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 Header Item Written Answers Nos. 36-64
 Header Item State Pension (Contributory)
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment
 Header Item Social Welfare Rates
 Header Item Money Advice and Budgeting Service
 Header Item Social Welfare Appeals
 Header Item Carer's Allowance
 Header Item Community Employment Schemes
 Header Item National Minimum Wage
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic
 Header Item Pension Provisions
 Header Item Community Employment Schemes
 Header Item Jobseeker's Benefit
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment
 Header Item Social Insurance
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Supports
 Header Item Pension Provisions
 Header Item Community Employment Schemes
 Header Item Social Insurance
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 996 No. 2
Unrevised

First Page Previous Page Page of 101 Next Page Last Page

Written Answers Nos. 36-64

State Pension (Contributory)

 36. Deputy Cormac Devlin Information on Cormac Devlin Zoom on Cormac Devlin asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys when she plans to introduce a system to enable persons to defer receipt of their State pension (contributory) on an annual basis. [18966/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys There is no statutory retirement age in Ireland.  The age at which employees retire is determined by the employment contract between the employer and the employee.  Many such contracts may have been entered into in the context of previous state pension arrangements.  However, a mandatory retirement age did not apply.  Statistical data on long-term demographic changes indicate that people are living longer and healthier lives.  Many of them may want to continue working after 65 and an option to defer payment of the State Pension may facilitate them in their choice.

For this reason, the Government has set out in the Programme for Government "Our Shared Future" that a system will be introduced to enable people to defer receipt of their state contributory pension on an annual basis, to include actuarial increases in payment as soon as practicable.  There are a range of issues and implications arising from such a significant reform of the Irish state pension system which officials in my Department have now started to examine.  Accordingly it is not yet possible to set out a timeline for when it may be introduced.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment

 37. Deputy Louise O'Reilly Information on Louise O'Reilly Zoom on Louise O'Reilly asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if persons from the arts sector will be kept at the higher rate of the pandemic unemployment payment in view of the fact they cannot return to work until gigs and events are up and running; and if their average weekly earnings from 2019 can be used as the basis for the calculation of the payment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19010/20]

 51. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if she will report on the discussions she has had with regard to maintaining the pandemic unemployment payment for artists, performers, crew and event organisers in the arts, culture, music, live entertainment and events sectors as a basic minimum income over and above which these workers would be allowed earn some additional income without losing the payment until a full or substantial recovery to normal or near normal levels of employment and income earning opportunity return; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17396/20]

 54. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh Information on Aengus Ó Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if she has had discussions with the Minister of Media, Culture, Tourism and Gaeltacht regarding the need to protect artists, those working in the events business and musicians with a continuation of the higher Covid-19 payments until such time as the sector can recommence in full. [18996/20]

 63. Deputy Paul Murphy Information on Paul Murphy Zoom on Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if the €350 per week pandemic unemployment payment rate will be maintained rather than reduced. [19015/20]

 67. Deputy Thomas Gould Information on Thomas Gould Zoom on Thomas Gould asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if measures have been taken to ensure that publicans that were due to reopen their establishments on 20 July 2020 can remain on the Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment until 10 August 2020. [18125/20]

 73. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh Information on Aengus Ó Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the steps she will take to protect artists, those working in the events business and musicians with a continuation of the higher Covid-19 payments until such time as the sector can recommence in full. [18997/20]

 75. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the degree to which special Covid-19 related payments are to continue or to be replaced by return to work incentives or other alternatives; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19008/20]

 85. Deputy Paul Murphy Information on Paul Murphy Zoom on Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if jobseeker’s benefits will be raised to the €350 per week pandemic unemployment payment rate rather than reducing the pandemic unemployment payment. [19016/20]

 91. Deputy Gary Gannon Information on Gary Gannon Zoom on Gary Gannon asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys her views on whether artists should be entitled to the full rate of the pandemic unemployment payment in view of the number of persons in the arts sector that have both PAYE and self-employed incomes which is a disadvantage to them for the payment in view of the fact these incomes cannot be combined for the same year and in further view of the fact that the sector will be impacted the longest by Covid-19. [19018/20]

 93. Deputy Peter Fitzpatrick Information on Peter Fitzpatrick Zoom on Peter Fitzpatrick asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if social welfare supports will be introduced to help employers and employees retain jobs during the Covid-19 crisis (details supplied). [19024/20]

 209. Deputy Alan Dillon Information on Alan  Dillon Zoom on Alan  Dillon asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if she will respond to the request by performers and crew in the live entertainment industry to retain the pandemic unemployment payment; if other supports and grants will be provided for those in the sector that due to social distancing requirements are uncertain as to when they will return to work; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17247/20]

