Houses of the Oireachtas

All parliamentary debates are now being published on our new website. The publication of debates on this website will cease in December 2018.

Go to oireachtas.ie

 Header Item Written Answers Nos. 483-497
 Header Item Gaelscoil Issues
 Header Item Gaelscoil Issues
 Header Item School Curriculum
 Header Item State Examinations
 Header Item Home Tuition Scheme
 Header Item Departmental Contracts
 Header Item Departmental Contracts
 Header Item Departmental Staff
 Header Item Registration of Deaths
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Supports
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Supports
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Supports
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment
 Header Item Fuel Allowance

Tuesday, 6 October 2020

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 998 No. 5
Unrevised

First Page Previous Page Page of 120 Next Page Last Page

Written Answers Nos. 483-497

Gaelscoil Issues

 483. Deputy Denis Naughten Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley the number of Gaelscoileanna nationally; the breakdown by county; the percentage of total primary and secondary schools; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28849/20]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley Please find below the requested information.

  2019-20 is the most recent year we have published data on the DES website for the requested information.

  The figure for primary schools is the number of mainstream primary schools which have "All Subjects Through Irish" as their Irish Classification Description.

  The figure for post-primary schools is the number of post-primary schools which have "All pupils taught all subjects through Irish" as their Irish Classification Description

  This figures are collated from the relevant, Primary & Post Primary Data on Individual Schools, tables published on the DES website and can be found at the link below:

  https://www.education.ie/en/Publications/Statistics/Data-on-Individual-Schools/

  Gaelscoileanna

Gaelscoil Issues

 484. Deputy Denis Naughten Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley if she has future plans to open additional gaelscoileanna; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28850/20]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley In order to plan for school provision and analyse the relevant demographic data, my Department divides the country into 314 school planning areas and uses a Geographical Information System, using data from a range of sources, to identify where the pressure for school places across the country will arise. With this information, my Department carries out nationwide demographic exercises to determine where additional school accommodation is needed at primary and post-primary level. Major new residential developments in a school planning area have the potential to alter demand in that area. In that regard, as part of the demographic exercises, my Department engages with each of the local authorities to obtain the up-to-date information on significant new residential development in each area. This is necessary to ensure that schools infrastructure planning is keeping pace with demographic changes as there is a constantly evolving picture with planned new residential development.

Where data indicates that additional provision is required, the delivery of such additional provision is dependent on the particular circumstances of each case and may, depending on the circumstances, be provided through either one, or a combination of, the following:

- Utilising existing unused capacity within a school or schools,

- Extending the capacity of a school or schools,

- Provision of a new school or schools.

As the Deputy will be aware, since April 2018, the Government announced plans for the establishment of 45 new schools over the 4 year period 2019 to 2022.

A patronage process is run after it has been decided, based on demographic analysis, that a new school is required. This patronage process is open to all patron bodies and prospective patrons. Parental preferences from parents of children who reside in the school planning areas concerned, together with the extent of diversity currently available in these areas, are key to decisions in relation to the outcome of this process. The Online Patronage Process System (OPPS) has been developed by my Department to provide objective information to parents and guardians which will allow them to make an informed choice in expressing a preference for their preferred model of patronage and language of instruction i.e. Irish or English for their child’s education.

In September 2019, I announced that five of the new primary schools being established from 2020-2022 are being pre-designated for Irish-medium education. The five new schools will serve areas of growing populations where there is no existing Irish-medium primary school or where there is more than one new school to be established between 2019 and 2022.

In addition, the Schools Reconfiguration for Diversity Process provides an opportunity to increase the number of Gaelscoileanna nationwide. The process, which involves the live transfer of existing schools, is designed to provide additional multi-/non-denominational schools in Irish or English and an opportunity is available to English-medium schools seeking to make a transition to Irish-medium provision in that context, in line with the expressed wishes of parents and the local school community. Any school which is seeking a transfer of patronage, including transitioning to Irish-medium provision, should contact their school patron directly.

The requirement for new schools will be kept under on-going review and in particular will have regard to the impact of the increased roll out of housing provision as outlined in Project Ireland 2040. My Department will also continue to monitor areas where the accommodation of existing schools, including gaelscoileanna, may need to be expanded in order to meet the needs of the local population.

