Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registration Bill 2017: Second Stage (Resumed)

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I call Deputy Margaret Murphy O'Mahony who I understand may be sharing time.

I am sharing time with my colleague, Deputy Scanlon.

I wish to focus on section 9 of this Bill, namely, the earnings disregard for people with disabilities. Fianna Fáil welcomes this provision and the fact that any decision which denies entitlement to a benefit or payment will ultimately be made by a deciding officer. Currently, those on payments such as disability allowance or a blind person's pension may have the first €120 of their payments disregarded for the purposes of the means test governing eligibility for those schemes even though such earnings are allowable, provided the employment concerned is certified as being of a rehabilitative nature. In addition to that, moneys earned from the rehabilitative employment between €120 and €350 per week is assessed at 50% under the means test.

I note that the report of the interdepartmental group established under the comprehensive employment strategy for people with disabilities provided that the requirement to prove that work is of this nature was unnecessary and such a requirement should be dispensed with. The Bill acknowledges this recommendation in respect of the earnings disregard for the aforementioned payments.

The most recent SIF report provides that those on disability payments are at various stages of poverty and deprivation to the point that they are lagging far behind the general population. In that regard, I very much welcomed the recent introduction of the Ability programme for young people with disabilities and while this will hopefully assist those who need help to enter into the labour market, we cannot forget those who are already in the system. We need to move away from placing further restrictions and obstacles in their way. The Bill goes some way towards this.

As the Fianna Fáil spokesperson for disabilities, I have seen first-hand the hardships experienced by persons with disabilities. Since taking up this position I have continuously called for the formal ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It is hard to believe that ten years after signing up to it, it remains unratified. The Taoiseach told me in this Chamber last week that the Government is taking a different approach from that of the other countries in Europe that have ratified it. I point out to the Minister of State that it certainly is a very hands off approach. If it takes this long to implement a measure that was signed in 2007, we will not make many inroads into achieving social inclusion for those with disabilities. We need to ensure that people with disabilities are given equality of opportunity in order that they can participate in society to the best of their abilities.

I thank the Leas-Chann Comhairle for this opportunity to speak on the Bill. Its purpose is to provide for amendments to the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005, the Pensions Act 1990 and the Civil Registration Act 2004. One of the main provisions of this Bill is to amend the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act 2005 to allow for the publication, on a quarterly basis, of the names and address of persons convicted in a court of social welfare fraud. Fianna Fáil does not condone welfare fraud in any shape or form, but we do not condone the perception created by the Taoiseach when he was Minister for Social Protection that there was widespread social welfare fraud in his Welfare Cheats Cheat Us All campaign. That was unfair because while some people engage in fraud most people do not set out to do that. I have dealt with cases of people who claimed social welfare not knowing they were wrong in doing so. I know of cases of people having had overpayments of €60,000 and €70,000 who genuinely did not know they were wrong, and they are trying to pay money back. The vast majority of those in receipt of a social welfare payment are genuine claimants. We will be tabling an amendment to this Bill to ensure that only those who have been convicted of intentional social welfare fraud in excess of €5,000 will have their names published.

With regard to the legislation on the public service cards, I am aware of the widespread opposition to the introduction of a compulsory identity, ID, card. There are advantages for its introduction. There are plausible arguments for and against that, but many will vigorously challenge the possible infringements on a person’s privacy. We will be seeking reassurances from the Minister that the questions raised by the Data Protection Commissioner will be addressed in full and that there is full transparency in terms of how the data is collected and, moreover, that people's personal data is properly and safely secured.

The public needs to have full confidence in the public services card and the Department needs to communicate more effectively on this issue. That is critical. In this age in which we live it is a very useful card, but people need to know what personal information it holds and who has access to it. I accept the card has been in operation for those who require social protection services since 2011 and this is not the first time a national identity card was mooted. In 2009, a report by the then Joint Committee on Social and Family Affairs recommended the introduction of a national identity card to coincide with the development of a public services card. The public services card contains very sensitive data, including biometric information, a person's date of birth and their personal public service number, PPSN. The databases behind the card will link to a variety of important public services. Therefore, the databases behind the card will have highly sensitive information such as a person's address, family and medical information, etc. We need to know who will have access to this information. Thousands of people could potentially have access, which increases the chances of abuse of the data and the chances of leaks. There is also no guarantee that the data will not be transferred to outside agencies, private companies and so forth that are supplying public services.

The Bill contains a number of tidying-up measures in various areas, some of which I welcome. I welcome, in particular, the changes being made in section 9 for those in receipt of a disability allowance, the blind person’s pension and certain supplementary welfare payments to remove the rule allowing the disregard of earnings only where employment is of a rehabilitative nature. At present, those in receipt of disability allowance and the blind person's pension may have the first €120 per week of their earnings disregarded for the purposes of the means test governing eligibility for those schemes. However, such earnings are allowable provided that the employment concerned is certified as being of a rehabilitative nature. In addition, income from rehabilitative employment of between €120 and €350 per week is assessed at 50% under the means test. The report of the interdepartmental group, the Make Work Pay group for people with disabilities, established under the comprehensive employment strategy for people with disabilities found that the requirement to prove that work is of a rehabilitative nature in order to avail of the earnings disregard was unnecessary and recommended dispensing with this requirement.

The Bill also provides for a number of amendments to the Pensions Act 1990, which I welcome. We need to have a serious debate on pension provision in Ireland. There is no question but that the pension system is in need of reform. The Government must get its act together and act to address many of the issues that are causing great distress for pensioners and those coming up to pension age. There are anomalies that should to be addressed and they arise as a result of the methodology used in the determination of entitlements based on contributions, mainly for women but also for men, where there is a shortfall that means that they are not entitled to the full rate of pension. Issues such as the anomalies in the calculation of the contributory pension and forcing people who have worked all of their lives to sign on for jobseekers benefit for one year before they qualify for their pension should be addressed.

Since my election, I have continued to highlight the pension gap between men and women. The past four decades have witnessed a seismic change in women’s participation in the workforce, but they are still financially less well off than men. Changes to the contributory pension thresholds that determine how much people receive by way of a State pension have made the position far worse for women. With effect from April 2012, the number of paid contributions required to qualify for a State pension increased from 260 to 520. The measure has worked against many women who spent time out of the workforce. A new homemaker’s credit was approved at the same time which seemed to offset any potential inequality, but it was not sanctioned by the Department of Finance because of the cost involved. It is crucial that we see the promised homemaker’s credit introduced and backdated to the 1970s. The current scheme was only backdated to 1994 and limited to the care of the children up to 12 years of age.

We need to move towards a universal pensions system which would give both women and men equal access to a comprehensive pension guarantee. The payment rate must provide for a decent standard of living for all. We have a situation where many people, mainly women, are being denied a full State pension on retirement. We also have a situation where people are being forced to retire at 65 years but cannot access their entitlement to receive a State pension until they reach 66 years. We have a looming pension crisis where the rate of supplementary pension scheme coverage in Ireland is estimated to be only 35% of the working population when the private sector is considered in isolation. Fine Gael has been in government for seven years and it is time this issue was resolved.

