Written Answers. - Social Welfare Benefits.
126 Mr. J. Mitchell asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs the reason a person (details supplied) in Dublin 8 has not been granted unemployment assistance since October 1997; and if unemployment assistance should be paid and backdated to October 1997 in view of the hardship of the case. [8302/98]
The person concerned applied for unemployment assistance on 8 October 1997. He was requested to submit documentation in respect of his previous earnings and payment was made on a provisional basis pending the receipt of this documentation. However, he ceased to sign the live register on 21 October 1997.
He made a further application for unemployment assistance on 21 November 1997 and was again requested to submit documentation setting out details of his previous income. He failed to furnish the required documentation.
He was interviewed by a social welfare inspector on 25 November 1997 and based on the inspector's report he was assessed with means of £88 per week. As this amount exceeded the maximum rate unemployment assistance in his case his application was disallowed. The decision was upheld by an appeals officer.
He made further application for unemployment assistance on 24 February 1998 and the claim was disallowed on the grounds that means assessed were in excess of the maximum rate payable in his case. He has appealed this decision and all papers in the cases are being passed to the social welfare appeals office.
It is open to the person concerned to apply to the community welfare officer, who is based in the local health centre, for supplementary welfare allowance pending a decision on his case.
127 Mr. McGinley asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs the number of Irish citizens living in the United Kingdom in receipt of Irish social welfare benefits; if his attention has been drawn to the hardship experienced by these people as the result of the fall in value of the punt; the steps, if any, he will take to address the problem; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8303/98]
Approximately 15,000 people residing in the United Kingdom receive payment of a benefit or pension from my Department. These payments include old age contributory pension, retirement pension, widows and widowers contributory pensions, invalidity pensions, disability benefit, maternity benefit and unemployment benefit. The majority of these people receive a long-term social welfare pension.
The level of benefits or pensions received is that which each recipient is entitled to under Irish social welfare legislation and, where appropriate, the European Union regulations on social security. There is no provision made in national legislation to pay persons resident abroad more than they are entitled to in Irish punts in order to compensate for currency fluctuations. There is no such requirement either under the EU regulations.
A system to compensate for currency fluctuations would be extremely difficulty to administer given the frequency of these fluctuations and the number of currencies in the EU. Such a system would, in addition, have to include reducing payments in Irish punts when the Irish punt appreciated against another currency.
The need for such a system will no longer arise for more EU member states with the advent of the single currency under economic and monetary union, although this will not apply to the UK for the present.
Under the EU regulations on social security, EU citizens resident in the United Kingdom are eligible for income support on the same basis as UK citizens whose incomes fall below specified levels. Recipients of Irish social welfare benefits, the value of which have fallen because of currency fluctuations, would be among these eligible categories. In 1996 when the Irish punt appreciated significantly against sterling, people resident in Ireland with UK pensions were similarly eligible for payments under the appropriate Irish social assistance schemes.
My Department is also seeking to reduce the costs to pensioners living in the United Kingdom of having to change their payments into sterling by the introduction and extension of the electronic fund transfer method of payment. Recipients of old age contributory pension, retirement pensions and widows and widowers contributory pensions are paid either by cheque or by means of electronic fund transfer, EFT. Payments made by way of a fund transfer are in sterling while payments made by cheque are in Irish punts.
While payments under EFT are determined by current exchange rates, the main advantage of this method of payment is that conversion commission charges are avoided. In addition, encashment charges, often levied by banks and building societies when cheques are cashed, do not apply and payment is guaranteed as it eliminates the risk of cheques being lost or stolen in the post.
At present some 7,000 social welfare pensioners in the United Kingdom have opted for this payment method. All new recipients of these social welfare pensions, who are resident outside the State, have payment made by way of an electronic fund transfer.