Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Respite Care Services Provision

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, for coming to the House to deal with the issue of respite care services for children in counties Cavan and Monaghan. Respite care service provision has reached crisis point for over 100 families across counties Cavan and Monaghan who are on a waiting list for support. Respite care services for children and adolescents with disabilities across counties Cavan and Monaghan have deteriorated significantly in recent months, with more families unable to access the services they so badly need. Parents and carers are becoming increasingly frustrated at the lack of respite care services, so much so that a parents action group has been set up to highlight the issues the families are facing. The parents action group for respite care services held its first meeting in Cootehill, County Cavan before Christmas. It was a robust, heated and highly charged meeting, as parents are at the end of their tether.

I have been raising this issue on the floor of the House for months in an effort to relieve the plight of these parents and ensure proper, consistent supportive services will be put in place. On 4 January the parents took to the streets in a demonstration to convey their anger at the lack of respite care services. They protested outside the entrance to St. Davnet's in Monaghan to highlight their concerns. I do not need to tell the Minister of State that they are the parents of children with disabilities, physical and intellectual, who face huge challenges every day of their lives. They should not have to resort to protesting on the streets outside a hospital, but they felt it was necessary to have their voices heard and have the HSE take this matter as seriously as it is for them.

The only facility currently available to parents who need respite care for their children is Annalee respite care centre in Cootehill. The centre has five beds, but no places have been available since mid-September. I understand beds recently became available, but there was a crisis up until that point. I commend the hard work of the chairperson of the parents action group, Jennie Farrelly, who, with a delegation which comprised Niamh Brannigan, Kate McCabe, Seamus Cahill and my colleague, Deputy Brendan Smith, recently met the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, to raise their concerns. I take my hat off to these parents who not only take the time to hold public meetings and protest but also to come to Dublin to meet the Minister of State.

I am not exaggerating when I say services in this area are in crisis. Listening is not enough. The parents need action. They need another centre dedicated to children who need respite care services. They face enough challenges in life without having the lifeline of respite care withdrawn from them and being left for months without a break. It is utterly disgraceful that they have been abandoned in a vacuum with no end in sight. The obvious response of the HSE in the midst of the crisis was to find alternative accommodation or offer increased home care support hours to the families, but it did nothing. It is my understanding the service has resumed since 11 January, but I would like the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, to outline what plan is in place to deal with the backlog which has built up in the past five months.

I am taking this debate on behalf of my colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Finian McGrath. As my version of the response does not reference specifically counties Cavan and Monaghan, if the Deputy needs me to obtain specific information, I will.

The Government's ongoing priority is the safeguarding of vulnerable people in the care of the health service. We are committed to providing services and supports for people with disabilities which will empower them to live independent lives. Respite care services are an important part of the range of services supporting people with disabilities and their families. Short breaks can also provide an opportunity for individuals to meet new people, widen their social circle and gain new experiences. Respite care is crucial in helping to reduce family stress, preserve the family unit and provide stability. The need for increased respite care services is acknowledged and the HSE continues to work with all service providers to explore various ways of responding to this need in line with the budget available. As part of its ongoing service provision, this year the HSE will provide over 182,500 respite care nights and 32,662 day respite care sessions for families in need across the country.

In 2018 there was a significant improvement in respite care provision. An additional €10 million was provided to fund 12 new respite care houses, one in each HSE CHO area, plus an additional three houses in the greater Dublin area to respond to the very high demand for respite care in this area. The additional houses are providing additional respite care for families who need it. To date, ten houses have opened and the remaining two are scheduled to open shortly. When fully operational, they will provide for 19,000 extra over-night stays and 2,520 home sharing night stays annually. Some €2 million of the additional money is being targeted at alternative respite care services. These are practical and important solutions, with alternative respite care provision working well locally, with good examples of summer camps, evening and Saturday clubs, benefiting hundreds of adults and children.

