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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 10 Dec 2014

Vol. 861 No. 2

Priority Questions

Rent Supplement Scheme Administration

Willie O'Dea


1. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection her plans on increasing the threshold for rent supplements in 2015; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [47007/14]

This question relates to rent caps. I wish to ascertain whether the Government is going to increase those caps in view of the fact that actual rents have outstripped the rent cap levels in various parts of the country.

I thank Deputy O'Dea for his question. He is probably aware that approximately 71,800 people currently receive rent supplement. Of particular interest to Deputy O'Dea is the fact that there are approximately 2,500 rent supplement recipients in Limerick, of whom 860 came into the scheme in the past year. Obviously people are able to access the rent supplement scheme, given that 34% of people in the Limerick area in receipt of the supplement joined the scheme in the past year.

There is considerable experience within local community welfare offices and we have been in regular contact with them on this issue. As recently as this week, we contacted officers on the ground with front-line experience to tell them that they have flexibility in the context of rent allowance payments. The most important element of this is to make sure that families currently in receipt of rent supplement are able to stay in their rental properties and keep abreast of what is happening in the rental market. The best way for that to happen is to use the local experience and knowledge of community welfare officers to meet the needs of families. I am constantly monitoring the situation and the Department is in constant contact with community welfare officers on the ground. It is our intention to ensure that people will be able to access homes.

We must be extremely careful, however, not to give landlords a charter to increase rents. There are many low-income families and individuals in the private rental market and there is a significant supply problem. In that context, we must be very careful to ensure that we strike the right balance in order that people in receipt of rent supplement are able to access homes in the private rental market as well as those on low incomes. While the majority of landlords would not do so, there are some who would take advantage of the current situation and increase rents further. We are using local expertise and knowledge and giving flexibility to local officers to ensure that people are able to stay in the private rental market. In the longer term, we must develop mechanisms to assist people in receipt of rent supplement back into employment.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. Will he confirm that the Department's directive to community welfare officers in Limerick to allow flexibility represents a change in policy? I represent Limerick city and I am dealing with cases week in and week out. My experience is that no flexibility is being shown in the Limerick area.

At the moment in Limerick, the rent cap for a married couple is €400 per month. There is no place suitable for a married couple in the Limerick city area available for €400 per month. The cap for a married couple with one child is €500 per month. Again, there is nowhere in Limerick city with accommodation suitable for a married couple and a child available for €500 per month. Such accommodation would cost at least €800 per month and if one asks any auctioneer in Limerick, he or she will confirm that. There is a real problem. In some cases, people are paying rent top-ups or under the counter payments which are, strictly speaking, illegal. How far will the flexibility to which the Minister of State referred extend? Will it extend as far as supplementing a married couple with one child who find suitable accommodation costing €800 but for whom the rent cap is €500?

I am aware of the difficulties which exist throughout the country because of the lack of supply. Having said that, families and single people are still moving into the rent supplement scheme. As I pointed out earlier, 860 people in Limerick joined the rent supplement scheme in the past year and moved into accommodation in the Limerick area.

We were in contact with the regional managers in July to explain the flexibility that can be exercised and yesterday the Tánaiste spoke to them again about that issue. We have also communicated with them in writing. We want the people with experience on the ground to use that flexibility but we also want consistency throughout the country. We have written to the local officers to outline the powers of discretion they have under article 38 of the relevant statutory instrument. I will be monitoring the situation on an ongoing basis to ensure that flexibility is being exercised and that there is a continuity of service throughout the country. I assure the Deputy that I will follow up on this issue regularly.

I am glad that the Minister spoke to the district managers again yesterday because the directive issued in July had no impact in Limerick and I can state that quite categorically.

The Minister of State referred to the fact that approximately 860 people in Limerick have moved onto the rent allowance scheme recently. However, if one studied that group, one would find that a great number of them are paying under the counter payments because rents are way in excess of the rent caps. One will also find that many of them are moving into accommodation that is totally unsuitable. I will monitor progress on the most recent directive issued.

Regarding the housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme, Limerick was used as a pilot for the roll-out of that scheme. The Government committed to the HAP in its programme for Government four years ago. A recent reply to a parliamentary questions indicated that out of approximately 72,000 people in receipt of rent allowance, fewer than 200 have moved to the HAP scheme in the past four years. Will the Minister of State confirm that these figures are correct?