Financial hardship in retirement has become a real prospect for a lot of women. While much attention is paid to the gender pay gap, the problem is far more pronounced at pension age, with a pension gap between men and women of about 37%. I have been contacted by a number of women who are extremely worried about their pension entitlements. Many of them will not be entitled to receive the full pension payment because they do not have enough paid contributions and are anxious about how this will impact on their pensions. There is no doubt but that it will have a serious effect on them. These are individuals who started working and had to give up work to mind children and who then went back into the workforce. What is happening is very unfair.

The pension pay gap between men and women amounts to about €700 a month. In fact, only 16% of women receive the full State pension. To be paid at the top rate, a person will need a yearly average of 48 paid or credited contributions from 1979. This means that a generation of women are either on reduced pensions, as they do not have enough contributions to qualify for the full rate, or receive one as a qualified adult which is related to their husband’s pension and is not a payment to them in their own right. We need to move towards a universal pensions system which would give both women and men equal access to a comprehensive pension guarantee. This pension should be at a payment rate which would provide a decent standard of living for all.

I would again like to voice my concerns about eligibility for the tenant purchase scheme, specifically for those in receipt of a social welfare payment. The local authority tenant purchase scheme that came into effect in January last year deliberately makes it very difficult for anybody in receipt of a social welfare payment to purchase a house. No citizen should be excluded from the scheme that is open to social housing tenants on a minimum gross annual income of €15,000. Under the terms of the scheme, the council will place an incremental purchase charge on the house equal to the discount given, with the charge reducing to zero over time. Where a local authority house is valued at €150,000 and the applicant’s gross annual income is €18,000, a discount of 60% will be given against the purchase price and the applicant will pay €60,000. The scheme excludes tenants who are dependent on social welfare payments as their primary source of income and it has been set up in a way that deliberately makes it very difficult for anybody in receipt of social welfare payments to purchase a house, which is regrettable.

Since it was established originally by Fianna Fáil, the tenant purchase scheme has been responsible for the greatest transfer of wealth in the history of the State and access should not be denied to any citizen. Home ownership is good for the families who live in the houses in question and good for the communities in which they live. Opening up a pathway to home ownership is at the very heart of Fianna Fáil policy. Ireland cannot afford to have a divided society where home ownership is confined to a few, while the rest struggle with unstable tenure and rent levels. The right to buy under the tenant purchase scheme has been an important tool in extending home ownership opportunities to low income households. The option to own a valuable long-term asset has empowered thousands of families across the country and should not be denied to any family or individual.

I understand Deputy Michael Collins, is sharing time.

I am sharing time with Deputies Danny Healy-Rae, Michael Healy-Rae and Mattie McGrath.

I am glad to have the opportunity to speak to the Bill. I note that it touches on a wide range of subjects and there are a number of aspects I wish to raise. First, I welcome the changes to the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005 which is being amended in the Bill with a view to deterring and reducing the level of social welfare fraud. Those found to be in receipt of excess of €5,000 in fraudulent payments will have their names published.

With regard to the Civil Registration Act 2004, I welcome the deletion of the Office Registrar, General and deputy registrar general. The country is top-heavy with unnecessary offices and management that only delay certain processes. The ending of these restrictive positions is welcome. This, however, results in the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection being responsible for the provision of birth, marriage and death certificates. For this reason, I am fearful that the Department may exploit the opportunity as a way to raise income. Having recently done away with death benefit, I plead with the Minister of State, Deputy David Stanton, to keep the cost of these important documents at the current price, if not to reduce it further, particularly the cost of a death certificate. We are all well aware of the strain the loss of a loved one can place on a family emotionally, as well as financially, as a result of funeral expenses.

Changes to the Pensions Act 1990 are also incorporated in the Bill. I bring to the Minister of State's attention a problem I raised on the floor of the House recently during Leaders' Questions. It is the issue of pensions for women in the home. Article 40.2.1° and Article 40.2.2° of the Constitution state:

1° ... that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved.

2° The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.

I am aware that the Government intends to hold a referendum to amend the article next year. My point is that we all know plenty of such women who left work after getting married to stay at home and rear their families or take care of parents and in-laws. They have saved the State millions of euros in child care and carers' fees. Many of them went back to work for a number of years after their families were reared and now realise they do not have enough stamps to receive a State pension. While a few of them benefited slightly from the introduction of the homemaker's scheme in 1994, many homemakers in my constituency of Cork South West have brought this issue to my attention at various clinics. They believe they have been discriminated against. In fact, they believe that, despite the wording of the article, the State did not go far enough to ensure they would be left in a financially stable position. They believe they have been left high and dry by the State. What an awful thing for them to feel having served the State for so long. I ask the Minister of State to raise this and the earlier issues I mentioned and to treat them in the legislation.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on these matters related to pensions and the public services card. As I understand it, there are three pensions Bills to be brought before us in this Chamber in the current term. They come from Deputies Richard Boyd Barrett, Willie Penrose and Johnny Brady. I do not deny any of the three Deputies the right to bring whatever they wish before us in the Chamber as they are elected and have that right but I wonder if the three Bills could be streamlined into one Bill. There is no doubt but that the pension system needs to be improved in many areas. We have social welfare inequalities and unfairness in many areas. It is ridiculous that currently people must retire from many jobs at 65 years of age. After working for 40 or 45 years, it is ridiculous to think they cannot get the contributory pension until they reach 66 years of age so they go on jobseeker's benefit.

We were all at the ploughing championships and it was great to be able to meet the farming community and people who service the business. It is a wonderful experience every year to meet people from every part of the country, especially those who go religiously from very rural areas. Fewer than 50% of these farmers have any preparations made for a pension. It is only when these men and women reach 65 or 66 years of age that they give any thought to the pension and at that stage, with many of them, their hips, backs and hands are gone and there are fingers missing. They will have given endless hours to work; more than many people, except maybe those in private business. They do not have working hours and they go from darkness in the morning until the dark of night. They work on Sundays and every day of the week. It is amazing to think that fewer than 50% have any provision for a pension. I was glad to hear the Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, suggesting a number of weeks ago some new idea he has for a pension. Farmers certainly need to be looked after as they dedicate their whole life to their farms and their operations. They must do it.

As mentioned by Deputy Michael Collins, there are many women who, if they have reached pension age since 2012, would not qualify for a full pension. Maybe some of them are not getting any pension. I have an example of two sisters who went into the workforce back in the 1970s. One of the girls worked in the black economy and there were no stamps paid for her while the other girl had her stamps paid. Both of them reared their families and did not work for a long number of years up until the late 1980s. They went back to work again and the girl who had the stamps paid will not qualify for a full pension but the girl who was in the black economy and was paid cash will. That needs to rectified, particularly the way contributions are averaged. It is not fair and when something is not fair, it is not right. Many of these women are coming to elected representatives to see what we can do for them. Our group raised this matter in the Dáil a number of months ago but we were told the money was not there to rectify it as it would cost €300 million or €400 million. These people are being wronged and this must be looked at again. This will become an election matter. The affected people came up here from all over Kerry to highlight the problem. Will the Minister look at this as the averaging system is wrong and unfair?