In 2018 community-based, alternative respite care projects delivered 15,144 in-home respite care hours to 400 users and 1,296 Saturday evening-holiday club sessions to 1,500 people. The number of adult service users continually increases as service users transfer from child to adult services. This impacts on the level of respite care existing service users receive. In addition, a number of service users have associated mobility needs, which means that they can only access downstairs bedrooms. This also affects the level of respite care they receive. In preparing its 2019 national service plan additional finding will be focused by the HSE on a number of priority areas arising from ongoing demographic changes. They include the expansion of community disability services to meet the needs of school leavers; 100 new therapy posts to address assessment of need waiting lists for children with disabilities; personal assistance and home support service hours, residential places and respite care places.

I appreciate that the Minister of State is not the Minister with responsibility for disabilities or health, but I thank him for coming to the House to address the issue. I would thought that the HSE would provide him with detailed information on the crisis in counties Cavan and Monaghan. As I said, this is not the first time I have raised the issue. My colleague, Deputy Brendan Smith, has also raised it on a number of occasions. There are parents in the region who have had no access to respite care services for five months.

I am aware the parents action group met officials from the HSE this morning. I am not exaggerating when I speak about the frustration and the significant number of families - more than 100 - who have been affected by this and when I say the parents are at the end of their tether. One family who came to me have a daughter who has a severe physical and intellectual disability. She is almost ten years of age and they have never been offered respite care. They are on a waiting list but these lists are so long. The one facility available is taken up because there is a child who has difficulties and needs to be housed on their own for whatever reason. There is no other facility to accommodate the parents and children who are on a waiting list.

We cannot carry on like this. These people are the most vulnerable in society. These are parents are exasperated and exhausted and are losing faith in the system, which they should be able to rely on for some support. Disability services within the HSE are crucial because most of these parents are the main carers for their children and provide care 24 hours a day, seven days a week. All they are asking for is respite, which might be one night in five or six weeks.

The facility may be back in action but for five months more than 100 parents have had no respite care. That is not taking into account the parents and children who are on the waiting list and who have never had respite care. A plan must be put in place. Will the Minister of State convey to the Minister responsible the need for an action plan to deal with the crisis specific to Cavan-Monaghan?

I certainly will pass this message on. I know from my own family the importance of respite hours and that Deputy Smith is not exaggerating the issues for those people concerned. I am not surprised they have taken to the streets because for the parents of children with either developmental or disability issues, the most important person in their lives is the child they want to help. I will tell the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, about the Deputy's concerns and ask him to respond directly to her. The matter, as listed here, does not specify Cavan-Monaghan but I will ask him and his officials to give the Deputy a specific answer on Cavan-Monaghan.

Home Care Packages

I raise this Topical Issue because I am greatly concerned about the lack of provision of respite care and home packages by the Department of Health. I realise it is not the Department of the Minister of State present. I will give an example of how this issue came to a head. A 93 year old constituent of mine was in hospital after a recent illness and the social worker said that 21 hours of home care would be awarded to this family. The difficulty is that the family has been told there is no funding available for the 21 hours. I put questions down to the Minister and he said it was a matter for the HSE but the HSE is not in a position to give the information on these 21 hours. I realise this is an issue affecting people throughout the State. Some counties have been left behind. There are nearly 700 people waiting in Galway, 600 in north Dublin, 578 in Wexford, and 200 in Dublin South-West. They are all impacted by this.

The crisis this family is facing is that the mother was getting very distressed where she was and they took her home. She is getting 24-hour care now. One can realise this cost of this by a simple calculation in one's head. It could be anyone's relation. This is just one example. Unfortunately for the family, they have taken on this burden. Surely if it is indicated that there are hours available, the family should get some support. Unfortunately, up to now, that has not happened.

I am aware that this is not the responsibility of the Minister of State present but there is the notion of collective responsibility. I ask the Minister of State to go to the Minister of State in charge to try to find out when this funding may become available. The Minister of State may recall that during the week I asked the Taoiseach about this particular area. Nobody at Cabinet level seems to be able to answer the question on these hours. The Taoiseach stated that the budget had been increased for next year which is great. When will this be seen on the ground and, in particular, in these people's homes?

