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 Header Item Written Answers Nos. 208-230
 Header Item Job Losses
 Header Item Family Support Services
 Header Item One-Parent Family Payment
 Header Item Rent Supplement Scheme
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment
 Header Item State Pension (Contributory)
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment
 Header Item Freedom of Information
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment
 Header Item Departmental Budgets
 Header Item Social Welfare Appeals
 Header Item Exceptional Needs Payment
 Header Item State Pension (Non-Contributory)
 Header Item Carer's Allowance
 Header Item Domiciliary Care Allowance

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. 208-230

Job Losses

 208. 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 if existing employment and company legislation will be examined to examine the steps which can be taken to aid workers such as those in a company (details supplied) facing mass redundancies; if emergency legislation will be introduced in line with recent suggestions by a union for a moratorium on such redundancies during the Covid-19 crisis; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15811/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys My sincere thoughts are with all Debenhams workers and other who are dealing with job losses at this difficult time. My officials have been assisting the affected workers through its Intreo service to help them in whatever way we can in terms of income supports and advice on further education and training options that will help them to find work within their sector or in other sectors as the economy improves over the period ahead. Due to COVID social distancing requirements it was not possible initiate the typical face to face multi-agency response including information sessions in physical venues for the employees of Debenhams who were facing redundancy. However, in view of the large number of employees and their dispersal across the country, my Department organised a bespoke on-line information session in May 2020 with input from other agencies. Feedback from employees and their unions has been very positive.

As the company is in liquidation, my Department can provide a safety net for employees and payment of statutory redundancy and other wage related entitlements to employees can be made from the Social Insurance Fund. Officials in the Redundancy & Insolvency section have engaged with the liquidators of Debenhams to ensure that all claims in respect of employees will be dealt with expeditiously.

I would like to assure you that the Government has committed in the Programme for Government to review whether the current legal provisions surrounding collective redundancies and the liquidation of companies effectively protect the rights of workers.

The existing suite of employment rights legislation provides industrial relations and employment rights supports for employees who have concerns or complaints regarding their employment rights. The WRC is the organisation which is mandated to secure compliance with employment rights legislation. The Customer Service section of the WRC, who operate a telephone helpline at 1890 808090 can provide further information in relation to employment, equality and industrial relations rights and obligations, and how to obtain redress where appropriate.

In relation to the proposal to withdraw the employers’ right to make employees redundant for a certain period, I fully understand that the proposal is motivated to protect employee rights. However, this proposal could have far reaching and significant unintended consequences, including interfering with individual contracts of employment and the potential for significant constitutional law issues.

Furthermore, it cannot be said that all employees will want the redundancy provision removed as is suggested. Employees may have significant service with an employer and be aware that if the business is struggling, redundancy and seeking new employment opportunities may be the better option for them.

The proposal could also create a risk to an employee's right to a redundancy payment. The State does not have the power to stop a business closing or to prevent liquidations once the provisions of company law are complied with. If the right of the employer to make an employee redundant is taken away this could jeopardise an employee’s right to compensation by way of a redundancy payment while the liquidation of that company is underway.

It is also important to bear in mind why redundancy provisions are used. If a business is in trading and in financial difficulties very often one of the mechanisms used to save that business (which in turn saves some jobs) is redundancy. An employer may downsize their business and reduce their workforce by way of redundancies in order to continue to be viable. If the right of the employer to make employees redundant is removed it could result in more permanent job losses.

Employers have to make decisions on the ongoing viability of their firms in real time and having regard to real circumstances – particularly in circumstances where revenues have collapsed for many firms. Under company law provisions directors of firms have very serious and personal responsibilities to ensure that they can continue to trade and not trade whilst insolvent.

Furthermore, and this is important for employees who may be in a position to negotiate a redundancy package with the many genuine employers in our economy - if a company is restricted from making employees redundant and has to retain them on payroll, the assets of that company will dissipate and mean that any negotiated redundancy package has less chance of success.

By putting in place a wide range of business supports including the temporary wage subsidy scheme which helps affected companies keep paying their employees, maintain the employment relationship and keep businesses viable, the Government has already put in place significant measures which are helping to prevent redundancies.

  Question No. 209 answered with Question No. 37.

Family Support Services

 210. 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 way in which she plans to prioritise and protect supports for lone parents; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18958/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys My Department moved swiftly to put in place enhanced and new supports for individuals and families during the public health emergency. These supports aimed to shelter the incomes of those who lost their job or were working reduced hours as a result of COVID-19. A priority from the outset has been to ensure that income still flows into the households which need it most.

