Priority Questions.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

1 Deputy Olwyn Enright asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs her plans to alter eligibility for child benefit; if it is intended to tax or means test the payment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17300/09]

As Deputies will be aware, the rates of child benefit have increased significantly since 2001, having trebled for the first two children and increased by over 185% for the third and subsequent children. Partly as a result of this and partly as a result of an increase in the number of eligible children, overall expenditure on child benefit grew from just under £760 million — the equivalent of €965 million — in 2001 to nearly €2.5 billion in 2008.

The Government is proud to have been able to direct such substantial increases in financial support to all Irish families in recent years. However, given the scale of the current economic crisis, it is necessary to address all aspects of the public finances in order to avoid excessive borrowing and ensure that fairness exists in the allocation of resources. It was in this context that the Minister for Finance announced in the supplementary budget the Government's intention to subject child benefit to income tax or to means test it from 2010.

The issues concerning which approach to adopt are considerable. I understand the Commission on Taxation is considering the issues underlying the possible taxation of child benefit. Its deliberations will inform the Government's final decision on how to proceed. The Department has advised the commission of the practical issues involved in taxation of child benefit.

The alternative approach of means testing the almost 600,000 families in receipt of child benefit would be administratively cumbersome and costly. Difficulties would have to be overcome with regard to the appropriate treatment of different types of income, establishing the composition of the household and considering how income is distributed within the household.

Careful consideration also needs to be given to the likely consequences of both approaches. For example, any option to tax or means test child benefit could result in disincentives to take up employment and lead to a reduction in participation levels because it would raise the amount of wages required to replace the level of welfare previously received. It could also lead to a depression of activity levels whereby people would attempt to stay below the different tax thresholds by reducing hours worked or job sharing. Any possible inconsistency of treatment as between cohabiting and married couples also needs to be considered. In addition, the implications for low-income households must be examined carefully, for example, in cases where income from child benefit would bring such households over the thresholds for liability to tax. The Department, together with the Department of Finance and the Revenue Commissioners, will be giving the matter careful consideration over the coming months in anticipation of the report by the Commission on Taxation.

Since 1944, child benefit has been a key instrument in child income support policy, its main objectives being to support families in the costs of rearing children and to alleviate poverty. I assure the House that a decision on how best to proceed will not be taken lightly by the Government.

I thank the Minister for her reply. I suppose it summarises the thoughts of Government but not the consequences of what it intends to do.

I shall put to the Minister an example I received today from a constituent. Her family has lost €8,000 in real terms annually because of the public service levies. She has four children aged under five and has lost an additional €4,000 through the abolition of the early child care supplement. Her basic question concerns how we value children and how we consider the actual burden — a word I do not like to use — placed on families when they have children and the responsibilities that follow.

In her response the Minister briefly mentioned the issue of disincentives which would be my biggest concern if either a tax or means testing were to be introduced. There are already several poverty traps in the social welfare system which create disincentives for people to take up employment if such employment exists. First, how great is the Minister's concern that introducing means testing or a tax might create the greatest of all poverty traps for people with families? Second, has any thought been given to the idea of having tax credits for families with children if either of these schemes is to be introduced? A constituent said to me this week that in our taxation system her bins are valued more than her children. She can get a tax credit for her bin but not for her children. When one puts it that way one has to wonder how we value children.

The real case the Deputy outlined is a particularly difficult one for that family. Notwithstanding that the mother will get one year's free preschooling for each of her children, there is a considerable income loss for her and I appreciate that. We would be very conscious of that in whatever decisions we take in the next budget, bearing in mind what has happened in this one. The two measures will have to be seen with regard to how they impact on families.

The disincentive effect is very real when one looks to try to improve social welfare in any way. We have had other examples and there have been letters to the paper that everybody has probably seen, concerning a family with four children. When they listed all they were entitled to on welfare they were doing better than they would be at work. That should never be the case.