Details of schools that provide education through the medium of Irish are available on my Department's website www.education.ie.

School Curriculum

 485. Deputy Denis Naughten Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley the number of students in secondary schools studying different subject areas for the leaving certificate in particular trades; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28851/20]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley The information sought by the Deputy is set out below in tabular form. I advise him that the enrolment numbers include both 5th and 6th year students in the 2019/20 school year:

Leaving Certificate Established and Vocational Programme Subject Enrolments 5th and 6th year
Construction Studies 20,562
Design & Communication Graphics 12,205
Engineering 13,176
Enterprise Education 30,836
Home Economics 25,841
Preparation for the World of Work 30,838
Technology 3,878
Leaving Certificate Applied Subject Enrolments 5th and 6th year
Childcare/Community Care 926
Crafts and Design 1,523
Engineering (LCA) 1,697
Graphics & Construction Studies 3,357
Hair & Beauty 722
Hotel Catering & Tourism 3,957
Information & Communication Technology 2,956
Intro to Information & Communication Techno 5,052
Leisure & Recreation including Physical Education 6,086
Mathematical Applications 6,243
Office Administration & Customer Care 941
Science (LCA) 1,926
Technology (LCA) 462
Voc. Preparation & Guidance 6,243
Vocational Education Task 949
Vocational Preparation Task 1,600

State Examinations

 486. Deputy Patricia Ryan Information on Patricia  Ryan Zoom on Patricia  Ryan asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley her plans to address the errors in determining the leaving certificate calculated grades; if the State will be compensated for the errors; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28868/20]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley The decision to adopt a model of Calculated Grades by my Department was a result of COVID-19, which prevented the State from running the conventional Leaving Certificate Examinations. The purpose of this process was to allow as many students as possible to progress to employment, further education and training, or higher education.

  My Department contracted a Canadian company, Polymetrika International Inc. to assist with the development of the model.

  On 30 September, I made a statement that advising that two errors had been identified in the Calculated Grades process. These meant that incorrect grades were issued to some students when they received their results on 7 September.

  The first error was identified by Polymetrika as having taken place when processing students’ data. The error, in one out of 50,000 lines of code, was in relation to the processing of Junior Cycle data. The system was meant to draw on the core Junior Cycle subjects of English, Irish and Maths, and combine them with the students’ 2 best non-core subjects for all of the students in each class in each school. The coding error instead combined them with the students’ 2 weakest non-core subjects.

  The error meant that, in some subjects, some students received Calculated Grades that were lower than they should have been, while some students received grades that were higher than they should have been.

  In the course of the complete review which the Department undertook, Departmental staff found a further error in the section of the code dealing with Junior Cycle results. The Junior Cycle subject Civil, Social and Political Education (CPSE) was meant to be disregarded as part of the model but was not. This second error, however, had a negligible impact on results.

  I provided a further update on 03 October, announcing that improved Calculated Grades would issue to impacted students that day. This announcement was made following a review of essential aspects of the coding by Educational Testing Services, ETS, a non-profit organisation based in the United States.

  ETS completed their review and provided it to my Department on 3 October. The review identified one further error, relating to how the code handled cases where students did not sit all three core subjects (Irish, English and Maths) at Junior Cycle level.

  As a result of rectification of the errors, a total of 6,100 students have received higher grades. This breaks down as follows:

  - 5,408 students have received a higher grade, by one grade band, in one subject,

  - 621 students have received a higher grade, by one grade band, in two subjects,

  - 71 students have received a higher grade, by one grade band, in three or more subjects.

  National policy in relation to examination outcomes, as given effect in Section 53 of the Education Act 1998 (as amended), is focussed on guarding against the release of information which would enable the compilation of information (that is not otherwise available to the general public) in relation to the comparative performance of schools in respect of the academic achievement of students. This means that generally examinations performance data analysis will only be presented and/or published on an aggregated, national basis and not at any more granular level, including by school but also by school type, geographic location, regional location, etc.  

  In addition to the students who received a lower grade than they should have in this year’s Leaving Certificate, some students received a higher grade than they should have. However, these students grades are not being amended.