Many pension schemes have employers paying in for their employees but they will not benefit the employees. These pensions need to be clarified. Employees and employers do not know enough about these pension schemes and they are not benefitting the employees. Many people are worried about the public services card because they want to know who will have access to the card. If they do not want to give it to certain people, it is a right that should be upheld. The matter will not go away and it needs to be dealt with in a fairer manner.

I welcome the opportunity to speak to this very important matter. I meet people weekly at clinics and I hear of the recovery but people on pensions and other various payments are, unfortunately, not feeling the benefit of any recovery. I certainly hope in the forthcoming budget, there will be what I would call a substantial and fair increase for people on different payments from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. That is very important.

Today I had three phone calls from families who were not ringing for the fun of it. They were asking about the bereavement grant and if such a grant was available. I was very sorry to tell them that there is no bereavement grant but a case may be made individually and people may be able to get some funding. To be honest, the bereavement grant should never have been taken away and it should certainly be restored. I heard the Taoiseach today saying we have seen nothing until we see what his Government does over the next period of time. If he wants to show that his heart is in the right place, he should please restore the bereavement grant.

There is one anomaly that comes up an awful lot, which is where people, through no fault of their own, are affected by some error made in filling out a form. There is some mistake and there is nothing devious or underhand about it but, all of a sudden, these people might owe the State €500, €5,000 or €15,000. They are left struggling. I know that if money is owed to the State, it must be repaid. There is a minimum amount that can be accepted. I ask that for people in bad, tough or dire circumstances, the rule be relaxed. In other words, no case should be the same. If people find they must repay money to the State, they should at least be given a proper and lengthy opportunity to repay an amount they can afford.

I also want to have my say on women who have worked very hard in homemaking. I appreciate the homemaker scheme but it is too restrictive as it only takes into account a certain number of years. People who had families before or after that period are unable to avail of it, which is wrong. Those people worked hard and brought the next generation into this world. They should be entitled to a full pension, the same as anybody else as they worked at home, doing what is probably one of the most important jobs in raising their families.

I use this opportunity to pay a very special compliment and tribute to a very important group of people who work as our community welfare officers in different communities, whether it is in Kenmare, Killarney, Gneevgullia, Killorglin or elsewhere.

They are really in touch with their communities and doing great work. They deal with stressful situations every day and it is not often that they are recognised in Dáil Éireann. However, I extend my compliments to them as they are doing a great service for the State. The one thing I am terrified of is that the great work being done by community welfare officers would be centralised. They have a great and in-depth knowledge of their local areas and the people they are representing and I want them to be there into the future.

I support what my brother, Deputy Danny Healy-Rae, said, that the biggest insult of all to a person who soldiered very hard and worked to the age of 65 years is that they are told that there is no transition pension between the ages of 65 and 66 years. It is an insult. It is crazy that they are told that they should be retiring but that they must go on jobseeker's benefit. It is morally wrong and an insult to people who have worked hard. The transition pension between the ages of 65 and 66 years should be brought back and people treated with the respect they deserve.

I, too, am happy to speak to the Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registration Bill 2017. The new Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, introduced the Bill on Second Stage before the recess in July. I wish her well in her new role.

Section 4 has generated significant controversy. It provides that, "From the beginning of 2018, a quarterly compilation and publication of the list of persons who have been convicted of an offence under the Social Welfare Consolidation Bill Act 2005 or welfare fraud related offences under the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act 2001..." The apparent aim is simply to increase public awareness of the consequence of such activity. After three months the list will be removed from the Department's website, which will be refreshed. As many have observed, it is very striking that this particular list is being prioritised over, for example, a list of the bankers and financial wizards who have conned the country out of billions. Where is the list for them, the white collar criminals who will have our grandchildren paying for the blackguarding with which they got away? There was no regulation then, or, at most, light touch regulation. There is one law for the rich and another for the poor; shame and public disgrace for those who in engage in social welfare fraud but protection and anonymity for the high level financial operators. This is simply not good enough and we wonder why people are cynical about politics. It is unacceptable in the extreme.

Another section that has generated significant concern is the one dealing with the public services card and the circumstances in which it will be mandatory. Much has been made of the Minister's celebrated remark that the card is mandatory but not compulsory. What is the difference? Which comes first? I am not sure that this provided the reassurance for which many were looking. I do not believe it provided any.

In terms of the other aims of the Bill, I certainly agree that it is vitally important that we protect the interests of employees with respect to their defined benefit pension contributions and that we do all that we can to produce a more robust and effective mechanism to ensure that will occur. I understand the Minister will be introducing amendments to the Bill on Committee Stage in this area, but it might be too late for that. Why are they not in the general body of the Bill? Many will have found it quite shocking that there has never been a statutory obligation on employers under Irish law to engage with trustees and members to address deficits in their defined benefit pension schemes. This is found to be the case particularly with big business and corporations. Not enough conditions have been put on employers who wish to terminate their liability to contribute to their defined benefit pension schemes. We have seen how they have been abandoned and closed down overnight, which is not acceptable. I am glad that the Minister is intent on introducing clarity in that regard. We are waiting to see what measures she will introduce. From what she has previously indicated, the amendment she is intent on introducing will not permit an employer to walk away at short notice. I hope that measure will be well ring-fenced and supported by legislation because it applies to many big employers who move and change companies.

The amendments will also provide for a 12-month notification period to enable negotiations and discussions to take place between all sides. I welcome these amendments. Where a scheme is in deficit, they will require employers to enter into dialogue with trustees to develop a plan to sustain the scheme. It is only where these steps fail and no funding proposal is in place that the Pensions Authority will determine a funding obligation in the form of a schedule of contribution amounts and dates by which they will have to be paid.

As the Minister also noted in her remarks in July, the Bill includes a measure which will confirm the special position within the welfare code of guardians who take responsibility for caring for children who have been orphaned or whose parents are unable to take care of them. The Bill also includes a measure supporting people with a disability who take up employment. I will be very interested to hear the thoughts of someone like Senator John Dolan and the Disability Rights Federation. It is very important that we look closely at this measure and do not just pay lip service to it.

Like my colleagues, Deputies Michael and Danny Healy-Rae, I salute and praise community welfare officers. The previous Government closed down facilities and stopped community welfare officers from meeting people in places such as health centres and elsewhere and put them all in big offices in a couple of towns. They withdrew their support from the community and it could not have been done at a worse time when community welfare officers were never needed more. They are on the front line trying to deal with issues, but they are not available because they have to get taxis to get into towns to meet people who are out of the comfort of their own surroundings. We must respect community welfare officers and support them and allow them to do the job they have always done.

