free travel, fuel allowance, the household benefits package, living alone allowance and the telephone support allowance. 

In addition to this, DA recipients may also work and earn up to €120 per week without their payment being affected.

  Question No. 16 answered with Question No. 12.

Employment Rights

 17. Deputy Clare Daly Information on Clare Daly Zoom on Clare Daly asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty if she will review legislation for the protection of the rights of migrant workers engaged in seasonal work on short-term contracts of less than six months duration with a view to strengthening regulations. [15606/19]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty Ireland has a comprehensive body of employment legislation, in respect of which the Workplace Relations Commission is mandated to secure compliance.

Ireland’s employment rights legislation protects all employees, including migrant workers, who are legally employed on a contract of service basis.  This is specifically set out in Section 20 of the Protection of Employment (Part Time Work)  Act, 2001.

Some employment legislation requires that a worker be employed for at least 1 year before they are in a position to take a claim to the Workplace Relations Commission.  This would include the Unfair Dismissals Acts 1977 to 2015 and Redundancy Payments Acts 1967-2014.  Obviously seasonal employment by its very nature may preclude such workers from bringing a claim under these Acts, but this situation applies to all employees, regardless of status, who are employed for less than 1 year.

Where an individual believes they are being deprived of employment rights applicable to employees they may refer a complaint to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) where the matter can be dealt with by way of mediation or adjudication leading to a decision that is enforceable through the District Court.  WRC inspectors can also be asked to investigate certain breaches.  Complaints can be made on a single online complaint form available at the WRC’s website www.workplacerelations.ie.

The Workplace Relations Customer Service Section can  be contacted at Lo-call: 1890 80 80 90 or via its website www.workplacerelations.ie. 

My Department continuously monitors existing employment rights legislation to ensure that it continues to be relevant and fit for purpose and is updated to reflect international developments at European Union, Court of Justice and International Labour Organisation level. 

If the Deputy has evidence of specific instances of abuses concerning migrant workers, I would appreciate it if she would direct them to either the WRC or to my office.  

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

State Pension (Contributory)

 18. Deputy Denis Naughten Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty when application forms for the State pension (contributory) review will be made available; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15365/19]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty Since late September 2018, my Department has been examining the social insurance records of approximately 90,000 pensioners, born on or after 1 September 1946, who have a reduced rate State pension contributory entitlement based on post Budget 2012 rate-bands.  These payments are being reviewed under a new Total Contributions Approach (TCA) to pension calculation which includes provision for homecaring periods.

Wherever possible reviews will be processed using information already held by my Department.  In some cases additional information is being requested to ensure people receive the best rate possible.  Paper application forms are available on request and have been issuing to pensioners since the middle of February.  Almost 7,200 forms have issued and as at 2 April 2019 just over 4,600 have been returned.  I would urge anyone who has yet to provide additional requested information to the Department to do so as soon as possible so that their review can be processed.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

JobPath Programme

 19. Deputy Bríd Smith Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty when the contracts with JobPath providers will expire; when a decision on the future of the scheme will be made; if the recent Dáil Éireann motion on the issue will be taken into account; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15655/19]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty The JobPath employment service commenced in 2015 and under the terms of the contracts signed with the providers will run for a total of at least six years.  This is comprised of two phases; phase one entails four years of client referrals to the end of 2019, while phase two entails a ‘run off’ period during which employment support will be continued but no additional clients will be referred to JobPath.  The contract includes an option to extend the term of referrals for a period no greater than two years.

The process of procuring contracted public employment services for 2020 and beyond is still in its early stages and my officials are working to design a procurement model that will balance the need for value for money for taxpayers with the importance of preserving high-quality employment advisory and counseling services.

No decisions yet have been taken in this regard, but my Department is currently considering how best to adapt our employment services provision in light of the changing economic circumstances, including how we can best provide employment services to those most distant from the labour market and to people who have not previously availed of these services.