It does not make economic sense to leave people in respite care beds if the family wants to take them home. It is distressing for the patients themselves. It also probably puts the patient at risk from infections and so on that can be picked up in hospitals, unfortunately. This woman, and perhaps many other people who are elderly, want to spend their remaining time in their home. That is where their happy memories are. They do not want to be in a bed in a ward with strangers even though they are being well looked after. At the end of the day, this woman wants to be at home with those who love her around her. She has good neighbours as well. Surely we should be able to come up with some sort of package or supports to help people remain in their home.

I do not know how the Minister of State feels about this but I feel sick to my stomach that someone is left in this situation where the family are left helpless. This woman is on oxygen and she is blind but her brain is absolutely perfect and she knows exactly what is going on. She knows her own mind and wants to stay in her own home. This is not a Third World country. With all the wealth that is floating round and the money we can spend and misuse on different things, surely we can come up with some sort of supports for families like this one.

I thank Deputy Crowe. I am taking this Topical Issue on behalf of my colleague, Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly. In the case outlined by the Deputy, where 21 hours of home help is required, one could not but wish to see a person of that age and who still has her faculties in her family home situation.

The Government's core stated objective is to promote care in the community so that people can continue to live with confidence, security and dignity in their own homes and communities for as long as possible. A wide range of services are provided, including home supports, day care and residential care, through direct service provision and through voluntary and private providers. Respite care is an essential component to ensuring older people with care needs in the home, including those with dementia, can be cared for in their community and close to their carers. The service offers additional assistance to families and carers, thus helping to alleviate the ongoing stress associated with providing care. Respite can often assist with avoidable acute hospital admissions. Respite is provided in several different ways and settings across the health system. It is provided through designated respite beds in public residential centres and contracted by the HSE in private nursing homes – where it is used to increase the availability of such beds to meet demand – within the resources available in the local area.

There are over 1,800 short stay beds in public long stay units. These may be used interchangeably for respite, rehabilitation, convalescence or other uses, depending on current demand in the centres. Therefore, the number of respite beds in any one month can fluctuate up and down depending on demand for that bed.

Planned respite can be provided, allowing carers to have planned breaks throughout the year. Respite may be provided as part of an enhanced home support package, where the funding can be used to procure a period of respite. Respite can also be provided on an emergency basis for unforeseen circumstances, for example, due to bereavement or illness of carers, or emergency environmental changes to the residence of the client. The provision of respite beds is part of an integrated model of care and the HSE strongly advocates and supports the system of respite care nationally. The HSE is currently considering the role of the respite services and how these can contribute to the provision of a streamlined pathway of care for older persons. Respite services are also an important part of the range of services supporting people with disabilities and their families. Short breaks can also provide an opportunity for individuals to meet and engage with other people socially. This year, the HSE will provide over 182,500 respite nights and 32,500 day respite sessions.

Home care is an increasingly important part of the supports for enabling older people to remain in their homes and communities for as long as possible and for facilitating their discharge from acute hospitals. Last year, a single funding stream for home support services brought together the funding for home help and standard home care packages which now operate as a single home support service. In excess of 53,000 people will receive more than 18 million home support hours this year. This will assist older people to live independently in their homes and enable large numbers of people to return home following acute hospital admission.

Despite this significant level of service provision, demand continues to rise and there is considerable variation in access to services in different parts of the country. While the existing home support service is delivering crucial support to many people, it needs to be improved to better meet the changing needs of our citizens. That is why we propose to establish a statutory scheme for home support services which will improve access to the service on an affordable and sustainable basis while also introducing a system of regulation that will ensure public confidence.

While I understand the Minister of State is reading a script, on a personal note, what does he say to families who are left in this situation and who are clearly facing a crisis? I do not know of any family who would be able to pay €20 an hour, 24 hours a day, seven days a week for a package that, in this case, would allow a woman to stay in her home. A huge burden is being put on such families and we are a bit light in our response to those in that situation. Can anything be done? Will additional funding be made available to community healthcare organisation, CHO, 7, the area where this woman is located? If it will, when will it be released?

During the week, the Taoiseach said additional funding was coming down the line. While that would be one way to help, we need to look at the bigger picture if we are serious about our ageing population and about supporting those who will clearly have support needs. If our overall policy is to try to keep people in their homes for as long as possible, we need supports. This family are in crisis and there are no real answers for them here today. I am awaiting a reply from the Minister but I know he will kick it back to the HSE, which does not have the answers.

