Written Answers - Social Welfare Benefits.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 694 No. 2

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  93.  Deputy James Bannon  Information on James Bannon  Zoom on James Bannon   asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs  Information on Mary Hanafin  Zoom on Mary Hanafin   the steps she is taking to increase the uptake of family income supplement; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40600/09]

[432]

  212.  Deputy Denis Naughten  Information on Denis Naughten  Zoom on Denis Naughten   asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs  Information on Mary Hanafin  Zoom on Mary Hanafin   the steps she is taking to increase the uptake of family income supplement; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40841/09]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Deputy Mary Hanafin): Information on Mary Hanafin  Zoom on Mary Hanafin  I propose to take Questions Nos: 93 and 212 together.

The Family Income Supplement is designed to provide support for people with families who are on low earnings. This preserves the incentive for them to remain in employment in circumstances where they might only be marginally better off than if they were claiming other social welfare payments. FIS is a central element of a programme of reforms targeted specifically at addressing child poverty. The Department has consistently publicised the FIS scheme in order to maximise uptake by qualified families. Significant improvements in the qualifying income limits and ongoing awareness campaigns have resulted in a strong upward trend in the level of new and renewal claims.

There are currently some 25,065 people in receipt of a weekly FIS payment. In 2008 the Department received 42,940 new and renewal FIS claims compared to 36,900 in 2007 and 33,000 in 2006 — an increase of over 14% on 2007 and 23% on 2006. In the first 10 months of 2009 over 40,459 new and renewal claims were received compared to some 37,804 in the same period in 2008 — an increase of over 7%.

The Department currently undertakes a number of measures to ensure that people are aware of possible entitlement to Family Income (FIS). These include the publication of information on FIS on the Department’s website, making information available through the Citizen’s Information Service and through the Department’s network of Local Offices.

To help establish the best ways of promoting FIS going forward, the department commissioned a research project in 2008 to examine factors behind the level of take up for the scheme. The research found that overall awareness of Family Income Supplement among potential recipients is high with nearly three in four claiming to have heard of the scheme. Despite high levels of awareness, there was a lack of awareness and understanding of the eligibility requirements with only one in three claiming to be aware of the qualifying criteria for FIS.

The report recommends that the Department needs to ensure that information about the scheme is advertised in a focused way with the eligibility and qualification criteria communicated as clearly as possible. The Department is addressing this by ensuring such information is highlighted as part of it’s ongoing publicity and advertisement campaigns.

  94.  Deputy Ruairí Quinn  Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn   asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs  Information on Mary Hanafin  Zoom on Mary Hanafin   her plans to review the impact of recent rent supplement changes on recipients before further changes are made to the levels of rent allowed or minimum contributions from recipients. [40723/09]

  100.  Deputy Lucinda Creighton  Information on Lucinda Creighton  Zoom on Lucinda Creighton   asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs  Information on Mary Hanafin  Zoom on Mary Hanafin   the amount of rent allowance awarded in each of the past three years; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40535/09]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Deputy Mary Hanafin): Information on Mary Hanafin  Zoom on Mary Hanafin  I propose to take Questions Nos. 94 and 100 together.

Rent supplement is intended as short-term support for eligible tenants whose means are insufficient to meet their accommodation costs. There are currently over 91,600 people in receipt of rent supplement, an increase of 24% since the end of December 2008. The number [433]of rent supplement recipients, the number of rent supplement claims awarded and expenditure on the scheme for the past three years in shown in the following tabular statement.

Rent supplements are subject to a limit on the amount of rent that an applicant may incur. The objective is to ensure that rent supplement is not paid in respect of overly expensive accommodation having regard to the size of the household and market conditions. Maximum rent limits are prescribed in regulations and are time limited so that they can be adjusted in the light of rent levels generally.

Rent limits were reviewed earlier this year. In testing the level at which basic accommodation can be secured, the Department was informed by analysis of a number of data sources including data published by the CSO on trends in the private rental market. Rent limits and payments to existing rent supplement recipients were reduced to reflect the downward trends in the private rental market. According to the CSO private rent index, rents have fallen by almost 3% since maximum rent limits were last set in June 2009.

One of the reported impediments to the fluid transfer of rent supplement claimants to the Rental Accommodation Scheme is what can be a difference between the contribution which is required of the tenant under the rent supplement scheme and the contribution which they are required to pay through differential rent scheme. The increase in the weekly minimum contribution from €18 to €24 that individuals make towards their rent under the rent supplement scheme now aligns more closely the rent that local authority tenants have to pay.

The fact that there are over 91,600 people receiving rent supplement indicates that the scheme is effective in meeting the needs of those who require support towards the cost of private rented accommodation.

The operation of the rent supplement scheme is monitored on an ongoing basis and rent limits are reviewed in the light of trends in the private rental market. A review of rent limits would include an assessment of the impact of recent changes made to the rent supplement scheme and take account of the views of interested parties, including voluntary agencies working in the housing area. It is essential to ensure that state support for rent supplemented tenants, who form a substantial section of the rental market, does not give rise to inflated rental prices with particular negative impact on those tenants on lower incomes, including people in low paid employment.

The Department also continues to work closely with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to ensure that the rental accommodation scheme (RAS) meets its objective of catering for those on long term rent supplementation while enabling rent supplement to return to its original role of a short-term income support.

Rent Supplement Recipients and Expenditure from December 2006 to October 2009

Year No. of Recipients No. Claims Awarded Expenditure
€000
End Dec ‘06 59,861 n/a 388,339
End Dec ‘07 59,726 41,197** 391,466
End Dec ‘08 74,038 62,122** 439,739
End Oct ’09* 91,634 91,719** 382,000


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