Written Answers. - Social Welfare Benefits.

Michael Ring

Question:

112 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs the number of people in County Mayo who have been refused unemployment benefit or assistance in 2000 on the grounds that they are not genuinely seeking work; the number of these who have submitted an appeal; and the number of these appeals which have been finalised, giving details of the number of cases which were allowed and disallowed. [20298/00]

Among the conditions for receipt of an unemployment payment are that the claimant must be available for and genuinely seeking work. If a deciding officer is not satisfied that the claimant fulfils these conditions the existing claim is disallowed. Such decisions may be appealed to the independent social welfare appeals office within 21 days. When this process is completed and where the deciding officer's decisions are upheld by an appeals officer, the claims are "closed" on the computer system.

Statistics on the number of disallowances by decision type are not available. However, in the period 1 January 2000 to 31 August 2000 the number of unemployment claims closed in local offices in County Mayo, after being disallowed on the grounds of not genuinely seeking work and/or not available for work, was 525. The corresponding national figure was 8,889.

Statistics held in the appeals office are not broken down by appeal type. However, records held in local offices in County Mayo show that from 1 January 2000, a total of 151 decisions relating to genuinely seeking work and availability for work were appealed to the social welfare appeals office.

Of these, 99 cases have been finalised and returned to the local offices of whom 16 had their appeals allowed, 81 were disallowed and two claimants withdrew their appeals.

Derek McDowell

Question:

113 Mr. McDowell asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs if he will have examinations made into the situation of people on the back to education scheme who have been signing on for credits but who do not qualify for any benefit or maintenance while they are pursuing further education. [20456/00]

The back to education allowance is a second chance educational opportunities scheme designed to encourage and facilitate unemployed people, lone parents and people with disabilities to improve their skills and qualifications with a view to returning to the workforce.

To qualify for participation in the scheme, applicants must be in receipt of a relevant social welfare payment for at least six months immediately prior to commencing an approved course of study. While on the scheme, they receive a weekly payment equivalent to the maximum rate of their social welfare payment. Persons who are signing for credited contributions and who, therefore, do not receive any basic unemployment payment cannot receive any payment under the back to education scheme.

Circumstances can arise where back to education allowance participants, who were in receipt of credited contributions on commencing an approved course of study may in a later year satisfy the contribution conditions for unemployment benefit. Such participants would be entitled to the back to education allowance from the date they became entitled to unemployment benefit.

The back to education allowance has proved to be a very worthwhile scheme to assist people in taking up educational opportunities with a view to returning to the workforce. I am arranging for a review of the scheme to be initiated and the matter raised by the Deputy will be among the issues to be addressed in that review.

John V. Farrelly

Question:

114 Mr. Farrelly asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs the action he will take following the review of the one parent family payment; if he will bring forward proposals; and the timetable in this regard. [20285/00]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

136 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs his response to the review on one parent family payments; his views on the adequacy of rent supplement for those attempting to return to work; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20448/00]

Róisín Shortall

Question:

141 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs the plans he has to implement the findings of the review of the one parent family payment which was published in September 2000; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20495/00]

Frances Fitzgerald

Question:

772 Ms Fitzgerald asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs if he will outline the action he will take following the review of the one parent family payment; if he will bring forward proposals; and the timetable in this regard. [20263/00]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 114, 136, 141 and 772 together.

The programme evaluation report on one parent family payment, carried out by my Department and published on 5 September last is the first review of this scheme since it was introduced in January 1997. The review is one of a series of reviews being undertaken under the Department's expenditure review programme.

The review paid particular attention to the needs of lone parents and their children and to the desire to avoid long-term dependency on social welfare by this group. It also looked at various other issues relating to lone parenthood. The review provides very valuable information which will form a basis for consideration of the future direction of the one parent family payment.