 211. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if she has requested that the pandemic unemployment payment be maintained as part of the July stimulus for artists, performers, crew and event organisers in the arts, culture, music, live entertainment and events sectors as a basic minimum income over and above which these workers would be allowed earn some additional income without losing the payment until a full or substantial recovery to normal or near normal levels of employment and income earning opportunity return; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17393/20]

 212. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if she has requested of the relevant Ministers that the pandemic unemployment payment be maintained as part of the July stimulus for artists, performers, crew and event organisers in the arts, culture music, live entertainment and events sectors as a basic minimum income over and above which these workers would be allowed earn some additional income without losing the payment until a full or substantial recovery to normal or near normal levels of employment and income earning opportunity return; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17696/20]

 232. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the extent to which Covid-19-related supports continue to be made available to eligible applicants nationally; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19501/20]

 238. Deputy Martin Browne Information on Martin Browne Zoom on Martin Browne asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if her attention has been drawn to persons experiencing more persistent and prolonged unemployment as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic that will be most affected by the decision to reduce the pandemic unemployment payment following the announcement of the July stimulus package; the supports that will be available to families in which their income drops substantially as a result of same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19532/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys I propose to take Questions Nos. 37, 51, 54, 63, 67, 73, 75, 85, 91, 93, 209, 211, 212, 232 and 238 together.

  As part of the Governments July stimulus package announced last week the pandemic unemployment payment has been extended to 1st April 2021.  Changes have been introduced to the structure of the payment which means that it continues to be a strong support but is also fair and targeted.

  From 17 September 2020 until 31 January 2021 the Pandemic Unemployment Payment will be paid at 3 rates.  People who previously earned over €300 per week  will receive €300 per week, people who earned €200 to €300 will receive €250 and people who earned less than €200 will receive €203.  From 1 February 2021 there will be 2 rates.  People who earned over €300 per week will receive €250 and people who earned less than €300 per week will receive €203.  From 1 April 2021 people in receipt of the pandemic unemployment payment will need to apply for a jobseeker payment.

  Where a person is self-employed their average weekly income for 2018 was used to determine their rate of payment for the pandemic unemployment payment.  This is the last tax year for which complete data on self-employed income is available.

  The pandemic unemployment payment rate changes are necessary given the extended period over which the payment will be available.  It is also important to begin the process of aligning it with normal jobseeker payments over time.

  It is also important to remember that those with adult dependents have the option of applying for a jobseeker payment, which is paid at €350 for a two-person household.

  The July Stimulus Package also allocated significant funding of some €112 million in employment support service measures to assist people back to work details of which are available on www.gov.ie   

  I trust that this clarifies the position.

Social Welfare Rates

 38. Deputy Peter Fitzpatrick Information on Peter Fitzpatrick Zoom on Peter Fitzpatrick asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if she has considered index linking social welfare supports in view of the publication of figures by an organisation (details supplied). [19025/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys Last year, my Department undertook a consultation process with a number of interested stakeholders to hear their views on possible approaches to indexation of social welfare rates.  This process also included discussion with representatives of the community and voluntary sector at the Pre-Budget Forum in July 2019 as well as at bilateral meetings with stakeholders.

The outcome of these discussions was considered, and in consultation with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, my Department is considering proposals for setting a formal benchmark for State Pension Contributory payments and the indexation of future changes in pension rates of payment in line with a commitment in the Roadmap for Pensions Reform.

This approach, as well as any long-term benchmarking/indexation proposals for setting social welfare rates generally, will be considered as part of the budgetary process in the context of the overall financial position.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Money Advice and Budgeting Service

 39. Deputy Claire Kerrane Information on Claire Kerrane Zoom on Claire Kerrane asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if the enhancement of the role of MABS has been examined to help families deal with unsecured household debt; if she has engaged with stakeholders on the issue of household debt arising from Covid-19; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19004/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS), under the aegis of the Citizens Information Board, provides assistance to people, in particular those on low incomes who are over-indebted and need help and advice with debt problems.  As part of its free, confidential and independent service, MABS also provides help and advice to those in mortgage arrears, and provides a range of services under Abhaile- the free service for individuals experiencing mortgage arears and at risk of losing their home.

  During the COVID 19 pandemic, MABS services are available and it continues to offer money and debt advice service, including the Dedicated Mortgage Arrears service, to existing and new clients who may need assistance in dealing with household debt accumulated during this period.  Since 29th June, a small number of MABS local offices have reopened to the public where social distancing can be facilitated in line with current HSE Covid-19 public health advice and Return to Work Safely protocol. 

  MABS have innovated in their service provision during COVID19.  The MABS Helpline is open Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm on 0761 07 2000 and MABS is providing its services by phone, email, and by videoconference, where face to face engagement is necessary or helpful.  A Covid-19 live feed has been created on the MABS website to share important financial information and developments and how they may affect the public.  A new "request a call back" and instant messaging service is also now available on the MABS.ie website where the public can request a call back from a MABS advisor, or engage directly with a MABS advisor.