The majority of those in receipt of rent supplement are single parents with one child or single people. On the issue of flexibility, I will ensure that it is being exercised. However, if the Deputy is aware of specific cases in Limerick which indicate that it is not being exercised, I would be happy to look into that and talk to regional managers again, if necessary.

The priority is to ensure we keep people in their homes. There is a very useful and worthwhile protocol operating successfully within the Dublin area. I intend to look at where that could be extended to other parts of the country.

What I am saying to the Deputy is that I will look at that element of it and ensure there is flexibility, but I also want to ensure there is continuity nationally and that it is operated on the same basis. Other Deputies have brought to my attention instances where there was no continuity or flexibility and I have endeavoured to ensure that has been addressed in the relevant areas. I do not have the HAP figure in front of me, but I will get the figures for the Deputy and revert to him.

I think it is approximately 200.

Rent Supplement Scheme Administration

Aengus Ó Snodaigh


2. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection her views on figures published by a newspaper (details supplied) on 30 November 2014 that the average gap between the rent supplement caps and actual rent prices now stands at 44% across the State, and is as big as 54% in County Wicklow and 45% in Dublin city; and if she will take emergency action in response to these findings and the resulting rise in homelessness. [47108/14]

My question aims to ascertain whether the Minister appreciates fully the scale of the growing gap between the rent supplement maximum limits where they have been set and the actual price of rents. What, if any, steps will be taken by the Government to stem the rise in homelessness that is resulting from her inaction on rent supplement and that of the Cabinet as a whole?

I thank the Deputy. The Deputy's question stems from a newspaper article in The Mirror on the percentages. We do not set rent allowances on the basis of what appears in The Mirror, even though it is a reputable newspaper. We have different caps across the State reflecting the market. For example, there are two different caps in County Wicklow depending on how close one is to the city. The largest differential within the question the Deputy asked was in the Wicklow area.

As I have noted to the Deputy previously, €344 million was spent on rent supplement last year. We are currently carrying out a review on the cap, which should be completed shortly. In the meantime, I want to ensure that there is a flexibility right across the market operated by community welfare officers who will look at market conditions in particular areas. However, I want cognisance to be taken also of the need to avoid allowing rents to inflate throughout the country on foot of any increase in the caps, as has happened before. There are many low-income families and students within the Dublin area who could be priced out of the market if the caps were lifted. Certainly, the caps within social welfare set the bottom of the market. All landlords look at what the Department of Social Protection caps are and build their rents on top of that. It is not surprising as the Department takes approximately one third of all rental units across the State and we must be careful not to create rent inflation.

That is why I am communicating regularly with the regions and community welfare officers to ensure that they take local circumstances into consideration. In many ways, they are the very ones who are best placed to do that and to work with people on an individual basis. Not only is there a problem in relation to rental income, but it is another element of helping people to get back into the workforce.

I welcome the Minister of State's statement that there is a problem. As he said, 30% of the private rental market is in some way controlled by the State as it is the funder. I am not someone who wants to subsidise private landlords further. In fact, the opposite is the case. The problem is that we have a crisis, especially in Dublin and other areas where the rent cap set by the Department is out of sync with the rents being sought by landlords. In that event, people end up in homelessness or, as they have done for years, having to make an under the counter payment. The problem is that the gap between rent and the rent supplement cap has grown to such an extent that even those who have made a top-up payment in the past can no longer do so.

My specific question is on the Department's rent supplement initiative and family protocol, which I welcomed. I am not opposed to it. The problem is that some of the people who availed of it in the first place are being timed out as it was a temporary initiative. Can it be extended? If it is being extended, it is akin to a different rent supplement cap. Can the Minister of State explain that a bit more?

There have been more than 300 applicants in relation to the protocol and it can be extended. To give the Deputy two direct answers to two direct questions, "Yes", and "We are very aware". There is a long-term problem, a medium-term problem and a current problem in the market. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, announced a comprehensive programme to deal with people who are homeless, which has been very much welcomed. I have been concentrating within the area of rent supplement and have been in constant communication with the Minister's Department on this. The best people to deal with this are those with front-line experience and knowledge of local markets. That is why we are encouraging our officials on the ground to use their discretion.

I agree with Deputy Ó Snodaigh that we do not want to create false rent inflation by having the Department of Social Protection set a floor from which landlords then build a greater and higher rent. We are a substantial element of the rental market in that we take more than 30% and we must be very cautious. There are numerous low-income families who could be quickly priced out of the market. Deputy Ó Snodaigh knows as well as I do that there is no simple solution to this. There is a shortage in the market which is driving prices. My Department is doing everything in its power to ensure that people can access accommodation and stay in their homes.

The Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, who is sitting next to the Minister of State, will remember a conversation we had on a number of occasions on direct negotiations between the Department and landlords. That proposal was turned down and it was indicated that it was up to the tenant. As the funder of 30% of the rental market, there is a greater onus on the Department. In Ballyfermot, which is my own area, and in general across Dublin, the rent for a three-bedroom house is €1,300 to €1,400 while the maximum rent allowable under the cap is €950. The rent supplement is less than that, given the personal proportionate contribution. I am not suggesting the Department should fully bridge that gap, but there must be a way to negotiate with landlords to reduce rents to a price that is realistic.

Has there been any discussion by the Department and the Minister with responsibility for housing in relation to rent control which would solve some of these problems? The figures I read earlier were from The Mirror, but the Simon Community and others have vindicated them since they were published. There must be a whole-of-Government approach to this issue.

I agree with the Deputy that local authorities should negotiate. That is what is proposed in HAP to which the Deputy objected and which he opposed when it was going through the House. HAP will provide rent certainty to tenants, allow local authorities to negotiate directly with landlords and end the poverty trap inherent in rent supplement, which often prevents people from going back to work. HAP will allow that. It has been rolled out in some areas and will be rolled out in the Dublin region. I look forward to it as it will provide rent certainty to those who are currently in receipt of rent supplement and allow people to get out of the poverty trap and back into employment. Unfortunately, Sinn Féin has objected to HAP at every hand's turn.

It is an excellent scheme that was introduced to this House by the Minister, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan. The pilot has been successful and it is now being rolled out to the remaining local authorities. I hope it will have the support of the Deputy because that will mean the local authorities will be negotiating with the landlords, which will give security of tenure to the person currently receiving rent supplement, and it will also eliminate the poverty trap of rent supplement that prevents people returning to employment.

Thank you, Minister. I call-----

I very much look forward to the Deputy's support on this, and I welcome his change of mind on it.

We move on to Question No. 3 in the name of Deputy Thomas Pringle.

I am sorry but I want to correct the record. We did not oppose the housing assistance payment, HAP. We opposed legislation which contained the measure. We had endorsed the HAP.

The Deputy looked for excuses to oppose every item of legislation at every hand's turn.

If the Minister of State checks the record he will see that we did support the HAP.

We highlighted problems with the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, in particular in Dublin. If the Minister of State looks back on the record he will see that the RAS has not worked in Dublin similar to other areas.

Sorry, Deputy. In fairness to Deputy Pringle he is waiting patiently and we are over time so I ask Members to please watch the clock.

Social Insurance

Thomas Pringle


3. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection if she will allow fishermen who own their own boats, who are sole traders or may have one or two crew members to pay class P PRSI contributions in order for them to avail of the limited benefits under class P for periods when they are unable to fish due to weather and so on; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [47110/14]

I do not mind, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, if you want the discussion on the previous question to continue for a while.

Other Members are waiting to ask questions as well.

This question relates to the class P PRSI contributions that were established for share fishermen to avail of limited benefits under the social insurance scheme. There has been a poor take-up by share fishermen with regard to the scheme but a number of small inshore fishermen who are sole traders or who own their own boats and who might have one or two crew cannot avail of any social insurance for periods of bad weather when they cannot fish. They are dependent on the catch of the vessel for their income and I ask if the scheme could be extended to include them too, which would give them a worthwhile income.

I thank the Deputy for the question. The treatment of workers involved in the fishing industry depends on whether they are regarded as an employee or self-employed or, if self-employed, are a share-fisherman-woman for social insurance purposes. A fisherman or woman who is paid a fixed wage or salary may be regarded as an employee of the boat owner or skipper and, similar to employees in other sectors, is liable to pay PRSI contributions at class A. Class A employees pay PRSI at 4 % and have access to the full range of social insurance benefits, including jobseeker’s benefit. In addition, their employer makes a PRSI contribution of 10.75%.

Fishermen or women who are not employees may be regarded as self-employed for social insurance purposes. Once annual income exceeds €5,000, they are liable to PRSI at the class S rate of 4%, subject to the minimum payment of €500. This gives entitlement to a more limited range of long-term but valuable benefits such as the State pension, contributory, and widow’s, widower’s or surviving civil partner’s pension, contributory, as well as maternity benefit, adoptive benefit and guardians payment, contributory.