It sounds like a whinge but I do not know where to go with this. The family have come to me thinking I have the answers. I am coming here today asking the Minister of State whether he has the answers, but it is clear that, collectively, we do not. I am sure the Minister of State will go back to the Minister. We need an answer specifically in regard to those who are getting on in age but who are distressed by the idea of having to stay in hospital. Even where there is a loving family who want to take such people home, they need some sort of support. If we can do that and come up with some sort of solution for families like this, it will be a good day's work for us. While I am concentrating on one family, I realise there are probably thousands of families in the same situation.

There are certainly many families in this situation. Although it is no consolation, I deal with similar issues in my CHO area and it is often down to resources in different areas. On the bigger picture issue raised by the Deputy, the Department is engaged in the process of setting up a statutory, stand-alone scheme along the lines, I would expect, of the fair deal scheme that exists for residential nursing home care, which can be slow to access but seems to deliver for the people concerned. In this whole area of home care and home support, given the fact many more people are seeking it and, with the demographics, we know many more will be seeking it, it makes sense to have a statutory scheme. On the bigger picture, I will ask the Minister specifically when he thinks those measures for that scheme will be announced. I will also ask him in regard to CHO 7 and the case raised by the Deputy. I know the Deputy is awaiting a response from the Minister and perhaps something can be done in that case. The bigger picture is that we are going to have a statutory scheme. I fully agree with the Deputy that we should have it as soon as possible.

Emergency Accommodation Provision

Given the weekend weather forecast, it immediately sprang to my mind that 160 people are sleeping rough on the streets. On Tuesday morning I put down a Topical Issue matter on this issue but it was not accepted for debate, so I raised it on the Order of Business on Tuesday. The Minister said he had been alerted that the cold weather initiative, which is ongoing since November, had been activated and was upping its game. I was told there were beds in the system and that the outreach teams were sufficiently filled and would be going out in the following days. Yesterday, information started filtering through from the inner city homeless and housing group that they had been out on Tuesday night and had met 86 people who were sleeping rough. One of the team leaders rang for beds on four occasions but no beds were available. They called on their phone and can prove that happened. In that case, people who wanted emergency beds did not get them. The group were out again last night and were in contact with 98 people sleeping rough. Six of these people were in Store Street Garda station, four of whom got beds, although the others did not want to go in. We know there are many reasons people do not want to go in, given the conditions they face.

The All Together Now homeless outreach team met a man on Tuesday night who was hungry and freezing, so they gave him food, gloves, a hat and a thermal foil blanket. He had spent the whole of Monday day, Monday night and Tuesday out on the street. The team rang Housing First but no bed was available on Tuesday night. He was directed to the freefone but he had no mobile phone and there are only six public phones operating in the inner city at the moment. Here was a man who was literally told to go away and come in at 10.30, which is what he had to do. The inner city homeless group has said that, last night, one man they were dealing with did not want to go anywhere and he was suicidal. He had been beaten up, so they called an ambulance for him and he was brought to hospital.

This is happening on the streets. Fr. Peter McVerry was on radio today to tell a similar story of a man who knocked on his door. When he rang the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, it said he would have to go to the Garda station because it was his first time putting himself forward for emergency accommodation. The man had no identification and the Dublin Region Homeless Executive said the protocol was that he could come down and get a sleeping bag but it could not take him in.

We are in a serious spell of cold weather this week. It is irresponsible not to take in somebody who is seeking emergency accommodation. Will the Minister of State clarify how many beds are vacant in the system? I know 320 single beds were set up late last year and we have been told there are vacant beds in the system. Considering what happened over recent nights, particularly Tuesday night, when we were told there were no beds in the system, I would like the Minister of State to respond. This is very serious.

I thank the Deputy. The Government is fully committed to resolving homelessness. It is an absolute priority for the Department to deliver solutions to provide solutions for all of the individuals and families who do not have a home. In Dublin, where rough sleeping presents the biggest challenge, the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, DRHE, co-ordinates the delivery of homeless services across the four local authorities. The DRHE constantly evaluates the requirement for accommodation and engages with the Department regularly on the delivery of accommodation solutions.

