Written Answers. - Social Welfare Benefits.

19.

asked the Minister for Social Welfare when a decision will be made regarding the application for an old age pension of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare.

The person concerned had been in receipt of old age pension which was withdrawn in January 1988 when she informed the Department she had means, the value of which brought her income over the limits for entitlement to pension.

She reapplied for pension on 8 March 1989. The social welfare officer has visited her in connection with her claim. The officer is still awaiting additional information regarding details of the person's capital and investments. When these details are received, the officer will be in a position to complete the means investigation and the matter will be referred to a deciding officer for decision as quickly as possible.

20.

asked the Minister for Social Welfare whether the exclusion of those in low paid employment from rent or mortgage supplements under the supplementary welfare system is a disincentive to employment; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Under the legislation governing the supplementary welfare allowance schemes persons in full time employment are not entitled, except in certain exceptional circumstances, to receive assistance under the scheme, including assistance with rent or mortgage costs. Persons receiving rent or mortgage supplements are generally persons in receipt of a basic social welfare payment. They are required in all cases to meet the first £3.10 of rent or mortgage interest payments and in determining the amount of supplement to be paid, the practice is to leave the client with a disposable income, after rent, equivalent to the basic supplementary welfare allowance rate for his family size, less £3.10.

There is no evidence that present levels of social welfare payments, including where appropriate, supplements in respect of rent or mortgage interest, are so high by comparison with earnings as to constitute a significant disincentive to taking up employment. The measures taken in this year's budget to increase tax exemption limits, will be of significant additional benefit to low earning families and will improve work incentives. The family income supplement provides a further incentive to employment and I will shortly be announcing improvements in that scheme to come into operation in July.

21.

asked the Minister for Social Welfare the reason a person (details supplied) in County Cork is in receipt of only £17 per week and is not receiving full unemployment assistance for his wife and family, despite the fact that he has no other source of income.

The person concerned reapplied for unemployment assistance on 17 October 1988. A social welfare officer was asked to investigate his means at this point but, pending the outcome, unemployment assistance was paid at the weekly rate of £82.20 on the basis of his qualification certificate from an earlier claim which assessed him with means of £6.27 per week derived from capital.

Following investigation of his means, a deciding officer assessed him with weekly means of £71.20 from 23 November 1988, derived from income from self-employment as a sign-writer and from capital. The person concerned appealed against the amount of means assessed against him on 25 November 1988. An appeals officer upheld the deciding officer's decision on 10 February 1989.

The person is, accordingly, in receipt of unemployment assistance of £17.30 at present being the maximum rate of £88.50 appropriate in his for a man, wife and two children dependants, less means of £71.20.

He applied for a review of his means on 20 March 1989 and his case is currently with the social welfare officer for reinvestigation of his circumstances. On completion of the social welfare officer's report, his case will be reviewed by a deciding officer.

22.

asked the Minister for Social Welfare the reason payment of disability benefit was disallowed in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare who is clearly unfit for work and entitled to same.

The person concerned was considered to be capable of work following examination by a medical referee on 19 April 1988 and payment of disability benefit was discontinued from 9 May 1988 as a consequence. He was examined again by a different medical referee on 11 July 1988 who also considered him capable of work.

He was subsequently examined by another medical referee on 21 November 1988 in connection with a claim to disablement benefit. Following this examination payment of disability benefit was restored as he was considered to be again incapable of work from that date. He has appealed against the disallowance of disability benefit from 9 May 1988 to 20 November 1988 and his case has been submitted to an appeals officer for determination.

23.

asked the Minister for Social Welfare the reason social welfare benefits do not apply to serving members of the Defence Forces when off-duty due to illness or injury; as Permanent Defence Force members pay A.1 contributions; the reason they are not entitled to the same benefits as other workers; if he has any plans to change this situation; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Members of the Defence Forces are divided into two categories for social insurance purposes: (a) commissioned Army officers and permanent members of the Army Nursing Service and (b) non-commissioned Army officers and enlisted members of the Defence Forces. Commissioned Army officers are insured at the PRSI Class C rate of contribution and are covered for widow's and orphan's (contributory) pensions and deserted wife's benefit. Non-commissioned officers and enlisted members of the Defence Forces are insured at the PRSI Class H rate of contribution and are covered for all social insurance benefits with the exception of occupational injuries benefits. However, only certain benefits are payable during service and disability benefit is not payable during absence from work due to illness.

The differing social insurance cover for members of the Defence Forces reflects the various career structures of Army personnel. Commissioned officers, for instance, generally remain in the Army for most of their working lives and are, accordingly, insured on a similar basis as other permanent and pensionable public servants. Non-commissioned officers and enlisted personnel, on the other hand, are recruited for fixed periods and many will eventually leave to take up ordinary employment. The social insurance cover which is provided for such personnel, reflects the pattern of their employment and ensures that they are fully protected under the social welfare system in the event of leaving the Army.

Members of the Defence Forces are entitled to full pay during periods of illness and injury whether occurring on or off duty and disability benefit is therefore not payable during service. To compensate for this non-commissioned officers and enlisted personnel do not pay the full rate of PRSI contribution which applies to workers generally, the Class H contribution being at a reduced rate which reflects their restricted entitlements under the social insurance system.

The social insurance position of all public servants, including members of the Defence Forces, is currently being examined in the light of the decision in principle by the Government to extend full PRSI cover to all public sector workers on an agreed basis with effect from April 1990.

24.

asked the Minister for Social Welfare the maximum amount of money which a widow aged 66 years or over can have in the bank and still qualify for a widow's pension; if he will give the same figures in respect of a single person over 66 years seeking an old age pension; if the difference in the means test limits, as exists between these categories, constitutes sex discrimination; if he has any proposals to raise the maximum means limits for single people and widowers to those applying to widows; and the cost of such an improvement.

Applicants for social assistance payments who have capital invested or savings are assessed with a notional income from it. A widow may currently have capital of £51,160 and still qualify for the minimum rate of widow's non-contributory pension. A single person applying for old age non-contributory pension may have capital of £26,907.50 and still qualify for the minimum payment.

The difference in the amount which claimants under these schemes may have arises from the different formulae used to assess the value of capital in each scheme. The formula which applies under the old age pension scheme applies to men and women applicants alike. As far as the formula which applies in widow's pension scheme is concerned a similar formula will apply to widowers and deserted husbands under the new scheme of allowances for these categories which will come into operation in October.

In principle I would agree that a uniform approach to the assessment of means of all applicants for social assistance is desirable. However, the introduction of a single uniform means test would require amending legislation and given that some 25 per cent or 40,000 recipients of old age pensions, widows' and orphans' pensions, and social assistance allowance payments are assessed with means, it would also have major cost implications.

It is not possible to cost the effect of increasing the maximum means limits. Means may be derived from a variety of sources and my Department do not have detailed information on the proportion of the means assessed against existing pensioners which is derived from capital or savings. Any increase in means limits would also extend entitlement to additional numbers of people who do not qualify for any pension at present.