The family income supplement is in place to support people but there would not be much point in taking with the one hand to give back with the other, all coming from a social welfare payment designed to support people with children. This is one of the issues we shall consider because it would be very wrong that somebody on social welfare should have a greater incentive to stay that way compared to the person on low income who is actually working. These are all issues we must thrash out in respect of future policy in respect of child benefit.

I asked the Minister to be cognisant of this but she gave the example herself so she is aware of the situation. That makes me wonder why this is being driven so hard. If everyone in the House were to add them up we would have thousands of examples of people who are better off remaining on social welfare. I have a real concern that if we go down the road proposed by the Government in respect of child benefit we will create even more examples and will force people, especially those with a number of children, to remain in unemployment rather than seek work. I ask the Minister to impress that fact on the Minister for Finance.

I certainly will. There are many issues relating to child benefit. It has been a universal payment for a very long time. There were some years during which the tax credit given for children was reduced on account of benefit and so at one stage there was a link between tax and child benefit but it was eased out. There are people who depend on child benefit and even those who do not depend on it to provide basics for their children use it for them, perhaps for extra activities, or whatever. I am conscious that is the case. However, it is costing us €2.5 billion and that is why we have had to look at all the schemes and every element of the social welfare budget, particularly at a time when people are taking drops in their income in the private sector. I fully accept the point that we must ensure we do not create any further disincentives. However, let everybody be warned that as soon as we try to do anything with the current entitlements under social welfare opposition voices inside and outside the House will be the very ones to say not to touch it.

I am not encouraging the Minister to do that.

I know, but it makes life very difficult when one is trying to find a balance when people who are not dependent on social welfare are taking drops in their income. We must ensure we do not have a disincentive for them to go on social welfare and be better off there. That will be the overall principle but it is too early to say what will happen in its regard in the future. There are considerable complications attached to either taxing or means testing, regardless of the policy decision attached.

Pension Provisions.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

2 Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the way she will proceed in terms of pensions policy in order to address the outstanding issues; and when she will bring her full proposals to Cabinet. [17305/09]

Since the Green Paper on pensions was published in October 2007, the economic landscape has changed significantly in Ireland and the rest of the world. This has resulted in significant difficulties for pension scheme members, trustees and employers, related to the collapse in equity values and significant losses in pension funds.

Given these changed circumstances, the Government has moved to assist defined benefit schemes and their members through measures announced in December 2008 and more recent announcements. These include the establishment of a pensions insolvency payment fund, a reordering of wind-up priorities, provision for restructuring of pension benefits and stronger regulation with regard to remittance of pension contributions. These measures have been introduced to assist workers who are facing real and immediate difficulties with their defined benefit entitlements.

The Government is fully aware that the challenges facing our pension system go beyond these immediate difficulties. Members of defined contribution schemes have also faced losses in the value of their funds. In addition to these immediate pressures we are also faced with challenges relating to pensions coverage, the sustainability of our pensions system, the adequacy of current provision and the issues raised in the Green Paper in relation to social welfare pensions.

It is the intention of the Government to deal with all of these issues. It is important that the decisions we make are the correct ones, given that these decisions will have a significant impact on this generation and the next. Our objective must be a pension system which will deliver an adequate retirement income for all which is, at the same time, affordable and sustainable for the State and those who sponsor and provide occupational pension schemes. It is also important that an appropriate balance is struck between all stakeholders.

This Government has responded to the immediate pressures facing pension scheme members in a way we deem to be fair and equitable. We will continue to discuss further long-term reform options for inclusion in the final framework and I expect that this will be published in the near future.

The reality is that we have been waiting years for this Government to address the pensions crisis facing the country. It is 19 months since the Green Paper was published and we are still awaiting a White Paper on the way forward. The minor changes the Minister made in December and this week amount to nothing more than robbing Peter to pay Paul. She is not doing anything fundamental in terms of addressing the major problem of the deficit in so many pension schemes.

