Wednesday, 7 October 2009
Dáil Eireann Debate
158. Deputy Joe Costello asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the assessment that is being carried out in her Department on the impact of means-testing child benefit would have on poverty traps and the incentivisation of work. [34397/09]
170. Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs her views on the recommendations contained in the Commission on Taxation Report 2009 as they relate to her Department. [34415/09]
As Deputies will be aware, the rates of child benefit have increased significantly since 2001 having trebled for the first two children and increased by over 185% for the third and subsequent children. Partly as a result of this and partly as a result of an increase in the number of eligible children, overall expenditure on child benefit grew from just under €965 million in 2001 to nearly €2.5 billion in 2008. The Government is proud to have been able to direct such substantial increases in financial support to all Irish families in recent years. However, given the scale of the current economic crisis, it is necessary to address all aspects of the public finances so as to ensure that they are sustainable and to ensure that fairness exists in the allocation of resources.
It is in this context that the Minister for Finance announced at the time of the Supplementary Budget in April that the Government’s intention to either subject child benefit to income tax or means-test it from 2010. The Minister had already asked the Commission on Taxation to consider the implications of taxing Child Benefit. The Government is considering the recommendations of the Commission on Taxation and the report of The Special Group on Public Service Numbers and Expenditure Programmes which also have put forward proposals for reductions in Child Benefit rates.
While it is possible to achieve a more targeted approach through either the taxation or means testing of Child Benefit, these approaches have significantly differing implications for the practical implementation and the families involved. Issues regarding the definition of income, the implications for low income families, the impact on poverty traps and the disincentive to take up employment need to be considered. The implications for the impact of means-testing the Child Benefit payment on poverty traps and the incentivisation of work would depend on the specific details of the operation of a means test including what is included as assessable income, the thresholds at which payments are withdrawn and the rate at which they would be withdrawn. The Government will be mindful of the needs of families, particularly those on lower incomes.
More generally, the Commission of Taxation presents a range of policy and operational issues for my Department particularly in relation to the pensions system, the PRSI system, the proposed taxation of social welfare payments including Child Benefit. These issues are being considered in my Department with a view to seeing how they can be best addressed. Some of these would require very significant changes to how my Department operates its various programmes. For example, if it was decided to proceed with the proposal to tax social welfare payments at source, the fact this would need to be implemented over a longer time frame was recognised in the Commission’s report.
131. Deputy P. J. Sheehan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs when the transfer of PPS numbers of landlords, who are in receipt of rent supplement for their properties, will be made available automatically to the Revenue Commissions; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34600/09]
Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Deputy Mary Hanafin): The Finance Act 2007 introduced a provision to enable the Department of Social and Family Affairs to collect the PPS or other tax reference number of a landlord of a rent supplemented tenancy and supply these to the Revenue Commissioners. Since October 2008, landlord PPS numbers have been collected in respect of rent supplement claims.
Details of rent supplement payments, including name and address of landlord/agent, address of tenancy and a statement of all payments arising from each individual tenancy, are supplied to the Revenue Commissioners on an annual basis. With the agreement of the Revenue Commissioners, the Department intends to provide the 2008 rent supplement data, including landlord PPS numbers, to Revenue in late December 2009/January 2010.
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