Social Protection

Social Protection Questions

Posted November 19th, 2012

Rent supplement scheme – 27th May 2015

To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection if Government policy should better link her Department with the Private Residential Tenancies Board, allowing money to be paid directly from her Department to the landlord.

Reply

Minister of State at the Department of Social Protection (Kevin Humphreys TD)

The rent supplement scheme provides 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. There are approximately 69,000 rent supplement recipients, for which the Government has provided a total of over €298 million for in 2015.

The Department works closely with the Private Residential Tenancies Board (PRTB) to help ensure that rent supplement tenancies comply with the statutory system of tenancy regulation and safeguards. The Department advises the PRTB, on a quarterly basis, of all new rent supplement tenancies to assist them in implementing tenancy regulations and co-operates in any initiatives taken by the PRTB to ensure compliance with the provisions of the Residential Tenancies Act.

Under the legislative provisions governing rent supplement, the Department’s relationship is with the tenant; the tenant makes the application for rent supplement and payment is made to the tenant to assist them with their accommodation needs. There is no direct relationship between the landlord and the Department in the administration of the scheme.

However, social welfare legislation provides for the payment of a rent supplement payment to a nominated payee such as a landlord on behalf of the tenant. This arrangement is entered at the tenant’s request and subject to the consent of the Department. The efficiency of the rent supplement scheme would be significantly affected if all payments were to be made directly to landlords, for the provision of short term support.

The Department’s strategic policy direction is to return rent supplement to its original purpose of being a short term income support by transferring responsibility for persons with long term housing needs to the local authorities under the Housing Assistance Payment Scheme (HAP). HAP is being designed so as to bring all of the social housing services provided by the State together under the local authority system and is currently being rolled out in selected local authority areas. Under HAP the local authority pays the rent directly to the landlord.

Optical Benefit Scheme – 21st April 2015

To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection if consideration is being given to re-instating the Optical Benefit Scheme or the Dental Health Scheme.

Reply

The Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton)

The services available under the treatment benefit scheme were restricted in Budget 2010 due to the prevailing economic situation at that time and the urgent need to reduce public expenditure. Any future expansion of the schemes would have to be considered in light of available resources and competing priorities.

The changes to the treatment benefit scheme in Budget 2010 still allow for an annual free dental exam and an optical examination every two years, encouraging people to continue attending and helping maintain their dental and optical health.

Over 2 million people remain qualified for this entitlement under their or their spouse’s PRSI contributions. In 2014 over 450,000 people availed of either a free dental or optical examination, a 13% increase in uptake since 2012.

Social inclusion activation – 6th February 2015

To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection when she will publish the CESI report on activation services commissioned by her Department in 2012; the procurement process the publication could impact upon; and when this is due to be completed.

Reply

The Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton)

The Pathways to Work policy statement provided for more regular and on-going engagement with jobseekers to enable them to return to employment through the provision of the most appropriate support interventions. In order to increase its activation capacity the Department examined approaches to complementing and augmenting its own internal capacity and that already provided under existing contracts with the Local Employment Service (LES) and Job Club providers.

In this regard, the Department engaged the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion (CESI) in 2012 to provide expert advice and assistance with the design, including financial modelling, of a contracted, payment by results, employment service model. It is not intended to publish this report as its contents are commercially sensitive and to do so may disadvantage the State in negotiations with current and potential providers.

The CESI report informed the design of JobPath. Following a procurement process conducted in accordance with EU and Irish procurement rules, preferred tenderers have been selected for the provision of the JobPath programme. The preferred tenderers are Seetec Business Technology Centre Limited and Turas Nua Limited. The Department is currently in the process of finalising contracts with the preferred tenderers and it is expected that the JobPath programme will commence in mid-2015.

Landlords refusing to accept rent allowance – 11th December 2014

To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection her views on the legality of landlords refusing to accept tenants who are dependent on rent allowance payments.

Reply

Minister of State at the Department of Social Protection (Deputy Kevin Humphreys)

The purpose of rent supplement is to provide short-term 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. There are currently approximately 72,500 rent supplement recipients for which the Government has provided over €344 million for 2014.

Under the legislative provisions governing rent supplement, the Department’s relationship is with the tenant. Rent supplement is specifically for the benefit of tenants to assist them with their accommodation needs. The tenant’s engagement with the Department usually takes place after the tenant has reached an agreement with the landlord. The fact that approximately 72,500 people are currently in receipt of rent supplement shows that a significant number of landlords are accommodating applicants of the scheme.

It is clearly my preference that a person in receipt of rent supplement should not be refused accommodation due to the fact that they are receiving support from the State. Officials in the Department are engaging with those in the Department of Justice and Equality in regard to this matter.

It is open to any person who has been refused a private tenancy and who feels discriminated against on the basis of his or her gender, civil status, family status, sexual orientation, religion, age, disability, race and membership of the Travelling community to refer a discrimination complaint to the Equality Tribunal under the Equal Status Acts.

Decrease in numbers receiving illness benefit – 6th October 2014

To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection the reason for the decrease in the number of recipients of illness benefit from a 20 year high of 81,253 people in 2010, to an estimated 58,468 recipients in 2014, a ten year low.

Reply

The Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton)

Illness Benefit (IB) is a demand led social insurance-based scheme and the number of recipients is influenced by a range of factors including the number of people in employment, level of health of the working population, people’s social insurance records and scheme conditions.

For example, the reduction in the number of people in employment (down 277,400 from 2008 to 2013) would have had a direct impact on the numbers applying for IB.

In addition a number of policy measures have been introduced in recent years which would have contributed to a reduction in the number of recipients.

In response to the OECD review entitled “Sickness, Disability and Work: Breaking the Barriers” (published in 2008), which identified the structure of the IB scheme as an area of concern (notably the fact that many people were receiving the payment on a long-term basis, increasing the risk that those people will never return to the labour market), the Department introduced a measure in 2009 which capped entitlement to IB at two years.

Also, in Budget 2014 a further measure was introduced which increased the number of “waiting days” before payment is commenced on an IB claim from 3 to 6. This is aimed at incentivising and assisting employers to actively manage short term absences.

Increase in numbers on disability allowance – 6th October 2014

To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection the reason for the more than 100% increase in the number of recipients of disability allowance over a ten year period between 1996 and 2006, from 37,054 recipients to 83,697 recipients, and the subsequent more than 40% increase in recipients over the following eight year period until 2014, with an estimated 108,274 recipients expected to receive the allowance this year; if there is a precedent in other countries for such an increase; and the way in which the figure of 108,274 persons on disability allowance, as a percentage of the overall population, compares to other countries.

Reply

The Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton)

A review of the Disability Allowance (DA) scheme, published in 2010, identified a number of factors contributing to an increase in numbers claiming DA since the scheme was introduced in 1996 (when it replaced the Disabled Person’s Maintenance Allowance (DPMA) which had been operated by the Health Boards).

These included:
· demographic factors;
· progressive easing of the means test;
· migration from other Social Welfare schemes (notably in the   early years);
· progression from Domiciliary Care Allowance as numbers on   that scheme increased;
· extension of DA to people living in institutions and
· improved medical diagnoses etc.

It is also of relevance that DA is a contingency-based, demand-led scheme (unlike DPMA which was budget –driven), so if a person satisfies the statutory qualifying conditions, then DA will be awarded.

In relation to the international context, the OECD have carried out work in this area and published a report in 2010 – “Sickness, Disability and Work: Breaking the Barriers”. This report found that the number of people of working age in Ireland who received disability payments is above the OECD average (in 2008, 6.5% compared to 5.7%) but that spending on sickness and disability made up 10% of Ireland’s public social spending, which is in line with the OECD average.

Incentivising retraining in technology – 12th February 2014

To ask the Minister for Social Protection if she is considering incentivising re-training in certain areas, for example in technology, by allowing persons taking part in such courses to maintain their jobseekers benefit so that they can afford to learn the necessary skills.

Reply

Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton T.D):

The major elements of my Department’s response to unemployment are set out in the Pathways to Work policy which is aimed at ensuring that as many as possible of the job vacancies that are created are filled by people from the Live Register, with a particular focus on those who are long term unemployed or at risk of long-term unemployment.

The Pathways to Work policy aims, with regards to supports for unemployed persons, to:

  • Provide all registered unemployed people with efficient, work-focused income supports together with access to the information and the advice required to help them plan and action a pathway back into employment.
  • Provide unemployed people, in particular people who are long-term unemployed and young unemployed people, with opportunities to enhance their job prospects through value-adding work experience, education and training activities.

As part of this, there are in place a number of supports that allow unemployed people to receive a payment, based on their underlying job-seekers payment, while engaging in re-training:

  • The Back to Education Allowance (BTEA) scheme run by my Department provides income maintenance for unemployed people returning to full-time further or higher education, including the full range of technology courses provided at these levels across universities, Institutes of Technology and further education colleges. Approximately 26,000 previously-unemployed people participated in the BTEA in the last academic year.
  • Former FÁS Training Centres (all of which will be part of the Education and Training Boards by the middle of this year) also provide full-time shorter training courses for unemployed people, either in the centres or through contracted external trainers. There is a wide range of courses, including technology-related. Participants receive a training allowance in lieu of their jobseeker payment while attending these courses.
  • The Momentum programme, delivered through FÁS in 2013, provides free education and training projects for 6,500 long-term unemployed jobseekers in four themes of activity.  One theme is devoted to technology occupations i.e. ICT, digital media, gaming and telecommunications. Participants retain the equivalent of their prior welfare payment, under the BTEA provisions.
  • The Springboard Initiative in higher education offers free, part-time courses at Certificate, Degree and Masters levels.  Information Communications Technology (ICT) has been identified as one of the areas with demand from employers for qualifications. Participants in receipt of a jobseeker’s payment can retain their payment by registering for the Part-Time Education Option at their local social welfare office.
  • Evening courses and blended learning technology courses are also available through the former FÁS Training Centres, for which participants can retain their social welfare payments.

In general, unemployed people taking up full-time training (other than of very short duration) are supported either through training allowances or through BTEA. In order to incentivise young people to take up training, those young people on a reduced social welfare payment (i.e. €100 or €144) see their payments increase up to €160 while attending full-time training or education programmes.

Those taking up part-time courses or more intensive short duration courses are supported the Part-time Education Option (PTEO) and Education Training and Development Option (ET&D). The PTEO allows participants to attend part-time day/evening or weekend courses of education or training and retain their jobseeker’s payment while an entitlement exists provided that they continue to satisfy the conditions of being available for and genuinely seeking employment on an on-going basis. The ET&D allows participants to attend certain courses of education, training or development of short duration and retain their jobseeker’s payment while an entitlement exists. Participants are exempt from engaging in job search but must be available for employment should an opportunity arise.

In addition to these education and training options, JobBridge (the National Internship Scheme) provides work experience placements for interns for a 6 month or a 9 month period.  Participants retain their prior welfare payment and also receive an additional weekly top-up payment of €50. Placements are in a range of occupational areas, including technology-related.  Some 6,400 people are currently participating on this scheme.

Legislation to limit the size of fees charged on pension products – 28th January 2014

To ask the Minister for Social Protection if she is considering, as in the UK, the introduction of legislation to limit the size of fees charged on pension products, pension investment products including ARFs.

Reply

Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton T.D):

The Deputy will be aware that the Report on Pension Charges was completed and published in October 2012. This Report was undertaken by my Department, working with the Central Bank and the Pensions Board, and with support from PricewaterhouseCoopers. The primary objective of the report was to gather information on the level of pension charges levied, to assess whether these charges are reasonable and transparent, to report on the findings and to make recommendations. The report highlights a wide range of issues in relation to pension charges and identifies that there are major challenges to be addressed in the two main areas of reasonableness and transparency of charges. The report shows that small percentages can add up to big reductions in a pension fund over time.

The launch of the Report was followed by a three month consultation with stakeholders. There was a broad range of views expressed in the submissions received as well as a range of suggestions and proposals aimed at improving various aspects of the pension charging environment. Following the consultation period, it was agreed by Government in April 2013 that the recommendations contained in the report will be implemented, and this work is underway.

A Pension Charges Working Group is in place to initiate actions that follow up on the recommendations of the report. This group comprises the Department of Social Protection, the Pensions Board and the Central Bank. Each has a core role to play in delivering on the recommendations contained within the Report on Pension Charges and work has commenced in this regard.

Additionally, progress on the issue of pension charges will be supported by recent actions to restructure the Pensions Board and strengthen governance and regulation of the country’s occupational pensions and give consumer representatives a greater input into pensions policy. I have highlighted that the first task of the new Pensions Council will be to monitor the implementation of the recommendations in the Report on Pension Charges and advise if further actions are needed. The range of possible actions in this area would then be considered and, should it prove necessary, I will bring a further policy and regulatory response to Government.