  Without doubt, the negative economic impact of the Covid-19 crisis will require our national personal insolvency system and solutions to be as robust and efficient as possible.  Debt resolution is one of the services that the Insolvency Service of Ireland (ISI) provides.  The ISI was established in 2013 to deal with personal insolvency, and is under the remit of the Department of Justice and Equality.

The ISI aims to return people to solvency and full participation in social and economic activity.  It offers a range of debt solutions, including a regulated network of qualified professionals, that can help a person to reach a permanent debt solution with their creditor(s). Individuals who have issues with unsecured household debt and/or secured debt can access a network of qualified professionals that can assist them resolve these issues by reaching solutions with the relevant creditor.  The ISI encourages anyone with serious debt issues, including those impacted by the Covid-19 crisis to visit its dedicated website www.backontrack.ie   and avail of professional advice.

  I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Social Welfare Appeals

 40. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the average waiting times for various appeals in respect of schemes or payments run by her Department; her plans to reduce such waiting times thereby easing the stress on families; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19009/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys 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. 

  The information requested by the Deputy regarding the average waiting times for appeals in respect of schemes operated by the Department is contained in the table below.

  The time taken to process an appeal reflects a number of factors including that the appeals process is a quasi-judicial process with Appeals Officers being required to decide all appeals on a ‘de-novo’ basis.  In addition, appeals decisions are themselves subject to review by the High Court and decisions have to be formally written up to quasi-judicial standards.  Other factors that influence appeals processing times include the quality of the initial decision – in this respect the Department has changed the decisions process in respect of medical schemes, in order to provide more information to the claimant.  It is expected that this will help to reduce the number of appeals over time.

  Significant efforts and resources have been devoted to reforming the appeal process in recent years.  As a result, appeal processing times in respect of all schemes generally improved between 2012 and 2019 from 39.5 weeks for an oral hearing in 2012 to 26.9 weeks in 2019, and from 27.8 weeks for a summary decision in 2012 to 22.1 weeks in 2019. 

  Processing performance has in the past number of years been affected by a relatively large number of retirements in the Appeals Office - although these staff have been replaced it takes time for a new Appeals Officer to reach full productivity.  Nevertheless, the latest data for the period January to June 2020 shows a further improvement of 25.6 weeks for an oral hearing and 17.6 weeks for a summary decision.

  Finally, where a claimant has been refused a social welfare payment, regardless of the scheme involved, and is appealing that decision, if their means are insufficient to meet their needs it is open to them to apply for supplementary welfare allowance in the interim.  If their application for supplementary welfare allowance is refused, they can also appeal that decision.   

  I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

  Appeal Processing Times by Scheme 1 January 2020– 30 June 2020

Scheme Average processing time (weeks)

Summary Decisions
Average processing

time (weeks)

Oral Hearings
Blind Person’s Pension 33.4 38.6
Carer’s Allowance 13.1 21.7
Carer’s Benefit 18.1 23.0
Child Benefit 32.2 37.7
Disability Allowance 12.1 18.3
Illness Benefit 34.2 28.1
Death Benefit 40.9 -
Partial Capacity Benefit 41.3 52.2
Domiciliary Care Allowance 24.1 31.8
Deserted Wife’s Benefit 23.4 60.4
Farm Assist 22.1 22.8
Working Family Payment 20.5 30.2
Invalidity Pension 22.6 31.4
Maternity Benefit 26.4 -
Paternity Benefit 28.6 -
One Parent Family Payment 23.1 31.8
State Pension (Contributory) 29.2 31.3
State Pension (Non-Contributory) 27.8 34.6
Bereavement Grant 21.0 -
Occupational Injury Benefit 29.3 28.1
Disablement Pension 28.5 29.8
Medical Care 28.0 -
Guardian's Payment (Contributory) 20.9 -
Guardian's Payment (Non-Contributory) 26.9 39.3
Jobseeker's Allowance (Means) 20.3 31.7
Jobseeker's Allowance (Payments) 19.5 34.3
Back To Work Family Dividend 19.9 -
Jobseeker's Transitional 21.5 27.6
Jobseeker's Benefit 17.7 23.7
Jobseeker's Benefit Self Employed 13.3 -
Incapacity Supplement 17.0 -
Treatment Benefit 22.7 -
Recoverable Benefits & Assistance 33.3 -
Carer’s Support Grant 16.3 23.8
Insurability of Employment 33.8 83.7
Supplementary Welfare Allowance 15.4 27.9
Widow/Widower's Pension (Contributory) 38.2 33.1
Widow/Widower's Pension (Non-Contributory) 27.5 35.5
Widowed Parent Grant 29.1 -
All Appeals 17.6 25.6

Carer's Allowance

 41. Deputy Denis Naughten Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if she will consider allowing discretion on the 18.5 hours per week employment exemption under the carer's allowance scheme in circumstances in which it has no impact on the level of care provided; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18999/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys As of end of June 2020, there were 87,643 people in receipt of Carer's Allowance.  The projected expenditure in 2020 is approximately €919 million.   

