Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Social Welfare Benefits.

3.

asked the Minister for Social Welfare if he will urgently examine the appeal made by a person (details supplied) in County Kildare against the disallowance of his claim for unemployment benefit.

The unemployment benefit claim of the person concerned was disallowed on the grounds that he did not satisfy the condition of being available for work. He had indicated to his local office that he had left his employment for the purpose of starting up his own business.

He appealed against the disallowance of his claim on 15 March 1985. Arrangements are being made to have his appeal dealt with by an appeals officer at the earliest opportunity. His entitlement to unemployment benefit will be reviewed in the light of the decision of the appeals officer.

My understanding is that the business the person concerned was about to set up did not materialise. Consequently, is there a possibility of re-evaluating his claim?

The claimant will be given the opportunity of a re-evaluation when the appeal is heard. Arrangements will be made to have the appeal heard by an appeals officer at the earliest opportunity possible. The claimant should then put to the officer all the arguments in support of his case.

4.

asked the Minister for Social Welfare when a contributory widow's pension will be granted to a person (details supplied) in County Kerry in view of the fact that her husband was in receipt of disability benefit up to the time of his death.

One of the qualifying conditions for receipt of widow's contributory pension is that there must have been at least 156 contribution weeks of insurable employment, for which the appropriate contributions were paid, between the date of entry into insurance and the date the husband died or reached pension age. According to the records of the Department this condition is not satisfied on the insurance record of this claimant or of her late husband. On the available information, therefore, the person concerned is not qualified for receipt of the contributory pension. Before making a formal decision on the claim, however, details of the available records in respect of herself and her late husband have been sent to her and she has been asked for any relevant information she may have on the gaps in the insurance as recorded. Her claim will be considered in the light of her reply to this letter.

In the meantime she was awarded a widow's non-contributory pension at the weekly rate of £19.05, with effect from 4 January 1985. This is the rate payable to a widow under 66 years of age with one qualified child and whose weekly means exceed £36 but do not exceed £38. Her means, derived from a two-thirds intestacy interest in a holding of land, were assessed at £37.58 per week.

5.

asked the Minister for Social Welfare in relation to over-payments of social welfare benefits, the reason in some instances the amounts agreed on for deductions per week are not adhered to by his Department; and the number of people involved.

6.

asked the Minister for Social Welfare the number of recipients of social welfare payments from whom repayments have been demanded; and the reason his Department have demanded increased payments and-or deductions each week from recipients of social welfare payments.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 5 and 6 together.

My Department decide on the appropriate level of recovery by way of deductions from payments in cases where there has been an overpayment. Regard is had to the size of the over-payment, the rate at which the claimant is being paid benefit and the general circumstances of the particular situation. In any case where a claimant feels that such deductions are causing undue hardship it is open to him or her to apply to have the rate of deduction reduced and my Department will consider all such applications on their merits.

If in any case a rate of deduction has been set by the Department and this is not implemented or is subsequently altered the reason may lie in a change of circumstances coming to light. If the Deputy has such a case in mind my Department will be happy to look into it on hearing from him.

There are no readily available statistics of the kind referred to by the Deputy but the number of cases would be relatively small.

Can the Minister detail the types of payment in respect of which the number of cases are relatively few?

The Deputy referred in his question to social welfare payments and I take that to include all forms of social welfare payments. There are no readily available statistics of the kind the Deputy refers to but the number of cases involved are relatively few.

If there is only a small number of cases involved why can the Minister not tell me how many people are having money deducted from their social welfare payments? I was in contact with the Department concerning the case of an old age pensioner whose pension had been reduced to £10. I was told that the deduction was increased because only amounts of even numbers can be deducted by the Department computer. If this is the case it is resulting in moneys being deducted from old age pensioners particularly. In such cases would the Minister ensure that there is more leniency? He will appreciate the difficulty of a person who is trying to live on £10 per week.

It is regrettable that the Deputy was not more specific in his question.

It is a separate question.

If the Deputy furnishes specific details of the case he has in mind, we will be in a position to give him an accurate answer but the matter of deciding on the amounts of over-payments is one that relates to the circumstances of the individual concerned and of how the over-payment arose. For example, there are two different ways in which over-payments can arise. Some arise through no fault of the claimant. Others arise because of some degree of negligence, sometimes innocent negligence, while in other cases a claimant can be deliberately deceptive in furnishing information to the Department. These may subsequently give rise to over-payment. There is no hard and fast answer to the question. My reply must be very general because the Deputy's question was general but I suggest that he either table a specific question or write to me on the matter.

I have written already to the Minister about one applicant but I shall write again if that will be of help. I was informed by the Department that there are a number of people in the same position and I was wondering why a computer was preventing people from receiving moneys that the Department had agreed previously to pay them. Surely a computer should not be the cause of making life difficult for people living on small social welfare payments.