In September 2018, the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, requested that the DRHE co-ordinate a plan for the delivery of additional beds across the Dublin region in order to ensure that accommodation is available for those at risk of rough sleeping. Since then, the DRHE has delivered 200 permanent beds and has also put in place approximately 150 temporary beds for the cold weather period. The Department has been assured by the DRHE that the accommodation arrangements that have been put in place have ensured that there is adequate capacity to cater for all who wish to obtain shelter. The management of the booking of beds is co-ordinated by the DRHE through a central placement service. The DRHE has confirmed that since the introduction of the new beds, there has been sufficient capacity in the system to ensure that a bed is available for anyone who wishes to avail of it. That was indeed the case on Tuesday night.

The DRHE is working to deal with a very challenging situation, in conjunction with its NGO service delivery partners. There continue to be challenges in encouraging some individuals who are rough sleeping to come into shelter. What the Deputy said is correct. There is a man sleeping rough close to where I live on the edge of Waterford city who has been offered help by State agencies as well as individuals and I have learned today that he seems to have taken a bed some place, thanks be to God.

The DRHE has outreach teams that work on the streets 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, engaging with people sleeping rough. The current cold weather strategy provides a targeted response to people sleeping rough, especially those that are reluctant to engage with services or those that are long-term sleeping rough. The DRHE has confirmed that sufficient capacity exists to provide shelter for all those who require it and will continue to provide outreach and support for those unwilling to engage with services.

With regard to the statements made by Inner City Helping Homeless that there was insufficient bed capacity on Tuesday night, the director of the DRHE was very clear in her media statements yesterday that those assertions were incorrect. Deputies should exercise caution in making statements to the Dáil on the basis of statements by individual organisations. To do so risks undermining the work of the DRHE and all of the service delivery partners involved in outreach work and the provision of emergency accommodation.

If the 158 rough sleepers said tonight that they need emergency beds, is there capacity in the system to provide them? That is a simple question.

The Minister of State commented on the claims by the Inner City Helping Homeless group. Its lead team made contact by phone on four separate occasions and was told no bed was available. It is not right to dismiss the claims of such a group that is out on the streets every single night. It can get the recording of the telephone calls, during which it was explicitly stated that there were no beds were available. If that was the case - I think it was because I know a woman who is involved and I do not think she would say it otherwise - then there is a problem and we must find out what happened and try to address the issue. One of the reasons I wanted to raise the matter today is that if there is a fault in the system we must be big enough to be prepared to find out what went wrong and to deal with it.

The situation involving Peter McVerry is horrendous. The man walked off and Peter McVerry tried to ring him back but he must have noted an incorrect digit when taking down the phone number because there was no reply. In severe cold weather conditions such as those being experienced at the moment, hostels should be open all day. People have to leave approximately 150 beds at 8 a.m. and come back at 9 p.m. In severe weather conditions such as we have now, however, they should be open for 24 hours a day and at weekends in order to respond to the situation. There should also be an access point in the city centre where people can go to try to get accommodation rather than having to use phones. There are only six telephone boxes in the inner city area. We must address such issues. We should make every effort to get the responders and outreach teams to try to convince as many people as possible to come in because the conditions are serious and people could die as a result. The State must up its game in terms of the services provided for rough sleepers in order that people will not be fearful going into hostels when they need to access them.

Deputy Joan Collins is correct in what she stated regarding the current weather conditions. I even found it very cold walking in here at this time of the evening, and it will get colder. It is important that beds are available for rough sleepers. As the Deputy stated, that is often because they do not, for various reasons, engage with the system in normal weather conditions. I am told by the Department that there is capacity in the system to provide beds tonight for the rough sleepers in Dublin.

On the issue of the four telephone calls, I accept the Deputy's point that there may be faults in the system. I have no problem trying to get to the bottom of that but the capacity is in the system and the DRHE has done good work in the past 12 months, and prior to that, to ensure that the number of rough sleepers has dropped dramatically in the four Dublin local authorities, but that is no consolation to the 158 people Deputy Joan Collins mentioned earlier.