A person who works in the fishing industry on a self-employed basis and is paid solely by the "share" of the value of the catch is regarded as a share-fishermen or women. In addition to their liability to pay class S PRSI contributions, they also have the option to pay additional PRSI contributions at class P. This contribution is over and above the PRSI paid under class S and is charged at 4% of all income over €2,500, subject to a minimum annual payment of €200. Class P entitles the contributor to limited jobseeker's benefit up to 13 weeks in each calendar year, limited illness benefit up to 52 weeks and treatment benefit.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

In 2012, 16 individuals opted to pay class P contributions. Class P was introduced to reflect the very unique characteristics of share-fishing whereby, following a 1986 High Court ruling, the skipper and crew are regarded to be in partnership. A fisherman who owns his own boat is not precluded from opting to pay class P provided he or she is remunerated by way of "sharing" the catch with his or her crew. Extension of additional entitlements, such as class P entitlements, to other categories of fishermen-women not engaged in share-fishing activities could only be considered in the context of extension of entitlements to other categories of self-employed, whose activities do not have the same unique characteristics which prevail in share-fishing.

Self-employed workers, including share fishermen-women, who cannot work because of poor weather conditions can apply for the means-tested jobseeker’s allowance during periods of unemployment. In general, their means will take account of the level of earnings in the last twelve months in determining their expected income for the following year. Typically, over 80% of jobseeker’s allowance claims from self-employed persons have been awarded over recent years.

I thank the Minister for the outline with regard to class P but that is not the question I asked. We have attempted through the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine to tease out this question with the Minister's Department on a number of occasions in the past six or seven months and that is the stock answer we are given. The crux of the issue is that there are fishermen who are owners of their own boats, who are self-employed and treated as self-employed for tax purposes, who depend on the catch for their income. They are inshore fishermen. I am not talking about big trawler owners; they are small inshore fishermen who are excluded from class P because they are not share fishermen employees. They are the employer but they are in the same situation in that they are dependent on the catch. However, for long periods during the storms last year they were prevented from making a livelihood. The Minister will say they are entitled to jobseeker's allowance on a means-test basis but what they want is the right to make a social insurance contribution, which would give them a sense of security in periods of bad weather.

Thank you, Deputy.

The question is on the definition of share fishermen under the scheme and whether it could be amended to allow them avail of social insurance during periods of bad weather.

With the weather in Donegal recently everybody appreciates that the vagaries of the weather can be very tough on people in the fishing industry. I hope the current weather does not cause too many problems.

I understand the Deputy is talking about the boat owner-----

-----and that he would like the boat owner to have access to the class P insurance. We can certainly examine that. In 2012, for instance, 16 individuals opted to pay class P contributions. I do not know if the people the Deputy is describing are full-time fishermen or fishermen and farmers because they may have other social welfare connections. We would need to examine it on a case by case basis to determine how many people are likely to be involved. The Deputy is talking about the north west but there might be people for whom this is an issue in other parts of the country. In terms of the income situation of a fisherman or a farmer deteriorating badly as a result of storms, we changed the system to allow them come into it in the context of their current circumstances. It was the case that it was on a preceding year basis. It is means tested, as the Deputy said, but approximately 90% of applications for jobseeker's allowance, providing they meet the means test, are granted whereas three or four years ago very few were granted.

Most share fishermen now are treated as employees because they are on a contract that takes them out of that self-employment situation but even when they were not so treated there was a very small take-up of it because it was a voluntary contribution and people did not want to voluntarily hand over some of their earnings. We are not talking about huge numbers of people but perhaps 1,000 or 1,500 across the country. However, it would make a huge difference to them in terms of having a social insurance claim-----

-----rather than a social assistance claim. It would benefit them greatly. Quite a few of them would be full-time fishermen dependent on fishing for their income. The Department's scope section might look into that to see if there is some way it can be accommodated because it would be of value.

I am certainly prepared to look at it because I know that people in the fishing industry work very hard, particularly the inshore fishermen. It is a tough occupation. There is not a vast amount of money in it except from time to time. However, if they decided to go with the class P contribution, and the Deputy is indicating they would accept paying the extra 4% on the terms and conditions, it gives rise to quite good benefits including jobseeker's benefit for 13 weeks and illness benefit for up to 52 weeks but the reports of the advisory group advocated that for an extra 1.5%, all self-employed people would get invalidity benefit. Unfortunately, many of the associations and organisations representing self-employed people in different categories were opposed to that. They suggested doing it on a voluntary basis but it is impossible to do a comprehensive social insurance scheme on a voluntary basis because like all insurance, it is based on many people taking out cover and those who need it benefiting from it.