  A primary qualifying condition for the Carer’s Allowance payment is that the applicant provides full-time care and attention to a person in need of such care.  However, in order to support a carer’s continued attachment to the workforce and broader social inclusion, carers may engage in some limited employment, education or training, while still being regarded as being in a position to provide full-time care. 

  During this time of employment, education or training, adequate provision must be made for the care of the relevant person. Both the full-time care and attention requirement and the 18.5 hour limitation are contained in the respective legislative provisions of the Carer’s Allowance, Carer’s Benefit and Carer’s Support Grant schemes.   

  As part of Budget 2020, the number of hours per week that carers could engage in employment, education or training outside the home was increased from 15 to 18.5 hours per week.  This measure was prioritised in response to carers and carer representative groups who found the previous number of 15 hours to be too restrictive, not only for work but for education and training purposes.   

  I consider the limit of 18.5 hours to represent a reasonable balance between meeting the care recipient's requirement for full-time care and the carer's need to maintain contact with the workforce.  Any proposals for further changes to this condition would need to maintain this balance and would have to be considered in a budgetary context.   

  I trust that this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Community Employment Schemes

 42. Deputy Sean Sherlock Information on Sean Sherlock Zoom on Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if the duration of community employment schemes will be extended. [18483/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The aim of the Community Employment (CE) programme is to enhance the employability of disadvantaged and unemployed people by providing work experience and training opportunities for participants within their communities.  The programme helps break the cycle of unemployment and improve a person’s chances of returning to the labour market. 

Participation on CE is intended to be for a temporary fixed-term period.  In general the period of participation on CE is for one year; however CE participants working towards a major award or industry qualification can seek to extend participation by up to a further two years subject to them continuing to pursue that qualification.

Places on CE will continue to be available to support those who are long-term unemployed and furthest removed from the labour market while sustaining the reputation of CE as an active labour market programme.  I am very conscious that the labour market has been adversely affected by the impact of the Covid-19 virus with a significant increase in unemployment.  There will be a necessity to ensure that my Department can provide as many opportunities for CE placements as possible in the period ahead.  Any extension of the existing duration limits will therefore limit the capacity of the Department to provide additional placements.

National Minimum Wage

 43. Deputy Louise O'Reilly Information on Louise O'Reilly Zoom on Louise O'Reilly asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the steps she will take to replace the minimum wage with the living wage. [15755/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys Setting the National Minimum Wage is governed by the National Minimum Wage Act 2000, and the National Minimum Wage (Low Pay Commission) Act 2015.  The National Minimum Wage Act 2000 deals with setting the National Minimum Hourly Rate of Pay.  The National Minimum Wage 2000 was amended upon the establishment of the Low Pay Commission in 2015.  The Low Pay Commission is the independent body which makes recommendations to the Minister on the rate of National Minimum Wage once each year.  

Since its establishment, the Low Pay Commission has submitted recommendations on the appropriate rate of the National Minimum Wage for 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020.  The Commission’s recommendations have all been accepted by Government, and represent an increase in the National Minimum Wage of 16.7% since 2015.  With effect from 1 February 2020, the current rate of the National Minimum Wage for an adult worker is €10.10 per hour.  

It is important that Ireland’s statutory National Minimum Wage and the Living Wage concept are not conflated.  The Living Wage is a voluntary, societal initiative, centred on the social, business and economic case to ensure that, wherever it can be afforded, employers will pay a rate of pay that provides an income that is sufficient to meet an individual’s basic needs, such as housing, food, clothing, transport and healthcare.  As a voluntary initiative, the Living Wage has no legislative basis and confers no statutory entitlement.  

The Programme for Government includes a commitment to progress to a living wage over the lifetime of the Government.

  Question No. 44 answered with Question No. 23.

Covid-19 Pandemic

 45. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan Information on Jim O'Callaghan Zoom on Jim O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the role her Department will play in developing a new social contract with citizens; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18969/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys My Department will continue to deliver supports to those in our society who most need it, with a focus on adapting to meet the challenges associated with the changes in our economic and social circumstances as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and the related restrictions. 

As Minister with responsibility for Employment Affairs and Social Protection and for Rural and Community Development and the Islands, I will be able to ensure ongoing and enhanced collaboration between the two Departments to deliver supports at local and community level. 

My Department’s role in monitoring the implementation of the Roadmap for Social Inclusion 2020-2025 will also help deliver a collaborative, whole of government approach to addressing poverty and social exclusion in Ireland, as part of the development of the new social contract with our citizens outlined in the Programme for Government.