When will the Minister set out where the country is going in relation to pensions? Pension schemes are losing money by the week. There is a major problem as regards the over-emphasis and over-concentration on tax relief as a way of dealing with pensions. I have already asked the Minister to kindly come up with figures in that regard, and I now ask her again. The only figure we have for tax relief on pensions and its cost relates to 2006, and that is a global figure. Will the Minister produce figures for us before she announces the Green Paper that will provide data showing the different elements of the current pension provision costs? I am particularly concerned about the cost to the Exchequer of the self-administered schemes. Will she, therefore, be in a position to provide the data prior to the publication of the White Paper?

How does she intend to proceed in regard to pensions, given that millions of public and private money has been lost in the past year, in particular through gambling on the stock markets? Does she intend to take a new approach to pension provision and, if so, will it have the State pension at its core?

The measures taken in recent months were obviously to deal with the current difficulties that have arisen and were not designed for the long term. The framework document will deal with the long-term issues. Other countries that have introduced long-term frameworks have set out a timescale for their commencement. For example, the UK measure will not start before 2012. The measures we will take, depending on the type of decisions we make, will obviously require legislation and a starting point that will not be this year or next. Given that it will have implications that will affect all workers for the next generation, it is important to get it right. The Green Paper was published at the end of 2007, but following on that there were some 380 submissions, various conferences and a number of meetings. I met with the unions, the women's council, the Senior Citizens' Parliament and various other groups that made submissions. We will shortly publish that long-term framework document.

As regards the Deputy's question about self-administered schemes, the Revenue does not collect specific data in that regard. The tax reliefs available amount to approximately €2.9 billion, as we know, but it does not have the specific data in relation to that because it claims the resources required would be disproportionate to the value of the work of Revenue. However, when Revenue carried out an audit of the schemes a very high compliance level was found.

This has nothing to do with tax compliance, but rather with the cost to the Exchequer. I put it to the Minister that unless she is in a position to provide information on what the different types of pension relief are costing the taxpayer, her framework document will have no credibility. She should kindly get the figures and let us know how much tax reliefs to certain categories of pension schemes are costing. Again, does she accept that on grounds of equity and value for money we must move away from the tax relief-based pension approach and put a basic decent State pension at the core of any future pension policy.

The State pension is at the core of the Government's provision. The value of the State pension is €5.4 billion, and it is certainly at the core of what we do. The increases in the level of the State pension in recent years has certainly helped to support pensions. For the future, we must ensure individuals also take responsibility to supplement that and to ensure private personal provision is in place. We must also ensure the balance is right between the State, the individual and the employer.

Does the Minister accept that is not the case at present?

It is interesting in reading the submissions to find that the unions are all saying——

I am just asking——

Allow the Minister to reply, please.

People have different perspectives on this and because there was no consensus it was not easy to come up with an approach. Nonetheless, we are trying to determine what the balance should be for the future, how we can support people and have a more balanced approach in terms of tax reliefs, the benefit to the individual of the State pension, and so on, while at the same time ensuring more people make provision. I expect, genuinely, to be in a position over the next few weeks to publish the document.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

3 Deputy Olwyn Enright asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the support, in the context of the 8% reduction in the payment of rent supplement, she will offer claimants in negotiating rent reductions; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17301/09]

The recent supplementary budget provided that payments currently being made to existing rent supplement tenants be reduced by 8% with effect from 1 June 2009 in the expectation that landlords will reduce their rents, given the reductions in rent levels in the private rental market as a whole. While tenants may be contractually obliged to pay the rent agreed to in their lease, it is expected that landlords will decrease the rent in recognition of the fact that rents have fallen generally and that there are now a large number of vacant rental properties nationally.

Data published by the CSO show that rents fell by almost 7% between November 2008 and February 2009. A leading property website reports that rents have fallen by around 12% in the past year. A similar trend is apparent in tenancies registered with the Private Residential Tenancies Board. There are currently almost 85,000 people in receipt of rent supplement, an increase of 42% since the end of December 2007. It is essential that State support for tenants does not give rise to inflated rental prices and overcharging by landlords.

