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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 28 Jun 1994

Vol. 444 No. 5

Written Answers. - Social Assistance Payments.

Richard Bruton


36 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Social Welfare if his attention has been drawn to the fact that persons, who take early retirement will have all of their non-statutory lump sum assessed against them when they come to apply for unemployment assistance, and will lose their entitlement to treatment benefit before they reach retirement age and for the rest of their lives; his views on whether changes should be made in these provisions in order to make early retirement an acceptable option.

Applicants for social assistance payments who have capital are assessed with a notional income from the capital. In the case of unemployment assistance, the first £400 of capital is assessed at 5 per cent and the remainder is assessed at 10 per cent. The resulting figure is then divided by 52 to give the weekly means which is deducted from the appropriate maximum rate of unemployment assistance.

Under existing provisions, a married couple may have in excess of £50,000 and still qualify for unemployment assistance at a reduced rate while a married couple with two children can have £64,000 capital and still qualify for a reduced payment.

The Programme for Competitiveness and Work contains a commitment to streamline and standardise application and assessment procedures, including provisions for the assessment of means, for social assistance payments. The existing provisions for the assessment of capital are being reviewed in my Department in that context.

As regards treatment, dental and optical, benefits, one of the statutory contribution conditions for receipt of those benefits requires an applicant aged between 21 and 66 years to have at least 39 reckonable PRSI contributions paid or credited in the governing contribution year of which at least 13 must be paid contributions. Alternatively, this condition can be satisfied if the applicant has at least 13 contributions paid in either of the two contribution years preceding the governing contribution year, or a subsequent contribution year, including the year in which employment ceases due, for example, to early retirement. People in receipt of long term unemployment assistance, pre-retirement allowance, disability benefit for more than 12 months, invalidity pension, or retirement pension are exempt from the condition requiring at least 13 paid contributions.
In practice, therefore, a person who leaves the workforce can retain entitlement to treatment benefit for up to five years after employment ceases. Where entitlement runs out after that period, it can be restored on receipt of retirement pension at age 65 years. Furthermore, once qualified at 66 years of age, a person remains qualified for treatment benefit for the rest of his or her life.