Key conclusions and proposals arising from the review are as follows: current one-parent family payment arrangements for one-parent families are justified and fulfil a valuable role in supporting lone parents; overall a more proactive approach to this group, especially in the information, training and employment areas, needs to be taken; support programmes – for example, in the training and educational areas – would need to be tailored to meet the different needs of different categories of lone parents; the one-parent family payment should not facilitate or encourage long-term social welfare dependency for people of working age and ability; while making receipt of one-parent family payment conditional on seeking employment is not proposed, the increasing cost of the scheme, changing attitudes towards parents working outside the home and international experience suggest that some conditionality on claiming may be introduced at some stage in the future; the increasing cost of the scheme will place more focus on the arrangements for maintenance provisions and the way society views parents who do not take financial responsibility for their children at the State's expense. Proposals are made to improve the one-parent family payment recipient's incentive to seek maintenance; and the current contingency nature of the one-parent family payment, which is a payment to support people parenting alone, does not permit easy solutions to issues in relation to custody of children, co-habitation and the formation of new relationships the current contingency nature of the one-parent family payment which is a payment to support people parenting alone. The group did not support proposals to split child dependant allowances or child benefit in cases of equal joint custody/parenting of children. On the basis of the review's findings, I intend to follow through with policy initiatives in a number of areas.
The first major action programme that is being prepared relates to employment and education opportunities. I am concerned at the continued high poverty rates for lone parents and their children and at the fact that long-term welfare dependency has become a reality for many of those on one-parent family payment.
I am, however, encouraged by the significant growth in the number of lone parents at work. I believe that this is the best route out of poverty. On foot of the proposals in the review and following discussions with the relevant agencies, I have been considering a range of measures to address the barriers to employment which still exist.
The pilot family services project which is under way in Cork, Waterford and Finglas, has as its objective the provision of a high quality information service about the range of supports available to families from State agencies. The provision of information to lone parents about education, training and employment options and opportunities is one of the aims of the family services project.
I will shortly be launching an information campaign to ensure that all lone parents are fully aware of the various supports which are available to help them to take advantage of education, training and employment opportunities. The information campaign will be the first strand in a planned and comprehensive programme of measures which will form my Department's strategy to motivate, encourage and support lone parents to join the active labour force. This programme will have the following objectives: (a) to encourage and facilitate lone parents who wish to enter the labour market by providing them with access to the necessary education, training and related supports on an individual basis, and (b) to ensure that lone parents are fully aware of the range of options and supports which are currently in place from all agencies to assist them to return to the labour force.
In relation to the delivery of the service to clients, my Department is developing plans for the localisation of the administration of the one-parent family payment scheme. I believe that developing the administration of the scheme to a local level will be an important step in helping to make the scheme itself and related services more accessible to lone parents. I envisage that the process of developing the scheme will commence, probably on a pilot basis initially, by the end of the year.
On the issue of maintenance, I believe that support from the "absent" partner or parent should play a much more important role in providing support to lone parents. The review sets out a comprehensive analysis of the options in this area which I am considering in detail. The review concluded that the "liability to maintain family" system and procedures specified in social welfare legislation should be enforced more vigorously while bearing in mind value for money consider ations. The administrative and resource aspects of this recommendation are under active consideration by my Department at present. I will also be considering, in the budgetary context, the proposals set out in the review in relation to improvements in the amount of maintenance which lone parents can retain, to act as a further incentive to seek adequate maintenance and to improve their overall income position.
Rent supplement is administered on behalf of my Department by the health boards as part of the supplementary welfare allowance scheme. My Department has no function in deciding entitlement in individual cases. The supplementary welfare allowance, SWA, scheme provides for a weekly or monthly supplement to be paid in respect of rent or mortgage interest to any person in the State whose means are insufficient to meet their needs.
SWA is subject to a means test and is not ordinarily payable to people in full-time employment. However, arrangements have been in place for some years now to enable rent supplement recipients to retain their rent supplement and other secondary benefits on taking up employment, subject to certain conditions.
Prior to 6 April 2000 any person who availed of my Department's back to work allowance scheme, job assist or other employment support schemes could retain their rent supplement for three years, subject to a maximum payment of £250 per month, provided their household income did not exceed £250 per week.
New conditions for the retention of rent and mortgage interest supplements were announced in Budget 2000 and came into effect on 6 April 2000. These changes include disregarding the back to work allowance and family income supplement in the assessment of means and a tapered withdrawal of rent supplement over four years. Some 75% of the previous rate entitlement will be paid in year one, 50% in year two, 25% in year three and 25% in year four. The £250 per month payment limit was also abolished. Existing recipients may opt for assessment under either the new arrangements or the previous arrangement, whichever is more beneficial to them.
These measures have been designed to assist and encourage people, to make the transition from welfare into work. The new measures are also particularly beneficial to families with high rents.
The review of the one parent family scheme is a significant addition to our overall knowledge of this group and their needs. Policy in relation to lone parents has been continually evolving over the past 30 years. I believe that the report and the actions we are taking, and will take arising from it, will make us better positioned to respond to the needs of this group within our fast-changing society.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

115 Mr. O'Shea asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs the arrangements he has put in place for claimants of pre-retire ment allowance who are hospitalised during decentralisation of processing this allowance from Longford to local offices and the introduction of the postdraft system; and the benefits of the new procedures. [20459/00]

The administration of the pre-retirement allowance scheme is being transferred from the Department's Longford social services office to social welfare local offices throughout the country with effect from 12 October 2000.

As part of the transfer process, all pre-retirement allowance recipients have been fully advised of the new administrative and payment arrangements that will apply. Recipients will continue to receive their weekly payment at their existing post office but will be paid through a post draft rather than a book of personalised payable orders.

In the case of people who are unable to collect their own payment in circumstances such as hospitalisation, the person can be paid by cheque or into their bank account. If the Deputy has a particular case in mind, perhaps he could advise my Department and the necessary arrangements will be made.

One of the advantages of the post draft system is that it will provide a household budget facility for recipients of this allowance. This scheme, which is operated for my Department by An Post, allows customers to have deductions made from their weekly payment to pay certain bills such as ESB, gas, telephone or local authority rents or mortgages.

While the allowance is generally directed at people who have opted to retire from the workforce, pre-retirement allowance recipients may, in certain instances, also wish to avail of the employment support services offered by my Department. In this regard, the transfer of the scheme to local offices will also facilitate such people in directly accessing employment support services should this be required.