I am aware of the very important role the independent voluntary sector, including centres for the unemployed, have in the provision of information and advice to people regarding their statutory entitlements.
As Deputies will be aware, the Programme for Government contains a commitment to overhaul the facilities available for community information, building on the network already in place in both the voluntary and statutory sectors. As a first step towards achieving this, arrangements are being made to transfer responsibility for the National Social Service Board to my Department and this move will enable greater consultation with that organisation on the question of supporting and strengthening the independent voluntary information sector.
In my Department's experience, the vast majority of people seeking information require specific details relating to their own individual needs. Queries of this nature can only be satisfactorily dealt with by reference to the individual case files held in the relevant section of my Department. Consequently, the use of a centralised freephone service would not be the most effective method of providing information of a specific nature. As regards centres for the unemployed, I will ensure that staff within my Department endeavour to provide any information needed by those organisations without undue delay and in order to contain the telephone costs, return calls will be made in cases where the query cannot be dealt with immediately.