Calculating the rate of state pension payment – 21st January 2014

To ask the Minister for Social Protection if she will investigate a pension anomaly in respect of a person (details supplied).

Reply

Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton T.D):

The State pension is a very valuable benefit and is the bedrock of the Irish pension system. Therefore, it is important to ensure that those qualifying have made a sustained contribution to the Social Insurance Fund over their working lives and the reform measures introduced to date go somewhat toward that goal.

Currently a person’s date of entry into insurance is taken as the date used for averaging purposes. To qualify for a state pension a person must:
· have entered insurance before the age of 66
· have at least 520 paid contributions and
· satisfy a yearly average ( a yearly average of 48 is required for a full rate pension).

An increase for a qualified adult, which is a means tested payment may be made to an individual who does not qualify for a pension in their own right or qualifies for a lower rate of pension due to gaps in insurance or the means tested non-contributory pension may be available to an individual who meets the qualifying criteria.

The yearly average test has been in existence since 1961 when contributory pensions were first introduced. The scheme was designed with a view to ensuring that people could qualify for contributory pensions immediately and to suit a system where social insurance coverage was limited.

Under the pension reform programme, there is a plan to adopt a total contributions approach where the number of contributions paid over a work life will closely reflect the rate of payment received. For example, 30 years contributions (1560) could qualify a person for maximum State pension (contributory). A person wold accumulate 1/30th of a pension for each year of contributions up to a maximum of 30/30ths inclusive of a certain number of credits. The introduction of new rate bands in September 2012 moves somewhat closer to this process. It had been planned to introduce this change in 2020 but in the context of changing demographics and longer working, this date may be brought forward.

In relation to the person concerned, she entered social insurance on 6 November 1967. In this case, when determining entitlement to State pension contributory (SPC) the yearly average is calculated from her date of entry into insurance to the last complete tax year before reaching their 66 birthday. This person has a yearly average of 14 which equates to the current rate payable to her. Under the current legislative provision, there is no other way in which to calculate the rate of pension payment.

Changes to Ireland’s pension system – 19th December 2013

To ask the Minister for Social Protection if it is her understanding that all the recommendations in the recent Government commissioned OECD report on the pension system here will be implemented, and whether or not she believes that the new pension changes regarding single and double insolvency issues need to be amended so that they are similar to those protections for pensioners and workers that currently exist in the UK.

Reply

Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton T.D):

The sustainability of the pension system is a particular concern because of the demographic challenges Ireland faces, the associated increases in pension (and other age related) costs, and the deterioration in the public finances. This means that, in the future, the task of financing increased pension spending will fall to a diminishing share of the working population as demographic projections indicate the ratio of working age to older people will decrease from 5.3 to 1 at present to 2.1 to 1 by 2060. Life expectancy in Ireland is also increasing and whilst this is very welcome development, it also presents very real and obvious public policy challenges.

It was in this context and taking into account the impact of the economic downturn, that in 2012, discussions on long term pension policy identified the need for a focussed examination on the direction of policy to ensure a modern, sustainable, and adequate pension system. The OECD was commissioned by the Minister for Social Protection to review long term pension policy in Ireland. The particular aspects considered by the OECD included;

· the sustainability of the pension system in the light of demographic and investment challenges;
· the adequacy and coverage levels, in order to ensure adequate income in retirement with a particular focus on the lower and middle income group;
· the modernity of pension systems to ensure flexibility in the labour market and supporting mechanisms for longer working;
· equity within the pension system.

During the review process, the OECD engaged extensively with the full range of sectoral interests including the social partners, representatives from the pensions industry and older people and with Government departments. The OECD published its final review in April 2013.
In making its recommendations the OECD noted the that “In considering these alternatives, it should be kept in mind that each of the national schemes and reforms discussed in this review was adopted in a specific national economic, social and political setting. There is no blueprint for reform which Ireland could take off-the-shelf and implement directly. Any solution has to fit the Irish situation.

The findings and recommendations of the OECD report are not prescriptive. The report provides a wide choice of measures for consideration which involve a number of Governments departments. The report is being examined in detail and I will shortly bring a response to Government for decision setting out a road map for long term pensions policy in Ireland.

In relation to the challenges facing underfunded Defined Benefit (DB) schemes, the package of measures I recently announced as part of the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill (No.2) 2013 addresses the situation where an underfunded DB pension scheme winds up in deficit or elects to restructure. It can arise at present that pensioners may receive all or almost all the pension fund and the members who have contributed but not retired receive considerably less than expected. These measures will ensure a more equal distribution of assets in an underfunded scheme when an insolvency/restructuring occurs.

The measures will apply only in a limited set of circumstances, meaning the potential number of schemes affected will be small. In those limited circumstances, the measures will ensure a fairer deal for employee and former employee members by increasing their future pension entitlements, while prioritising an occupational pension of up to €12,000 for existing pensioners in addition to their State pension entitlements.

The typical pensioner in such a scenario would have a State pension (contributory) of €12,000 in addition to their occupational pension, meaning they would therefore receive a retirement income of up to €24,000. Those pensioners receiving occupational benefits in excess of €12,000 will still retain a significant degree of prioritisation for receipt of benefits.

In the case of both a company and the scheme being insolvent, the Government will guarantee that existing pensions will be protected to a level of 50% with pensions of €12,000 or less being 100% protected. I am pleased that agreement has been reached with the Minister for Finance to use funds from the pension levy to meet any obligations on the State that may occur arising from such double insolvencies.

These measures meet Ireland’s obligations under the EU Insolvency Directive to protect workers’ entitlements. They also ensure greater fairness within DB scheme structures.

Reporting social welfare fraud – 4th December 2013

To ask the Minister for Social Protection the number of calls and online reports that were received by her Departments anonymous reporting service in 2012 and 2013; and the number of these reports that resulted in action against an individual.

Reply

Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton T.D):

My Department accepts reports of possible fraud from members of the public in relation to the operation of its schemes and uses both a dedicated phone number and a facility on the Department’s website for this purpose. Members of the public are asked to provide as much detail as possible about the case they are reporting and they can do so anonymously.

Reports can be made as follows:

  • · By email: www.welfare.ie
  • · By phone: (01) 6732123, or (071) 9672648 or Locall: 1890 927999.
  • · By Post: Central Control Division, DSP, Shannon Lodge, Carrick-on-Shannon, Co Leitrim.

 All anonymous or confidential reports are examined and, where relevant, are referred to the relevant sections and/or to the Department’s Inspectors for follow-up action. A payment is not suspended or stopped on the basis of an anonymous report, however, it may “trigger” the instigation of a review of a customer’s entitlement.

The table here outlines the number of anonymous reports dealt with in the Department’s Control Division in the period requested.

Statistics on the outcomes of anonymous reports are unavailable because while these reports are used to “trigger” or instigate investigations, they are not taken into account when the review of the customer’s payment is being decided.

A welfare cap on persons or households – 18th September 2013

To ask the Minister for Social Protection if she considering introducing a welfare cap on persons or households, in a similar manner to that which has recently been introduced by the British Government.

Reply

Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton T.D):

The maximum amount of social welfare paid to any family depends on the composition of that family and the type of welfare support appropriate to that family. In this regard, it is self-evident that a family with more child dependents, for example, or with caring requirements, will receive more than a family with none and so on.

In some cases, families receive larger volumes of supplementary payments and therefore have a higher level of welfare income. This is usually because one or more family members require caring or have a disability, in which case the Department of Social Protection provides extra supports to assist the families in question.

It should be noted that, as regards people of working age receiving welfare payments, the vast majority of those on the Live Register receive only a single personal weekly payment of €188 or less and no additional benefits of any kind. Those individuals therefore have a very strong incentive to work.

In a small percentage of cases where a disincentive to work does exist, I am overseeing extensive reforms to remove such disincentives and assist people back to work and towards financial independence. For example, the Department is working with the Department of the Environment to introduce Housing Assistance Payment (HAP), to replace Rent Supplement. HAP will subsidise rent for people on welfare and in low-income employment so that they will not lose housing assistance when they move from welfare to work.

The introduction of any maximum ceiling on the amount of social welfare to be paid to an individual or family would be a matter for Government to consider in a Budgetary context.

Details on Local Employment Services in 2012 – 18th September 2013

To ask the Minister for Social Protection if she will provide the following information for each Local Employment Service, the number of staff at year end 2012; the number of mediators positions at year end 2012; the total annual budget for 2012; the total annual progressions as per her Departments MIS for year end 2012; and the total number of job placements as per her Departments MIS for year end 2012.

Reply

Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton T.D):

In 2012 the department contracted for the provision of the local employment service (LES) with 23 local development/community companies, the details of which are set out in the tabular statement hereunder.

These organisations deliver employment services through a network of local contact points and/or outreach services.  The LES provide services for both jobseekers who are referred through the department’s activation processes for supports and jobseekers identified as being most distant from the labour market e.g. people who have a disability, ex-offenders, etc.  In 2012 there were 293.3 full time equivalent staff employed by these organisations to deliver the service, of whom 152.6 were full time equivalent mediators. At 31st December 2012, apart from having placed 8,314 people into employment, the LES had also progressed some 17,618 jobseekers into training/educational programmes.

The total budget for the LES in 2012 was €19.1m.  As the Department may shortly be tendering for providers to augment the capacity of LES, I do not intend to publish figures or the payments made to individual LES contractors at this time.

Local Employment Service Providers – 17th July 2013

To ask the Minister for Social Protection her plans to produce a table of local employment service providers based on the number of staff they employ, the grant they receive from the state and the number of individuals they place in work.

Reply

Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton T.D):

The department contracts for the provision of the local employment service (LES) with 22 local development/community companies, the details of which are set out in the tabular statement hereunder.

These organisations deliver employment services through a network of offices and outreach clinics. The LES provide services for both jobseekers who are referred to them by the department for activation supports and those who are most distant from the labour market e.g. people who have a disability, lone parents, ex-offenders, etc. In the first six months of 2013, apart from placing 4,094 people into employment, the LES have also progressed 11,840 people into training/educational programmes.

As the Department may shortly be tendering for providers to augment the capacity of LES, I do not intend to publish figures or the payments made to individual LES contractors at this time.

Local Employment Service (LES) Providers 2013
Northside Partnership
Ballymun/Whitehall Area Partnership
Tolka Area Partnership (Dublin)
Bluebell, Inchicore, Islandbridge, Kilmainham & Rialto Co Ltd
Rathmines Pembroke Community Partnership Ltd
Blanchardstown Area Partnership
Ballyfermot Chapelizod Partnership Co Ltd
South Dublin County Ltd (SDC)
Southside Partnership (Dublin)
Co Kildare Local Employment Service Network
Bray Area Partnership
Monaghan Integrated Development
Louth Leader Partnership
Mayo North East LEADER Partnership Co Teoranta
Galway City Partnership
People Action Against Unemployment Ltd (PAUL) (Limerick)
Cork City Partnership Ltd
South Kerry Development Partnership
North & East Kerry Leader Partnership Teo
Waterford Area Partnership
Waterford Leader Partnership Ltd
Wexford Local Development

The eligibility criteria for the treatment benefit scheme – 12th July 2013

To ask the Minister for Social Protection if she is considering amending the eligibility criteria for the treatment benefit scheme (details supplied)

“I purchased hearing aids in 2004 which are no longer effective and I require a new pair. I contacted the appropriate welfare office in Letterkenny – they stated that I do not qualify for the grant and that being self-employed I only paid for the state pension – this is news to me.
I was self-employed from 1980 when I started my own business. The fact that I was an employee for such a long time (1945/1980) paying into social welfare – does this entitle me to some grant as well as payment when self-employed.
I would be grateful if you could kindly see if I could receive any payments in respect of new hearing aids.”

Reply

Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton T.D):

To qualify for the Treatment Benefit Scheme an individual must satisfy certain PRSI conditions. One such condition requires a claimant to have 39 PRSI contributions paid at the appropriate class (either A, E, H or P) in the relevant tax year or years on which their application is based.

The relevant tax years for this claim are 1985, 1991 and 1992. In each of these years PRSI was paid at either class S or class V, neither of which are reckonable for the purposes of qualifying for Treatment Benefit, as a result a grant towards the purchase of hearing aids is not payable.

PRSI classes S and V are paid at a reduced contribution rate and have reduced entitlements attaching to them.

There are no plans to amend the eligibility criteria for treatment benefit at this time, any proposals in this regard would have to be considered in the context of available resources and competing demands.