  ETS also identified an issue concerning how the algorithm used in the standardisation process treated students’ marks at the extreme ends of the marks scale (99% and over, 1% and below). However, ETS also stated that this had no material impact on the results and no student could receive a lower grade as a result of it.

  Impacted students were sent a text message advising them to log onto the Calculated Grades Student Portal to access their revised results from 6.00pm on Saturday 03 October.

  The Department has sent a corrected file of student results to the CAO. The CAO will now establish how many students are eligible to receive a new CAO offer.

  The Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science will work with the CAO and the higher education institutions to see how these students can be facilitated to commence the course that they would, in other circumstances, have been offered in an earlier round.

  Any student who would have been entitled to a different offer in previous CAO rounds if they received the correct grade on 7 September will receive this offer or a deferred offer as soon as practicable after the updating of results.

  This is in line with the practice that occurs in the appeals process every year.

Home Tuition Scheme

 487. Deputy Catherine Murphy Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley the number of families in County Kildare that have requested home tuition supports in 2019 and to date in 2020; the number of applications that have been successful; the corresponding figures for 2018 and 2019; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28889/20]

Minister of State at the Department of Education (Deputy Josepha Madigan): Information on Josepha Madigan Zoom on Josepha Madigan The purpose of the Home Tuition Grant Scheme is to provide funding towards the provision of a compensatory educational service for children who, for a number of specific reasons, are unable to attend school.

  Home tuition is not an alternative to a school placement and is provided in very limited and specific circumstances. By its nature, it is intended to be a short term intervention.

  The scheme provides a compensatory educational service for children enrolled in schools, with significant medical conditions which has caused, and is likely to continue to cause, major disruption to their attendance at school.

  The scheme also provides for children with special educational needs seeking an educational placement in a recognised school and early intervention for children with autism aged from 2.5 years to 5 years who meet the schemes eligibility criteria.

  The information requested by the Deputy is outlined in the table below.

  Home Tuition Grants Sanctioned - Co. Kildare

School Year SEN under 6 SEN over 6 Medical
2018/2019 29 2 31
2019/2020 29 2 18
2020/2021 (to date) 7 8 3

Departmental Contracts

 488. Deputy Gary Gannon Information on Gary Gannon Zoom on Gary Gannon asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley if there was a tender process that secured the contractor (details supplied) for the modelling of the predictive grade system; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28904/20]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley The decision to adopt a model of Calculated Grades by my Department was a direct result of COVID-19, which prevented the state from running the conventional Leaving Certificate Examinations.

  As part of initial contingency planning for the Leaving Certificate 2020, the State Examinations Commission procured international expertise through Polymetrika.

  Polymetrika was contracted to provide statistical and psychometric expertise, initially on the basis of contingency planning in the event of the Leaving Certificate not taking place as planned.

  The value of that contract was €71,500 to cover 65 days. Any additional days are to be charged at €1,100 per day.

  Polymetrika played an integral part of the development and running of the Calculated Grades model, and as such the contract for Polymetrika was extended to implement the Calculated Grades model under the pre-agreed terms of the contract. This was done following the decision of Government on 8 May 2020 to postpone the Leaving Certificate Examinations.

  Due to the time constraints the Department availed of the procurement process known as the Negotiated Procedure without Prior Publication. This is used in circumstances where it is a case of extreme urgency.

  To date, the total gross cost of services provided by Polymetrika under contract has been approximately €193,000 which reflects services provided to end September.

  This expenditure reflects their work in both the contingency planning and the development and statistical work around the operation of the model.

  As was announced on 30 September, the Department has also engaged the services of ETS, Educational Testing Service, a US-based non-profit organisation which specialises in educational measurement, to review essential aspects of the coding. ETS submitted their report of the review to the Department on 03 October.

  The cost of services provided by ETS has not yet been finalised.

Departmental Contracts

 489. Deputy Catherine Murphy Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley if she has engaged a third-party company in each of the years 2017 to 2019 and to date in 2020 to conduct online and or social media monitoring and or provide reports on social media coverage of her Department; if so, the cost of same; and if the name of the social media platforms being monitored will be provided. [28913/20]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley The Department has not engaged a third party to conduct online or social media monitoring.