There are a number of issues dealt with in the Bill that could easily merit a long contribution, not least the fact that the Bill falls very far short of the framework that was launched earlier in the year which promised significant pension reform. My colleague, Deputy Róisín Shortall, spoke to the Bill and raised many of the issues surrounding the management of pensions and the plight of workers such as those in Aer Lingus, the Dublin Airport Authority, Marks & Spencer’s, Independent News and Media and so on. I will not go over the same territory again.

Given what transpired during the summer break regarding the outrageous handling of the public services card, that is an area on which I particularly want to focus. Section 5 of the Bill makes provision for the Minister to issue a public services card where she sees fit. Departments and systems have to talk to each other, but safeguards are incredibly important and people are very conscious of the need to safeguard their personal data. The sledgehammer style introduction of the public services card has caused not only confusion, justified anger and fear but it has also severely impacted on some people's welfare payments because they expressed understandable and legitimate concerns about the new system. I spoke to one applicant who told me that all she was looking for was clarification as to whether it was compulsory to obtain one of these cards. I know that she has not been paid her pension, something into which she had paid and something she regarded as a benefit she would receive when she sought it. Instead of taking on board legitimate concerns of citizens about how their personal data would be used or transferred among Departments, or to handlers in other jurisdictions, they were ignored and people found themselves being held financially hostage as their payments were discontinued if they refused to blindly accept the imposition of the public service card. I do not know if a benefit for which somebody has paid can be legitimately withheld. If it happened to a politician or in the case of a ministerial pension, the High Court would be invoked as a possible sanction, but it seems that when it is a small individual who is trying to establish his or her rights, there is a difference in treatment.

The Minister has repeatedly denied that the public services card is, in fact, an ID card, yet the proposed subsection (1)(d) of section 5 clearly and succinctly states a person may use his or her public services card for the purposes of proving his or her identity to any other person or specified body. If we are to have an ID card, let us have a discussion about it.

Let us have the discussion about the safeguards around identity cards but let us not do it by stealth. To watch the Minister ignoring concerns about an ID card, in an age when personal data is a commodity, was breathtaking. Serious concerns exist regarding the digital safety of such information. I dealt with a woman who had her old age pension payment stopped after she questioned whether it was mandatory to accept the public services card, PSC. I asked some parliamentary questions and received what can only be described as an aggressive defence of this woman's treatment and the treatment of others like her. The Minister said on radio that most people were accepting of this. Why would they not be accepting of it if by refusing to get one of these cards they would not receive their pension? Further, the reply doubles down on the fact that the PSC is indeed a national identity card and stresses the ‘consequences’ for those who refuse to get on board with the system. People need reassurance at the very least.

To add serious insult to injury, the reply also confirms that people who had the audacity not to blindly swallow the Government's line, and who dared to pose questions and express concerns, not only had their payments stopped but will not have those amounts backdated when their payment resumes. I find that astonishing because it is a benefit if a person has paid into it and meets the qualifying criteria. I do not understand how a person's pension can be discontinued without addressing that. Essentially, those persons find themselves penalised substantially for daring to raise legitimate concerns.

Another area where there are significant legitimate concerns is JobPath. A significant section of this Bill concerns itself with the area of social welfare fraud and identifying those working while claiming payments. I am certainly not justifying anybody doing that but it appears very little consideration is given to finding ways to accommodate those people who are actively engaging with the system but want to activate themselves in the jobs market.

I am dealing with a case where a father of two was referred to JobPath in 2016. This referral happened despite the fact that he had declared himself a casual worker, in that he could pick up a few hours here and there and have his social protection payment reduced accordingly. Upon being sent to register for JobPath he was told, on the registration day, that he was not a suitable candidate yet they registered him anyway. Had he refused to be registered his social protection payment would more than likely have stopped although he did not have the casual work. The obligations placed on him by the Department required him to attend at times notified to him, even if those times clashed with working hours he had been offered. He consistently raised this issue with the team and told them he was at risk of losing the bit of work he had if they refused to help manage the times accordingly. He was rebuffed and ignored.

Even more worrying, he was asked to sign documents asking him to verify attendance at sessions which he had not attended. When he expressed concern at signing something he knew not to be true he was told not to worry about it and that he had to sign in order to get paid. He had specifically requested a truck training programme and was refused and instead sent on a Private Security Authority, PSA, licence course which cost the same amount of money but had poorer work prospects for him. He was coerced into the training with the promise of a job at the end of it but no such job ever materialised. He was prohibited from accepting any other external offers of employment during the training time and threatened with sanctions if he accepted work outside the JobPath scheme.

Eventually, he and his wife decided that it would be more prudent for him to take the risk of accepting a job and that is what he did. He then found himself pestered by Seetec, the JobPath organising company, to get his new employer to fraudulently fill out forms claiming JobPath had got him the job. The employer was contacted on several occasions. JobPath did not get him the job but he and his new employer were repeatedly harassed to the point that the employer eventually signed the forms to get it off his back. The man in question felt that he had to speak out and highlight what is going on in this scheme. This is not a client centred labour market activation programme. This is a programme for profit. The same company is having significant difficulties with the legal system in Scotland.

I ask the Minister of State to look into issues such as the public services card. Much more thought has to be given to some of the people who have fallen foul of this. It is not acceptable that people who have paid all their lives cannot get their pensions because they do not want to engage with the public services card but can provide alternative identification through a passport or a driving licence. They do not feel confident enough about the card and have not received enough answers on it.

The JobPath scheme merits a serious review from a citizen's perspective rather than looking to penalise and punish. There are other things within the Department that are costing money and which are not what they were intended to be. JobPath deserves that kind of scrutiny.

The priority of this Bill should have been to reverse the savage cuts and austerity that the past two Governments visited on ordinary people. Instead, this legislation is taking the opportunity to demonise social welfare recipients. The dishonest claim of high levels of fraud was a cynical tactic used by the then Minister for Social Protection to promote himself and his recent campaign for Taoiseach. There is a very low level of fraud in this country. Research shows that the largest proportion of funding lost is lost through administrative error, some customer error but not fraud. The fraud levels here compare very favourably with the 2% to 5% levels in the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States of America and New Zealand. The proposals in this Bill for publication of names, addresses, fines and penalties make no distinction between someone who has been convicted for a relatively minor offence and someone who has habitually committed serious fraud.

Recovery of overpayments is a question I come across regularly at clinics. Most of these are due to administrative error or errors by applicants. Thankfully the Government's proposal to recover 25% and recover repayments by way of that deduction has been dropped from the legislation. The situation is very difficult and needs to be reviewed. The Department is allowed to deduct 15% from the social welfare rate for overpayments. That is being used as the normal and only rate of deduction, in most cases without any consultation with the applicants. In many cases where there is consultation, and that is a small percentage, it was implemented before the applicant made his case and returned it to the Department. It has been automatically deducted. That is wrong and should be reviewed by the Minister and stopped. If there is an overpayment to a person on jobseeker's allowance of €193 a week, whether through administrative error or an error on the part of the recipient, 15% is routinely deducted. That person loses just under €29 a week and receives a payment of €164.05. It is not possible to live on that. That needs to be examined urgently.