 Jobseekers Benefit for those over 65– 26th June 2013

To ask the Minister for Social Protection if she is considering waiving the requirement to be available to work in respect of jobseeker’s benefit for persons who are obliged to retire at the age of 65 but who are not entitled to the State pension until the age of 66; if she is considering increasing this payment; and if she is considering an alternative method of payment (details supplied).

“While I am pleased to hear that the duration Job Seeker’s Benefit has been extended to 12 months it is still an impossible fudge to be required to sign on at all. My employer (the Arts Council) cannot keep me on (as it was instructed by its parent department not to do so) and is insisting that I retire when I am 65 in January 2014. However, I am being told by the Dept. of Social Protection to sign on for Job Seeker’s Benefit and but to do so I must be seeking work. There is a considerable financial difference (€42 per week less) between the Job Seekers Benefit and the Transition pension (€2,184 per year less). In addition, I will have to be available each week to do the signing on and to collect the benefit which I understand is paid in cash. It is not safe to be carrying so much cash.”

Reply:

Minister for Social Protection ( Joan Burton):

The Social Welfare and Pensions Act, 2011 provides that state pension age will be increased gradually to 68 years. This will begin in 2014 with the abolition of the state pension (transition) thereby standardising state pension age for all at 66 years. The state pension age will be further increased to 67 years in 2021 and to 68 years in 2028. These changes apply to all fully insured employees.

The main social welfare payment available to those who leave employment before pension age is jobseeker’s benefit. It is a fundamental condition of this scheme that a recipient must be available for and genuinely seeking full-time work. Persons who qualify for a jobseeker’s benefit who are aged between 65 and 66 years are generally entitled to receive payment up to the date on which they reach pensionable age (66 years).

Jobseeker’s benefit is paid weekly in arrears generally by way of Postal Draft collected in a post office. Any changes to rates of jobseeker’s benefit would be for Government to consider in a budgetary context.

It should be noted that until the 1970s, the standard age for receipt of State pension was 70 years of age. Increasing longevity and significant improvements in health status mean that people can work longer to support themselves in retirement. Raising State pension age and the abolition of the State pension (transition) is a necessary step in ensuring the sustainability of pensions into the future. The recently published OECD report on the Review of the Irish Pension System confirms that reforms are necessary if we are to continue to put pension provision on a sustainable footing given the changes in demographics, the deficit in the Social Insurance Fund, and the difficult fiscal situation.

Exemptions for actors on Job Seekers allowance – 21st June 2013

To ask the Minister for Social Protection if she is considering giving an exemption to professional actors from the Tús initiative.

Reply

Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton):

Tús, the community work placement initiative introduced during 2011, was set up to provide up to 5,000 short-term, quality work opportunities for those who are unemployed for more than a year. Since its inception, some 10,250 people have been provided with work with 5,483 currently working on Tús. Tús was expanded in the last budget to enable an additional 2,500 per annum to participate. A person cannot apply to participate on Tús. All selection is undertaken by random processes conducted at local level by the Department of Social Protection. The selection is focused on those on the Live Register for a year or more and in receipt of a jobseekers’ payment who have more limited job or work placement opportunities.

Participants are encouraged and facilitated to engage in work, while participating on Tús with a range of flexibilities allowed within the contract to work 19½ hours per week. If a participant receives an offer of work for a short period then they are allowed to temporarily leave Tús and return at a later date to complete their full 52 week placement. Participants can terminate their engagement on Tús at any time to take up full-time work as long as they do not seek to return to the live register.

Casual workers, including professional actors, who apply for or receive some level of jobseekers payment are generally not selected for participation on Tús. My understanding of the particular circumstances of the jobseeker that the Deputy has enquired about is that the he has not been designated as a casual worker by the Department given the limited amount of acting he has undertaken in recent years and therefore qualifies for selection for Tús.

The Book Allowance Grant for BTEA Students – 12th June 2013

To ask the Minister for Social Protection if she will outline the criteria used to abolish the book allowance grant for students eligible for the back to education allowance; and if she will outline what alternative grants are available that BTEA students could apply for (details supplied).

“As you know I’m on the BTEA scheme having taken up full time education since being made redundant in 2010. I continue to be very grateful to the Irish Government for allowing me to continue my education so that I can get back into the workplace (hopefully) on completion of my course.

I am disappointed to learn that, despite cuts already to social welfare levels and the reduction of the book allowance last year from €500 to €300, the €300 has now been scrapped altogether.

Can I ask you please when this was decided and on what basis? The book allowance was paid at the beginning of the year to help with the purchase of books etc. This was never sufficient (in my limited experience) to cover the actual costs of books, but helped immensely. Those who received this previously, are on on BTEA (i.e. not in receipt of any other grant). How are we now expected to help fund books etc., from our payment of €188 when this is already at full stretch, just to live. I am horrified at this further cut, that seems to have been stealthily brought in. How is it that cuts continue to be levied against the normal people who are already major victims of austerity and cuts.”

Reply

Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton):

The numbers availing of BTEA and the associated cost of the scheme has risen dramatically in recent years. Numbers for the current 2012/13 academic year at the end of December 2012 was 25,961 which represents a 220% increase on the 2006/07 numbers. The provisional outturn in 2012 is €199.56m. Expenditure on the scheme has followed an increasing trend rising from just over €64m in 2007 to almost €200m in 2012, an increase of 212%.

The BTEA scheme remains an attractive scheme for social welfare recipients who wish to further their education and is comparable with other State funded supports for those pursuing education. A significant majority of those entering the scheme are in receipt of the maximum personal weekly rate of payment of €188 per week and, in addition, increases for qualified adults and children may also be payable. These rates of payments were fully protected in the last two Budgets.

The Deputy should note the Student Grant payable by the Department of Education and Skills represents the primary support for persons pursuing education. Students who qualify for the BTEA, may be considered for support for the student contribution under the student grant scheme provided they satisfy the conditions of the relevant Student Grant scheme and Student Support regulations including those relating to approved course, residence, means, nationality and previous academic attainment. Students should apply to Student Universal Support Ireland to have their eligibility for a grant towards the student contribution assessed.

Other supports available to students include the Student Assistance Fund which will continue to be made available through the access offices of third-level institutions to assist students in exceptional financial need. Information on the fund is available through the Access Officer in the third level institution attended. The Access Officers themselves will also continue to provide support and advice to students to enable them to continue with their studies. Also the Fund for Students with Disabilities provides funding to both further and higher education institutions for the provision of services and supports for full-time students with disabilities.

In addition, tax relief at the standard rate of tax may be claimed in respect of tuition fees paid for approved courses at approved colleges of higher education. Further information on this tax relief is available from the Revenue Commissioners.

Developing a Youth Guarantee – 30th May 2013

To ask the Minister for Social Protection if she is considering coordinating the relevant agencies in developing a youth guarantee tailored to assist at risk young persons to secure a home, education and work experience over a two year period.

Reply

Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton):

I understand that the Deputy is referring to issues raised by Focus Ireland in relation to rates of jobseeker’s allowance for persons under the age of 25.

The €100 rate of jobseeker’s allowance was introduced for claimants aged under 20 in April 2009, and this rate was applied to claimants aged up to 21 from December 2009.  A rate of €144 applies to claimants aged 22-24.

The measures encourage young jobseekers to improve their skills and remain active in the labour market in order to avoid the risk of becoming long-term unemployed and will help them to progress into sustainable employment on a long-term basis.  Where a person is in receipt of a rate of jobseeker’s allowance described above and he or she participates in a course of education, training a higher rate of €160 applies.

I met with Focus Ireland on 15 May, 2013 to discuss a number of issues in relation to homelessness, including the situation of young persons in receipt of reduced rates of jobseeker’s allowance, and officials are in on-going contact with them in relation to their concerns.

While the primary issue in this regard is a housing issue rather than one of income support, the Department of Social Protection has an important role in the delivery of solutions to homelessness. Generally, this role relates to income maintenance where homeless people have entitlements to the full range of social welfare schemes subject to the normal qualifying conditions, but the Department also engages in inter-agency responses to homelessness.  In this context, the Department will continue to engage with Focus Ireland, and other actors, in relation to issues relating to rates of jobseeker’s allowance for persons under the age of 25.

 Closing the Welfare Trap – 22nd May 2013

To ask the Minister for Social Protection the work her Department is doing to close the welfare trap (details supplied).

Reply

Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton):

Analysis of replacement rate values, which compare net in-work and welfare incomes, demonstrates that for the great majority of unemployed people securing employment will result in higher levels of income.

The jobseeker’s benefit and jobseeker’s allowance schemes provide income support for people who have lost work and are unable to find alternative employment. It is a fundamental qualifying condition for these schemes that a person must be available for full-time work. If a person refuses an offer of suitable employment he/she may be subject to a disqualification under the jobseeker’s schemes.

A person is entitled to jobseeker’s benefit or jobseeker’s allowance where they are fully unemployed for at least 4 days in any period of 7 consecutive days.

It is recognised that a changing labour market has resulted in a move away from the more traditional work patterns, with a consequent increase in the number of casual workers. This is an important policy issue for my Department but any changes to the current criteria could have significant cost implications. For that reason my Department will consider this issue very carefully. In tandem the Advisory Group on Tax and Social Welfare, which has already reported to me on a number of important policy areas, is now looking at the whole area of atypical work and I look forward to their recommendations on this issue.

This work is complex and is taking place in the context of other social welfare reforms, the current economic situation, and the considerable administrative change that implementation of reform to the jobseeker’s schemes will require.
I have asked my officials to liaise with the Deputy in relation to these cases so as to get a full understanding of the situation.

Disability Payments Portable across the EU – 22nd May 2013

To ask the Minister for Social Protection if she is considering making the disability payment to Irish citizens portable across the EU when persons leave Ireland to work within the EU (details supplied).

Reply

Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton):

The social security rights of people moving within the EU are coordinated under EU Regulations 883/2004 and 987/2009. While the general conditions for qualifying for benefits and the design and financing of schemes remain a matter for the individual Member States, the EU Regulations determine, amongst other things, where a person is to be insured and what benefits must be exported outside the State.

Generally speaking, the competent State for payment of social insurance is the country of last employment and that country is usually responsible for the payment of benefits. With regard to the export of benefits, the position is that most contributory payments can be paid to someone resident in another country provided that Ireland remains the competent State under the EU Regulations. If a person becomes employed in another Member State then competency will usually change.

However, the Regulations also provide for a particular class of benefit known as a special non-contributory benefit. These benefits are generally social assistance type non-contributory payments which are financed from general taxation. Such benefits are provided in the Member State in which the person resides and in accordance with its legislation. Accordingly, such benefits are not exportable.

In Ireland the benefits classed as special non-contributory benefits include blind pension, jobseekers’ allowance, State pension non-contributory, widow’s, widower’s (non contributory) pension, disability allowance and mobility allowance. There are no plans to request a re-classification of any Irish benefit to make it exportable to another EU or EEA State.

Private Sector Firms and The Pathways to Work Scheme – 21st May 2013

To ask the Minister for Social Protection in view of the fac that the IMF ninth report on Ireland observed that unemployment and underemployment stands at 23% and the review called for plans to increase resources through redeployment or by engaging private sector firms should be pursued without delay, the steps being taken to develop Pathways to Work options to include private sector firms to assist, support and complement the current employment and advisory services; when he will publish the CESI report on activation services which was commissioned in November 2012; and when tenders will be issued for activation and support services under Pathways to Work.

Reply

Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton):

As I stated, the Pathways to Work policy provides for more regular and on-going engagement with jobseekers to enable them to return to employment through the provision of the most appropriate support interventions. In order to increase activation capacity the Department is considering the contracting of employment services to complement the existing capacity of the department. In that regard, the Department engaged the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion (CESI) in November 2012 to provide expert advice and assistance with the design and delivery of a contracted employment service model. The consultants recently produced a report and this is currently being evaluated. I expect the evaluation to be completed in the near future. The question of tendering for the provision of additional activation services will be then considered by Government.

As part of its current employment service provision, the Department already contracts with external providers for the delivery of both the Local Employment Service (LES) and Job Clubs. Employment services, including career planning, engagement with employers and job search assistance, are provided under contract by these organisations to clients who are activated by the Department. The Department funds this contracted provision to the value of approximately €25m per annum and these organisations employ approximately 390 staff, who are engaged in the provision of these services.

In addition, the Department intends to significantly increase its own complement of activation case workers by redeploying staff from other activities. The number of such case workers should rise from c.300 to c.600 by the end of the year.

Extending the Mortgage arrears information and advice service to include Financial Brokers – 16th May 2013

To ask the Minister for Social Protection if she is considering extending the mortgage arrears information and advice service to include financial brokers

Reply

Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton):

The Mortgage Arrears Information and Advice Service was established to provide a comprehensive and coordinated approach to assist people in mortgage distress.

