As the Deputy will be aware, the qualifying conditions for the old age contributory and retirement pensions apply to all insured people – both employees and self-employed. These qualifying conditions require a person to have: entered social insurance before age 56, for the old age contributory pension and age 55, for the retirement pension; and a minimum of 156 full rate contributions paid. This requirement for all contributors will increase to 260 and 520 paid contributions from April 2002 and April 2012, respectively; and a yearly average of, at least, ten contributions paid or credited from 1953 (when the unified system of social insurance came into effect) or the date of entry into social insurance, if later. The reduction in the yearly average requirement from 20 to ten was introduced in November 1997. Where the yearly average is between ten and 19 contributions a minimum of 260 contributions must have been paid.
Provision is also made in the Social Welfare system for pro-rata pensions for any person who fails to qualify for an old age contributory or retirement pension under the standard qualifying conditions. These apply to people who may have a mixture of Irish contributions and contributions in other EU countries or countries with which Ireland has a bilateral agreement or those with a mixed insurance record e.g. full rate contributions and contributions from public service employment.
In this year's Social Welfare Act, I introduced a special pension targeted at people who had paid contributions prior to 1953 but failed to qualify for an old age contributory pension due to the operation of the ‘yearly average' test.
This special pension, payable from 5 May 2000, will benefit many women who have gaps in their PRSI records because of time spent working full-time in the home. It is a flat-rate pension, payable at 50% of the maximum personal rate, to any person who became insurably employed prior to 1953 and who, due to the yearly average rule, failed to qualify for pension or qualified for a pension at less than 50%, i.e. £48 per week from May, of the standard maximum rate. To qualify, a person must have paid, at least, 260 contributions which may comprise all pre-53 contributions or a combination of pre and post 1953 insurance.
In terms of the overall situation, the Department has been reviewing the qualifying conditions for the old age contributory and retirement pensions. The report on the first phase of this review has recently been published and I am currently considering the recommendations of this report.