My Department has taken a number of decisions since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic which aimed to provide additional supports for lone parents. Firstly, the Pandemic Unemployment Payment can be paid concurrently with key supports for low income and lone parent families such as the Working Family Payment, One-Parent Family Payment and Jobseeker’s Transitional Payment. This has protected lone parents, who lost employment due to COVID-19, from major income losses during this period.

Secondly, a simplified system for declaring the non-payment of maintenance was introduced for lone parents. This ensured that lone parents who were not receiving maintenance did not have to wait until the Court Order was changed in order to get their One Parent Family Payment or Jobseekers Transitional Payment reassessed. This measure aimed to ensure lone parents in receipt of these schemes did not experience major income losses due their maintenance payments ceasing.

Department are acutely aware of the challenges facing lone parents, particularly at this time and we are continuously exploring further ways to protect and support these families.

  Questions Nos. 211 and 212 answered with Question No. 37.

One-Parent Family Payment

 213. 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 progress to date in the determination of an appeal for a one-parent family payment in the case of a person (details supplied); when the appeal will conclude; if an oral hearing will be required; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19223/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The Social Welfare Appeals Office has advised me that an appeal by the person concerned was registered in that office on 1 May 2020. It is a statutory requirement of the appeals process that the relevant Departmental papers and comments by the Deciding Officer on the grounds of appeal be sought.

The Social Welfare Appeals Office is still awaiting a response from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and is contacting the Department again on the matter.

I am advised by the Chief Appeals Officer that, due to the current Covid-19 restrictions, in person oral appeal hearings have been suspended since 13 March 2020. The resumption of oral hearings will be kept under review in light of government advice on easing restrictions. However, appeals work continues and appeals are currently being determined on the basis of written submissions. In some cases it has also been possible for Appeals Officers to progress appeals by way of telephone calls and email on issues relating to an appeal (which might otherwise have been ascertained the course of an oral hearing) and bring the matter to a conclusion.

The Chief Appeals Officer has also advised that the Office is exploring the use of video technology for appeal hearings. Among the issues being considered are what is the most appropriate in technological solution and the types of appeal cases that would be potentially suitable for this approach. Any future use of video technology would need to ensure the maintenance of fair procedures, confidentiality and data protection.

When the papers in relation to this appeal have been received from the Department, the case in question will be referred to an Appeals Officer who will make a summary decision on the appeal based on the documentary evidence presented or, if required and if Covid-19 restrictions allow, hold an oral appeal hearing.

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

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Rent Supplement Scheme

 214. 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 progress to date in the determination of an application for rent supplement in the case of a person (details supplied); if the application will be expedited in view of the arrears accrued to date; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19224/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The person concerned submitted an application for a Rent Supplement on 23/7/2020. A written request for further documentation in order to progress her application issued to the person concerned on the same date. On receipt of the requested documentation, the application will be assessed and a decision will issue to the person concerned.

  I trust this clarifies the matter.

Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment

 215. Deputy James Lawless Information on James Lawless Zoom on James Lawless asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if the case of a person (details supplied) will be reviewed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19232/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys From the 29th June the rate of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) which a person will receive will depend on their gross weekly employment earnings as follows;

  - For those whose prior gross earnings were €200 per week or higher (about 75% of recipients), the PUP payment rate will remain at €350 per week;

  - For those whose prior gross earnings were up to €199.99 per week (about 25% of recipients), the PUP payment rate will be €203 per week.

  - A person who was in receipt of Jobseeker’s Allowance or Jobseeker’s Benefit as a part-time or casual worker immediately prior to receipt of the PUP will remain on the rate of €350 irrespective of their previous earnings.

  The rate of the PUP is based on prior earnings notified to Revenue. It is important to note that my Department will only accept earnings which have been notified to Revenue and subject to PRSI.

  For employees – the reference periods are 2019 (full year) and 2020 (January/February).

  Where an employee record was found in 2019 or 2020, the assessment was based on the information available. A person received the benefit of which ever rate was the more favourable.

  Where no employee record was available, my Department looked in 2018 for self-employment contributions. The assessment of average weekly earnings is based on the Class S PRSI record only.

  For self-employed people – the last year for which complete data is available is 2018 and this is the year which was used. While there a limited number of Class S PRSI returns on record for 2019, these relate to returns under the PAYE system; in a significant number of cases, these returns require further examination, or the data could distort the examination of individual employee returns for that year.

  Where a customer contends that these earnings are inaccurate, they should supply documentation to support this. Customers should clearly understand that any information which is supplied to declare additional earnings will be matched against Revenue records and any discrepancies will be followed up.