Other changes in the supplementary budget provide for new maximum rent limits to be prescribed in regulations to take effect from 1 June 2009 to reflect the general reductions in private sector rent levels as well as an increase of €6 in the minimum contribution towards rent and mortgage interest supplement to €24 a week.

Existing recipients of rent supplement will be advised by letter in advance of the change being made to their rent payment and this communication can be shown to landlords as evidence of the revised rent supplement in payment in individual cases. Landlords will be advised through advertising in the print media of the general reduction in rent supplement payments.

Community welfare officers have discretion to provide assistance where exceptional circumstances exist in any individual case, for example, where homelessness might result due to the inability of a person to meet his or her rent payment.

I agree that significant savings can be made in the area of rent supplement and that there should be a reduction in what landlords receive. However, I have a difficulty with the manner in which the Minister is approaching this. She is, in effect, asking 85,000 households to negotiate directly with their landlords. Some will have the ability to do this, but others will not. The Minister referred twice in her statement to expectations as regards landlords' remuneration decreasing. She is operating from a position of hope, in believing this is something that will happen. Will the Minister or her Department take any action directly? Since the Department has the names and addresses of the landlords through the forms people fill out for rent supplement, will it make contact with them? As regards advertising in the media, a landlord can open a local paper and close it again, without concurring that he should decrease his rent charges by 8%.

The Minister has chosen a blanket figure of 8%, while the figures for rent up and down the country are very different. She admitted last week, for example, that there is a real problem with tenants in bed-sits, particularly in Dublin inner city and perhaps in other highly populated areas. It is an unfair way to do it. In some places, it has gone down by as much as 13% while in others, it has only gone down by 5%. It is a totally inequitable way to do it. The Minister could have made greater savings in some areas which she could have offset against areas in which she will make fewer savings.

In addition to the print media, I hope the Minister has another plan to get in touch with landlords to try to achieve this. I did not expect the Minister to double in the past six months what the tenant must pay which, coupled with this reduction, will leave some people homeless.

There is no reason anybody should be homeless as a result of this. Landlords throughout the country are reducing rent where the tenant seeks a renegotiation because people have taken a drop in their income. I have yet to meet anybody whose rent has not been reduced because of a change in their personal circumstances. Landlords are the first to know that the market is such that they cannot command the type of rent levels they were getting.

The letter each tenant will get from the Department will be the official way of him or her telling the landlord he or she is not getting as much as he or she was. It will be more than just the advertising by the Department in newspapers. That information will come from both sides.

The increase demanded of each tenant, bringing the weekly contribution a tenant must make to €24, is still less than one would pay on RAS or if offered social housing. We have evidence that people turned down the opportunity to move off rent supplement because they were in a better location or in better accommodation on rent supplement and paying less. It was a disincentive. That is the reason we felt it was reasonable, although difficult, to increase it.

The difference is that people in receipt of RAS and people in local authority accommodation can work as much as they want. People on rent supplement cannot do that. The Minister is not making a fair argument because people do not have that opportunity if on rent supplement. In the majority of cases, she is taking that money directly out of the social welfare payment.

Why did the Minister not examine the idea of insisting that the Revenue Commissioners, through her Department and the Private Residential Tenancies Board, ensure they get all taxation due on these properties rather than only penalise the tenant? If we ensured all landlords paid tax, it would be a definite way for the Minister to get greater funding into the Exchequer, although I appreciate not specifically into her Department. She could have gone down that road instead of penalising the tenant by increasing the amount he or she must pay.

I did not answer the Deputy's first question on rent limits throughout the country. Accepting that rents in some areas have come down by a lot more, it is our intention when setting the new rent limits to ensure we take that into account. Some will come down further, in particular where there is much availability of accommodation. Where there is limited availability, we will probably reduce it by 6% or 7%. That will come up when rents are up for review.