The approach differentiates between mortgage information and mortgage advice. The first two elements involve the enhancement of the website www.keepingyourhome.ie and the establishment of a Mortgage Arrears Information Helpline within the Citizens Information Board both of which focus on the provision of comprehensive mortgage arrears information in particular to people in arrears or pre-arrears.

The third element of the service is the provision of independent financial advice to mortgage holders who are being presented with long term mortgage resolution proposals by their lenders. This advice is provided by a panel of accountants drawn from members of the main accountancy institutes in Ireland who have agreed to participate and support this independent service. This panel is available on a county by county basis on the website www.keepingyourhome.ie.

When a lender is proposing longer-term mortgage resolutions, the lender advises the borrower to obtain independent financial advice on the proposed arrangement and that, if the borrower wishes to avail of this option, that the lender will pay €250 to an accountant of the borrower’s choosing for the provision of this advice.

The advisory framework has commenced with practicing accountants because they already operate within a regulatory regime which includes qualitative oversight by their regulating bodies and in these circumstances it was possible to establish the advisory framework for people with mortgage distress within a relatively short timeframe.

There is nothing to inhibit other financial intermediaries from continuing to give advice on mortgages as required by borrowers. The advisory framework is being monitored on an on-going basis and a full review of the service will be undertaken in June 2013. The review will be undertaken to ensure that it is meeting its objectives and will encompass all aspects of the service including if participation is extended to other interested parties, the criteria that would be required in terms of relevant qualifications, experience, independence, professional indemnity insurance, etc. All interested organisations will have an opportunity to input to the review of the service.

Job Activation Measures – 8th May 2013

To ask the Minister for Social Protection the steps being taken to develop the pathways to work option to include private sector firms to assist, support and complement the current employment and advisory services.

To ask the Minister for Social Protection when she will publish the CESI report on activation services which was commissioned in November 2012.

To ask the Minister for Social Protection when tenders will be issued for activation and support services under pathways to work.

Reply

Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton):

I propose to take question numbers 110, 111, and 112 together.

The Pathways to Work policy provides for more regular and on-going engagement with jobseekers to enable them to return to employment through the provision of the most appropriate support interventions. In order to increase activation capacity the Department is considering the contracting of employment services to complement the existing capacity of the department. In that regard, the Department engaged the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion (CESI) in November 2012 to provide expert advice and assistance with the design and delivery of a contracted employment service model. The consultants recently produced a report and this is currently being evaluated. I expect the evaluation to be completed in the near future.The question of tendering for the provision of additional activation services will be then considered by Government and will be subject to the normal procurement requirements.

As part of its current employment service provision, the Department already contracts with external providers for the delivery of both the Local Employment Service (LES) and Job Clubs. Employment services, including career planning, engagement with employers and job search assistance, are provided under contract by these organisations to clients who are activated by the Department.The Department funds this contracted provision to  the value of approximately €25m per annum and these organisations employ approximately 390 staff, who are engaged in the provision of these services.

Re-employment and Re-entry courses – 12th March 2013

To ask the Minister for Social Protection the rationale for excluding certain unemployed persons from State supported re-employment and re-entry courses because they have not been unemployed long enough; and if any efforts are underway to reduce the relevant period.

Reply

Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton):

Given the scale of the unemployment crisis, the key objective of activation policy and labour market initiatives is to offer assistance to those most in need of support in securing work and achieving financial self-sufficiency. This policy objective prioritises scarce resources to those in receipt of qualifying welfare payments. Accordingly the employment services and schemes provided by the Department are focused in the first instance on this cohort of unemployed people. In this context, the major elements of the Government’s response are set out in the Pathways to Work policy which is aimed at ensuring that as many as possible of the job vacancies that are created are filled by people from the Live Register, with a particular focus on those who are long term unemployed or at risk of long-term unemployment. Many of those who became unemployed at the height of the jobs crisis in 2009 have found it particularly difficult to find employment. They are now a target priority group for activation measures.

The Government must also take account of the fact that many people who sign on to the Live Register will exit it again within a short-time frame, without any recourse to employment schemes or intensive activation measures. For example, in 2012, of those who signed on to the Live Register, 43% had left the Register within 3 months of first signing on. Given these high exit rates, it is appropriate to apply a qualifying duration on the Live Register as a criterion to allocate scarce resources, including places on employment and training/educational schemes, to those most in need of support. Of course, some services (for example assistance with job-search activities, use of online job search tools, participation in part-time/evening and on-line training courses) are available to all unemployed persons, regardless of their duration of unemployment, if they register with the Department’s employment services offices.

The Exceptional Heating Payment -12th March 2013

To ask the Minister for Social Protection the criteria that must be met to be eligible for the exceptional heating payment.

Reply

Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton):

Under the supplementary welfare allowance (SWA) scheme, a supplement may be paid in respect of exceptional heating needs where the claimant satisfies the general conditions of entitlement to SWA. In order to qualify for a heating supplement, the applicant must live alone or with a qualified adult or child/children and must have exceptional heating needs due to ill-health or infirmity.

In addition, an exceptional needs payment (ENP) may be made to help meet essential, once-off, exceptional and unforeseen expenditure such as heating costs which a person could not reasonably be expected to meet out of their weekly income.

There is no automatic entitlement to these types of payments. Heating supplements and ENPs are payable 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 payment targets those most in need of assistance.

Persons who consider that they may have an entitlement to a heating supplement or ENP under the SWA scheme should contact the local officials administering the scheme.

Pension entitlements for AIB employees in event of dissolution of pension fund – 14th February 2013

To ask the Minister for Social Protection her views on correspondence (details supplied) regarding current legislation and the way it could impact on the pension entitlements of current employees in Allied Irish Bank should the pension fund be dissolved.

Reply

Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton):

I am not in a position to comment on any individual pension scheme; however, I am aware of the significant challenges facing pension schemes at this time.

In the event of a scheme windup, the assets of a scheme are distributed in accordance with section 48 of the Pensions Act 1990. The statutory order of priority is of no consequence where a scheme winds up with sufficient assets to meet all of its liabilities. In a wind–up situation where there are insufficient funds to meet all liabilities, all pensioner benefits except post-retirement increases, are given the highest priority after wind-up expenses and additional voluntary contributions made by individuals. The remaining assets are then distributed amongst current and former (not-yet retired) scheme members. The level of scheme funding will determine the extent to which the liabilities of the scheme can be met

I have indicated my intention to change the way in which the assets of a scheme are distributed on the windup of a scheme. A consultation process on this issue was completed in the last quarter of 2012. The consultation process involved engagement with representatives of older people, the pensions industry, employers and trade unions. In addition, my Department engaged external expertise to assess the impact of possible changes on how assets of a scheme are distributed on the windup of a scheme.

The proposals emanating from this process are being considered at present and I will be bringing proposals for change to Government for decision.

4% PRSI charge on gross rents – 12th February 2013

To ask the Minister for Social Protection if she will confirm that gross rents are to be subjected to a 4% PRSI charge.

Reply

Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton):

In general unearned income including rental income is subject to PRSI along with tax and USC. The rules which apply to the value of rental income for taxation purposes also apply to PRSI, with the exception of “capital allowances” which are not granted.

Employment practices in the civil service – 6th February 2013

To ask the Minister for Social Protection if there are any retired public sector workers from her Department, or any other part of the public sector, currently on her Department’s payroll, for example, for sitting on a committee or preparing a report, but not exclusively these two areas; the number on the payroll; the cost to her Department; the services being delivered for this money; and the way that the positions were originally advertised.

Reply

Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton):

One member of staff in my Department, the Chief Medical Advisor, has been rehired on a temporary contract on a payscale of €93,197 to €113,503. Payment of his pension is abated for the period of this temporary contract.

The decision to re-employ the Chief Medical Advisor was taken due to his specific skills and his involvement in the policy reform of the illness related schemes, the difficulty and long lead-in time for replacing his skills, and the critical importance of ensuring continuity and a high level of service to customers of the Department.

As an exception to the current moratorium on recruitment, my department has limited sanction to recruit temporary clerical officers to cover critical staff absences and to assist with the roll-out of the new Public Service Card. Three of these temporary staff are retired civil servants. They are on a payscale of €22,016 to €35,515 and were recruited on foot of open competitions run by the Public Appointments Service. Abatement of pension applies, if applicable, for the duration of these temporary contracts.

Pension Schemes – 18th December 2012,

To ask the Minister for Social Protection if she will provide an explanation as to the necessity to require registered pension schemes to generate a funding standard reserve of 15% of scheme assets at a time when such schemes have difficulty, due both to the reduction in assets caused by the requirement to pay a levy of 0.6% of such assets for four years and the requirement to calculate scheme liabilities in the most conservative manner in relation to sovereign bonds, in achieving a minimum funding standard of 100%.

Details: The “Funding Standard Reserve”, if achieved, is of no benefit either to Schemes or the Regulator, is unprecedented in any of the 34 Members of the OECD, and undermines the responsibilities of Scheme Actuaries and Trustees, all of whom have fiduciary responsibility in managing Schemes in accordance with the Minimum Funding Standard.”

Reply

Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton):

The Government is very aware of the serious funding challenge facing pension schemes. There are significant structural and affordability problems with defined benefit (DB) pension schemes due to a range of factors such as an under-estimation of longevity, poor investment decisions and the impact of the downturn in financial markets. The investment losses in Ireland were the highest in the OECD because of the high proportion of equities in pension fund portfolios, with some two-thirds of assets in equities compared with an average of just over one third in the 20 OECD countries where data are available.

A review of the DB model which included consultation with stakeholders was completed in 2011. The consultation resulted in a broad consensus that DB schemes as currently organised are vulnerable to shocks and the introduction of a risk reserve would provide a level of protection for scheme members against future volatility in financial markets. I accept that the requirement for a risk reserve presents an added challenge for schemes, however, guidance issued by the Pensions Board identifies options which schemes can consider in meeting this requirement by 2023.
The level of the risk reserve required will reflect the level of risk undertaken by the scheme’s investment strategy and it is estimated that this reserve will add approximately 8% to the scheme liabilities. A risk reserve of 15% would indicate that the scheme is over reliant on equity investment. It should also be noted that the requirement to hold a risk reserve is not being introduced immediately. Schemes are aware that the requirement to hold a reserve is a being introduced in 2016 and schemes will have until 2023 to satisfy this requirement.

The pension promise associated with DB schemes is generally regarded as unconditional. If the scheme winds-up, the only practical way the promise can be fulfilled is to buy an annuity policy from an assurance company that guarantees a continued pension for the lifetime of the pensioner and their dependants. If the funding standard is changed in such a way that understates the cost of the benefits then the member will be misled about the ability of the scheme to meet its obligations.

I understand that a small number of European countries have eased their pension solvency requirements in response to the downturn in financial markets. I am satisfied that in all cases, the solvency regime after those changes continues to be more onerous that the current Irish regime.

Overall the changes made to DB schemes are intended to reduce schemes’ exposure to risks and provide greater security for scheme members.

Issues in relation to the pensions levy is a matter for the Minister for Finance who announced the pension fund levy as part of the Jobs Initiative. The levy will apply for a period of 4 years from 2011 to 2014.

Changes to the retirement age – 18th December 2012,

To ask the Minister for Social Protection further to Parliamentary Question No. 116 of 30 June 2011, if, in respect of Government plans to increase the retirement age to 66 in 2014, there is a provision for those who are presently contractually obliged to retire at age 65 and will retire in 2014 and will therefore not be entitled to receive their contributory pensions until one year after they finish work , in particular in view of the fact that jobseeker’s allowance will now only support them for nine months of that year.

Reply

The Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton ):

Raising State pension age and the abolition of the State pension (transition) is a necessary step in ensuring the sustainability of pensions into the future. The population share of those aged 65 and over is expected to more than double between now and 2051, from 11% to approximately 23% in 2050. In contrast, the working age to pensioner ratio is projected to decline gradually from 5.3 /1 to 2.1/1.

This has obvious and significant implications in relation to the future costs of State pension provision. The fundamental principle involved here is that people need to participate in the workforce for longer and they need to contribute more towards their pensions if they are to achieve the income they expect or would like to have in retirement.

The Social Welfare and Pensions Act, 2011 provides that State pension age will be increased gradually to 68 years. This will begin in 2014 with the abolition of the State pension (transition) thereby standardizing State pension age for all at 66 years. The State pension age will be further increased to 67 years in 2021 and to 68 years in 2028. Even with these changes to State pensions expenditure is projected to increase from approximately 5.8% of GDP in 2010, to almost 8.3%% in 2060.