  Requests for a review of earnings should be emailed to PUPRerate@welfare.ie and customers should attach all supporting documentation to this email.

Alternatively, customers can write to PUP Rerate Requests, DEASP, Intreo Centre, Cork Road, Waterford, again making sure to include all supporting documentation.

  For the purposes of rerating the PUP, only incomes/earnings where contributions paid at PRSI classes A/E/H/P/S can be considered under the PUP rerating rules. The person concerned has not paid contributions at any of the qualifying PRSI qualifying classes.

  I trust this clarifies the matter.

  Question No. 216 answered with Question No. 52.

State Pension (Contributory)

 217. Deputy Paul Kehoe Information on Paul Kehoe Zoom on Paul Kehoe asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the reason a person (details supplied) is on a reduced rate contributory pension; the options are available to the person; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19253/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The person concerned reached pension age on 24 January 2014. According to the records of my Department, they have a total of 758 qualifying paid and credited Irish contributions which equates to a yearly average of 16 contributions. This gives an entitlement to a standard State pension (contributory) at 65% of the maximum rate. They were notified in writing of this decision and arrears due on 27 November 2013.

The person concerned appealed this pension decision to the independent Social Welfare Appeals Office. An Appeals Officer concluded that the person’s claim had been decided correctly in line with the provisions of social welfare legislation.

In January 2018, HomeCaring Periods were introduced as part of the interim total contributions approach (TCA) to the calculation of pension entitlement for those State pension (contributory) customers born on or after 1 September 1946 and thus affected by post-2012 Budget pension rates. The TCA provides for up to 20 years of home caring periods in that pension entitlement calculation for applicants who took time out of the workplace for parenting or caring duties.

The person concerned was reviewed under this approach and awarded 1,038 HomeCaring periods which increased their rate of State pension (contributory) entitlement from 65% to 88.51% of the maximum rate. They were notified in writing of this decision and arrears due on 10 May 2019.

An alternative to the State pension (contributory) is the means-tested, residency based State pension (non-contributory). Social welfare legislation provides that the means test takes account of the income and assets of the applicant and spouse/civil partner/cohabitant as applicable. 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. Applicants with assessed weekly income of less than €262.50 (at current rates) may qualify for a State pension (non-contributory).

If a person applies for both pensions, their eligibility and rate of pension entitlement is determined based on the qualifying conditions of the respective schemes. Where an applicant qualifies for both pensions, they are paid whichever pension is more financially beneficial to them, since both schemes cannot be paid concurrently.

I hope this clarifies the position for the Deputy.

Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment

 218. 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 the reason social welfare offices cannot deal with payment anomalies that have arisen regarding the emergency Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment until 10 August 2020 when the payment officially ceases; and her plans to extend the payment beyond 10 August. [19270/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The emergency Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment has been introduced as a time-limited emergency measure so that payments can be made as quickly as possible to the large number of people who have become fully unemployed due to the pandemic.

During the month of March, my Department received and processed jobseeker claims equivalent in number to a three year claim-load. These applications were processed as quickly as possible, with almost 59,000 people paid in the first week of the scheme, 283,000 people paid in the following week, and over 507,000 people in the third week of the scheme.

Currently, the Department is focused on processing and managing payments to ensure that they continue to be made to all who qualify for them. The work involved in doing this is complex, with people joining and leaving the scheme each week, along with management of overlaps between the Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment and the Revenue Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme. To date, over 8.7 million payment items have issued.

The Department is aware that many people are due some arrears and that each person’s case is unique. The Department is currently developing an automated process which will examine each case and match a person’s eligibility for each week of the scheme against their payment history. This is a complex piece of work.

It will take time to complete the necessary development work to enable the review cases and determine what, if any, arrears are due. I can assure the Deputies that all cases will be examined and where arrears arise they will be processed and claimants will be notified.

I hope that this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

  Question No. 219 answered with Question No. 33.

  Question No. 220 withdrawn.

Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment

 221. Deputy Catherine Murphy Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the way in which, and-or the method that will be used, to calculate earnings in order to apply the pandemic unemployment payment to persons in view of the change in rates and tiers to the payment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19338/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys As part of the Government's July stimulus package announced last week, the pandemic unemployment payment has been extended to 1 April 2021. From 17 September 2020 until 31 January 2021 the Pandemic Unemployment Payment will be paid at 3 rates. The payment rate will continue to depend on the amount previously earned.

  For employees, their gross weekly earnings will be used to determine the rate of pandemic unemployment payment. The approach used is that average gross weekly earnings in 2019 and in January and February 2020 as received from Revenue are examined. The higher of the two amounts is then used.