Pension Provisions

 46. Deputy Niamh Smyth Information on Niamh Smyth Zoom on Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the status of the reintroduction of the transitionary pension from 65 to 66 years of age as outlined in the Programme for Government; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18471/20]

 60. Deputy Alan Dillon Information on Alan  Dillon Zoom on Alan  Dillon asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the steps she will take to ensure that persons that are required to retire at 65 years of age do not have to sign on; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18807/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys I propose to take Questions Nos. 46 and 60 together.

The new Programme for Government “Our Shared Future” proposes an “Early Retirement Allowance or Pension” for 65 year olds paid at the same rate as Jobseeker's Benefit without a requirement to sign on, partake in any activation measures or be available for and genuinely seeking work.  

The new payment will be introduced as early as possible for those who are retired from employment.  Officials in my Department are currently considering the design of the scheme and assessing the necessary legislation, ICT system requirements and administrative processes required to support the introduction of this payment.    

More widely, a Commission on Pensions will be established to examine sustainability and eligibility issues in relation to State pensions and the Social Insurance Fund.  The Commission is to report to Government by June 2021 on options including the qualifying age, contribution rates, total contributions and eligibility requirements.  The Government will take action, having regard to the recommendations of the Commission, within six months.

  Question No. 47 answered with Question No. 31.

Community Employment Schemes

 48. Deputy Sean Sherlock Information on Sean Sherlock Zoom on Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys her plans to change the eligibility criteria for community employment schemes. [18479/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys Community Employment (CE) is a positive initiative that enables the long-term unemployed to make a contribution to their communities whilst up-skilling themselves for employment opportunities that will become available.  The scheme can play an important role in breaking the cycle of long-term unemployment for some people and improve their chances of employment.  

In order to qualify for CE, a number of conditions, including age and being in receipt of a qualifying social welfare payment for a specific period, must be met.  The focus of CE is on the cohort of long-term unemployed people and the programme is monitored on an on-going basis to ensure that the schemes are meeting the needs of communities and jobseekers.

A number of new conditions were introduced on CE in July 2017 to further support progression and broaden access to CE to a wider range of people.  There are no plans to change the eligibility criteria of CE at this juncture.

Jobseeker's Benefit

 49. Deputy Pa Daly Information on Pa Daly Zoom on Pa Daly asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the number of applicants for jobseeker’s benefit in 2020 that were ruled ineligible for not having had either 39 weeks of contributions in the past year or 26 weeks in each of the two proceeding years but that did have 156 weeks of contributions since they first started working. [19022/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys Information is not available on the number of applicants for Jobseekers Benefit in 2020 who did not meet all of the contribution conditions for eligibility for the scheme. This information is not collated.

  A person who is unemployed, available for and genuinely seeking work may be eligible for Jobseekers Benefit if they meet two contributions conditions.  The first is to have a record of Total Contributions Paid of at least 104 reckonable contributions since they entered insurable employment.  These should have been payable at Classes A, H and P (or the equivalent rates before April 1979) or alternatively   156 Class S contributions.  The purpose of this condition is to ensure a substantial history of attachment to the labour force.

  I wish to point out that Budget 2019 introduced additional eligibility criteria for Jobseeker’s Benefit where the first contribution condition has been amended to include Class S (self-employment) contributions.

  The second condition which ensures a recent attachment to the labour force is that the person must have a record of 39 contributions paid in the previous year or 26 contributions in each of the two preceding years. 

  I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment

 50. Deputy Gary Gannon Information on Gary Gannon Zoom on Gary Gannon asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the number of applicants for the pandemic unemployment payment that reported self-employed and PAYE income within the same year; and the number of applicants that were denied the full rate of the payment on that basis. [19017/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The pandemic unemployment payment two-tiered payment structure was implemented by my Department on the July 7th 2020.

  Since it's introduction a total of 3,702 people that reported self-employed and PAYE income within the same year were in receipt of the low-tier PUP payment of €203.

  Of this number 2,563 people received the most recent PUP payment on July 28th 2020.

  Question No. 51 answered with Question No. 37.

Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment

 52. Deputy Catherine Connolly Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the analysis that has been undertaken of the consequences of the decision not to extend the pandemic unemployment payment to those over 66 years of age that lost employment as a result of Covid-19; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [16304/20]

 216. Deputy Robert Troy Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys her plans to review the eligibility criteria for the Covid-19 payment (details supplied). [19250/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys I propose to take Questions Nos. 52 and 216 together.

The age range for eligibility to the Pandemic Unemployment Payment is consistent with other social welfare income supports paid to people of working age.  People aged 66 years and over are provided for through the contributory State pension or the non-contributory State means tested pension.

A person in receipt of the State contributory pension can retain their entire State pension and employment income.  If a person does not have the required number of contributions to receive the maximum rate of State Pension Contributory they may qualify for an increased rate of State non-contributory pension, depending on their circumstances.  A person may also receive an increase for a qualified adult, depending on their means.