The standardisation of State pension age at 66 removes the retirement condition associated with State pension (transition) which acts as an incentive to leave the workforce and has been widely criticised as a barrier to older people remaining in employment. There is no retirement condition attached to the State pension (contributory) which is currently payable from age 66.

From 2014, any individual aged 65 and unable to remain in, or find, employment would be entitled to apply for a social welfare payment based on the normal criteria. At present, my Department is working with the relevant agencies of State who have a role to play in identifying and breaking down barriers to remaining in work past the age of 65. The continued participation of older people in the labour market must be encouraged and facilitated to meet the challenge of an ageing society. Collectively, we need to change our mind-set to working longer. In the workplace, employers should try to retain older employees and create working conditions which make working longer both attractive and possible for the older worker.

Are the requirements to qualify for JobsBridge too restrictive?  – 4th December 2012,

To ask the Minister for Social Protection her views on whether the requirement for a person to have signed on the dole for three months before they can apply for a JobBridge scheme is a barrier to those who cannot fulfil this requirement but are none the less good candidates for such a job bridge position.

Reply

The Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton):

The JobBridge Scheme has made significant progress since it came into operation on the 1st July 2011. Over 12,300 internships have commenced to date with over 5,400 participants currently on an internship as at 22nd November 2012 and over 2,000 internship opportunities advertised on www.jobbridge.ie .

An independent evaluation of the Scheme conducted by Indecon Economic Consultants found that 52% of individuals who have completed their internships are now in paid employment. This represents very significant progress in a short period of time.

Given the scale of the unemployment crisis, the key objective of labour market policy and of the NEAP (National Employment Action Plan) will be to keep those on the Live Register close to the labour market and prevent the drift into long-term unemployment. This will ensure that Live Register members availing of activation measures such as the National Internship Scheme will, get an opportunity to engage in the workplace, get work experience and so be in a position to avail of employment opportunities as the economy improves. As such, the policy objective is to prioritise scarce resources on those on the Live Register so as to increase their chances of leaving it thereby ensuring a reduction in Exchequer costs over time

I wish to advise the Deputy that circa 42% of those joining the live register exit within the first three months. Therefore, a reduction in the JobBridge eligibility period could be seen as potentially interfering with normal labour market conditions. Furthermore, it may be seen as discouraging newly unemployed individuals from seeking jobs in the normal manner. The recent interim evaluation report conducted by Indecon confirms that 66.9% of JobBridge participants were unemployed for over six months while 38.1% of this sub-group had been unemployed for over a year prior to commencing their JobBridge internship. Given that the long-term unemployed have particular difficulties in securing employment; this is an important aspect of the JobBridge scheme.

I would further advise the Deputy that the interview and selection process is entirely a matter between a Host Organisation and its potential interns. Thus, the facility exists whereby a Host Organisation could propose a start date to coincide with their selected candidates’ fulfilment of this eligibility criterion.

It is anticipated that a final report will be published by Indecon in late December. Part of its remit includes recommendations on how the Scheme might be improved or expanded. It is at this stage that further consideration will be given to amending the terms and conditions of the Scheme.

An opt in for child benefit? – 20th November 2012

To ask the Minister for Social Protection if she has considered moving child benefit from a universal payment to a form of opt-in scheme.

Reply

The Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton):

Child benefit is a monthly payment made to families with children in respect of all qualified children up to the age of 16 years. The payment continues to be paid in respect of children up to their 18th birthday who are in full-time education, or who have a physical or mental disability. The estimated expenditure on child benefit for 2012 is around €2 billion and it is paid to around 600,000 families in respect of some 1.15 million children.

Parents of multiple birth children receive an additional monthly premia paid at one and a half times the monthly child benefit payment rate for each twin and double the monthly payment rate for each child in other multiple births. While Budget 2012 maintained this additional monthly payment, the multiple births grant of €635 paid at birth, at 4 years of age and at 12 years of age was discontinued.

As a universal payment child benefit assists parents with the cost of raising children and it contributes towards alleviating child poverty. The Government is also conscious that child benefit is an important source of income for all families, especially during a time of recession and high unemployment. Bearing this in mind, any plans to change the amount paid in respect of such payments will be a matter to be decided in a budgetary context and announced on Budget day. I do not therefore propose to speculate on any possible approaches to child benefit payment rates changes.

With regard to the application process for child benefit, when a parent registers the birth of their child the Department of Social Protection will initiate a child benefit claim. In cases where the parent is not claiming child benefit for another child, such as their first child, a partially completed form is sent to the parent to sign in order to claim the payment. In cases where the parent is claiming child benefit for another child, the new child is added to the child benefit claim and payment begins automatically from the month after the birth. A letter confirming payment is then sent to the parent by the Department. If a parent does not wish to claim their child benefit payment, they can notify the Department in writing to that effect and their claim will be stopped in accordance with their wishes.

I am conscious that achieving a better design of the overall system of child income supports, including child benefit, raises complex issues about the effectiveness of the full range of income supports currently provided to families and their children. In this context and in line with a commitment in the Programme for Government, I established an Advisory Group on Tax and Social Welfare last year, which has been tasked with recommending cost-effective solutions as to how employment incentives can be improved and better poverty outcomes achieved, particularly child poverty outcomes. The Advisory Group prioritised the area of family and child income supports and has completed its work on this area. Their report is currently receiving my consideration and will assist the Government in setting out a pathway towards a more appropriate system of child income supports.

Public Sector Rostering – 6th November 2012,

To ask the Minister for Social Protection the sectors of the public sector that are currently employed on a roster basis and if there are any plans to remove employees from the rostering system.

Reply

The Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton):

The only areas of my Department where staff attend on a roster basis are the Operations and Control sections of the Department’s IT Division. The roster arrangements are necessary to facilitate overnight processing of claims, generation of payments to the Department’s customers and on-going maintenance of the Department’s various IT systems.

There are no plans to change the existing arrangements in respect of the areas in question.

Child benefit for twins and triplets – 24th October 2012,

To ask the Minister for Social Protection her plans to review the amount of child benefit paid to parents of twins, triplets and so on.

Reply

The Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton):

Child benefit is a monthly payment made to families with children in respect of all qualified children up to the age of 16 years.  The payment continues to be paid in respect of children up to their 18th birthday who are in full-time education, or who have a physical or mental disability.  The estimated expenditure on child benefit for 2012 is around €2 billion and it is paid to around 600,000 families in respect of some 1.15 million children. Parents of multiple birth children receive an additional monthly premia paid at one and a half times the monthly child benefit payment rate for each twin and double the monthly payment rate for each child in other multiple births. While Budget 2012 maintained this additional monthly payment, the multiple births grant of €635 paid at birth, at 4 years of age and at 12 years of age was discontinued.

As a universal payment child benefit assists parents with the cost of raising children and it contributes towards alleviating child poverty. The Government is also conscious that child benefit is an important source of income for all families, especially during a time of recession and high unemployment. Bearing this in mind, any plans to change the Child Benefit scheme would be considered in the context of the annual budget.

I am conscious that achieving a better design of the overall system of child income supports, including child benefit, raises complex issues about the effectiveness of the full range of income supports currently provided to families and their children. In this context and in line with a commitment in the Programme for Government, I established an Advisory Group on Tax and Social Welfare last year, which has been tasked with recommending cost-effective solutions as to how employment disincentives can be improved and better poverty outcomes achieved, particularly child poverty outcomes. The Advisory Group prioritised the area of family and child income supports and has completed its work on this area. Their report is currently receiving my consideration and will assist the Government in setting out a pathway towards a more appropriate system of child income supports.

Participation in the advisory service for mortgage holders – 4th October 2012,

To ask the Minister for Social Protection if she will consider allowing other professions such as financial brokers to participate in the new advisory service for mortgage holders in advance on the June 2013 review.

Reply

The Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton):

I recently announced a three-phased approach to establishing a comprehensive Mortgage Arrears Information and Advice Service to provide the necessary supports to assist people in mortgage distress. The approach differentiates between mortgage information and mortgage advice. The first two involve the enhancement of the website www.keepingyourhome.ie and the establishment of a Mortgage Arrears Information Helpline within the Citizens Information Board both of which focus on the provision of comprehensive mortgage arrears information in particular to people in arrears or pre-arrears.

The third element of the service is the provision of independent financial advice to mortgage holders who are being presented with long term mortgage resolution proposals by their lenders. This advice will be provided by a panel of accountants drawn from members of the main recognised accountancy institutes in Ireland who have agreed to participate and support this independent service.

When a lender is proposing longer-term mortgage resolutions, the lender will advise the borrower to obtain independent financial advice on the proposed arrangement and that, if the borrower wishes to avail of this option, that the lender will pay €250 to an accountant of the borrower’s choosing for the provision of this advice.

An operating protocol for the provision of this advice has been agreed between the main recognised accountancy bodies and the lenders. The general scope of the advice will be limited to the borrower’s principal private residence.

The advisory framework has commenced with practicing accountants because they already operate within a regulatory regime which includes qualitative oversight by their regulating bodies and in these circumstances it was possible to establish the advisory framework for people with mortgage distress within a relatively short timeframe.

There is nothing to inhibit other financial intermediaries from continuing to give advice on mortgages as requested by borrowers. The advisory framework will be monitored on an on-going basis. It is intended to review the operation of the framework in June 2013 at which point other interested parties who meet the criteria in terms of qualifications, experience, independence, professional indemnity insurance, etc., may be considered for inclusion.

The accountancy bodies have notified their members about the new service and a panel is available on a county by county basis on the website www.keepingyourhome.ie.

Problems with youth homelessness and emergency accommodation – 18th September 2012,

To ask the Minister for Social Protection if she is aware of the situation regarding young people facing homelessness and problems with emergency accommodation (details supplied).

(Details: young people who become homeless after the age of 18 are often trapped in emergency homeless accommodation. The purpose of such accommodation is to ready young people to move on with their lives; however, if the people in question are under-25 years of age, they are not entitled to a full adult payment and cannot therefore find private accommodation. Even with the help of tenant support services and rent supplement, after they meet their rent contribution they are left with very little money to live on each week.)

Reply

The Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton):

The €100 rate of jobseeker’s allowance was introduced for claimants aged under 20 in April 2009, and this rate was applied to claimants aged up to 21 from December 2009. The €100 rate does not apply to certain categories of claimant including:

· claimants with a qualified child;

·those transferring to Jobseeker’s Allowance immediately after exhausting their entitlement to Jobseeker’s Benefit;

· those making a claim for Jobseeker’s Allowance where that claim is linked to a Jobseeker’s Allowance claim made within the previous 12 months to which the maximum personal rate applied;

· those transferring directly to Jobseeker’s Allowance from Disability Allowance;

· certain people who were in the care of the HSE during the period of 12 months before he or she reached the age of 18.

A rate of €144 applies to claimants aged 22-24.  The adoption of these measures reflected the need to encourage more young jobseekers to improve their skills by either pursuing further study or accessing a labour market programme.

Receiving the full adult rate of a jobseeker’s payment without a strong financial incentive to engage in education or training can lead to welfare dependency.   While many young people with low levels of education and training were able to get work in construction and other areas when the economy was doing well, they are likely to find it much harder to get work over the course of the next few years.  The measures encourage young jobseekers to improve their skills and remain active in the labour market in order to avoid the risk of becoming long-term unemployed and will help them to progress into sustainable employment on a long-term basis.

Where a person is in receipt of a rate of jobseeker’s allowance described above and he or she participates in a course of education, training, community employment, rural social scheme or Tús, the full normal rate of payment applicable to that course or scheme applies without any reduction for persons aged under 25.

I understand that Deputies have been contacted with regard to these measures following a campaign by Focus Ireland.  My officials have engaged in constructive dialogue with Focus Ireland with regard to their concerns. Currently, Focus Ireland is working to supply my Department with details from their network organisations of relevant individual cases.

On receipt of this information, my Department will engage in further discussions with Focus Ireland. These discussions will seek to achieve a satisfactory resolution of any issues arising in respect of these persons, while also preserving the integrity of the social welfare system and avoiding any potential drift towards welfare dependency.

Statutory sick pay – 10th July 2012,

To ask the Minister for Social Protection if, in view of her proposal to introduce statutory sick pay on employers, if she has carried out a full cost-impact analysis on small businesses if this proposal were to be introduced; and if so what are the results of this.

Reply

The Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton):

The question of introducing a scheme of statutory sick pay, whereby employers would directly meet the costs of sick absence for an initial period of illness is being considered in the context of the need to reform the social welfare system to bring it into line with practices in other countries in this area; the need to address the deficit in the social insurance fund; the need to limit progression from short-term illness to long-term illness or disability; and in the wider context of enhancing the health of the workforce and addressing levels of absenteeism.