7.

asked the Minister for Social Welfare the reason disability benefit has been refused to a person (details supplied) in County Tipperary as he suffers from an occupational disease knows as pneumoconiosis and has been certified as suffering from this by a consultant physician of high authority; when his appeal will be held; when the decision of this appeal will be made known; and if retrospective payments will be made to him.

Payment of disability benefit to the person concerned was disallowed from 25 June 1984 following examination by a medical referee who expressed the opinion that he was capable of work. He appealed against the disallowance and he was examined on 23 October 1984 by a different medical referee who also considered him to be capable of work.

His case was referred to an appeals officer who decided that the claimant was not incapable of work during the period 25 June 1984 to 12 March 1985 the date of the latest medical certificate before him at that time — and was not entitled to be paid disability benefit for that period. The claimant was notified accordingly on 22 April 1985. The claimant was awarded a disablement pension of 20 per cent for life from 9 April 1982.

With all due respect to the Minister's medical references, is it not incomprehensible that we should be asked to believe that the opinion of a medical referee, irrespective of what may be his qualifications, would be more acceptable than the word of a senior professor of medicine in one of our largest hospitals? I refer to the person who has certified that the man concerned is incapable of work as a result of pneumoconiosis which he contracted while working in coalmines.

The appeal of this claimant has been heard and decided upon. As I pointed out, he was examined by the medical referees of the Department who expressed the opinion that he was capable of working. It should also be noted that following an examination by a specialist on 27 September, 1982 the extent of his disablement resulting from the disease was assessed at 20 per cent for life.

Apropos that report received from the specialist stating that this gentleman suffered from a 20 per cent disability as a result of an occupational disease, is it not true that it was also stated within that report that this man suffered from pneumoconosis, bronchial asthma and chronic bronchitis which may have been due to and caused by the pneumoconosis? If so, his primary medical condition would have to be regarded as resulting from his occupation as a coalminer.

I have not with me the report of the specialist concerned. The result of that report is what we are concerned about. That showed the extent of the man's disablement as being assessed as 20 per cent. If what the Deputy states was included in the report — and I do not know whether it was — then that was taken into consideration in reaching the 20 per cent disablement decision. All the factors would have been taken into consideration.

First, is it customary for the Department to seek the services of an outside specialist in evaluating cases such as this? If so, was this done in this case and if not, why not?

As stated, on the question of the disablement pension, the man was examined by a specialist. In the case of the appeal with regard to his disability benefit, he was not examined by a specialist.

Would the Minister consider reviewing the case and having an outside specialist reassess it in the light of the opinion given by the consultant specialist?

That is a separate question but that aspect can be looked at to see if the circumstances of the case justifies that action. As the Deputy is aware, the system is extremely cumber-some and because of a great many appeals it is a very slow process at the moment. If it were done in this case, that could not be taken as a precedent for every case turned down on appeal to be heard by a specialist. That would cause an enormous backlog of appeals which would be endless. In the particular case made by the Deputy today, I can look into the circumstances to see if they warrant that kind of action.

A final supplementary from Deputy McCarthy.

Is the Minister aware that this man suffers, first from pneumoconosis, secondly, bronchial asthma and chronic bronchitis, thirdly that he has had an artificial hip joint fitted and fourthly, that he has osteo-arthritis of his cervical spine? In view of those facts which I have given, would the Minister not recognise that this man is a physical wreck? For any medical referee to decide that he is capable of work is quite unacceptable and incomprehensible.

As I have stated, the claimant concerned was examined by the medical referees of my Department. Their decision is based, under the Social Welfare Act, on the findings of their examination. They found that he was not incapable of work.

They must not have examined him too diligently.

A final supplementary.

Does it concern this case?

In the case of an appeal, is it the appeals officer himself who decides the matter, or does he again enlist the services of the medical referee?

In making the case for the appeal, the claimant is entitled to submit new medical evidence and new facts. If the medical referee or the appeals officer is not in possession of the complete medical history of the claimant, it is essentially the fault of the claimant for not ensuring that all that information is available. The claimant should ensure that it is available.

Would the Minister agree that it would not be in the patient's best interests, or indeed equitable or fair, if an appeals officer made the decision without the services of a medical referee at the actual appeal?

This is a specific question. We cannot go over the whole procedure for hearing appeals.

The whole area needs to be examined.

I thank Deputy Mitchell.

8.

asked the Minister for Social Welfare the reason the claim of persons (details supplied) in County Kilkenny for a non-contributory old age pension has been disallowed; and the reason the transfer of their holdings to their two daughters is not accepted for old age pension purposes.

It has been decided by an appeals officer that the persons concerned are not entitled to any old age pension on the grounds that their means exceed the statutory limit. The assessment of their means, consisting of half the weekly value of capital and the net income from the letting of a holding exceeds the statutory limit for entitlement to pension.