People receiving the non-contributory State pension who also have employment income may have their pension payment increased if they lose their employment income due to the pandemic or it is reduced. 

The rates payable on the pandemic unemployment payment based on previous earnings or income are €350, which is aligned to the maximum two person household rate for jobseekers, and €203 which is aligned to the personal rate.  The equivalent rates for State Pension contributory are €470.80 for a couple and€248.30 personal rate.  The non-contributory pension for a two person household is €393.60 and €237 for an individual between 66 and 79 years or €247 if they are aged 80 or over.

People aged 66 and over may also be entitled to ancillary supports which are significantly more valuable than those generally available to people of working age.  These include free travel, fuel allowance, household benefits package for gas or electricity costs and living alone allowance.

A person of any age who is experiencing financial hardship may access assistance under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme.

Social Insurance

 53. Deputy Richard Bruton Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the ratio of persons aged 65 years of age and over in 2016 to the numbers aged between 25 and 64 years of age and to the numbers at work; her projection for these ratios in ten and twenty years’ time, respectively; and the implications for projected pension costs and the balance between spending and revenue in the social insurance fund. [17965/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The last Actuarial Review of the Social Insurance Fund was published in 2017.  This considered projections of income and expenditure out to 2071.  The projections underlying this report provide the following ratios.

In 2016, there were 3.9 persons between 25 and 64 years of age for every person aged 65 years of age and over.  In 2026, this is projected to fall to 3.0 persons between 25 and 64 years of age for every person aged 65 years of age and over.  The ratio is projected to further fall to 2.3 in 2036.

In 2016, the ratio of those at work to those aged 65 years of age and over was 3.5.  This ratio is projected to fall to 2.7 in 2026 and further to 2.1 by 2036.

With this projected ageing of the population, the Actuarial Review noted the following in its findings: “Our projections indicate that in the absence of further action to tackle the shortfall, the excess of expenditure over income of the Fund will increase significantly over the medium to long term.”

The Actuarial Review projected the net present value of future projected shortfalls in the Social Insurance Fund at €335 billion (based on a real discount rate assumption of 1.5% per annum, over the period to 2070).  Recent internal Departmental analysis projects that this figure would increase to €377 billion if the State Pension Age remains unchanged out to 2071.

Furthermore, the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council’s recently published “Long Term Sustainability Report” also estimated the projected cost of maintaining the State Pension Age at age 66.  It gave an initial estimate at close to €575 million per annum in 2021, or 0.3 per cent of Gross National Income; rising further in 2028 to €1.5 billion per annum or 0.6 per cent of Gross National Income. 

The public policy and social issues in relation to funding a sustainable and adequate State pension system are complex.  Therefore, we are establishing a Commission on Pensions to examine a range of issues including contributions, calculation methods, sustainability, eligibility and intergenerational fairness.

It is intended that the Commission will report to Government by June of next year.  In the meantime, pending its report and any decisions taken upon its recommendations, this Government has clearly stated that the state pension age will remain at 66 years and will not be increased to 67 in January 2021 as currently legislated for.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

  Question No. 54 answered with Question No. 37.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

 55. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin Information on Eoin Ó Broin Zoom on Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys her plans for persons on the Covid-19 rent supplement payment post 30 August 2020; and if an assurance will be given that no claimant will have their payment withdrawn in cases in which the consequence of the withdrawal would be to force them into rent arrears. [19012/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys Rent supplement continues to play a key role in supporting families and individuals in private rented accommodation, with the scheme currently supporting approximately 20,600 recipients. 

The scheme provides short-term income support, to eligible people living in private rented accommodation whose means are insufficient to meet their accommodation costs and who do not have accommodation available to them from any other source.  The scheme ensures that for those who were renting, and due to temporary loss of employment, can continue to meet their rental commitments.

The overarching Covid-19 response by rent supplement is to provide a flexible case-by-case driven solution for customers, providing temporary income support during the emergency for their housing costs.  My Department’s response to this emergency, ensuring that the inherent flexibility of the rent supplement is available in the context of the Government’s continued response to the Covid emergency, and remains under review. I can assure the Deputy that Rent Supplement will continue to support eligible customers under the standard rules of the scheme following the eventual withdrawal of Covid related measures.  Community Welfare Service staff who administer the rent supplement scheme also have a statutory discretionary power to award or increase a supplement for rental purposes, for example, when dealing with applicants who are at risk of losing their tenancy.

With respect to rent arrears, where a person is finding it difficult to meet their rent commitments, in particular due to loss of employment, they are advised to contact their local Community Welfare Officer for assistance.  This can include the provision of Rent Supplement and/or the use of Exceptional Needs Payments addressing the customer's particular needs. 

I trust this clarifies matters for the Deputy.