In considering the wide range of issues to be addressed before such a scheme could be introduced, a preliminary analysis based on estimates of absenteeism in the private sector has been carried out and this indicates that if a sick pay scheme with a duration of four weeks were to be introduced, it would add about €1 per week per employee to the costs of employment.

The report of the consultative seminar on the feasibility and implications of introducing a scheme of statutory sick pay held in February is now available on the Department’s website.

The range of complex issues associated with the introduction of such a scheme continue to be considered and will be discussed in the course of the wider process associated with the preparation of Budget 2013. Any decisions which might be taken by Government on the possible introduction of a statutory sick pay scheme will be considered in that context.

The number of staff in the departments redeployment pool – 26th June 2012,

To ask the Minister for Social Protection the number of persons in her Department’s redeployment pool, including agencies responsible to it, that is, those persons who are to be redeployed as their current role is no longer necessary, but have not been.

Reply

The Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton):

My Department has not provided staff to the redeployment panel managed by the Public Appointments Service to date.  As this Department is currently under its Employment Control Framework (ECF) figure, as determined by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform,  it is, in fact, sourcing staff from the Redeployment Panel to fill critical vacancies.

Staffing arrangments in the public sector – 12th June 2012,

To ask the Minister for Social Protection the percentage of staff working in the public sector, including in the civil services, that he deems to fall into the category of frontline staff, administrative, management, elected representative and any other relevant categories; and the way the pay budget is allocated across these categories in percentage and real terms in terms of as a proportion of the Department expenditure on salaries.

Reply

The Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton):

My Department is currently in the process of a major transformation programme. In addition to the demand on the Departments services significantly increasing in recent years, the organisation and structure is changing in a very fundamental way with the integration of staff and services from the Community Welfare Service and FAS.

Currently, the staff serving in the Department is 6436 posts (6826 people).  With regard to the various categories mentioned, this information is not readily available in the format requested.  However, it should be noted that the vast majority of the staff of the Department are involved in delivering frontline services through processing applications, either in a public office or in a back office operation, or providing employment and other services directly to customers.

The table overleaf outlines the grade breakdown within the Department.  The pay budget for the Department is managed as one overall budget for the Department, with a separate budget for the Social Welfare Appeals Office.

Table – Grade Breakdown:

Grade

People

Posts

Secretary

1.00

1.00

Deputy Secretary

1.00

1.00

Assistant Secretary

9.00

9.00

Chief Appeals Officer

1.00

1.00

Pensions Ombudsman

1.00

1.00

Principal Officer

57.00

56.40

Medical Assessor

22.00

22.00

Assistant Principal

297.00

292.03

Higher Executive Officer

1731.00

1668.47

Administrative Officer

13.00

12.40

Executive Officer

946.00

905.20

Staff Officer

681.00

637.98

Clerical Officer

2921.00

2688.00

Services Grades

145.00

139.46

Grand Total

6826.00

6434.94

The current PRSI system for owners – 12th June 2012,

To ask the Minister for Social Protection the changes she is considering, if any, to the current PRSI system for owner/directors.

Reply

The Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton):

The Department is currently examining its procedures for determining the insurability status of working directors having regard to court judgements on the matter and good practice.

It would be premature to comment at this stage on the outcome of these deliberations.

Revenue generated from PRSI – 15th May 2012,

To ask the Minister for Social Protection the amount of money generated in revenue from Pay Related Social Insurance.

Reply

The Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton):

I understand that the Deputy is specifically referring to PRSI revenue in 2011. The total received in PRSI in 2011 was €7,540 million. This total, which is net of the National Training Fund Levy, is provisional pending the completion of the statutory audit by the Comptroller & Auditor General.

Rent supplement review – 17th January 2012,

To ask the Minister for Social Protection her plans to carry out a general review of rent supplement payments in March 2012 with a view to a possible increase of the individual contribution from residents in receipt of this supplement.

Reply

The Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton):

My Department has no plans to carry out a general review of rent supplement payments in March 2012.

Budget 2012 introduced changes to the rent supplement scheme. With effect from 1 January 2012 the minimum contribution payable by all tenants under the rent supplement scheme increased from €24 per week to €30 per week. In addition a higher rate minimum contribution of €35 per week was introduced for couples. This reflects the fact that couples have a higher income than one adult households.

New maximum rent limits also came into force on 1 January 2012. These new limits are in line with the most up to date market data available. The emphasis of the rent limit review was to ensure that value for money is achieved whilst at the same time ensuring that people on rent supplement are not priced out of the market for private rented accommodation.

The pathways to work scheme – 17th January 2012,

To ask the Minister for Social Protection the date on which the new pathways to work scheme will be operational.

Reply

The Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton):

Pathways to Work is a consolidated approach to the delivery of employment, welfare, and training/education services to unemployed people. Final arrangements are being made for its launch and I expect that it will be launched, as Government policy, shortly.

Career advice services available for graduates – 17th January 2012,

To ask the Minister for Social Protection the career advice services available for university graduates in view of recent announcements on improvements to training, upskilling and employment services.

Reply

The Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton):

The Employment Service section of the Department of Social Protection (DSP) provides a range of services and supports to all Jobseekers.  Clients can register at an Employment Service office, for on-site career guidance and job placement services.

The following is a brief outline of the range of services/supports available:

· Guidance interview(s) with an Employment Services Officer to discuss employment opportunities, training courses, financial supports and other options which may lead to employment (an overview of the process is detailed at the at end of document).
· Help with identifying transferable skills which may be used in various occupational settings.
· A Jobseeker Pack which provides information on using the job search facility on the Jobs Ireland web site, information on how to: fill out an application form, prepare a CV and covering letter, prepare for a job interviews and a list of useful website addresses.
· Online CV – Jobseekers can also input their CVs directly on the Jobs Ireland database.  Employers can access these CVs through this database and contact the Jobseeker directly to arrange a meeting.
· Employment Services has a number of Social inclusion programmes targeted for specific client groups who are facing difficulties in obtaining / maintaining employment, such as the wage subsidy scheme (WSS)
· The National (Free-phone) Call Centre (1800 611116) is available for clients registered with the Employment Service, which provides readily accessible details on job vacancies.
·  Job Clubs are funded in locations around the country which provide supports to clients, with a view to assisting them to enter or return to employment in the shortest possible time.
· The Employment Service web page links to the European Employment Services Network (EURES) job mobility network / database which provides access to job vacancies in 31 countries, as well as practical information such as necessary documentation for those seeking employment within Europe.
· Regional job fairs and open days.

A key task of the Employment Service is to provide access to up-to-date and relevant information to jobseekers and employers in a customer friendly and professional manner.  This includes the provision of, or access to, accurate information and advice on:-

· Employment/job opportunities
· International Employment Services (Eures)
· Training and education services
· Other labour market services
· Other appropriate services for Jobseekers, such as the Local Employment Service (LES)
· Local networks of information within community organisations and State organisations and the development and maintenance of such networks etc.
· Employment legislation
· Work permit guidelines

Employment Services offices are equipped to cater for these information needs and operate as a resource centre providing access to all labour market opportunities.  This Service includes the following publicly accessible resources:-
· Touch screen kiosk facilities.
· Self help guidance facilities including Career Directions (Database of Careers Information and Interest Inventory tool) and Qualifax.
· Promotional literature on services
· Free-phone telephone service for FÁS registered clients on 1800 611 116 (Jobs Ireland)
· Promotional literature on other relevant labour market services.
All of the above are carried out in an environment which features ease-of-access, customer friendliness and access to job displays, customer service desk, newspapers, free telephone, internet access, photocopying, PC use, printers and fax machines as appropriate.

(Note: In addition to the above the provision of the Local Employment Service Network (LESN), which operates in 24 designated areas of disadvantage, is supported by the Department under a contract arrangement with Local Development Companies. The LES provide a vocational / career guidance service to a number of client groups including those referred through the NEAP process by the Department)
Overview of the Registration and Guidance Interview Process.

The model below provides a guide for the Employment Services Officer to structure the registration interview and manage the guidance process. Individual jobseekers’ needs and circumstances, along with the time available for the guidance interview, dictate the pace of each interview.  Depending on the needs of the jobseeker the amount of time spent on the different stages of the process will vary.

Introduction and Setting the Scene
It is important at the outset to introduce the jobseeker to the service and clarify the purpose of the registration and guidance interview. This includes establishing the role and commitment of both the Employment Services Officer and the jobseeker, and the time available to devote to the interview.

Building a Verbal Contract
The advantage of having a verbal contract in place is that both the jobseeker and the Employment Services Officer are clear about their expectations of each other. The time involved to get to this stage of the interview may vary from one jobseeker to another (if a jobseeker tends to raise other non-vocational issues, the Employment Services Officer has a structure to bring the jobseeker back to the key issue).

Information Gathering, Establishing/Identifying Needs
These phases are an essential part of the registration and guidance interview process and acts as a road map to help assess the jobseekers needs in order to develop an action plan. Using the jobseeker Registration Form, or the computerised printout, the jobseekers’ educational, training and employment background is reviewed and clarified.

The jobseeker is encouraged to talk about his/her concerns regarding employment and to identify issues that are important. The Employment Services Officer helps the jobseeker focus on the important issues and how they might be handled, for example, lack of confidence, duration unemployed, barriers to employment, and outdated skills.

The Employment Services Officer summarises what the jobseeker is saying and prioritises the key issues to be worked on. These priorities may need to be changed from time to time.

Making an Initial Assessment
The Employment Services Officer paraphrases the jobseekers story and determines:-
· the extent of the jobseekers decision making skills (consistency towards employment aim);
· transferability of jobseekers existing skills;
· jobseekers strengths and weaknesses;
· jobseekers career preferences
(Assessment of current skills/interests may be done at this point, or by appointment – e.g. use of the Career Directions database/system)
Encouraging the Jobseeker to explore other options
The Employment Services Officer provides feedback on assessments/tests that may have taken place earlier in the process. This feedback broadens the range of options to be explored by the jobseeker.

Action Planning (Helping the Jobseeker to identify what needs to be done)

In order for the jobseeker to progress, the jobseeker needs to understand what the next step should be.  To achieve this, Employment Services Officers assists jobseekers in constructing a programme of practical steps.

The Employment Services Officer also assists the jobseeker in breaking down major tasks into more achievable action points and helps him/her to explore suitable approaches i.e. training/educational programmes, work experience/work shadowing. It is important however that the jobseeker takes ownership of the action plan.

Depending on the outcome of earlier phases of the process, the jobseeker may not need further training/education and may be in a position to start searching for work. At this stage the Employment Services Officer assigns a coding (using a system of occupational classifications for coding jobseekers and vacancies – and experience level indicators) to the jobseeker’s record indicating them as “Job Ready”.

A Curriculum Vitae may be prepared based on information gathered at earlier interviews.  Referral to a Job Club may also be appropriate.
Ending the interview process
Prior to ending the process, the Employment Services Officer will:
· review with the jobseeker what has happened summarising the key points discussed and the decisions made about actions to be taken
· encourage the jobseeker to summarise what has been agreed
This helps the jobseeker take ownership of what has happened and empower him/her to work independently towards finding employment.  The jobseeker should show they have the following basic understandings: –
· what actions are required to get a job;
· what employers expect from employees;

Who pays fro events advertising job opportunities abroad – 17th January 2011,

To ask the Minister for Social Protection if it is current policy for the training agency FÁS to financially assist and advertise events (details supplied) which promote Irish persons moving overseas for work.

(FÁS sponsored an event that took place last weekend the 12th and 13th of November aimed at attracting Irish people who are considering moving to Canada’s east coast to find employment.)

Reply

The Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton):

FÁS promote vacancies within the European Union (EU) and the European Economic Area (EEA). This is as a result of Ireland’s being part of a single European Labour Market. Any costs involved in the promotion of these vacancies are paid by way of grant from the European Commission.

With regard to non EU/EEA jobs and specifically in relation to the Canadian Job Fair held in Dublin on 12th and 13th November and Cork on the 8th November, FÁS (International Employment Services) were asked by the Governments of the Canadian Provinces of Newfoundland, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Islands and Labrador to assist the Irish Canadian Business Association with their organisation of these Job Fairs. They were anxious that Irish jobseekers going to Canada had the full facts of the Canadian visa requirements, full information on the recognition of their qualifications and were making the right decision for themselves and their families.

The Fair was attended by the Immigration Departments of the above Provinces who offered help and assistance with the immigration and visa process in addition to representing many Canadian employers with well paid opportunities. The Fair was also attended by almost 20 Canadian companies who wished to recruit directly.