The question of income is important. The PRTB and the registration of landlords are one way to ensure Revenue has that information, which it uses. We want to ensure that happens.

It told us at a committee meeting a few weeks ago it does not do that.

Departmental Staff.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

4 Deputy Olwyn Enright asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the remit of the 60 facilitators employed by her; the social welfare recipients they are currently dealing with; the average caseload of each facilitator; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17302/09]

The Department's facilitators work with social welfare recipients of working age, including people in receipt of jobseeker's payments, people parenting alone, people in receipt of disability welfare payments and people providing care, to promote participation and social inclusion.

Facilitators work with customers to identify appropriate training or development programmes which will enhance the skills the individual has and, ultimately, improve his or her employment chances as well as help him or her to continue to develop personally. Facilitators develop individual progression plans with the customer, are located throughout the country and are assigned to cover a geographical area. Facilitators work closely with FÁS and other agencies at a local level to identify and target appropriate education, training and development opportunities.

The social and economic participation programme, under the national development plan, provides for the enhancement of the facilitator network of the Department of Social and Family Affairs. This commenced in September 2008 and to date, 20 additional facilitators have been appointed. A further ten facilitators will be appointed in the coming months bringing the total number in place to 70.

A facilitator deals with referrals from local offices, the Department's inspectorate and people in receipt of social welfare payments who may decide to seek the service of a facilitator. The facilitator service may also be sought by someone who has a business idea, who wishes to avail of the back-to-work enterprise allowance or by someone who intends to return to education under the back-to-education programme. In addition, one of the roles of the Department's facilitators is to engage with other agencies to enhance local working relationships and to ensure that agencies work together to provide services to customers in receipt of welfare payments. Facilitators are also engaged in extensive information provision to individuals, organisations and communities about the services of the Department.

In addition to the local referral system, a formal targeted programme of activation was introduced under the NDP. Under this programme, the Department actively selects cases for referral to facilitators. The first cases issued to facilitators in September 2008. Currently, 40 such cases are referred to each facilitator each month. The current economic climate has determined that a large part of a facilitator's work is with people on the live register.

The work carried supports people to progress from welfare to work and complements the Department's control activity. If a person on the live register is offered an opportunity to engage with a facilitator but refuses to do so, he or she is referred to the Department's local office for control follow up.

The facilitator service was enhanced under the national development plan's social and economic participation programme. There will shortly be 70 facilitators. Clerical support is provided.

Facilitators work in co-operation with other relevant service providers such as FÁS, VECs, the adult education guidance initiative, the HSE and other local agencies. The number of facilitators in place, their workload and the effectiveness of the service will continue to be monitored under the national development plan.

I am glad that every time I ask this question, the number of facilitators goes up by ten. There is some progress. If facilitators are to work, they must have time to spend with people. Sadly, they must deal with an ever-increasing group of people who have varied needs from lone parents to people with disabilities to people who are unemployed.

When the Minister launched something for one parent families a few months ago, she spoke about the pilot schemes in Coolock and Kilkenny. She said where participation was voluntary, take up was low which pointed to a need for a more active process to give lone parents encouragement and so on. To have a more active process, facilitators need to have more time to spend with people. I do not see how 70 facilitators can deal with this, given the scale of unemployment we face.

I make the comparison with career guidance teachers and the 60,000 or so leaving certificate students. I know career guidance teachers must deal with the entire school but the focus is on students in the final years in which choices must be made. There are a lot more career guidance teachers relative to the number of students compared with the number of facilitators relative to the number of unemployed, not to mention lone parents and people with disabilities.

While I accept other organisations are involved, I question the ability of facilitators to deal with their workload given there are so few of them. The Minister said she is monitoring this. Does see she more facilitators being employed or does she see more active involvement by other agencies working with her Department which can engage with people on a one-to-one basis?