  For self-employed people the rate is based on their gross average weekly income for 2018 which is the last tax year for which complete data on self-employed income is available.

  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 with further details available on www.gov.ie.

  I trust that this clarifies the matter.

Freedom of Information

 222. Deputy Mairéad Farrell Information on Mairéad  Farrell Zoom on Mairéad  Farrell asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the number of freedom of information requests being processed by her Department; the number that have had the deadline for reply extended; the number at least one week, two weeks. one month and more than one month overdue, respectively; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19350/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys Since the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) was introduced in March last, over 1.2 million applications in respect of 800,000 people have been received and, to date, almost 7.8 million payments have issued.

  Against the backdrop of the very high volume of PUP claims, the Department has continued to register and acknowledge FOI requests and to contact requestors to explain that it may not be possible during the Covid crisis to deal with their requests within existing deadlines.

  While I recognise that this can cause difficulties for some, I am grateful for the level of understanding that has been shown by many requestors.

  The Department has received 1,012 FOI requests in 2020 and is currently processing 79 requests, of which 1 has the deadline extended under section 14 of the FOI Act 2014. The Department continues to deal with 4 FOI requests which have not been replied to by the due date. Details are provided in the tabular form below.

  I hope this clarifies the position for the Deputy.

  Status of FOI Requests within Department of Social Protection 2020

Category Nos.
FOIs received 2020 to date 1,012
FOIs currently on hands 79
FOIs currently on hands with section 14 extension applied 1
FOIs currently on hands and overdue less than 4 weeks 0
FOIs currently on hands and overdue greater than 4 weeks 4

Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment

 223. Deputy Jennifer Whitmore Information on Jennifer  Whitmore Zoom on Jennifer  Whitmore asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if she will address the issue of a cut to the pandemic unemployment payment for a self-employed person (details supplied) who was of the view that the 2018 returns would result in a full payment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19455/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys From the 29th June the rate of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) which a person will receive will depend on their gross weekly employment earnings as follows;

  - For those whose prior gross earnings were €200 per week or higher (about 75% of recipients), the PUP payment rate will remain at €350 per week;

  - For those whose prior gross earnings were up to €199.99 per week (about 25% of recipients), the PUP payment rate will be €203 per week.

  - A person who was in receipt of Jobseeker’s Allowance or Jobseeker’s Benefit as a part-time or casual worker immediately prior to receipt of the PUP will remain on the rate of €350 irrespective of their previous earnings.

  The rate of the PUP is based on prior earnings notified to Revenue. It is important to note that my Department will only accept earnings which have been notified to Revenue and subject to PRSI.

  For employees – the reference periods are 2019 (full year) and 2020 (January/February).

  Where an employee record was found in 2019 or 2020, assessment was based on the information available. A person received the benefit of which ever rate was the more favourable.

  Where no employee record was available, my Department looked at the person’s 2018 PRSI record for self-employment PRSI contributions. The assessment of average weekly earnings is based on the Class S PRSI record only.

  For self-employed people – the last year for which complete data is available is 2018 and this is the year which was used. While there are a limited number of Class S PRSI returns on record for 2019, these relate to returns under the PAYE system; in a significant number of cases, these returns require further examination, or the data could distort the examination of individual employee returns for that year.

  Where no earnings data was available, either as an employee or a self-employed person, the rate of the PUP was reduced to €203 per week.

  Under PUP rerating rules, employee records are checked for 2019 first, and then the first nine weeks of 2020, and the more favourable average weekly outcome is given. 2018 is only reviewed for self-employed records if no details are found in both 2019 and 2020.

  In the case of the person concerned there were no earnings recorded for him in 2019 or 2020. The Revenue Commissioners has confirmed that the income of the person concerned in 2018 was €9,499 over 52 weeks. This gives him a weekly average of €182.67. The PUP rate was therefore rerated to €203 per week based on the information available for 2018.

  Should the person concerned wish to request a review of his earnings, he can email PUPRerate@welfare.ie and he should attach all supporting documentation to this email.

  Alternatively, he can write to PUP Rerate Requests, DEASP, Intreo Centre, Cork Road, Waterford, again making sure to include all supporting documentation.

  Question No. 224 answered with Question No. 33.