I understand from FÁS that they took a stand at both Fairs with a view to pointing out the alternatives to moving to Canada and in order to point out those areas where the Canadians were looking for workers and

· To prevent, as far as possible, unprepared and unplanned migration to Canada.
· To give people advice on their qualifications so as to maximise their earning potential.
· To give people pre-departure advice and guidance.

FÁS contacted registrants to advise them that it was taking place. This was done by text messaging which was paid for by the Canadian Irish Business Association.  All other costs were paid by the Association.

Retirement funds and PRSI – 25th October 2011,

To ask the Minister for Social Protection if her attention has been drawn to the fact that approved retirement funds are liable to PRSI at class S and those with an annuity of an equal amount are exempt from paying PRSI; and if she will make a statement on the matter.

Reply

The Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton):

Under social welfare legislation any payments received by way of pension are not regarded as reckonable emoluments for the purposes of self-employed Pay Related Social Insurance (PRSI).  Pension annuities provide a secure means of converting savings into pension income to be paid over the span of the individual’s life and thereby avoid the danger that pensioners could exhaust their pension savings in their lifetime.  Annuities payable under a retirement annuity contract are, therefore, regarded as a payment by way of pension and not subject to PRSI.

Approved retirement funds or ARFs are funds managed by a qualifying fund manager into which an individual may invest the proceeds of their pension fund when they retire. The income and gains of such funds are exempt from tax within the fund. Any amounts withdrawn from an ARF are referred to as a distribution. A distribution is treated as income from an employment and accordingly subject to income tax within the PAYE system.   Unlike annuity products, ARFs are not pensions but are treated as assets.   As such, distributions from ARFs fall within the charge to self-employed PRSI.   It should however be noted that only distributions made before pension age will attract the charge to PRSI as social insurance only applies to individuals between the ages of 16 and 66.   Once the individual reaches pension age, PRSI will not be charged.

The amount the department will spend on consultancy fees – 6th October 2011,

To ask the Minister for Social Protection the amount she intends to spend on consultancy fees in 2011, in particular those contracted to identify value for money in her Department.

Reply

The Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton):

The procurement of services is essential to support the Department in providing high quality service to the public in a cost effective and efficient manner and is governed by a comprehensive regulatory, legal and procedural framework.  The Department is focused on ensuring that all work is carried out in a fashion designed to achieve best value for money in the use of public funds to achieve its objectives.

The Department engages consultants (individuals or organisations) to provide intellectual or knowledge based services (e.g. expert analysis and advice) including the delivery of reports, studies, assessments, recommendations and proposals that contribute to decision making or policy making.

In this regard, the Department expects to spend some €1,100,000 for the engagement of consultants, including business, social inclusion and I.T., in 2011.

The Department is not at present carrying out any Value for Money (VfM) reviews as a result of the Government decision to defer the selection of the 2011 Value for Money reviews, which are agreed by Government each year, pending the outcome of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform Comprehensive Review of Expenditure currently being completed.

Overtime by community welfare officers in the rent unit – 6th October 2011,

To ask the Minister for Social Protection if her attention has been drawn to the fact that overtime has been approved for senior community welfare officers in the rent unit in order to bring rent applications up to date; if her further attention has been drawn to the fact that this is at a higher cost than maintaining those staff on a lower wage who have recently been made redundant and who are now applying for welfare benefits.

Reply

The Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton):

Late last year agreement was reached between the Health Service Executive (HSE) and unions representing the Community Welfare Officers that the staff of the Community Welfare Service (CWS) would transfer to the Department of Social Protection with effect from 1st January 2011 on a secondment basis initially. The period of secondment lasted for 9 months until the end of September 2011. During this period these staff  remained employees of the HSE but were  subject to the general direction and control of the Minster for Social Protection.

From 1 October 2011  these staff are transferred fully to the Department as civil servants and are accountable to the Minister in the same way as other civil servants.

I have been advised that a number of staff in the CWS were employed in a temporary capacity by the HSE in 2010 for a period of six months, including some of the staff in the rent unit in question.  These contracts were subsequently extended to June 2011 from when they were gradually withdrawn. It was never intended that these staff would be retained on a permanent basis or that they would transfer to this department. They remain employed elsewhere in the HSE.

In the context of the transfer of functions from the HSE to the Department a number of Transition Managers were appointed from within the Community Welfare Service, to work with the Department of Social Protection to oversee the transfer of the service to the Department.  The relevant Transition Managers are currently in the process of examining the service implications arising from the loss of these temporary staff.

Due to the high volume of applications received and the loss of these staff a  short term backlog of applications arose. Overtime working was approved to clear this backlog.

The backlog is currently being processed and it is expected that  there  will be no backlog  by the middle of October . Thereafter it is not envisaged that overtime will be required  to maintain the day to day operation of the unit. Applications  received up to the middle of September have been assessed for entitlement.

The number of retired person drawing down welfare payment until reaching state pension age – 20th September 2011,

To ask the Minister for Social Protection the numbers of persons estimated to begin drawing down additional social welfare payments as a gap solution between reaching retirement at age 65 years and receiving the State pension at age 66 years; and the cost to the Exchequer of same.

Reply

The Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton):

The position has not changed since reply to Question number 136 (PQ Ref No. 23721/11) on 14 September 2011.

Cuts in the household benefits package – 20th October 2011,

To ask the Minister for Social Protection if measures are in place to ensure the most vulnerable in society, especially the over 70’s medical card holders, will not be adversely affected by the cuts in the household benefits package.

Reply

I propose to take questions 228, 240 and 257 together.

The savings in the fuel allowance scheme and household benefits package were provided for last December in Budget 2011 but were not specified or announced by the Government at that time.

From September 2011 the fuel allowance has been standardised at €20 per week, the rate currently received by the majority of customers, with no additional allowance for living in a smokeless area.  The cost of the telephone allowance is reduced following negotiations with Eircom which will ensure that customers receive €26.86 of value on their bills, at a cost to the State of €22.22 per month.  The number of free units provided under the electricity and gas allowance will be reduced to the level at the start of 2007 (from 2,400 to 1,800).  These three measures will generate savings of €17 million in 2011 and €65 million annually.

The rationale for paying the smokeless allowance to customers in smokeless areas cannot be maintained.  The price differential between the types of coal is as low as 2% while the allowance represents an addition of 20% to the fuel allowance.  Use of coal has dropped considerably, to about 3%.  It is inequitable to continue paying this top-up allowance to some customers and not others when the purpose for which it was intended no longer applies.

As regards the telephone allowance, the deal negotiated with Eircom represents good value for the State and the customer.  The main saving is that the Department will no longer pay a monthly rental for handsets, but customers will be able to keep their set at no charge. Indeed a lot of households no longer use or have their original handsets so it makes no sense that the State would continue to pick up this cost.

The reduction in units in the electricity allowance and equivalent gas allowance is essential to control spending.  Because the allowances are based on units the full cost of energy increases has been borne by the State, with no incentive for customers to switch to other cheaper companies. Currently, up to 82,000 (21%) customers under-use their allowance of 2,400 units.  Only 16% of social welfare customers have switched companies compared to 42% nationally.  People will be able to offset some of the reduction in units by availing of cheaper rates.

A poverty impact assessment was carried out in the context of developing a range of options for the future administration of the household benefits package in a de-regulated domestic energy market.  While this focused on the potential impact of changing the electricity allowance from a unit base to a cash base to avail of cheaper rates available it also examined the issue of the vulnerability of older people who are the main recipients of the household benefits package.

Data for the 2009 EU Survey on Income and Living Conditions (SILC) show that households comprising predominantly older people had lower consistent poverty rates than other age categories. Single adults aged over 65 with no children had a consistent poverty rate of 0.6% while people in households with 2 adults at least one of whom was aged 65 or over with no children had a consistent poverty rate of 1.0%. In 2009, in the general population, 5.5% of people were in consistent poverty.

My Department will spend over €530 million in 2011 on the fuel scheme and the telephone, gas and electricity elements of the household benefits package which will benefit over 630,000 people.    Help will also continue to be available for people with special or additional heating needs through the Heating Supplement and Exceptional Needs Payment Scheme under the Supplementary Welfare Allowance Scheme.

Along with other Departments and agencies, my Department has been working with the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources on an Affordable Energy Strategy which will be published shortly.  The most cost-effective means of protecting households from energy poverty in the long term is to reduce their consumption of energy through improving the thermal efficiency of the home. The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) has administered an energy efficiency programme for privately owned low income households (Warmer Homes) since 2001. Over 65,000 such households have benefited to date, with a further 15,000 expected to receive energy efficiency upgrades this year. A similar upgrade programme is also in place for local authority houses.

In addition, my colleague the Minister for Communications Energy and Natural Resources, Pat Rabbitte T.D. announced this week that Electricity and Gas customers experiencing financial hardship will not be disconnected this winter provided they have entered a payment plan or have agreed to the installations of a pay-as-you-go meter. The Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) is to work with all gas and electricity supply companies to implement the initiative.

Furthermore, myself and my colleague the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Pat Rabbitte T.D. are in the process of seeking greater discounts from the ESB in the context of the electricity allowance. However to date I have been disappointed at the apparent reluctance of the ESB to offer what I would regard as meaningful discounts. In circumstances where a large percentage of the ESB’s customers are in arrears, my Department is effectively guaranteeing the payment of 390,000 customers’ bills on exceptionally favourable payment terms; it is therefore a matter of serious concern to me that the ESB is either unwilling or unable to offer my Department a discount that is commensurate with the benefits it derives from the electricity allowance.

My officials have been liaising with Minister Rabbitte’s officials in relation to this matter and we hope to be in a position to arrange a meeting with the CEO of the ESB in order to urgently progress this matter.

As regards informing our customers, these changes were announced by my Department on 12th July 2011. On foot of a press release there was significant coverage in the national papers, radio and television.  Information, including a Frequently Asked Questions segment was available on my Department’s website www.welfare.ie.  My Department’s phone system was updated with a recorded message advising changes to the scheme and a Lo-call number was available for any enquiries. Given the volume of customers in receipt of either a fuel allowance or household benefits package the cost of changing the slip in post offices or writing to customers individually on the changes would be prohibitive in an environment where departments are under pressure to achieve savings.

The amount generated from PRSI contributions – 20th September 2011,

To ask the Minister for Social Protection the amount generated from PRSI contributions in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010; and the corresponding percentage of total revenue generating in those years.

Reply

The Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton):

The total value of PRSI contributions paid into my Department’s Social Insurance Fund in each of the years 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 is set out in the following table:

PRSI Receipts

Year 2010 2009 2008 2007
€ million € million € million € million
TOTAL 6,708 7,165 7,984 7,722

PRSI contributions on average accounted for 99% of revenue generated by the Department in the four years 2007 to 2010. The Social Insurance Fund also received additional income by way of a return on the Social Insurance Investment Accounts and rental income amounting to €407million and €176,000 respectively in this period. The figures contained in the table are net of the Health Contribution and the National Training Levy which were collected up to last year as part of PRSI contributions and paid over the Health Service Executive and the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation.

The above figures do not include revenue generated by the Exchequer through general taxation and applied to social welfare purposes, such as funding means tested social assistance payments or universal entitlements such as Child Benefit.

The number of people drawing down a welfare payment until they reach state pension age – 14th September 2011,

To ask the Minister for Social Protection the number of people that are estimated to begin drawing down additional social welfare payments as a gap solution between reaching retirement at age 65 years and receiving the State pension at age 66 years; the cost of same to the Exchequer.

Reply

The Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton):

State pension (transition) (SPT) is currently paid to people aged 65 who have a minimum yearly average of 24 social insurance contributions and who have retired from work.  Currently it ceases at age 66 when the claimant transfers to State pension (contributory) (SPC).

In 2010, there was an average of 8,955 recipients of State pension (transition) with expenditure of €108 million. This compares to 273,005 SPC recipients at a cost of €3.45 billion.   Less than 25 per cent of the SPT customers were in employment at the time of claim while 44 per cent were on a social welfare payment prior to receiving SPT.  A further 25 per cent were retired from work at the time of claim.

This means, based on recipients in 2010, that approximately 2,200 customers may be impacted (for one year) by the abolition of SPT.  They may be in a position to remain in employment or qualify for another social welfare payment. They may (the following year) be able to qualify for SPC at age 66.

As announced in the National Pensions Framework, State pension age will be increased gradually to 68 years.  This will begin in 2014 with the standardisation of State pension age at 66.   State pension age will be increased to 67 years in 2021 and to 68 in 2028. It is worth noting that, until the early 1970s, the qualifying age for State pension (contributory) was 70 years of age.  By gradually increasing the qualifying age for State pension, people will be further encouraged to remain in employment beyond 65 years of age.