A new unit was set up some time ago to trawl for overpayments. It goes back years.

I have seen cases where it went back 21 years, and looked at situations that were closed off for that length of time. They are also trawling back that far for very small sums of money. That should be looked at. If something has been dormant for five, ten, 15 or 20 years, it should be written off. How can anyone make their case years down the line? It is very difficult to retain documentation. It is very difficult for someone to make his or her case when they are trying to account for something so far down in the past.

I have concerns about the public service card. It is moving in the direction of a mandatory identity card. If it is to be introduced, it must be done on a voluntary basis. How secure is the data on these cards and who and what agencies have access to it? Now that we are outsourcing some social welfare schemes, will these private companies which are operating on behalf of the Department be entitled to receive the recipients' data that is held on these cards? That should be examined.

Turas Nua and the JobPath programme are completely inflexible. Once one is referred to one of these schemes, one cannot take up another scheme. I dealt with a case recently where a man was interviewed for a CE scheme on a Friday, told on Monday he had a place on the scheme and would start on the following Monday, but then on Tuesday he had a letter from Turas Nua to say that he had been referred to its scheme the previous week. It was the first he heard of that but he was not allowed to take up his place on the CE nevertheless, despite interventions across the board. I know from talking to Deputies in the House that this is happening across the country.

Others have raised the situation faced by women regarding the State pension. This is something that I come across regularly at my clinics as, I am sure, do other Deputies. The regulations were changed by the former leader of the Labour Party, Deputy Joan Burton, of all people. Now we have a situation where women who had breaks in their employment to work at home to rear their children find themselves with either no pensions or their pensions significantly reduced. That is not good enough. If nothing else, the Government should take the opportunity of this Bill to deal with this question and ensure that women who were in employment and then looked after their children and reared them at home and then returned to work are entitled to their full pension, as was the case.

I agree with other Deputies that the qualifying age should be re-examined. It was another austerity measure introduced by the Labour Party in the last Government. We now have a situation where State pensions are not paid to people until they are 66 years and there is a hiatus between 65 when many people have to leave employment and 66 years. In the future, the age will increase to 68 years and recent reports that there is talk that it will be 70 years. The pension age should be returned to 65 years and people should have the option to work on if they wish. This should be looked at in this Bill.

One category of social welfare recipients who were badly hit in the years of austerity through cuts introduced by Deputy Joan Burton were one-parent families. We know that poverty is rampant among one-parent families. There are children who go to bed and to school hungry. This is supposed to be a republic of opportunity. The Minister and the Government should now take the opportunity in this Bill to reverse the cuts that were made because they are causing havoc in one-parent families, especially for the children. The situation in which one-parent families, and particularly the children, find themselves is a disgrace to the State.

I wanted to refer to a number of other areas quickly, although my time is running out. The Department is effectively promoting the payment of social welfare payments through banks. That should be stopped and it should promote their payment through An Post services throughout the country. It is a vital service in rural Ireland. If the social welfare payments are removed or significantly reduced we will see hundreds of post offices close in rural Ireland.

The right of social welfare recipients to purchase local authority houses should also be looked at.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Social Welfare Pensions and Civil Registration Bill 2017. It makes amendments to the social welfare legislation, the Pensions Act and the Civil Registration Act.

I will speak briefly on the Civil Registration Act and will concentrate on the amendments relating to the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005. My question for the Minister is one that he might answer on Committee Stage. What is a waiting time for the issuance of birth, marriage and death certificates by the civil registration authority? There are considerable delays and it has got worse in recent times. I am aware of people being affected by this in my constituency. These are mothers who are badly in need of the qualified child allowance and child benefit when a new child is born, and they have to wait weeks on end to have their birth certificate issued from the local office. Those delays are new, I never encountered them before but I am seeing it this year. I ask that the Minister of State investigate this matter.

Another matter that has arisen on the civil registration offices is the delays for people to get an appointment of the civil registration of their intention to marry. I tabled a parliamentary question on this matter earlier and I am sure I will receive a response shortly. I have asked for a timetable on an office-by-office basis around the country. I hear that people are choosing the office in which they register because they hear that there is a big waiting list in their own county but the next county is not so busy. We are seeing all sorts of funny things. Again, I have only encountered this issue this year. It is something I would like to have investigated.

When I get a letter from the civil registration office, it is on HSE headed paper. I know that this legislation is under the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection but it seems to be run through the HSE offices. I know the Department is responsible, but I do not know how one tallies with the other and there does not seem to be a clear line between the two. Historically, it may have been through the HSE but the Department has legal authority in this issue and it should check with the HSE that it is administering these issues on its behalf in the regional offices and investigate the delay.

That is all I have to say about the Civil Registration Act side of the legislation.

I will now come back to the substance of the legislation, which is designed to deter and reduce fraud in the social welfare system by providing for the publication on a quarterly basis of the names and addresses of persons convicted in a court of social welfare fraud. Nobody in the House stands over social welfare fraud. Everybody in the House must accept that people are defrauding the State, taxpayers and their neighbours of money, and this must be followed and pursued and they must pay it back. However, there is a remarkable imbalance in the legislation, and this legislation can be considered fair and reasonable only if it is balanced. It is fair enough in some respects, in so far as it goes, but I contrast this with what we have had at the Committee of Public Accounts in recent months.

Allegedly, €400 million or €500 million is due to the Department because of overpayments. There are various categories of overpayments. The Government is introducing legislation to chase these down and that is fine, but there should be similar legislation in terms of following and chasing down funds due to the redundancy and insolvency fund under the remit of the Department. An exact equivalent amount of €400 million or €500 million is allegedly due to the State, based on the amounts the Department records in its accounts, which come to the Committee of Public Accounts every year. I understand the majority will not be collected because many of the companies where the State paid statutory redundancy have gone bust, been liquidated and gone out of business, and some will take time. However, some of them are back on their feet and some of the companies have had restructuring. Some of these companies are now very strong and some are very profitable, and this is money that is due to the State. The Department has no mechanism whatever to follow this money. It makes a paltry effort. We have had it at the Committee of Public Accounts. The Department does not even know the details. This matter has moved from the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Employment because it was about redundancy and it was not really interested in it. That Department was more interested in giving out grants and not chasing up this issue. It has now landed at the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and there is no interest in the Department. We asked questions at the Committee of Public Accounts and no significant information is coming through. I reiterate that the majority of what is allegedly owed needs to be forensically examined, and what is owed should be chased and what is not possible to collect we must face up to and it is only a figure on a sheet of paper.