Departmental Budgets

 225. 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 she remains satisfied regarding the adequacy of the budget for her Department to meet increased demand arising from Covid-19; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19494/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The 2020 Revised Estimate of Expenditure was voted on by the Oireachtas on 28 May 2020. This Revised Estimate provided for an overall estimate of €28.04 billion, an increase of €6.84 billion or 32.2% on the original 2020 REV estimate published in December 2019, but which had not been voted. The increased expenditure was required to provide funding for the new Covid-19 measures such as the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP), the Temporary Wage Supplement Scheme and the enhanced Covid Illness Benefit payments, as well as additional expenditure on other schemes arising from the Covid-19 crisis. The level of funding provided reflected decisions already made by the then Government, for payment of the PUP up to 9th June 2020 and the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme up to 12th June 2020.

As the Deputy is aware, PUP payments continued beyond that date and I have now decided that the PUP scheme should continue into next year, albeit at a level of payment more closely related to previous earnings. The timeframe for payment of the Temporary Wage Subsidy was similarly extended and will now be replaced by a new Employment Wage Support Scheme to support employers into the beginning of 2021. The enhanced Covid Illness Benefit is also to remain in place. In addition the expansion in employment services and supports announced as part of the Jobs Stimulus initiative announced last week will cost in the region of €100 million.

Expenditure by my Department on all schemes, including those impacted by the pandemic Covid crisis and planned for the continued provision of income support and to support employment, is closely monitored and kept under constant review and I am satisfied that it can be accommodated within the overall Government programme to support economic recovery.

Social Welfare Appeals

 226. 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 if she remains satisfied that waiting times in respect of appeals against decisions taken by her Department can be sufficiently reduced in order to eliminate potential hardship; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19495/20]

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 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. Achieving further reductions in processing times is a priority for the Chief Appeals Officer.   

  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.

  The average waiting times for the first six months of 2020 for appeals in respect of schemes operated by the Department is contained in the table below.

  I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

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

  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

Exceptional Needs Payment

 227. 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 exceptional needs payments remain available to applicants in difficult circumstances that they had not anticipated; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19496/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys Under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme, the Department may make a single exceptional needs payment (ENP) to help meet essential, once-off expenditure which a person could not reasonably be expected to meet out of their weekly income. An urgent needs payment (UNP) may be made to persons who may not normally qualify for supplementary welfare allowance but who have an urgent need which they cannot meet from their own resources or where an alternative is not available at that time. Government has provided €44.2 million for the exceptional and urgent needs schemes in 2020.

The ENP scheme is demand led and payments are made at the discretion of the officers administering the scheme taking into account the requirements of the legislation and all the relevant circumstances of the case in order to ensure that the payments target those most in need of assistance.

Any person who considers they may have an entitlement to an ENP should contact the Department's Community Welfare Service. The Department has established an Income Support Line - 1890 800 024 – which can be used by customers at this time to contact the Department. Staff can advise them of how to make an application for assistance from the Department.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

State Pension (Non-Contributory)

 228. 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 number of recipients of the non-contributory old age pension; the number of applications received in the past four years to date; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19497/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The information requested by the Deputy is detailed in the attached tabular statement.

  The number of state pension non-contributory pension claims registered and in payment at the end of December in the years 2016 to 2019 and to at the end of June 2020.

  Claims Registered Claims in Payment
June 2020 4,871 95,247
2019 8,766 94,854
2018 9,053 95,263
2017 9,187 95,140
2016 9,213 95,221

Carer's Allowance

 229. 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 appeals against the refusal of carer’s allowance can be expedited; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19498/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The Social Welfare Appeals Office has advised me that 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.

In 2019 carer's allowance appeals dealt with by way of summary decision had an average processing time of 23.2 weeks and it was 27.3 weeks for those requiring an oral hearing. The figures for 2020 to the end of June show a significant improvement with 13.1 weeks for appeals dealt with by way of summary decision and 21.7 weeks for those requiring an oral hearing.

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

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Domiciliary Care Allowance

 230. 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 number of persons in receipt of domiciliary care allowance; the number of applications on file awaiting a decision; the extent to which the process can be expedited; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19499/20]

Minister of State at the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Damien English): Information on Damien English Zoom on Damien English The latest figures available for Domiciliary Care Allowance (DCA) show that as at 30th June 2020 there were 43,478 individual customers receiving the payment in respect of 48,038 children.

On June 30th 2020, there were 725 applications on hand pending decision. The processing targets for DCA section is to finalise 90% of applications within 10 weeks. In June, this target was exceeded with over 95% of new applications processed within the target timeframe while the average processing time was just under 7 weeks. Given the complexity of the decision making process for DCA and the current processing timeline being achieved, it is difficult to envisage how the time required to make decisions could be expedited further.

I trust this clarifies the position for the Deputy.


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