The Government's position on the recent motion debated in the House on the JobPath service was clearly set out in my contribution at the time.  I note the views of the House on the matter.  However, the position of the Government remains unchanged.  The Government is determined that all jobseekers in receipt of welfare payments will have access to and receive a good-quality, case manager based, employment advisory service.  This means that we cannot afford, nor should we, reduce case officer capacity.  JobPath employs about 600 staff in the provision of such services and, in the absence of alternatives it is not an option to withdraw this service in an unplanned manner.  In addition the Department has entered into legally binding agreements with the JobPath providers and the Government will honour these contractual commitments.

JobPath Data

 20. Deputy John Brady Information on John Brady Zoom on John Brady asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty the number of persons referred to JobPath since 2015; the number of those that have commenced employment which has been sustained for 12 months or more; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15637/19]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty The primary purpose of JobPath is to provide a case management based, employment advice and counseling service to long term unemployed jobseekers.  This is the group of jobseekers that faces the most significant barriers to entering full-time employment.

Between July 2015 and March 2019, some 216,546 jobseekers had commenced their engagement period with the JobPath service.  Of this number, 52% were over three years unemployed and a further 10% were over two years unemployed.  These groups face significant barriers when seeking to enter or return to employment in the open labour market.

Some 48,792 had commenced employment during their engagement period with almost 13,000 sustaining full time employment for a period of 12 months or more.

It should be noted that these figures are representative of the entire cohort of JobPath clients to date and all job starts in the same period.  Many clients who are still currently engaged with JobPath are in the first phase of the service and have not spent sufficient time with the service to have gained employment or sustain that employment for up to 52 weeks.

Between July 2015 and the end of December 2017 - a time period where the full impact of JobPath and job sustainment can now be measured - 146,776 jobseekers, mostly more than two years unemployed, had engaged with the JobPath service of whom 37,522 (23%) had commenced employment.  To date 12,711 of these clients (34% of those who started employment) have sustained full time employment for a period of 12 months or more.  These employment start and sustainment rates are significantly higher than the historical counterfactual level prior to JobPath employment progression rates for this group - even during periods of economic growth - were as low as 9%.

Job sustainment performance across the entire cohort is expected to improve as more clients complete their engagement with the service and have the opportunity to reach 52 weeks in sustained employment.

  Question No. 21 answered with Question No. 12.

Social Welfare Benefits Eligibility

 22. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan Information on Maureen O'Sullivan Zoom on Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty the progress being made to address the entitlements of those whose profession is of a sporadic nature and the stress this causes for persons, for example, in the acting profession; and her plans to extend the arts scheme for longer than a year. [15646/19]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty The main social welfare supports for unemployed people who have lost work and are unable to find alternative full-time employment are the jobseeker’s allowance (JA) and jobseeker’s benefit (JB) schemes.  

A pilot initiative to assist self-employed visual artists and writers who apply to my Department for JA was launched in June 2017.  The initiative involved collaboration between my Department and what is now the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, with the support and advice of the Arts Council.  It was agreed after a process of consultation that the initiative would apply to members of Visual Arts Ireland and the Irish Writers Centre.  The pilot gives recipients 12 months to focus on building up their work and develop their creative potential before they are subject to activation.  A total of some 90 people have participated in this pilot since its introduction.

My Department is currently reviewing this pilot and its findings will inform any decisions on the future and its extension to professional artists in other disciplines.   

While actors, including those which are self-employed, are not in a position to access this pilot they may qualify for JA or JB provided they satisfy the conditionality of the scheme.  Both schemes provide significant support allowing individuals to work up to 3 days a week and still retain access to a reduced jobseeker’s payment.  In addition the Government has agreed to introduce a social insurance based JobSeeker Benefit scheme for people who are self-employed.  The terms of this scheme are being finalised and will be published shortly.  As many people in the arts sector are self-employed this will be of benefit to them.