I understand 10% to 15% of the fund comes through every year by way of people making payments back to the fund. I asked at the committee meeting about the fact this fund, this debt to the Government, does not show up. In other words, the debt people have due to alleged overpayment is shown on the State balance sheet as money owed to the State, but the money owed by employers to the redundancy and insolvency fund is miraculously excluded from the balance sheet of the State because somebody takes the view that if we get something we get something and if we do not we do not, so no real effort is made to follow it. It is referred to as a contingent asset and it is not recorded on the Government balance sheet and there is no real effort. I would like to see a balance in terms of examining this and seeing how much is owed and then dealing with this. If it is not owed we should be truthful about it, but some of it is owed and no adequate information is being obtained to follow it through.

I asked a simple question, that surely the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection can contact Revenue about a company and whether it is still trading and making VAT returns. It is very simple. There could not be anything more simple. Revenue is outstanding in chasing money on deposit interest retention tax and showing people with deposits in bank accounts in Ireland, England and other countries, and telling the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection that people in the system claiming money actually have deposits of €30,000 or €50,000 which they have not declared. Revenue is able to give great information to the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, but the Department does not seem to be able to say here is a list of companies that may owe it money and ask whether or not they are trading. If they are not trading that is fine, but the Department does not even know how to ask the question. I am just saying this legislation is not fair. It goes after the little guy who owes a small amount of money and ignores the big guy, but that is the Fine Gael way and I must be straight. That is why we have this legislation. It is the Fine Gael way to go after the little guy. The Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, is smiling. He can prove me wrong by including an equivalent measure in the legislation to chase employers who owe money to this fund and have not paid it. If he does this I will accept the balance and I will be happy to withdraw the comment at that stage.

The legislation is a bit of a charade. It is part of Leo's trick that he will be hard on social welfare. He said when he was at the Department that he would pass legislation, and we have it coming through now. The essence of this is to issue the names on a quarterly basis of people who have been convicted in court. Every court conviction is public record anyway. They are in the local and national newspapers. The Government will publish a list of something that is in the public record. It is sham and a charade and it is shallow, but it achieves the political aim to try to frighten and in some way cast aspersions on people in receipt of social welfare payments and try to categorise them all in this way. It will not put a name in the public arena that is not already in the public arena as a result of a court hearing and court conviction, because if people are not convicted they will not be published. I believe I have made my point on what I think on this.

Turning to other aspects of the Bill, section 7 is very important as it provides that decisions which deny entitlement to a benefit or payment must in all cases be made by a deciding officer. I want the Minister of State to think about this carefully. I do not believe we are on a sound legal footing here. Somebody applies for carers allowance, and the medical report states the person requires X amount of care, and the medical officer or qualified doctor states the person is entitled to it, and a deciding officer of I do not know what grade in the Department, perhaps administrative officer or assistant principal officer, with zero medical knowledge will be able to make a decision to overrule the medical evidence. This has to be re-examined. I understand there are potential court cases on this issue at present, whereby medical opinion has said one thing but the deciding officer has said another and the question is who is entitled to make a medical opinion. Most people would have thought it would be a person with a medical qualification, but the Government wants to stitch this in here, so that in all cases, and that is the reason it is here, it is ensured the medical person's view is not the view that prevails at the end of the day. If an administrative officer wants to overrule a medical opinion the legislation specifically provides a mechanism to do this and I believe it is wrong.

I ask the Minister of State to revisit this. What is the Government trying to close off here? There must be some parallel mechanism whereby the medical evidence stands on its own two feet. Perhaps it must go for a higher medical opinion in the Department. The Department recently recruited a number of doctors to examine some of these cases on the disability entitlement of a person being cared for, but administrative officers should not make the decisions on people's severe medical conditions. It is that simple. I do not believe the Minister of State can stand over this provision in the Bill, bar that the Government is trying to close off what is common sense, but it is a bit of an inconvenience for the Department to allow a medical officer make a medical decision. The Government needs to re-examine this.

With regard to section 8, I understand what is being said but I want to put a bit more into the public arena on this issue. It states that where an insurance company will pay up the money in a case where somebody had an injury or a disease, there is a mechanism whereby if the person has been in receipt of a payment from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection the Department can obtain the money directly from the insurance company because the State was already paying it before the case came to be settled by the insurance company. This legislation allows for the first time ever that payments to a person in receipt of supplementary welfare allowance can be added into the mix of what can be recouped from the insurance company. I have no problem with this and it makes sense, but I ask the officials to consider some of the cases I have dealt with.

The other half of the equation - in several cases and I have been to an appeals officer who has overruled the decisions of the Department's deciding officers - includes cases where people have had to take the HSE to court for medical negligence. Where the State Claims Agency took the case, the person is awarded €50,000 or €100,000 as the case may be, and immediately when that money, which is as a result of the medical negligence of the State, is received people lose their social welfare entitlement because they have means. I have asked a series of parliamentary questions with regard to health, the HSE, the Office of the Chief State Solicitor and the Minister for Finance on whether some provision can be made to calculate the amount of the lump sum to be given when it is accepted there is medical negligence such that it will not in some way reduce the person's entitlement to a social welfare payment.

I had a case in this regard that I am thankful was overturned by the appeals officer, who saw sense and the foolishness of the legislation. A lady lost a child at delivery due to medical negligence and eventually, years later, got a settlement, which was paid into her bank account. She believed she received the amount in question from the State because of the State's medical negligence towards her but, lo and behold, the Revenue Commissioners informed the Department of Social Protection she had money in the bank and the latter came after her stating she had been claiming money to which she was not entitled and that she owed it €30,000. The State gave the woman €100,000 because of its medical negligence and another arm of the State came around to take €30,000 of it back. It was inhuman. They put the woman through torture several times. She lost her child and then had to go to the courts and get a settlement. Then, a couple of years later, she got a letter from the Department of Social Protection, and she had to go on her hands and knees begging and crying. It was unfair what was being done. She had the money and one arm of the State sought to take back what the other was giving because of the State's negligence.

We are very quick to call money back from the supplementary welfare allowance side, which I understand, but this must be balanced against circumstances where a person is being given a payment by the State. I accept the State Claims Agency is not within the Minister of State's purview. I have confirmed by way of responses to parliamentary questions I have asked that the State Claims Agency is not allowed, by legislation, to take into account any knock-on effects that the granting of the lump sum for medical negligence by the State can have on one's entitlement to a social welfare payment. There is a lack of follow-through. This legislation is fine but it is only half the picture. If the Minister of State wants to be balanced, he has to balance up what he is doing with some acknowledgement of this issue.

I had another case that was exactly the same. It involved a woman with a hand injury who got €100,000. I have encountered a couple of these cases. It is remarkable to note all the people who received money through the State Claims Agency because of medical negligence but who had money taken back by the Department of Social Protection, be it the disability allowance or whatever allowance they were then on because of the State's negligence. They are told they have money, thus affecting their payment. There is a lack of joined-up thinking. I ask the Government to stop the practice of the State giving with one hand and taking with the other.

