Tuesday, 23 November 2004
Dáil Eireann Debate
287. Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the estimated cost of extending the free schemes from age 66 to age 65; and if such a move has been assessed as a policy option by him. [29679/04]
Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan): The household benefits package, which comprises the electricity-gas allowance, telephone allowance and television licence schemes, is generally available to people living permanently in the State, aged 66 years or over, who are in receipt of a social welfare type payment or who fulfil a means test.
The package is also available to carers and people with disabilities under the age of 66 who are in receipt of certain welfare-type payments. People aged over 70 years of age can qualify regardless of their income or household composition. Widows and widowers aged from 60 to 65 whose late spouses had been in receipt of the household benefit package retain that entitlement to ensure that households do not suffer a loss of entitlements following the death of a spouse. In the time available it has not been possible to cost the Deputy’s proposal. This estimate will be communicated to him as soon as possible. A range of proposals has been made to extend the free schemes to other groups. These are kept under review in the context of the objectives of the scheme and budgetary resources.
288. Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will take action regarding the threshold on household income for retention of secondary benefits on back to work schemes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29720/04]
Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan): The back to work allowance scheme, which was introduced in September 1993, is part of my Department’s programme of initiatives designed to assist long term unemployed people, lone parents and other social welfare recipients to return to the active labour force. There are two strands to the scheme, the back to work allowance for employees, and the back to work enterprise allowance for self employment. Participants retain a tapered rate of their qualifying payment over three years, or four years if taking up self employment. They also retain any secondary benefits they were in receipt of prior to participation, subject to, in some instances, the gross household income level remaining under €317.43 per week. Gross household income includes spouse-partner’s income but allows for PRSI and reasonable travel expenses. From 6 April 2000, back to work allowance payment and family income supplement are disregarded for the purposes of the €317.43 gross weekly household income limit. Participants on the back to work allowance scheme retain secondary benefits such as Christmas bonus and medical card regardless of earnings.
Fuel allowance, back to school clothing and footwear allowance and diet supplement, are subject to the €317.43 income limit. Rent or mortgage interest supplement is also subject to the limit, and is paid over a four year period with tapered rate of 75% in year one, 50% in year two, and 25% in years three and four. However, participants may opt to be assessed under the standard rules if it is financially more favourable.
I will continue to monitor the scheme to ensure that it continues to assist those furthest from the labour market to gain a foothold into sustainable employment or self employment. Any further changes to the above initiatives would have to be considered in the light of competing priorities and available resources.
289. Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if current rules enable the award of rent subsidy to an elderly Irish citizen, currently residing in the UK, who is in poor health and has very limited means, if he or she returns here and secures private rented accommodation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29754/04]
Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan): The supplementary welfare allowance scheme, which is administered by health boards on behalf of my Department, provides for the payment of a weekly or monthly supplement in respect of rent to eligible people. Entitlement to rent supplement depends on a number of factors: (a) that applicants are habitually resident in the State; (b) they have a genuine housing need which cannot be provided from another source, and (c) they satisfy a means test. A person in the circumstances described by the Deputy would not be precluded from receiving rent supplement. The habitual residence condition introduced in May 2004 and the new rent supplement eligibility rules introduced in January 2004 do not make such a person ineligible for rent supplement. However, it is not possible to give a definitive position on entitlement until the person concerned applies for rent supplement in Ireland and a detailed assessment of his or her situation is made by the relevant health board.
290. Mr. M. Moynihan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the details of the arrangement of his Department in treating parents differently to non-parents in assessing income from casual unemployment assistance claims whereby the current arrangement allows a disregard of €12.70 per day for non-parents, but none for parents; and the basis for such an application; and his plans to address this anomaly. [29182/04]
Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan): Legislation provides that where a person works for up to three days a week either on a casual or part-time basis, earnings are assessed at 60% for unemployment assistance purposes. In addition, persons without children are allowed a €12.70 disregard for each day worked, with the balance of earnings assessed at 60%. The current arrangements for assessment of casual and part-time means came into force in November 1996. Prior to this, payment was only made in respect of days in the week on which a person was unemployed, with one sixth of the weekly means assessment being deducted from each daily UA payment. No payment was made in respect of any day of employment, irrespective of the level of daily earnings. This practice could prove to be a considerable disincentive to taking up part-time or casual employment.
While many people who were in receipt of UA and working casually or part-time stood to gain significantly under the new system, those without qualified child dependants would have lost a large part of their weekly UA payment. For this reason, a special daily disregard of €12.70 — £10 at the time — was introduced to protect their payments.
With the introduction of the new assessments in 1996, it was envisaged that some 10,500 casual-part-time workers would benefit financially. Also, these simplified arrangements made it easier for people to see for themselves the advantages of taking up part-time or casual employment, as opposed to remaining fully unemployed. The question of changes in the assessment of means from casual or part-time earnings would be a matter for consideration in a budgetary context and in the context of priorities generally.
291. Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if a person who is entitled to the deserted wife allowance is allowed to enter employment; when the legislation was changed to assess earnings from income; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29787/04]
Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan): Deserted wife’s allowance is a means-tested payment made to women who have no dependent children, who were deserted by their husband and who do not satisfy the contribution conditions for deserted wife’s benefit. Deserted wife’s allowance was closed to new applications with effect from 2 January 1997 when the one-parent family payment was introduced. In assessing means for the purposes of the allowance, account is taken of income from savings, investments, property and employment. Deserted wife’s benefit is a social insurance payment made to a woman deserted by her husband. Entitlement to payment is conditional on satisfying contribution conditions based on the social insurance record of either the wife or her husband. An earnings limit was introduced for deserted wife’s benefit as and from 31 August 1992. The limit, which applied only to new claims after that date, is currently €12,697.38 a year, gross earnings. Where earnings are in excess of €12,697.38 a year, there may be entitlement to a reduced rate of payment of deserted wife’s benefit, provided earnings do not exceed €17,776.33 a year.
The scheme was closed to new applications with effect from 2 January 1997 on the introduction of the one parent family payment scheme under which an eligible parent with dependent children is entitled to payment irrespective of gender or the circumstances that gave rise to the lone parenthood. Lone parents are encouraged under the scheme to maximise their income from different sources by availing of the exemption of earnings and maintenance payments in assessing means.
Lone parents may earn up to €146.50 per week without affecting their payment. Earnings above this limit are assessed at 50%, up to a maximum of €293.00 per week. Lone parents are also eligible to avail of the full range of employment support schemes operated by my Department.
The schemes for deserted wives under social insurance have been retained to the extent that existing entitlements already acquired in August 1992, when the earnings limit was introduced for new claimants, and in 1997, when the one parent family payment scheme was introduced, have been preserved. All new claimants, irrespective of gender, who seek income support as lone parents, are treated equally.
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