I would advise that any person experiencing unemployment, including actors whose employment is of a sporadic nature, to engage with their local Intreo office for support.

Social Welfare Benefits Eligibility

 23. 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 introduce flexibility and support in the social protection system for persons with mental health difficulties; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15363/19]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection provides a range of income supports for those who are unable to work due to an illness or disability.  Entitlement to these supports is not contingent on the nature of the illness or disability itself but on the extent to which a person’s capacity to work is restricted by illness or disability.

The Make Work Pay report for People with Disabilities, published in April 2017, identified the need for flexibility in both the income support and the health, namely medical card, systems.  This is particularly the case where a person with a disability takes up a job but that job does not work out.

Anxiety in such circumstances can be particularly pronounced among those with mental health issues, given the episodic nature of such conditions.  While work is on-going, in line with recommendations of the Make Work Pay report, a number of changes have already been implemented by my Department to support persons in such circumstances.  These include:

- a 'fast-track return to disability allowance' protocol has been put in place  should a particular employment opportunity prove unsuitable;

- people who are participating on the partial capacity benefit scheme may return to illness benefit or invalidity pension if they find that they cannot continue to work;

- people with a long-term disability who take up employment will retain their Free Travel Pass for a period of five years;

- a “Benefits of Work” calculator for persons with a disability is now available on the Department's website to help people calculate the net benefit of entering or returning to work;

- the requirement that work be of a ‘rehabilitative’ nature, where a person in receipt of Disability Allowance wishes to undertake employment, has been removed.

The Department of Health also recently introduced a significant improvement to the medical card assessment process which will enable persons in receipt of a Disability Allowance payment to have a greater earnings capacity and still retain their medical card.  The medical card earnings disregard for persons in receipt of Disability Allowance has been significantly increased from €120 to €427 per week.

In addition, the Department has also supported the HSE in its roll out of its Individual Placement Service, or IPS.  The IPS model of support is an evidence based approach to supporting persons who experience mental health difficulties.  The model of support aims to improve the mental health outcomes for persons availing of the service as well as to increase the likelihood they will access employment.  This service will be available in all HSE Community Healthcare Organisation areas in 2019.

Pension Provisions

 24. Deputy John Curran Information on John Curran Zoom on John Curran asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty if she will review the operation of pension schemes for retired members of semi-State organisations; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that one fifth of these pensioners are on a pension of less than €12,000 per annum and many have not received a pension increase in recent years; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15371/19]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty My Department has no role in setting the level of pensions received by members of occupational pension schemes.  Pension increases for occupational pensions are entirely a matter for the scheme trustees and the sponsoring employer.

If any individual has evidence that pension scheme trustees are not acting in the best interests of scheme members they should complain to the scheme trustees in the first instance.  If the complainant is not satisfied with the trustees’ reply they should raise their concerns with the Pensions Authority.

If a person does not qualify for a State pension (contributory) and does not have sufficient means, they may qualify for a means-tested State pension (non-contributory) instead.  This is paid at a rate of up to 95% that of the State pension (contributory), with 70% of such pensioners receiving the maximum rate of payment.  The rate a person receives will depend upon their means.  This is based upon (a) their cash income, (b) the value of capital they have (for example, savings, investments, cash on hand and property but not their own home), and (c) income from property personally used.  The highest rate of payment, for those with means of up to €30.00 per week, is €237, although someone with means under €257.50 weekly (€13,390 per annum) may qualify for a reduced rate of payment, depending upon their circumstances.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Working Family Payment Payments

 25. Deputy Joan Collins Information on Joan Collins Zoom on Joan Collins asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty the steps she has taken or is planning to take to accelerate the payment process for the working family payment (details supplied). [15599/19]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty Working Family Payment (WFP) is an in-work payment which provides additional income support to employees on low earnings with children.  WFP is payable for a 52 week period from award date and a person must reapply at the end of this period to have their payment renewed.

  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 in a timely fashion.

  The average waiting time for processing new WFP applications is currently 7 weeks.