I will ask my officials to look at it.

European Court of Justice Rulings

Willie O'Dea


4. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection when she will address the issues arising from the Dano judgment in the Court of Justice of the European Union; her views at the possibility of benefit tourism here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [47107/14]

I am asking Minister if her Department has studied the Dano judgment and what actions, if any, it proposes to take on the basis of the judgment.

The freedom to move and reside freely within the territory of the member states of the EU is a fundamental right guaranteed under the EU treaties to all citizens. However, it is important that those availing of these freedoms are not intent on abusing the welfare systems of other counties and, specifically, the welfare system of this country. The right of residence afforded citizens from other EU countries is not unconditional and is governed by the terms of the EU residence directive. Under that directive, EU citizens from other countries have an unqualified right of residence in another member state for up to three months. There is no obligation on a member state to provide social assistance to the person or their family during that initial period, with some limited exceptions, or for longer in the case of jobseekers who have not worked here. Thereafter, the right of residence of people not in employment or self-employment depends on them having sufficient resources for themselves and their families so as not to become an unreasonable burden on the social assistance system of the State. Our social insurance system is based on the contributory principle of all our contributors paying in. It is largely confined to the contributors.

The judgment in the Dano case is very welcome as it clarifies the relationship between the equality provisions of EU regulations on the co-ordination of social security systems and rights under the residence directive of 2004. Ms Dano is an EU migrant who moved to Germany but was not in employment. She had argued that, under the EU social security regulations, she was entitled to benefits on the same basis as German citizens in a similar situation.

In its judgment, the court concluded that if it was the case that non-active persons who do not have a right of residence could claim social assistance under the same conditions as nationals of the host member state, this would undermine an objective of the residence directive, which is to prevent nationals of other member states from becoming an unreasonable burden on the social assistance system of the member state. In all member states, particularly in Ireland and the UK, the bedrock of social security law is that people in work contribute and the contributions give them entitlements to claim benefits and other payments.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

Access to social assistance payments in Ireland is subject to the habitual residence condition which means that those in receipt of such payments are considered to have established their centre of interest in Ireland and to have significant contacts with this country. As well as satisfying this condition the person must also meet all other criteria for the particular scheme: for example, a person claiming jobseeker’s allowance must be available for and genuinely seeking full-time employment.

People claiming benefits to which they are not entitled brings the system of welfare coordination provided under EU regulations into disrepute. This not only impacts on migrants who are genuinely claiming benefits here, but also on Irish citizens in a similar position in other member states. The statistics which are available suggest that foreign nationals are not over represented in the numbers claiming benefits which broadly reflect the number of migrants in the overall population and the workforce.

The clarification of migrant rights found in the Dano case is an important development in this area and its implications are being considered by my Department to see if it can further assist our action to minimise abuses of our social welfare system.

I tabled a question and received a reply on 18 November, four weeks ago. It said the Department was considering the implications. Can I take it the Department has finished its consideration? The Minister seems to be saying that the judgment, as she understands it, simply underlines the position as it is. The Minister referred to limited exceptions. It makes sense that people with sufficient resources to support themselves will not qualify for a social assistance payment because it is means tested. That is the position in this country. Are there any categories of people who may have sufficient resources or may have the right to reside here and who could qualify for social assistance? They may be excluded from that qualification if the Dano judgment is implemented here.

The Department has been considering the implications of the case carefully. In the context of the forthcoming election in the United Kingdom, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom made a speech setting out his electoral position. These issues are of great significance to Ireland. We examine all of them carefully, particularly the Dano judgment. The consideration is still ongoing but the judgment clarifies, from our point of view, that our systems, which depend on the habitual residency condition, are in line with the court judgment. From our point of view, it underpins our understanding of how the EU freedom of movement works with free movement being used to undermine the sustainability of member states' social insurance systems. The judgment is welcome.

I understand the Minister's point that it underpins our system. Does it do more if she decided to implement it in Irish law? Would it exclude some categories of EU migrant who can claim social assistance as our scheme operates?

We keep the habitual residency condition under review constantly to ensure that only people who have established a strong link with the country can receive benefits. We continue to monitor that because, as the Deputy is aware, returning Irish people may have lived abroad in another country for a long period. Under the habitual residency condition, they must establish definite links with the original home countries. We have a procedure in operation for a significant period of time. Shortly after I became Minister, I reviewed the procedures. We have contacts with Irish organisations abroad and, if people are moving home, the reviewed system works quite well. Deputy Willie O'Dea brought a number of cases to my attention some years ago. We work with a number of Irish organisations abroad where a transfer is taking place.