I would like to see both but I am not sure how many more facilitators we will be able to get in the immediate term given that we have so many other staff coming in for progressing, control, inspection etc. As I indicated, the facilitators mostly concentrate on people on the live register. We must remember that when the first facilitators were appointed, they dealt with people on the live register who were long-term unemployed and who probably needed a bit more intensive work and more personal attention than a number of people on the live register now who, in some cases, are very capable of finding things for themselves once they have the information and of working with other agencies.

There is much duplication of agencies which are all trying to service the same group. We aim to ensure greater co-operation between FÁS, the local employment service, the partnerships, the adult education guidance initiative, the HSE when it concerns people with disabilities and our facilitators in identifying those people whose needs can be met by working with those agencies. That is happening in some areas.

Is the Minister convinced her facilitators are able to draw together all those groups? I am concerned that unemployment is continuing to increase rapidly, even in areas where there is what the Minister described last week as a "plethora" of groups. Are the facilitators able to cut through the layers of bureaucracy to assist people and get them onto courses? When the Minister spoke last July about people under the age of 25, she said her officials were spending the summer identifying young people in the regions who were eligible for appropriate educational training schemes. How many young people were brought onto such schemes as a result of the engagement of her officials over the summer months? I presume the officials in question were departmental facilitators, in some areas at least. How many people applied through those officials to get onto the schemes in question? I do not refer to people who submitted applications themselves, for example through other agencies.

I do not have figures for July and August 2008, when the officials in question were very active. They have dealt with 10,000 new cases since September 2008. That was the real focus. The fact there has been an increase in the number of people availing of the back to education scheme is evidence of that. That was a successful project. It is an example of the success that can be achieved when certain people are targeted. This type of co-ordination is taking place at local level. The facilitators are at the centre of it. I met some facilitators in Dún Laoghaire recently. I also met some facilitators in Castleblayney two weeks ago. I was told that certain things are being dealt with by certain officials. They are co-ordinating it between them. We need this type of co-ordination of service. I accept that everybody on the live register needs some kind of support. The level of intensive support the facilitators originally set out to provide is probably not necessary for everybody. I am interested in trying to continue to support it, however.

Community Welfare Officers

Olwyn Enright

Question:

5 Deputy Olwyn Enright asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the position regarding the proposed transfer of community welfare officers to her Department; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17303/09]

As part of its reform of the health sector, the Government has decided to transfer responsibility for the General Register Office, for certain disability-related income support schemes and for the administration of the supplementary welfare allowance scheme and associated staff, including community welfare officers, from the Health Service Executive to the Department of Social and Family Affairs. Responsibility for the General Register Office transferred to the Department on 1 January last. The transfer of responsibility for the domiciliary care allowance scheme has commenced. New claims are being accepted in the Department. The transfer of all existing cases will be completed by September of this year. Arrangements will then be made for the transfer of the blind welfare allowance scheme.

The transfer of responsibility for the supplementary welfare allowance scheme is the largest part of the transfer programme. A considerable amount of preparatory work has been completed. The necessary legislation has been passed, subject to a commencement order. The number and location of the posts to be transferred has been agreed. Agreement has been reached with the HSE about accommodation, finance and other support arrangements. Detailed discussions have taken place with the relevant trade unions. As it was not possible to reach agreement with the unions that represent community welfare officers about pay, superannuation and other matters, it has been decided that such issues should be referred to the national industrial relations institutions to find a resolution.

Community welfare officers and the local office staff of the Department are under a good deal of pressure as they deal with increased unemployment levels. As they provide a service to the same people, it makes perfect sense for them to operate within a unified management structure. The integration of the community welfare service into the Department of Social and Family Affairs will result in a more co-ordinated approach to the provision of services to the public and will remove duplication of work. The transfer will not lead to any changes in the exercise of discretion by community welfare officers. The flexibility and responsiveness which is inherent in the scheme will remain. I am anxious that every effort be made to complete the arrangements for the transfer as soon as possible. I recognise that the transfer represents a change for the community welfare staff. It also represents a major organisational challenge for the Department. While a number of human resources issues remain to be resolved, I am confident this can be done in the coming months.