The transfer of the holding to their two daughters is not acceptable for pension purposes because the daughters concerned are married and are not resident on the holding and the claimants concerned are considered to be still in beneficial occupation.

No doubt the Minister is aware that the whole trend and policy of the Department of Agriculture to increase land mobility is to encourage the transfer of holdings from parents to their children. In this case the parents, in all good faith, carried out that transfer but have been deprived now of the benefits of the old age pension. Would the Minister not agree that this is discriminatory against the daughters of the family? There are only two daughters involved and no children. Would the Minister condemn the two daughters to spinsterhood before their parents would qualify for the non-contributory old age pension?

The circumstances of this case are that the holding is a 66 acre acre farm. The land is considered to be good, and has an overall valuation of £40.50. The holding was transferred by deed dated 17 April 1984 to the applicants' two daughters. The transfer was not accepted for old age pension purposes as the daughters were not living on the holding. They are both married, one living in Templemore, County Tipperary, and the other in County Clare. The social welfare officer is satisfied that the claimants are still in beneficial occupation of the holding. The appeals officer's decision was final and conclusive, except in the light of new facts or fresh evidence. It is open to the claimants to reapply if their circumstances deteriorate. I should point out to the Deputy that from July 1985, because of the changes in the social welfare limits for pension qualification, a slight reduction in their capital would enable them to qualify for the minimum pension.

I am dissatisfied with the Minister's reply. The parents in all good faith transferred the holding——

A question, Deputy, please.

——to their daughters. The social welfare officer is misinformed. These claimants have no property. Their property and all their capital have been transferred. The transfer is a legal document. I cannot understand how they can be deprived of the non-contributory old age pension.

The social welfare officer is satisfied that the claimants are still in beneficial occupation of the holding. The appeals officer upheld that decision and unless there is new evidence or new facts, that claim cannot be reopened. However, I have pointed out that in July, subject to a slight reduction in the value of their capital, the claimants could qualify for a minimum pension.

9.

asked the Minister for Social Welfare if he will ensure in future that before bank holiday weekends all social welfare cheques are issued before his Department close for the weekend in order to eliminate hardship to recipients.

It is normal standard practice to ensure that payment of disability benefit is made on receipt of medical certification in my Department. In the case of persons who are required to submit medical evidence of incapacity at monthly intervals, payment is issued on a regular weekly basis in advance of certification. Special arrangements are made for the Christmas and Easter holiday periods to ensure that as many persons as possible receive their payments on time or in advance of the due date.

In the case of the recent Easter holiday period, all persons on the monthly certification system — about half of the total of those receiving disability benefit — were paid the payment which would normally be received on Tuesday, 9 April, on the previous Tuesday, 2 April, instead. In the case of all other claimants every effort was made to ensure that payments were issued on all medical certificates received in respect of qualified claims by Thrusday, 4 April. In fact, by the evening of that Thursday cheques had been issued for all certificates received up to and including that morning and these cheques would have been delivered on Good Friday.

10.

asked the Minister for Social Welfare if he will arrange for the payment of arrears of social welfare benefits such as unemployment benefit, unemployment assistance or disability benefit to a person (details supplied) in Dublin 12 who is illiterate and who did not make claims because he could not do so; and if, in view of the circumstances (details supplied), he will waive any minimum time within which this person must claim.

The person concerned submitted medical evidence on 26 March 1985 in respect of an incapacity resulting from an alleged occupational accident on 19 September 1984. Disability benefit was allowed from 9 March, three weeks prior to receipt of the medical evidence. Pay-related benefit was allowed from 25 March and benefit has been paid to the date of the latest medical certificate received.

Following review of the claim in the light of these representations and also confirmation of the accident by the employer, injury benefit has been allowed from 26 September 1984, the statutory maximum limit of six months prior to the date of claim. Pay-related benefit has also been back-dated to 11 October. Adjusting payments of benefit have been issued.

He has not claimed unemployment benefit or assistance in respect of the period.

I thank the Minister for his reply. Is he satisfied that the fact that the person concerned is illiterate has not reduced his entitlements in any way and that this new injury claim allowed is the maximum amount to which he is entitled?

If the claimant was not illiterate he would not get any more or less than he is getting. He has got his full entitlement under the Act. He has been paid for the statutory maximum limit of six months, which brings him back to within a few days of the accident.

11.

asked the Minister for Social Welfare if he will consider changing the name of the contributory old age pension and the non-contributory old age pension to contributory senior citizen's pension and non-contributory senior citizen's pension respectively.

The names of the pensions mentioned by the Deputy are generally recognised and accepted and I see no good reason for changing them.

12.

asked the Minister for Social Welfare if he will agree to a regional payment scheme for disability benefit payments.