Departmental Staff

 490. Deputy Catherine Murphy Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley the number of staff in her Department on sick leave between March and September by month in 2019 and to date 2020; the pay arrangements that exist for staff on sick leave for an extended period of time; the number of sick days accounted for by her Department over the period; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28931/20]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley The information requested by the Deputy is provided below.

  The regulations governing sick leave in the Public Service are SI 124 of 2014. Limits for sick leave are 92 days full pay in a rolling one year period followed by 91 days on half pay subject to a maximum of 183 days in a rolling four year period. The figures provide below are in relation to this Department and the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science as the figures are not currently being recorded separately for each Department.

MONTH YEAR No of Staff on Sick Leave No of Sick Leave Days
03 - March 2019 226 1495.16
  2020 145 1318.35
04 - April 2019 184 1329.88
  2020 40 636.83
05 - May 2019 192 1391.06
  2020 43 684.35
06 - June 2019 163 1237.88
  2020 58 684.08
07 - July 2019 169 1291.38
  2020 56 751.16
08 - August 2019 183 1292.26
  2020 62 734.19
09 - September 2019 240 1548.11
  2020 85 615.29

Registration of Deaths

 491. Deputy Emer Higgins Information on Emer Higgins Zoom on Emer Higgins asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the legislation that outlines the time frame in which deaths must be reported; the current time frame; her plans to shorten same in view of the Covid-19 pandemic; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28309/20]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys Part 5 of the Civil Registration Act 2004, as amended, provides the legal framework for the registration of deaths. Currently, the obligation to register a death rests with the relatives of the deceased, or in their absence, other persons specified in the Act. A death must be registered within three months of the date of death. Other than the obligation to register a death, there are no other legal obligations to report a death to the Civil Registration Service. Specific arrangements are in place for the notification of certain deaths to a Coroner under the Coroners Acts.

Some four in every five deaths that are not referred to Coroners are registered within the three month timeframe. The manner and operation of the death registration process has been identified as an area requiring reform to ensure it meets with domestic and international public health and reporting requirements for life events. The General Register Office (GRO), which comes under aegis of my Department, is leading an inter-agency working group to modernise the way deaths are notified and subsequently registered. This work is timely as it coincides with recommendations made by the National Public Health Emergency Team to reduce the length of time between the date of death and registration.

The working group is finalising proposals which, following public and stakeholder engagement, will form the basis for legislative changes to the Civil Registration Act to be considered by the Government.

I have been informed by the GRO that the proposals emerging from the Working Group will focus on reducing the current timeframe for death registration and on introducing new mechanisms for the early notification and registration of deaths, including technological and process changes.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment

 492. Deputy Steven Matthews Information on Steven  Matthews Zoom on Steven  Matthews asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if a person can still claim the pandemic unemployment payment in cases in which they are on the pandemic unemployment payment and seeking to improve their future career prospects by enrolling in a part-time Springboard course; and if not, if they are required to switch to another form of social welfare which may be of a lesser value and as such act as a disincentive. [28343/20]

 504. Deputy Cathal Crowe Information on Cathal Crowe Zoom on Cathal Crowe asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if those on the pandemic unemployment payment or similar will be deemed eligible for retraining grants that are ordinarily reserved for those on jobseeker’s allowance rather than have to lose out on money by switching to the latter in view of the unprecedented circumstances due to Covid-19. [28204/20]

 505. Deputy Robert Troy Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if a person who commences a part-time Springboard course can still be in receipt of the pandemic unemployment payment. [28205/20]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys I propose to take Questions Nos. 492, 504 and 505 together.

  My Department’s Back to Education Allowance (BTEA) provides income support for jobseekers and certain others in receipt of social welfare payments who pursue full-time courses of education at second or third level. The main focus of the allowance is to assist qualifying applicants to improve their educational qualifications and their prospects of gaining employment.

  The BTEA has been extended as part of the July Stimulus in response to Covid-19. Ordinarily a person must be in receipt of a qualifying social welfare payment for a minimum period before being eligible to apply for the BTEA when pursuing training or education, including SpringBoard. The qualifying period has been waived for people on coming from the PUP. This ensures that those who have lost their employment during the pandemic have immediate access to a range of educational options.

  In order to avail of continued financial support while pursuing a full-time course, a person in receipt of the PUP should apply for a jobseeker payment and continue payment on the BTEA to the end of their course. The BTEA is payable at the jobseekers rate.