Domiciliary Care Allowance Review

Aengus Ó Snodaigh


5. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection her views on the findings of the domiciliary care allowance review reports; if she is committed to implementing all the recommendations; and the steps she has taken from April 2013 to date in 2014 to implement same. [47085/14]

I am asking about the recommendation of the report on the domiciliary care allowance scheme and its reform. What are the recommendations and what is outstanding?

The domiciliary care allowance scheme transferred to the Department of Social Protection in 2009 and is now paid to over 27,100 parents or guardians in respect of some 29,100 children at a cost of €110 million per annum. In addition, recipients of domiciliary care allowance get a further €38 million through the annual respite care grant. The number of children currently in payment is over 3,000 higher than when the Department took over responsibility for the administration of the scheme in 2009. The scheme has been the subject of two reports commissioned by me during 2012. These were the report on the review of the domiciliary care allowance scheme and the second report of the advisory group on tax and social welfare on the review of budget 2012 proposals regarding disability allowance and domiciliary care allowance. Both were published in April 2013 and are available for download on the Department’s website.

The recommendations contained in the review of the domiciliary care allowance scheme have been fully implemented in the period since April 2013. The recommendations included a revised application form, improved information provision with new information guidelines and advance notification to the customers of an upcoming review and an extended period, now 60 days, to return the review form with any supporting documentation parents may wish to have considered, and an additional medical specialist form for use with applications involving children with pervasive developmental disorders.

The changes made also include improved feedback to customers on decisions. The implementation group continues to meet to monitor the impact of these changes and ensure they have a positive outcome for parents and guardians.

We have discussed this before but, from talking to parents and guardians, I believe the changes have certainly improved the situation. The critical issue is to provide the required information on the care needs of children when submitting a claim as this leads to improved outcomes and ensures the appropriate decision is made on domiciliary care allowance claims at the earliest opportunity.

One of the positive outcomes of the reviews discussed previously was the change to the form. I welcomed that change but some people were not consulted and have issues. The Tánaiste mentioned the medical specialist assessment form and we discussed the fact that problems can arise due to delay on the part of some consultants. The 60-day notice is welcome but consideration could be given to a longer notice period as it could help families with children with disabilities to be on the ball as early as possible. Over 2,000 children have been waiting more than a year for a speech and language therapy assessment, for example - if an assessment is not carried out in the first place there will be difficulties completing the medical specialist assessment form. I ask the Tánaiste to consider extending the 60-day notice by giving families notice earlier.

I am happy to that because co-operation exists on both sides of the House on the reviews of the domiciliary care allowance and there is a number of groups, including a stakeholder group, in the Department addressing this issue. The stakeholder group includes parents, obviously, and they help with the design of the forms, which is important. Parents in receipt of the domiciliary care allowance give care above and beyond what might be imagined and they often face very challenging situations. As the Deputy is aware, a significant number of parents in receipt of the domiciliary care allowance go on to receive the carer's allowance so I am happy to examine this matter.

The best way to address this issue might be for the committee to hold a hearing with the relevant officials. We have invested significantly in information technology, IT, and communications in this area and I recognise that some of the time periods involving specialists can be lengthy. I have no difficulty in extending the period as outlined by the Deputy but two months, plus the notification period, amounts to a lengthy period. The committee might meet the officials to discuss this but, in principle, there is no difficulty.

I will raise this with the committee because delays caused by waiting on documentation from specialists can be frustrating for families and the Department. Such delays have consequences because if an applicant fails to submit documentation on time it can have a detrimental effect, especially with regard to carer's allowance.

Can the same approach be taken on other forms? I refer to the form for carer's allowance and other such allowances. A useful approach was taken to the evolution of this form as it is now comprehensible to applicants and easier for the Department and specialists to read.

I am a strong supporter of plain English and plain Gaeilge forms. The forms we are discussing can have very significant income consequences for people but a certain amount of officialese is required. I am happy to do what the Deputy has requested. The stakeholders groups include carers and we meet carers associations regularly - I meet them several times a year in the Department and in pre-budget forums. I am happy to support suggestions in this area, particularly those relating to the plain English campaign.

It is important to disseminate some procedural information on a topic we have discussed previously. If people have additional information they should have it reviewed rather than lodge an appeal. The appeals system is a different structure with legal timeframes so things inevitably take longer.