The issue of the public service card has arisen extensively in regard to this legislation. The issues raised by the Data Protection Commissioner have to be taken into consideration and fully answered. Funnily, even if I am in a minority around here, I must state the public service card is a good idea. It might not be politically popular to say that. I have a simple view: if one wants to interact with the State and wants a service from the State, the latter is entitled to have one mechanism by which one identifies oneself. People say that is a breach of this, that and the other but if there were proper data protection measures in place, it would be a correct approach to take. We all give out that, every time one goes to a different State agency, one has to have a different mechanism to prove one's means and who one is. The idea behind the card is good and my problem is that it is not going far enough. Let me state why. Some 100,000 of the 300,000 public servants work in the health service, which is the biggest arm of the State, and the HSE is now spending tens of millions of euro to introduce a new patient identification number system for patients in any hospital in the State such that if one is from Dublin and has a car crash in Cork, one's record can be found from the patient identification number. Lo and behold, that number is not the same as one's public service card number.

It gets worse in the HSE. It has 1.6 million people in receipt of medical cards, using a different numbering sequence that is not connected to the patient identification number or the public service card number. Therefore, I believe there is a lack of follow-through and logic in Departments. I understand from my discussions with the various Departments that some genius will be paid millions to write a software programme to match up a patient identification number with the PPS number in some way. It is not designed for this. The medical card number, the patient identification number and the PPS number should be one and the same. I know I will get run out of this House for talking common sense but I believe that makes eminent sense, and I ask people to consider the practicalities when one is dealing with the State. It would make everybody's life easier, including the people with the medical cards or patient identification numbers. I ask that the Government consider joining up all the public sector numbers that are on cards related to different arms of the public service.

I reiterate what Deputy Healy said about discrimination against women in respect of their contributory State pension. We all know of such cases. I had a case involving a lady who once did three weeks' work during summer holidays and then went to college in England and got married. When she came back, she was told she had a 40-year record on which her average would be checked. She was then told that, lo and behold, she was entitled to nothing because she did three weeks' work when she was 18 on a summer holiday. It is wrong, it is immoral, it is anti-women and anti-family. I hope that if the Department does not address this, somebody will take a case to the Supreme Court. The current arrangement will not stand a minute because it is totally discriminatory. I ask that this be dealt with.

Much of this legislation is about the issue of arrears. I have encountered cases in this regard. Where someone is making an application for any new payment, the Department checks whether arrears are due. I have encountered people who worked for their lives and were told all of a sudden, on applying for the State pension, that they owed €8,000 from 12 years previously because, during a summer period, they claimed for their wives when they had part-time jobs. The applicants respond by asking why the Department did not tell them that when they were working with a salary and had the means to pay it. They tell the Department it waited until they retired and that it now wants the money taken from their pension. The administration of the arrears system by the Department of Social Protection leaves an awful lot to be desired.

I will say more at the meeting of the Committee of Public Accounts because I have the chapter from the Comptroller and Auditor General's report. There are 130,000 cases of people who owe €100 or so. Remarkably, as I said on television some nights ago, there are 10,000 people who owe an average of €30,000 each, which amounts to €300,000,000. The Minister of State should get on his bike and chase the money down. If it amounts to so much in the cases in question, it should be collected where it is due. If it is not due, let us acknowledge that.

In regard to all the lists the Taoiseach wants to have published, last year there were 167 convictions in court in respect of prosecutions under the Social Welfare Act. That amounts to a couple per week. We are passing legislation in this Dáil for those 167 people whose names are already in the public arena having been through the courts so that the Taoiseach can actually put their names in the paper. It is pathetic; that is all I have to say.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. It is fair to say it is a tidying-up exercise. There are many tidying-up measures in it in terms of the various areas of social welfare schemes. I welcome some of the measures, in particular the changes to be made for those in receipt of disability allowance and the blind person's pension.

One issue I want to speak about is the implications of the Bill for Irish emigrants returning from England. Some people who were born here, educated here and worked here and who, through no fault of their own, were forced to emigrate to seek employment in the 1970s, 1980s or another time are now back. In some cases, they are elderly and in bad health and cannot claim a social welfare payment, or they find it extremely difficult to claim one. For this group, the bar is raised very high. The habitual residency clause is used and the affected individuals have to establish where their centre of interest is, their employment history, the length and continuity of their residence in Ireland, the continuity of their residence in another country, and their future intentions. The guidelines do state that a person who has previously been habitually resident in the State and moved to live and work in another country and then resumes his or her long-term residence in the State "may be regarded" as being habitually resident immediately on his or her return. It does not state "will be regarded". It should be changed to the latter. It seems that the affected are getting a double blow in that the habitual residency clause is being used such that they have to prove their case, which can take a considerable period.

Another issue concerns the children of Irish emigrants who come here to live.

I dealt with a case a number of years ago where a person returned to Ireland to care for an elderly citizen, her grandmother. She has no intention of returning to live in England, but faces significant difficulties. The person concerned is related to one of the signatories of the 1916 Proclamation, which is somewhat ironic given what happened. I do not want to name which one because it will identify the person. There was nobody else to look after the woman's grandmother. She has spent a lot of time in County Offaly over the years, travelling back and forwards, and developed a special relationship and bonded with her grandmother, relatives and extended family. She was deemed not to be habitually resident in the State and faced significant problems in trying to make any headway. She was persona non grata for a number of years. I am highlighting the case because while I understand EU rules prevent discrimination on the grounds of nationality we need to have some balance. I do not want to be nativist but we need to consider those who have emigrated.

One person who returned to Ireland was housed by an approved housing body, a small housing co-operative. Despite having a lease the person had difficulty establishing habitual residency. Such issues need to be considered. The rules seem to be very unfair. People have worked hard here for a period of time and, through no fault of their own, emigrated. They may return home following the loss of a relative in order to be with their extended family in the later years of their lives or may have fallen into bad health. I ask that such cases be examined.

I refer to women's pension entitlements. The Minister of State was not the relevant Minister in the previous Government. I and, I am sure, the Minister of State are aware of a number of cases in our constituency offices of women who left the workforce due to childbirth. There was a marriage bar in the public sector for married women during the more Taliban period of our history which, thankfully, we have moved out of. We need to deal with the situation.

The changes made by former Minister, Deputy Joan Burton, discriminated against women and penalised them because they were forced out of work due to the marriage bar or child minding duties. In those days there were no child minders or crèches, things were difficult and families were bigger. Such situations necessitated one person being in the home, typically a woman. It was not ideal that they were forced into that. It is time that we examined the issue.

There is a cost involved which is, I understand, approximately €60 million. I am open to correction, but I read such a figure in recent research. The figure may be higher. We need to move on the issue because we should bring the women affected back into the system.

There is a lot of huffing and puffing and false information about single parents. There is fraud in every area, and I am not here to stand over that. Any parent who runs a house on €220 week, gets a child to school - in particular if he or she is attending secondary school and needs shoes or anything else - and is able to keep a roof over their heads is doing well. People are paying top-ups for private rental accommodation because we do not have rent controls, in particular in the constituency I represent. Those living in social housing should get medals by the time they have paid for everything.