  Where someone in receipt of PUP wishes to pursue part-time study, including part-time SpringBoard, they can continue to receive PUP while they continue to satisfy the conditions of that payment.

  Any person seeking to return to education should engage with their local Intreo Centre to assess their options.

  I trust this clarifies the issues for the Deputies.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

 493. Deputy Brendan Smith Information on Brendan Smith Zoom on Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the supports that will be provided to assist persons that have to take time off work to self-isolate in cases in which a family member living in the same household awaits a Covid-19 test result; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that at present some persons have to take annual leave or may receive no income in respect of such days not in work; if her attention has been further drawn to the fact that the present necessary and appropriate self-isolation is causing financial difficulties for some persons and families, particularly for those on lower incomes; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28632/20]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys Under the Health (Preservation and Protection and other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Act 2020 (No. 1), the Government, having regard to the manifest and grave risk to human life and public health posed by the spread of Covid-19, extended the Social Welfare Acts to provide for entitlement to illness benefit for persons who have been diagnosed with, or are a probable source of infection with Covid-19.

  The rate of payment of the enhanced Illness Benefit payment in respect of COVID-19 is higher than the normal maximum personal rate for a limited period. The measures were designed to ensure that where a registered medical practitioner or a HSE medical officer diagnoses a person with COVID-19 or identifies him or her as a probable source of infection of COVID-19, the person concerned can comply with medical advice to isolate, while having their income protected. This is essential to limit and slow down the spread of the virus, to keep the number of people affected to a minimum, and to reduce a peak of cases which would cause extreme pressure on the health system.

  The enhanced rate of Illness Benefit was brought in as a short-term public health measure and is not a long-term income support payment. It is payable for 2 weeks where a person is isolating as a probable source of infection of Covid-19 and for up to 10 weeks where a person has been diagnosed with Covid-19. Certification by a registered medical professional is required to support any claim for the special Covid 19 Illness payment. There are no waiting days in respect of the enhanced illness benefit payment. Only one contribution is required in the four weeks before the claim, thereby making the payment more accessible.

  Where a medical practitioner advises a person to remain away from work because an underlying medical condition means they are unable to work safely, then the standard Illness Benefit payment may be made, subject to the conditions of the scheme being satisfied.

  The purpose of the enhanced Illness Benefit payment in respect of COVID-19 is to encourage people to not go to work due to financial constraint when they should be in isolation.

  When the enhanced payment was introduced, it was intended for people who were self-isolating or in a medical facility. Subsequently the HSE and the Department of Health introduced another category - for people who were advised to restrict their movements.

   According to the HSE, people will need to self-isolate:

  - if they have symptoms of COVID-19

  - while they wait for a test appointment and test results, if they have symptoms of COVID-19

  - if they have had a positive test result for COVID-19

  People are advised by the HSE to restrict their movements for 14 days if they:

  - are a close contact of a confirmed case of COVID-19

  - live with someone who has symptoms of COVID-19, but feel well

  - are being tested as a close contact of a confirmed case of COVID-19 and don’t have any symptoms

  - arrive into Ireland from a country that is not on the COVID-19 green list - this list is reviewed regularly based on advice from officials including public health experts and will be updated if needed

  Employers are asked to facilitate remote working where possible – in this situation people should remain on full pay from the employer.

  From the outset of COVID-19, many employers will have taken the initiative, in line with subsequent requests from the Government, to be as flexible as possible in allowing staff time off where required. Employers have a general duty of care towards their workers and that care is often expressed in the form of negotiation, compromise and flexibility. Some of the options to be considered for workers with responsibilities that preclude them from working their normal hours in the normal, pre-COVID-19, may include:

  - offering paid compassionate leave

  - allowing employees to work from home

  - altering shifts, so that employees can co-ordinate caring between themselves and partners, or another person

  - allowing employees to take or rearrange annual leave

  - allowing employees to rearrange parental leave

  - allowing employees to take paid time off that can be worked back at a later time etc.

  - allowing employees to take unpaid leave until they can return to work full or part-time.