  All possible steps are being taken to improve processing times in this area.  All available staff are assigned to claims processing to ensure that new applications are dealt with as quickly as possible.  As a consequence of the above measures, it is expected that WFP new application processing times will continue to improve in the coming weeks.

  WFP renewal forms are issued to customers 8 weeks before the expiry of the 52 week period and these applications are generally processed in advance of the expiry date.

  Question No. 26 answered with Question No. 6.

State Pensions

 27. Deputy John Brady Information on John Brady Zoom on John Brady asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty her plans to set up a taskforce which would consider the appropriate level of pensionable age and make recommendations in view of the way in which pension age increases were agreed without consultation or debate; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15641/19]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty One of the key parameters in any pension system is setting the age at which a State pension can be drawn.  To accommodate demographic ageing, all EU countries have undertaken, or have scheduled, reforms to their State pension age.  In Ireland, legislation that progressively increases the Irish State pension age to 68 in 2028 has already been enacted.  However, it is recognised that over the longer term, increasing life expectancy may continue to outpace the increase in pension age.

A policy which sees Ireland linking the State pension age with life expectancy is a measure for Member States advocated at EU level and has also been recommended by the OECD.  This change will provide greater certainty and sufficient ‘lead in’ time to allow individuals plan, both personally and financially, for their retirement.  It may also assist workers and employers in their considerations regarding any amendments to the terms of employment contracts. 

Therefore, to put in place a fair, transparent and clearly understandable framework underpinning the State pension age, the Government committed in the "Roadmap for Pension Reform" published last year that there would be no further increases to the State Pension Age prior to 2035, other than those increases already provided for in 2021 and 2028.

Any change to the State pension age after 2035 will be directly linked to increases in life expectancy.  This will begin with an assessment of life expectancy in 2022 to include a review of the proportionality between time spent in working life and retirement.  At that point, informed by the review and assessment, a notice period of no less than 13 years will be given in respect of any planned changes to the State pension age before implementation occurs.  Thereafter a similar assessment of life expectancy will take place every 5 years. 

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Carer's Allowance Eligibility

 28. Deputy Bobby Aylward Information on Bobby Aylward Zoom on Bobby Aylward asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty if the possibility of increasing the financial thresholds for carer’s allowance will be investigated; if the introduction of discretionary assessments in cases of extreme extenuating circumstances, similar to the discretionary system utilised in the medical card application process, will be examined; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15644/19]

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 payment, made to people who are providing full-time care and attention to elderly people or to people with disabilities and whose income falls below certain limits.  The principal conditions for receipt of the allowance are that full time care and attention is required and being provided and that the means test which applies is satisfied.

The conditions attached to payment of CA are consistent with the overall conditions that apply to social assistance payments generally.  This system of social assistance supports provides payments based on an income need with the means test playing the critical role in determining whether or not an income need arises as a consequence of a particular contingency - be that illness/disability, unemployment or caring. 

At the end of December 2018, there were 79,914 people in receipt of CA.  The projected expenditure on CA in 2019 is almost €840 million. 

Decisions on claims are made by deciding officers of the Department in line with current legislative provisions. 

The means test for Carer's Allowance is one of the most generous in the social protection system in that €332.50 of gross weekly income is disregarded in the calculation of means for a single person; the equivalent for someone who is married, in a civil partnership or cohabiting is €665 of combined gross weekly income.  A married couple with 2 children could have weekly earnings of €734 net of PRSI, superannuation and union subscription costs and still qualify for the full rate of Carer's Allowance.  This is equivalent to over €38,000 per annum.

Any changes to scheme criteria would have to be considered in an overall Budgetary context. 

I trust that this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Social Welfare Benefits Payments

 29. Deputy John Curran Information on John Curran Zoom on John Curran asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty if she will amend the Vote of her Department to include the full Christmas payment from budget 2020; and if she will make a statement on the matter.  [15370/19]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty The Christmas Bonus payment is made to long-term social welfare recipients, such as pensioners, carers, people with disabilities, lone parents and long-term unemployed people who rely wholly or mainly on their social welfare payments for financial support.

