Written Answers. - Social Welfare Benefits.

Wednesday, 28 March 2001

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 533 No. 4

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  150.  Ms O. Mitchell  Information on Olivia Mitchell  Zoom on Olivia Mitchell   asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs  Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern   the reason, in a recent incident involving the misappropriation of a child benefit, a person (details supplied) in Dublin 16 was deprived of payments for several months, kept in the dark as to the cause of the problem and received neither apology nor explanation; and if he will take steps to ensure such treatment of benefit recipients does not recur. [9218/01]

Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern): Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  The person concerned informed my Department in October 2000 that her child benefit from June 2000 was not available for collection at her nominated post office. The orders for the months June to October 2000 had, however, been cashed at that stage. The person concerned was so advised on the telephone.

Arrangements were made to prevent encashment of the remaining orders in the book and a replacement book covering the period from November 2000 to May 2001 was issued. My Department did not become aware until January 2001 of the circumstances in which the earlier vouchers had been wrongly cashed. Arrears due from June to October 2000 were then issued.

The person concerned has been contacted again by telephone and the position has been explained to her in detail. She has been thanked for her assistance in bringing the matters at issue to the Department's attention and for her forbearance while the problem was being sorted out. A written apology is being issued to her in relation to the difficulties which arose in dealing with the case.

While the circumstances of this case were unusual, the shortcomings which were identified are being addressed.

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  151.  Ms Shortall  Information on Róisín Shortall  Zoom on Róisín Shortall   asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs  Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern   if, notwithstanding recent improvements to certain categories of welfare recipients, his attention has been drawn to the completely inadequate rental support for persons in low paid work; if his attention has further been drawn to the hardship and poverty traps this causes, particularly in the Dublin area due to escalating rents; and if he will examine the case of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 9 and take emergency measures to deal with this problem. [9260/01]

Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern): Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  The supplementary welfare allowance (SWA) scheme provides for a weekly or monthly supplement to be paid in respect of rent to any person in the State whose means are insufficient to meet their needs. The scheme is administered on behalf of my Department by the health boards and neither I nor my Department have any function in deciding entitlement in individual cases.

The purpose of rent supplements is to assist with reasonable accommodation costs of eligible persons living in private rented accommodation who are unable to provide for their accommodation costs from their own resources and who do not have accommodation available to them from another source.

Rent supplements are normally calculated to ensure that the person, after the payment of rent, has an income equal to the supplementary welfare allowance basic weekly payment rate, less £6. This £6 represents the minimum contribution which recipients are required to pay from their own resources.

In budget 2000 I introduced a new £25 disregard in the assessment of means for rent supplement for people who take up part time employment or participate in training courses. As a result, a higher rate of rent supplement is paid in these cases. This ensures that the person is better off after taking up employment.

In the particular case raised by the Deputy, the person concerned has a total income of £60 per week more than the standard rate of unemployment assistance payable in that household's circumstances. The total amount of rent supplement in payment is £24 less than what would ordinarily be paid and consequently, the household is £36 per week better off. This £36 comprises the £25 disregard that I introduced last year and a disregard of £11 per week towards work-related expenses, such as travel.

I have now also arranged for one of my officials to contact the person in question to give her details of the full range of supports that are available in her circumstances.

On the wider policy issue, I share the Deputy's concern about escalating rents in the current housing market. There is a process in place to adjust rent supplement payment levels to take account of this. Each health board is required to set reasonable maximum rent levels in respect of various classes of persons, e.g. single persons, couples, lone parents with one child, etc., as a basis for calculating the amount of rent supplement payable. The limits are set using local knowledge as to what constitutes a reasonable rent for private rented accommodation for various household types within and across the health board area.

These maximum rent levels are reviewed regu[1035] larly by the boards to take account of the actual fluctuations in accommodation costs observed in each area. When accommodation is no longer available within these limits, rent levels are reviewed and revised upwards, at the initiative of the health boards, in the light of their experience in dealing with claims for rent supplement.

Health boards must also satisfy themselves that accommodation is generally available within the limits which they set. If any tenant is experiencing difficulties, the health boards have discretion to award a supplement based on an amount of rent which exceeds the maximum level set where there are extenuating medical or social circumstances having regard to the applicant's means and all the other requirements of the legislation.

  152.  Mr. N. Ahern  Information on Noel Ahern  Zoom on Noel Ahern   asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs  Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern   if, in the case of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 17 who wrongly claimed lone parents allowance for one year and as a result has had a deduction made from her child benefit payments for the past five years, the deduction was justified since she handed back the book under an amnesty; the total amount wrongly claimed; the amount which has been repaid to date; if, in the circumstances the balance due can now be waived; if a sympathetic approach can be taken; and if a full report can be given. [9302/01]

Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern): Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  An overpayment of some £9,000 was assessed against the person concerned in September 1993, after she admitted that she had continued to cash her lone parent allowance for almost two years after her marriage.

The social welfare amnesty applicable at that time related to prosecution for fraudulent claims, not to the overpayments arising in such cases.

Up to the end of December 2000 the person concerned had repaid £2,156 to this Department, by way of agreed monthly deductions from her child benefit payment. The balance of some £6,900 remains outstanding.

The person concerned has been in contact with the Department recently, seeking a review of her case. Some information has been received in support of her case and further documentation is awaited from her. As soon as this additional information is received, her situation will be reviewed in accordance with the code of practice on the recovery of overpayments and she will be notified of the outcome.


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