Pension Provisions

 56. Deputy Jackie Cahill Information on Jackie Cahill Zoom on Jackie Cahill asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys when options for a pension solution for carers will be provided; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18962/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The new Programme for Government “Our Shared Future” includes a commitment to examine options for a pension solution for carers, the majority of whom are women, particularly those of incapacitated children, in recognition of the enormous value of the work carried out by them.  This Government acknowledges the important role that carers play and is fully committed to supporting them in that role. Officials in my Department will be examining the policy options for reforming the state pension system in this area.

In the meantime, the current situation is that through the award of credited contributions, normally known as credits, the social insurance system gives significant recognition to time spent caring in terms of qualifying for the State Pension (Contributory). 

Credits protect social insurance entitlements by bridging gaps in an employee’s social insurance record, where they are not in a position to pay PRSI, such as during periods spent caring.  In combination with paid PRSI contributions, credits assist employees in qualifying for short-term schemes and enhance the level of benefit for long-term schemes.  Credits are awarded to recipients of Carer’s Allowance (and Carer’s Benefit) where they have an underlying entitlement to credits.  Recipients of these payments qualify for credits where they have at least one paid contribution in the previous two years or have had credited contributions in that period.  Credits are also awarded to workers who take unpaid Carer’s Leave from work. 

In addition, all carers, including those who do not qualify for a payment or for credits, may qualify for the Homemaker scheme.  The scheme, which was introduced in and from 1994, is designed to help homemakers and carers qualify for State Pension (Contributory).  Years spent caring on a full-time basis are disregarded when calculating the State pension (contributory) rate of payment when the rate of pension is calculating using the Yearly Average method.

When the Interim Total Contributions Approach (also known as T12) was introduced in 2018, it included provision for the HomeCaring Periods Scheme which fundamentally changed the entitlement of many who spent time out of the workforce caring for others.  It, for the first time, acknowledged home caring periods prior to 1994 and provides for up to 20 years of home caring periods to be considered.  Those who have a 40 year record of paid and credited social insurance contributions, subject to a maximum of 20 years of credits / homecaring periods, qualify for a maximum contributory pension where they satisfy the other qualifying conditions for the scheme. 

Arising from this initiative, the Department reviewed over 94,000 cases resulting in over 38,000 receiving an increased pension payment.  Since April 2019 all new State (Contributory) Pension applications are assessed under all possible rate calculation methods, including the Yearly Average and Interim TCA, with the most beneficial rate paid to the pensioner.

It should be noted if a person does not satisfy those conditions, they may qualify for the means-tested State Pension (Non-Contributory), the maximum rate of which is over 95% that of the maximum rate of the State Pension (Contributory).  Alternatively, if their spouse is a State pensioner and they have significant household means, their most beneficial payment may be an Increase for a Qualified Adult, based on their personal means, and amounting up to 90% of a full contributory pension.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Community Employment Schemes

 57. Deputy Michael Moynihan Information on Michael Moynihan Zoom on Michael Moynihan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys her plans to review the age criteria for qualification for community employment schemes; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18804/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The aim of the Community Employment programme is to enhance the employability of disadvantaged and unemployed people by providing work experience and training opportunities for them within their communities.  The programme helps break the cycle of unemployment and improve a person’s chances of returning to the labour market. 

Community Employment is generally open to applicants aged between 21 and 66 years.  The general minimum age criterion of 21 for Community Employment has been set to ensure that, in the first instance, younger jobseekers engage with the range of other activation measures already in place for persons of school leaving age and beyond.  Certain vulnerable groups (e.g. persons with a disability, refugees, referred drug misusers and ex-offenders), are permitted to access Community Employment at 18 years of age. 

Community Employment is a working age activation scheme and participants who continue to be funded through the community employment scheme must be of working age.  As the Deputy will appreciate, if my Department continued to fund participants once they have reached the state pension age it would significantly impact on the opportunities for those people who are still of working age and also, would undermine the role of Community Employment as an active labour market programme. 

If the Deputy has a particular case and would like to provide more information on the matter raised, I will have my officials look at the case in question.

Social Insurance

 58. Deputy Denis Naughten Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if she will provide a training and education credit to the PRSI system similar to the homemakers' credit to encourage upskilling; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18998/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys Credited contributions form an integral part of the social insurance system.  They are underwritten by the Social Insurance Fund and are designed to protect the social insurance entitlement record of insured workers who for reasons relating to either incapacity, ill-health, unemployment, early retirement, professional training or the provision of care are not in a position to make PRSI payments. 

The Department currently awards credit contributions for education and training to encourage upskilling and employment opportunities.  Similar to other schemes operated by the Department, there are qualifying conditions which must be met before a person can be allocated credited contributions. 

Once these conditions are satisfied, credited contributions may be awarded for weeks during which a person attends a course of training provided or approved by SOLAS, the National Tourism Development Authority, Teagasc, Bord Iascaigh Mhara and courses approved by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection.  Credited contributions are awarded under the same conditions to persons who are attending a Community Employment (CE) scheme or an approved course of education.