  The payment of a Christmas Bonus is a discretionary decision made by Government in the context of the annual Budget process and available resources.  The level of payment made can vary annually and, in fact, was not paid at all in the period from 2009 to 2013.  In this regard, it is not included in the Department’s annual Estimates.

  A decision to pay the bonus at Budget time must be consistent with the legal requirements set out in the Fiscal Responsibility Acts 20212 and 2013, and within the context of achieving targets set for Ireland by the EU rules.

  I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

School Meals Programme

 30. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan Information on Thomas P. Broughan Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty the stage of the proposals to provide a free hot meal to every school child; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [10685/19]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty The school meals programme provides funding towards the provision of food to some 1,580 schools and organisations benefitting 250,000 children at a total cost of €57.6 million in 2019 representing an increase of €3.6 million over the previous year.  The objective of the scheme is to provide regular, nutritious food to children who are unable, due to lack of good quality food, to take full advantage of the education provided to them. 

As part of Budget 2019, it was announced that my department would commence a pilot scheme from September 2019, providing Hot School Meals in 36 schools for an estimated 7,200 children at a cost of €1m for 2019 and €2.5m in a full year.

The Programme is an important component of policies to encourage school attendance and extra educational achievement by children.

Research shows us the value of the provision of adequate and nutritious meals for a child’s health, learning, attention and educational achievement.  That is why I am providing funds to establish a pilot programme for a hot meals scheme in primary schools.

Eligible primary schools will shortly be  issued with an invitation to submit an Expression of Interest to participate in the pilot from September 2019.  Funding of €2.90 per meal will be provided and it will not be permitted to seek an additional contribution from families to provide the meals.  Schools will identify a supplier who will supply (prepare and deliver) the hot meals in line with HACCP and food safety regulations in compliance with the Healthy Ireland Nutrition Standards for School Meals.

Following the conclusion of the pilot at the end of the 2019/2020 academic year, an evaluation of the pilot scheme will be carried out.  If successful, my Department would hope to work with the Department of Education and Skills (DES) in extending the scheme on a much wider basis in future years and establish the scheme on a permanent basis.

State Pensions

 31. 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 status of the review under way of entitlement to an increased rate of contributory pension; the number of cases that remain to be reviewed; when the review will be completed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15530/19]

 45. Deputy Martin Heydon Information on Martin Heydon Zoom on Martin Heydon asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty the status of progress in completing the reviews for those in receipt of reduced pension amounts; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15650/19]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty I propose to take Questions Nos. 31 and 45 together.

Since late September 2018, my Department has been examining the social insurance records of approximately 90,000 pensioners, born on or after 1 September 1946, who have a reduced rate State pension contributory entitlement based on post Budget 2012 rate-bands.  These payments are being reviewed under a new Total Contributions Approach (TCA) to pension calculation which includes provision for homecaring periods.

Reviews commenced from 13 February 2019, the day after I signed the necessary regulations which together with provisions in the Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registrations Act 2018, allows the increased payments to be made.  The most recently available figures show that as at 2 April 2019, 13,915 reviews have been completed.  Of these 75% have resulted in an increase in payment and 25% continue to receive their existing rate. 

It will take a number of months to complete all the reviews due to the numbers involved and the individual nature of social insurance records.  One hundred and twenty one temporary staff have been recruited to help with this work and at this stage it is anticipated that the reviews will be in the coming months when written outcomes will have issued to all pensioners involved. 

Regardless of when a review is conducted, where an increase in payment is due, the person's rate of payment will be adjusted without delay and arrears issued backdated to 30 March 2018, or the pensioner’s 66th birthday if later.  Where a person's rate does not increase following a review, the person will continue to receive their existing rate of payment.  

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.


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