Will the Minister clarify her comment that responsibility for all schemes, with the exception of the blind welfare allowance, will be transferred to the Department of Social and Family Affairs by September of this year? Is that subject to agreement at the discussions with the national industrial relations institutions? Will it happen anyway? One cannot hand over all the schemes if those who administer them do not come with the handover. If this plan goes ahead as the Minister has outlined, the Department of Social and Family Affairs will assume responsibility for a system that is creaking at the seams. I think the officials have described it as being past breaking point. I discussed the matter with community welfare officers at yesterday's meeting of the Joint Committee on Social and Family Affairs. I suggest that additional staff should be deployed from elsewhere in the Department to administer the community welfare service. Does the Minister envisage that will happen? She will be aware that the number of requests for community welfare services has increased by 85% in recent times. The number of community welfare officers has not changed, however. I accept that all Departments are subject to the embargo on public service recruitment. The queues at social welfare offices are growing, rather than decreasing. The number of people who wish to avail of the community welfare service is also increasing. When these responsibilities are transferred to the Department of Social and Family Affairs, it will have to deal with both problems. Will the Department be able to put in place the necessary staff? If the main social welfare service is failing, at least the back-up community welfare service should be able to give people what they need.

The Department of Social and Family Affairs has assumed responsibility for new applications under the domiciliary care allowance scheme. Responsibility for existing applications will transfer to the Department in September. That is separate from the supplementary welfare scheme.

The transfer of responsibility for the supplementary welfare scheme is conditional on the agreement of staff. Approximately 1,000 officials will transfer to the Department of Social and Family Affairs. It is a huge transfer for them. It is a huge logistical operation for the Department. Its total number of staff will increase to approximately 5,300. I do not doubt it will lead to greater integration and better streamlining of the services provided to individuals. That is what it is all about. A number of issues have to be resolved. Agreement has been reached on some issues, but certain terms and conditions continue to present difficulties. Some of the officials in question are public servants, as opposed to civil servants. Issues such as career paths and pay structures also need to be resolved. We have clarified some matters, such as accommodation and discretion. I believe the outstanding issues can be resolved in the next few months. The community welfare officers are seeking clarity. Matters will become clearer when everyone is part of the same system. People seem to be in limbo at present.

I would like to ask a brief supplementary question about an issue I have already raised. I refer to the demands being imposed on the social welfare service and the community welfare service by the lengthening queues. Will more staff be deployed from within the resources of the Department of Social and Family Affairs to deal with such problems? The community welfare service is at breaking point. The Minister's comments about the integration of services have tempted me to ask questions about the issue of independence. I will not go into that now. Community welfare officers make sure that applicants are likely to be eligible for the social welfare benefit for which they have applied, and are waiting for, before they agree to make supplementary payments to such people. When they sanction the making of a payment, it is made within a short space of time. By contrast, people in Boyle, for example, currently have to wait 19 weeks to receive jobseeker's allowance payments. I suggest that the Minister should examine whether the manner in which the community welfare service operates can be applied in her Department. Community welfare officers do not sanction payments if they are not sure that the Department of Social and Family Affairs will make a social welfare payment in the end.

The main difference is that community welfare officers make discretionary payments for one or two weeks, albeit to a person who qualifies——

——whereas my Department has to introduce people to its full payment system. When a person is in the system, it is difficult to take him or her out.

Not necessarily — not if the system is changed.

I accept what the Deputy is saying about the situation in Boyle. I will come back to that. The manner in which the HSE is governed by the public sector recruitment embargo has affected community welfare offices that are in need of staff increases. My Department, however, has been able to increase its numbers and has sought a further increase. When it assumes responsibility for the community welfare system, it will have some scope to better support the work of the community welfare offices.