In practical terms, the impact of credited contributions differs for long and short term schemes.  For long-term schemes, credited contributions increase the rate of payment, where the person has gaps in their social insurance record.  For example, once the 520 paid contribution (10 years) condition for State pension (contributory) has been met, a person with 10 years contributions and credited contributions for the remainder of their working life would qualify for the full rate of payment.  If credited contributions were not awarded, the person would qualify for a reduced rate of payment.

For short-term schemes, credited contributions provide access to entitlement for those with a more limited recent engagement in the workforce.  For example, one of the qualifying conditions for illness benefit is 104 paid contributions (2 years) since starting work and 39 weeks paid or credited contributions in the relevant tax year (RTY), of which 13 must be paid contributions.  For those who only worked for 13 weeks in the RTY, a person with credited contributions for the balance of that year will qualify for illness benefit, while a person without RTY credited contributions will not.       

A homemaker is a person who gives up work to take care of a child under age 12 or an incapacitated adult or child aged 12 or over, on or after 6 April 1994.  Under the homemaker's scheme, any years spent as a homemaker are disregarded when working out the yearly average contributions for a State pension (contributory).  This has the effect of increasing the yearly average as the same number of total contributions are divided by a smaller number of years. 

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment

 59. Deputy Paul McAuliffe Information on Paul  McAuliffe Zoom on Paul  McAuliffe asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the number of appeals received to puprerate@welfare.ie since the reduction of pandemic unemployment payment; the average response time; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19002/20]

 64. Deputy Pearse Doherty Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the processing times for pandemic unemployment payment re-rate appeals and reviews; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19040/20]

 83. Deputy Bríd Smith Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the number of persons that have appealed the decision to reduce their €350 Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment; the number that were successful; and the number awaiting a decision; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19020/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys I propose to take Questions Nos. 59, 64 and 83 together.

The COVID 19 pandemic unemployment payment was introduced as an emergency measure to meet the surge in unemployment which resulted from the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic.  To be eligible for the pandemic unemployment payment a person must have been in employment immediately prior to the 13th March and lost their income from employment due to the onset of the pandemic.  Self-employed people must have suffered a collapse in their trading income to the extent that they are available to take up other full-time work. 

Changes were announced to the structure of the pandemic unemployment payment which means that it continues to be a strong support but is also fair and targeted.  Payment is now linked to prior earnings.  Where an employee's gross weekly earnings were €200 or higher there is no change to their rate of payment.  If their gross weekly earnings were under €200 the rate of the pandemic unemployment payment was adjusted to €203.  Where a person is self-employed their gross average weekly income for 2018, the last tax year for which verifiable data on self-employed income is available, is used to calculate the rate of the pandemic unemployment payment.  

Where an individual’s rate is reduced to the flat rate €203 per week and their family circumstances are that they have adult or child dependents, it may be more financially beneficial to apply for a jobseekers payment. 

The changes to the structure of the pandemic unemployment payment were first implemented in payments due on 7 July 2020. Just over 110,000 people received payment at the new rate of €203, while 302,000 people continued to receive payment at a rate of €350. 

Any person who feels that the assessment of their earnings, based on returns already submitted to Revenue, is inaccurate can ask for a review of their case.  To date approximately 10,000 requests for a review have been received, with the majority of these received on the 7th and 8th July.  The majority of requests have come from self-employed individuals.  To date, my officials have cleared 4,640 cases, of which 920 have been successful.  The  successful cases primarily related to  the absence of earnings details on a self-employed person’s contribution history due to outstanding tax and PRSI liabilities. 

I hope that this clarifies the matter for the Deputies.

  Question No. 60 answered with Question No. 46.

Covid-19 Pandemic

 61. Deputy Claire Kerrane Information on Claire Kerrane Zoom on Claire Kerrane asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if her attention has been drawn to the difficulties being experienced by mothers whose maternity leave is coming to an end at a time when childcare is unavailable and they are unable to return to work; the way in which she plans to address the matter; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19003/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The Government has requested employers to be as flexible as possible in allowing staff time off to look after their children or other family members.  This may include offering paid compassionate leave, remote working from home, altering shift patterns around their partners work, bring forward annual leave entitlements, etc. 

  Where it is not possible to make appropriate compassionate leave arrangements, employees may be able avail of statutory entitlements including force majeure leave, Parent’s Leave together with Parent’s Benefit (for each parent where a baby was born after 1st November 2019) or unpaid Parental Leave.

  Where a person in these circumstances is not able to avail of another leave/benefit type and finds themselves in financial hardship, they may apply for the COVID 19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment. 

  I trust that this clarifies the position at this time.

  Question No. 62 answered with Question No. 33.

  Question No. 63 answered with Question No. 37.

  Question No. 64 answered with Question No. 59.


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