We need to re-examine the income disregard related to returning to work in order to allow people to return to the workforce. A seven-year old child is not old enough look to look after himself or herself, regardless of what subsidies are available. There are question marks over what can be done in respect of childcare. We saw what happened in crèches following recent initiatives. Initiatives to subsidise child care are welcome. The problem is that many are being absorbed through increased costs. We need to examine how we can balance the system and get the best return for State money.

We are in favour of child care assistance and making it easier for women, in particular, to get back into the workforce. Things are very difficult for single parents. There are difficulties around the 14 or 15 weeks of the year when children are not in school. Some separated people, usually women, have two or three children and are trying to manage those situations.

The cut-off threshold needs to be examined. I am not trying to pick on the former Minister, Deputy Joan Burton, but it was during her term of office that the age was reduced to seven. As a parent and grandparent, I would not like seven-year olds to be left with just anybody or to wander the streets all day if I was going to work. We need to try to provide some extra support to lone parents.

We also need to stop the trail of misinformation. People have come to my office about different issues and have referred to lone parents. There is no doubt that there is fraud in every system. When I point out to them that parents are running households on €221 a week they are gob smacked and cannot believe it. They think I am not telling them the truth and I have to show them the rate book in order for them to understand the payments. They should get more. Let us make it easier for people to get back to work and try to give them child care support to enable them to do so. The age limit is too low. I have seen the effects in my neighbourhood, where women are trying to juggle and hope they can work through the summer until the children are ready to return to school.

I recognise the Bill as, in the main, positive. There are changes in it which reflect the fact that our social welfare system is quite complex. Whenever changes are made there can be unforeseen circumstances and not all of the intended changes can be captured in the legislation. Some of the Bill is a tidying-up exercise because legislation has given rise to the need to delete a duplication. In other cases, two or three different Acts need to be dealt with. I understand the civil registration aspect of the Bill deals with one of the changes where there is a mention of an ard cláraitheoir.

My colleague mentioned one of the unforeseen consequences. In 2011 we debated the increase in the number of contributions required to qualify for the contributory State pension from 260 to 520 and the change to whole-of-work-life measures.

We are changing the nature of pension provision in the Bill. The problem is that there is no mention of it because we never discussed it. The reason we did not discuss it is because it was quite traditional at the time for the social welfare Bill to be rushed through or guillotined so we never reached it. We never reached it on Second, Committee or Report Stages so there was no discussion and teasing out of the implications of some of the changes. I welcome that for the past number of years, at the very least, there has been no attempt to guillotine Bills and we can properly tease out their effects. I recollect that I mentioned that I have a problem with this; I do not know what is. That might sound silly in some ways but because of the complexities of our pension system and our social welfare system, my gut instinct was this was going to affect a certain cohort if it was introduced as quickly as it was because it came into effect a year later.

All of us with constituency offices can see women in particular turning up and asking what happened because they do not have a full contributory pension. Yes, they can apply for the non-contributory pension but it has affected them and I would appeal to those looking at this to make a greater effort to inform people in advance. I know some people in the pensions section have made an effort to inform people in advance that they are short but there are a lot of people who will not be informed early enough to allow them to make up the difference to reach the 520 contributions. In one person's case, thankfully, she was informed early enough and had three months in which to make up three contributions. It does not sound like much. She had 517 contributions and was told seven years previously that she had enough contributions at 260. As far as I remember, she had 500 credits - whatever use they were to her because they were useless in terms of contributions. She managed to get an employer to take her on for three weeks at the age of 65 or 66, managed to make up the amount and was assessed based on lifetime contributions.

The second part - the lifetime contributions - was interesting because she had taken a number of periods off for childbirth and to look after her children and that affected the full amount. I will not tease out all that but I congratulate those in the pensions section who have the foresight to look at people's pensions in advance and inform them. There is no system, as there was years ago, where someone could buy the contributions. Perhaps that could be looked at again and a cost put on it. Perhaps it is too costly or complicated but perhaps it could be looked at, particularly in cases where people are falling short by ten or 20 contributions in terms of qualifying for payments they made, because at the end of the day, some of these people worked for 30 years but it might have been a case of ten weeks here and ten weeks there. It takes 24 weeks to qualify.

Section 19 records the country of birth and citizenship when somebody dies. It might be worth recording citizenships because some people go through a number of citizenships. The explanatory memorandum mentions that this might be used in the future. I know people who are Pakistani or German and who then became Irish citizens. There are people who have moved around. It is a simple change that could be looked at.

The guardian's payment is a very good step but I have a problem with the fact that it still mentions orphans. The reason why it is called a guardian's payment is because of a campaign by myself and others to stop it being called an orphan's allowance. It talks about giving a payment to an orphan but in many cases, the people concerned are not orphans. They are the children of people who are not in a fit state to look after them so to all intents and purposes, they are abandoned but the Government is not going to use the term "abandoned children". It is about language. It was not accepted that this was the reason for the change.

The issue of welfare cheats is one of the key issues. As my party's spokesperson on social welfare for a number of years, I argued for more social welfare inspectors and still do. There is no reason for the change here. If someone is convicted of welfare fraud in a court of law, every single newspaper up and down the country will publish their name. The tabloids will broadcast it to the world so it is superfluous. If one wants a register, that is fine but one needs to be very careful going down this road because an appeal takes place later on. A person can be convicted today but they will have a number of months in which to put in an appeal. If we put that person's name on a register, we are condemning them. I give the example of a woman who came to me in absolute distress. The Department was looking for €20,000 from her for overpayments for 13 years. She asked me whether I still had a document she gave me 13 years ago. The data protection people here told me I should not have it and that it was in breach of data protection regulations. I had the document, which was from the Department and which stated that former Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, had sent this letter, which was attached to it and said to sort this out and pay this woman the money and recognised the conditions and whatever else. This was the proof she needed to show that she did nothing untoward when the Department told her she had pulled the wool over its eyes and had never mentioned it. It was there in black and white 13 years later.

We should be careful. I heard Deputy Michael Healy-Rae talk about overpayments earlier. We are going back years. If I overpaid the tax man, I would only be allowed to go back four years. Beyond that, the tax man can keep it whereas it is different when the State makes an overpayment even when it is the State's fault. In many cases we talk about, and we have had this argument before, it happens because of bureaucratic mistakes. Sometimes it happens because the person did not provide the documentation on time and sometimes it is fraud. If it is fraud, we should prosecute and recover it. I have no problem with that but we should be very careful when it comes to going down the road of the State becoming another court of law. There is enough bad material appearing in newspapers that leads to these people being sued. We do not want to contribute to that by publishing names ahead of schedule. If they are guilty of fraud, so be it. As I said, the newspapers will condemn them.

In respect of the other changes, there are issues around defined benefit schemes and the fact that companies continue to move towards defined contribution schemes. Any protections for defined benefit schemes should be introduced along with anything to prevent companies from moving to the lesser defined contribution option. We should not help anybody to move towards closing those schemes, which have stood the test of time, when it is only for the benefit of companies rather than workers.

Debate adjourned.