The Quarterly National Household Survey Q4 2010 showed that the numbers currently at work drop dramatically at 65 years of age. While 77.2 per cent of people aged 45-54 years are in employment, this drops to 64.3 per cent for 55-64 year-olds and to just 8.7 per cent  for people aged 65 years or older.  It is clear, therefore, that the challenges facing the Irish pension system are significant.  Increases in life expectancy mean that more people are living to pension age and living longer in retirement.  While this is to be welcomed, this has obvious and significant implications in relation to the future costs of State pension provision.   The fundamental principle that people need to participate in the workforce for longer needs to be emphasised and they need to contribute more towards their pensions if they are to achieve the income they expect or would like to have in retirement.

A review of the personal public service system – 21st July 2011,

To ask the Minister for Social Protection if any steps are in place to review the personal public service system in view of the discrepancy between the quantity of personal public service numbers in circulation and population figures.

Reply

The Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton):

The two sets of figures referred to by the Deputy are not directly comparable, as one refers to the numbers issued since 1979 and the other refers to the current population. In that context, there is no discrepancy.

The Department of Social Protection is responsible for maintaining the national database of Personal Public Service (PPS) numbers which are stored on the Department’s Central Records System (CRS).  There are currently 7.4 million customer records on CRS each of which is identified by a unique PPS number.  The PPS number in its current format was originally a tax reference number.  With the introduction of Pay Related Social Insurance (PRSI) in 1979 an individual’s PAY AS You Earn (PAYE) tax reference number became known as a Revenue and Social Insurance (RSI) number.  The RSI number was re-named the Personal Public Service (PPS) number in 1998 to reflect its future use as a unique identifier across the wider public service.

CRS is a complete database of all the historical tax reference numbers which were used to pre-populate the database in 1979 and every PPS number which has been issued since then.  In addition to those persons currently resident in the State who have been issued with a PPS Number, the figure of 7.4 million also includes any individual who, since 1979, required a PPS number and;

1)   has died,

2)   has been resident in the State and has subsequently left the jurisdiction, and

3)   has not been resident in the State (e.g. an individual resident abroad who has benefited from an Irish Estate –  the Revenue Commissioners have a    requirement that all beneficiaries of Irish Estates should have a PPS number)

The Department is continuously monitoring customer records on its CRS in order to preserve and enhance the quality of the data including, where appropriate, consolidating duplicate PPS numbers as they emerge.

Can TDs hire interns thorough the national internship scheme – 30th June 2011,

To ask the Minister for Social Protection further to Parliamentary Question No. 96 of 23 June 2011, where it is stated that a TD is not a legal entity and therefore ineligible to participate in the national internship scheme; is the Oireachtas not a legal entity and will TD’s not then be able to hire interns under the national internship scheme through the Oireachtas.

Reply

The Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton):

The national internship scheme is open to private, public and community and voluntary sectors.  The Houses of the Oireachtas, as a public body, could participate in the scheme as a host organisation. It is intended that officials in my Department will contact the Houses of the Oireachtas commission to discuss the possibility of the commission participating in scheme.

A social welfare case – 30th June 2011,

To ask the Minister for Social Protection the position regarding a person (details supplied) who ceased claiming social welfare after having qualified for the enterprise allowance scheme, who is now not eligible for a paid position on a FÁS scheme as they have not been receiving social welfare payments.

Reply

The Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton):

Any unemployed individual may participate in the FAS Work Placement Programme. However, should an unemployed individual wish to be in receipt of a social welfare payment during their participation on the FÁS Work Placement Programme they must receive one of the following payments for at least 3 months prior to commencing the programme:

·               Jobseekers Allowance

·               Jobseekers Benefit

·               Disability Allowance,

·               Blind Pension,

·               Invalidity Pension,

·               Illness Benefit or

·               Lone parents allowance

Individuals who have been in receipt of the Back to Work Enterprise Allowance  have been self-employed for two years.  Jobseekers allowance is, in general, the most relevant scheme in these circumstances.  When their entitlement to the Back to Work Enterprise Allowance expires they must, if they wish to claim jobseekers allowance, satisfy the conditions for that scheme which include a means test. If they are still self-employed the means test will take into account, inter alia, prospective income from self employment for the next 12 months.

For the purposes of receiving a social welfare payment while participating on the FÁS Work Placement Programme, time spent in receipt of the Back to Work

Social welfare and the State Pension – 14th September 2011,

To ask the Minister for Social Protection the number of people that are estimated to begin drawing down additional social welfare payments as a gap solution between reaching retirement at age 65 years and receiving the State pension at age 66 years; the cost of same to the Exchequer.

Reply

The Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton):

State pension (transition) (SPT) is currently paid to people aged 65 who have a minimum yearly average of 24 social insurance contributions and who have retired from work.  Currently it ceases at age 66 when the claimant transfers to State pension (contributory) (SPC).

In 2010, there was an average of 8,955 recipients of State pension (transition) with expenditure of €108 million. This compares to 273,005 SPC recipients at a cost of €3.45 billion.   Less than 25 per cent of the SPT customers were in employment at the time of claim while 44 per cent were on a social welfare payment prior to receiving SPT.  A further 25 per cent were retired from work at the time of claim.

This means, based on recipients in 2010, that approximately 2,200 customers may be impacted (for one year) by the abolition of SPT.  They may be in a position to remain in employment or qualify for another social welfare payment. They may (the following year) be able to qualify for SPC at age 66.

As announced in the National Pensions Framework, State pension age will be increased gradually to 68 years.  This will begin in 2014 with the standardisation of State pension age at 66.   State pension age will be increased to 67 years in 2021 and to 68 in 2028. It is worth noting that, until the early 1970s, the qualifying age for State pension (contributory) was 70 years of age.  By gradually increasing the qualifying age for State pension, people will be further encouraged to remain in employment beyond 65 years of age.

The Quarterly National Household Survey Q4 2010 showed that the numbers currently at work drop dramatically at 65 years of age. While 77.2 per cent of people aged 45-54 years are in employment, this drops to 64.3 per cent for 55-64 year-olds and to just 8.7 per cent  for people aged 65 years or older.  It is clear, therefore, that the challenges facing the Irish pension system are significant.  Increases in life expectancy mean that more people are living to pension age and living longer in retirement.  While this is to be welcomed, this has obvious and significant implications in relation to the future costs of State pension provision.   The fundamental principle that people need to participate in the workforce for longer needs to be emphasised and they need to contribute more towards their pensions if they are to achieve the income they expect or would like to have in retirement.

Review of the PPS system – 21st July 2011,

To ask the Minister for Social Protection if any steps are in place to review the personal public service system in view of the discrepancy between the quantity of personal public service numbers in circulation and population figures.

Reply

The Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton):

The two sets of figures referred to by the Deputy are not directly comparable, as one refers to the numbers issued since 1979 and the other refers to the current population. In that context, there is no discrepancy.

The Department of Social Protection is responsible for maintaining the national database of Personal Public Service (PPS) numbers which are stored on the Department’s Central Records System (CRS).  There are currently 7.4 million customer records on CRS each of which is identified by a unique PPS number.  The PPS number in its current format was originally a tax reference number.  With the introduction of Pay Related Social Insurance (PRSI) in 1979 an individual’s PAY AS You Earn (PAYE) tax reference number became known as a Revenue and Social Insurance (RSI) number.  The RSI number was re-named the Personal Public Service (PPS) number in 1998 to reflect its future use as a unique identifier across the wider public service.

CRS is a complete database of all the historical tax reference numbers which were used to pre-populate the database in 1979 and every PPS number which has been issued since then.  In addition to those persons currently resident in the State who have been issued with a PPS Number, the figure of 7.4 million also includes any individual who, since 1979, required a PPS number and;

1)         has died,

2)         has been resident in the State and has subsequently left the jurisdiction, and

3)         has not been resident in the State (e.g. an individual resident abroad who has benefited from an Irish Estate –  the Revenue Commissioners have a    requirement that all beneficiaries of Irish Estates should have a PPS number)

The Department is continuously monitoring customer records on its CRS in order to preserve and enhance the quality of the data including, where appropriate, consolidating duplicate PPS numbers as they emerge.

Why are TDs not allowed to participate in the national internship scheme – 30th June 2011,

To ask the Minister for Social Protection further to Parliamentary Question No. 96 of 23 June 2011, where it is stated that a TD is not a legal entity and therefore ineligible to participate in the national internship scheme; is the Oireachtas not a legal entity and will TD’s not then be able to hire interns under the national internship scheme through the Oireachtas.

Reply

The Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton):

The national internship scheme is open to private, public and community and voluntary sectors.  The Houses of the Oireachtas, as a public body, could participate in the scheme as a host organisation. It is intended that officials in my Department will contact the Houses of the Oireachtas commission to discuss the possibility of the commission participating in scheme.

A social welfare case – 30th June 2011,

To ask the Minister for Social Protection the position regarding a person (details supplied) who ceased claiming social welfare after having qualified for the enterprise allowance scheme, who is now not eligible for a paid position on a FÁS scheme as they have not been receiving social welfare payments.

Reply

The Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton):

Any unemployed individual may participate in the FAS Work Placement Programme. However, should an unemployed individual wish to be in receipt of a social welfare payment during their participation on the FÁS Work Placement Programme they must receive one of the following payments for at least 3 months prior to commencing the programme:

·               Jobseekers Allowance

·               Jobseekers Benefit

·               Disability Allowance,

·               Blind Pension,

·               Invalidity Pension,

·               Illness Benefit or

·               Lone parents allowance

For the purposes of receiving a social welfare payment while participating on the FÁS Work Placement Programme, time spent in receipt of the Back to Work Enterprise Allowance is ineligible as individuals in receipt of this allowance were self-employed.

Individuals who have been in receipt of the Back to Work Enterprise Allowance  have been self-employed for two years.  Jobseekers allowance is, in general, the most relevant scheme in these circumstances.  When their entitlement to the Back to Work Enterprise Allowance expires they must, if they wish to claim jobseekers allowance, satisfy the conditions for that scheme which include a means test. If they are still self-employed the means test will take into account, inter alia, prospective income from self employment for the next 12 months.

The consequences of the  increase in the retirement age – 3oth June 2011,

To ask the Minister for Social Protection if, in respect of Government plans to increase the retirement age to 66 in 2014, there is a provision for those who are presently contractually obliged to retire at age 65 and will retire in 2014 and will therefore not be entitled to receive their contributory pensions until one year after they finish work.

Reply

The Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton):

The effective date for standardisation of State pension age is 1 January 2014.  Therefore, anyone who retires in 2014 will not receive State pension (transition).  Should an individual not be able to remain in employment past the age of 65, he or she would be entitled to apply for another social welfare payment for the period between the cessation of employment and the State pension age of 66.

Therefore, as provided for in the National Pensions Framework, State pension age will be increased gradually to 68 years.  This will begin in 2014 with the standardisation of State pension age at 66.   State pension age will be increased to 67 years in 2021 and to 68 in 2028. The legislative changes being included in the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2011 also fulfill one of the commitments in the EU/IMF Programme of Financial Support for Ireland.

The background to the changes in State pension age is that the challenges facing the Irish pension system are significant.  Life expectancy is increasing. The population share of those aged 65 and over is expected to more than double between now and 2051, from 11% to approximately 22-26% around 2050 – 2060. In contrast, the share of the working age population is projected to decline gradually from 68% to 58%.

There are currently six people of working age for every pensioner and this ratio is expected to decrease to approximately two to one by mid-century.   Spending on public pensions, that is, social welfare pensions and public service occupational pensions, is projected to increase from approximately 5 ½ % of GDP in 2008, to almost 15% in 2050.

Competition among pension fund managers – 15th June 2011,

To ask the Minister for Social Protection if she will consider introducing a requirement on pension fund managers to disclose their fees on a continual basis so as to encourage competition and cut costs.

Reply

The Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton):

The Government supports and encourages people to make provision for an adequate income in retirement. It does this through the provision of a State pension (contributory) which is currently 33% approx. of the gross average industrial earnings and through generous tax relief on supplementary pension savings.

It is important that an individual’s pension savings is invested wisely and that charges incurred in the administration of a pension scheme are minimised.  The Government recognises the difficulty that people can have in understanding the various charges that can arise and how these charges are applied.  In this regard, I have requested the Implementation Group for the National Pensions Framework to examine options to bring simplification and transparency to the issue of pension charges. This group is chaired by my Department and includes a number of officials from the Department of Finance, the Revenue Commissioners, the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, and the Pensions Board. Following the outcome of this work, I will bring forward regulations to increase the transparency of pension charges, if appropriate.