Payment of disability benefit on a regional basis would require resources of staff and equipment that are not available to the Department at present. The Department are conscious of the need for providing as much information as possible in relation to their services on a localised basis. With this in mind a computerised inquiry service has been provided in local offices throughout the country and this is gradually being extended as circumstances permit.

The question of deciding and paying disability benefits on a local or regional basis is a longer term possibility but is something which the Department have under consideration.

Question No. 13 postponed.

14.

asked the Minister for Social Welfare the reason a person (details supplied) in County Wexford was disallowed any unemployment assistance when she is available for work; and if he considers this discouragement a disincentive for the unemployed to find work, even part-time work.

The statutory position in relation to unemployment assistance is that a person cannot be deemed to be unemployed on any day on which she works for wages or other remuneration, even if the employment is of short duration each day.

The unemployment assistance claim of the person concerned was disallowed from 4 February 1985 on the grounds that she was not unemployed as she had stated that she had commenced part-time employment.

She has appealed against the disallowance of her claim and arrangements are being made to hold an oral hearing of her appeal. Her entitlement to unemployment assistance will be reviewed in the light of the decision of the appeals officer.

15.

asked the Minister for Social Welfare if he will ensure that a death grant is payable forthwith in relation to a deceased person (details supplied) in Dublin 10.

Payment of a death grant at the maximum rate in respect of the deceased person concerned has been authorised and a cheque was issued on 2 May 1985.

16.

asked the Minister for Social Welfare when payment of a prisoner's wife's allowance will be made to a person (details supplied) in Dublin 22.

The person concerned has been awarded a prisoner's wife's allowance with effect from 17 February 1985. An order book payable from 9 May 1985 has been sent to the designated post office for collection by her and she has been notified accordingly.

A payable order in respect of arrears for the period from 17 February 1985 to 8 May 1985, less deductions for supplementary welfare allowance paid to her by the Eastern Health Board during that time, will be sent direct to her shortly.

I wish to thank the Minister.

17.

asked the Minister for Social Welfare the reason the application of a person (details supplied) in County Tipperary for a non-contributory old age pension has been refused.

It has been decided by an appeals officer that the person concerned is not entitled to an old age pension on the grounds that he does not fulfil the statutory conditions as to means. The assessment of his means, consisting of the weekly value of capital and a holding, exceed the statutory limit for entitlement to pension.

In this instance the farmer has transferred his land to his nephew for health reasons and the nephew works the farm. He has off-farm employment but he returns at night to work the farm. I cannot understand why the farmer's application for an old age pension has been disallowed.

The holding has been transferred to the nephew but this has not been accepted for old age pension purposes because the nephew is employed in a computer firm and only visits the holding at weekends. The social welfare officer is satisfied that the claimant is still in beneficial occupation of the holding. On 22 November 1984 a deciding officer decided he was not entitled to an old age non-contributory pension as his means exceeded the limit of £44 for entitlement to pension. The claimant lodged an appeal against the decision on 29 November 1984 stating he had signed over his land to his nephew and that he himself was unable to work the holding as he suffered from arthritis. The matter was referred to an appeals officer on 6 December 1984 who decided on 21 December not to allow a pension as the claimant's means exceeded the limit. If he wishes to have his entitlement reinvestigated it is open to him to notify the Department to that effect.

The claimant made another application but this was turned down. The farmer has no means. He has transferred all of his property to his nephew and, strictly and legally speaking, he has no means whatever. Would the Minister consider directing the appeals officer to grant the old age pension to this farmer?

As the Deputy is aware, I have no power to direct a social welfare officer or an appeals officer to do anything of that kind. As I stated, if the claimant wishes to have his entitlement re-investigated, it is open to him to notify the Department. The claim will then be re-investigated and the circumstances will be considered again. The kernel of the matter is that the social welfare officers, who have the statutory power to make the decision in this matter, did not accept for old age pension purposes the transfer of the land because of the fulltime occupation of the nephew and the fact that he visited the holding only at weekends. There is also the factor that the claimant is still in beneficial occupation of the holding, is still living on the holding.

Could the Minister define "beneficial occupation"?

I have not got the exact definition. Perhaps the Deputy might put down a question on that. It is a matter of the social welfare officer being satisfied that the claimant is still in beneficial occupation of the holding. That is the decision of the social welfare officer and he has power to take that decision under the provisions of the Act.

How can the Minister of State indicate to us that a person can be in beneficial occupation when strictly and legally speaking he is entitled to no benefit whatsoever from the holding involved?

We are now getting into argument.

It is a contentious issue. This is the second incidence I have had today.

Obviously the circumstances would change if the claimant did not reside on the holding but resided elsewhere. That would constitute a change in circumstances. It is the opinion of the social welfare officer that this person is in beneficial occupation of the holding and the appeals officer has upheld that decision.