  In the event of an employee being told by their employer to go home or stay at home for a period of time without pay they may be entitled to claim the Pandemic Unemployment Payment or Jobseekers Benefit/Allowance. If they are not eligible for those payments, then they may apply for Supplementary Welfare Allowance.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

 494. Deputy Steven Matthews Information on Steven  Matthews Zoom on Steven  Matthews asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if provisions are being considered with regard to sole traders and the provision of redundancy to staff if they are to face closure due to the Covid-19 pandemic (details supplied). [28883/20]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The Redundancy Payments Act 1967, as amended, provides for the making of payments by employers to employees in respect of redundancy. It is the employer’s responsibility to pay statutory redundancy payments to all eligible employees. In the event that an employer is unable to pay due to financial difficulties, an application for payment from the Social Insurance Fund may be submitted to the Department.

When such a redundancy payment is made from the Social Insurance Fund, a debt is raised against the employer. The Department is obliged to make every effort to recover the debt owed, in accordance with Section 32 of the Act. The Department will engage with employers to establish their financial situation and seeks to recover the debt on a mutually agreed basis, including repayments by instalment, where appropriate.

In the case of sole traders, they do not have the protection of limited liability. In such instances the full liability remains with them or their estate. Since the start of the pandemic the Department has been very mindful of the difficulties that sole traders are facing. For a time, debt reminder letters did not issue. In some circumstances debt repayments were suspended until the business is in a better financial position. If a closure situation arises, the existing mechanisms are flexible enough to make statutory redundancy payments on behalf of employers and to adjust the repayment arrangements, thus easing the pressures on sole traders.

The Department’s policy is kept under review but any change to the policy must ensure that employer debt is recovered in full wherever possible.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

 495. Deputy Gary Gannon Information on Gary Gannon Zoom on Gary Gannon asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the average time from sole traders completing and submitting a form for the €1,000 grant to the local Intreo office to receipt of the funding. [28078/20]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys As announced in the July Stimulus package, the enterprise support grant was extended to assist eligible self-employed, including sole traders, who exit the COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment or jobseekers schemes after 18th May 2020 to re-start their business which was closed due to the impact of the pandemic. Funding of €12 million has been provided for this grant.

  Since the launch of the grant in August, my Department has paid almost €2.9 million to over 3,100 small businesses who have reopened their business.

  My Department is committed to providing a quality service to all its applicants. This includes ensuring that applications are processed and that decisions on entitlement are made as quickly as possible. The national average time to approve a grant application is currently approximately two weeks.

  I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment

 496. Deputy Willie O'Dea Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys when a person (details supplied) will receive the correct rate of pandemic unemployment payment; when arrears will be issued in view of the fact they are at the lower rate and have provided all documentation advising they should be on the higher rate; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28117/20]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The Pandemic Unemployment Payment in respect of the person concerned has now been re-rated to a rate of €250 per week, based on their 2019 self-employed returns. Arrears due from 26/06/2020 will issue next week.

Fuel Allowance

 497. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh Information on Aengus Ó Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if a person (details supplied) will be considered for the fuel allowance on a temporary basis to allow the fuel allowance to be awarded to those that are just above the threshold and cocooning at home. [28149/20]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The fuel allowance is a payment of €24.50 per week for 28 weeks (a total of €686 each year) from October to April, to an average of 352,000 low income households, at an estimated cost of €261.35 million in 2020. The purpose of this payment is to assist these households with their energy costs. The allowance represents a contribution towards the energy costs of a household. It is not intended to meet those costs in full. Only one allowance is paid per household.

My Department also pays an electricity or gas allowance under the Household Benefits scheme at an estimated cost of €194 million in 2020. This is paid at a rate of €35 per month, 12 months of the year.

The criteria for fuel allowance are framed in order to direct the limited resources available to my Department in as targeted a manner as possible. Therefore, to receive the fuel allowance a person must be in receipt of a qualifying payment from my Department and also have satisfied a means test.

Fuel allowance can only be paid if the qualifying criteria are met and cannot be paid on a discretionary or temporary basis.

However, under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme, exceptional needs payments may be made to help meet an essential, once-off cost which customers are unable to meet out of their own resources, and this may include exceptional heating costs. Decisions on such payments are made on a case-by-case basis.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.


Last Updated: 07/04/2021 15:30:15 First Page Previous Page Page of 120 Next Page Last Page