Last year, the Government provided €60 million in capital funding to local authorities and other agencies for the delivery of emergency accommodation for individuals and families experiencing homelessness. In this year's budget, the Government announced funding of €146 million - a 25% increase - to support the provision of emergency accommodation but also other services delivered by local authorities to support those experiencing homelessness. While the figure for rough sleepers in Dublin has moved in the right direction in the past 18 months, in view of the fact that in excess of 150 people are still rough sleeping, I acknowledge that a lot of work remains to be done.

Teachers' Remuneration

Go raibh maith agat. Tá mé buíoch don Cheann Comhairle gur roghnaigh sé an t-ábhar seo. Late last year a number of payments to substitute teachers were stopped by the Department of Education and Skills's payroll section and that resulted in them being overtaxed on recent payments. It seems the Department of Education and Skills failed to register substitute teachers and some special needs assistants for a new PAYE system, meaning that they were treated as new employees and have had emergency tax deducted from their fortnightly payslip. The issue affects a number of teachers and has had a significant effect on their take-home pay. Some teachers have been taxed more than €500 for eight days work. Some substitute teachers who were not paid before Christmas for one week between 17 December and 21 December were not paid until last week. Many received no warning that they would be missing a whole week's pay prior to Christmas and that was deeply distressing for them.

When my office contacted the Department of Education and Skills about the issue before Christmas, we were assured that it would be addressed directly after Christmas and we were told that the fault lay not with the Department or the Revenue but with boards of management. One suggested option was to advise teachers to simply go to the board of management and to ask for a sub, as one would call it, on their wages.

This week, some teachers have been faced with a major tax bill and some got a double whammy. I was informed that the schools were at fault but it seems clear now that the Department is responsible, which was denied prior to Christmas. Could the Minister confirm that the cause of this issue has been identified? I accept that PAYE modernisation is complicated and the Department of Education and Skills is not the only organisation experiencing these issues. On the whole, however, people have not been affected by it and the question that arises is why this cohort is being so badly impacted. The teachers being impacted by the failures are some of the most vulnerable and they cannot afford to take the hit. The issue requires absolute priority.

The Minister addressed the issue of substitute teachers last weekend but I am not sure what he or the Department has done about it. There are too many vacancies and too much demand for substitute teachers in the system. We cannot get substitute teachers and that is a bigger problem.

The individual problems for these teachers are absolutely devastating. Many of them are substitute teachers because for some bizarre reason they cannot get permanent jobs at second level. At primary level we do not have enough teachers to fill the gaps and substitute teachers are brought in. For all the substitute teachers that have been devastated by this, there are many more gaps where positions have not been filled either permanently or by substitutes. One constituent of mine has been out of her primary teacher job because she is very seriously ill. She is going back before she is better because she feels so bad. A special needs teacher was taken out of special needs education within the school to cover her class. There is a huge feeling of guilt among teachers because this is necessitated by somebody's serious illness. Can the Minister outline exactly how the tax and pay situation came about for these substitute teachers? When can the teachers expect a repayment of the emergency tax that was taken from their pay last week? Is the Minister confident that these issues, which have plagued the system, have been resolved? If not, can he provide details of any further issues identified so that teachers will not be left in the lurch and will know what is happening? This has now happened in the Minister's Department. Similar issues with changes in IT and new systems happened in the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. A cohort of people out there are badly affected. Some feel this is a small cohort of people and it does not really matter. It matters a lot to them. It adds to the perception that teachers are not valued by the system. They are not valued by the bureaucracy which funds the education system. It is deeply damaging to teaching morale when teachers see these stories in the paper. Moreover, it is deeply damaging to the prospects of recruiting more teachers. Every time I get the opportunity I appeal to people to consider teaching as a profession, notwithstanding all these difficulties.

Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leis an Teachta fá choinne an t-ábhar seo a ardú. Tá mé ag obair ar an ábhar seo agus tchím na deacrachtaí agus tá mo chomhghleacaithe ag obair le chéile fá choinne réiteach a fháil. Ar dtús, labhróidh mé faoi chúlra an ábhair seo.

I am taking this issue very seriously. I am very glad the Deputy raised it. A large cohort of people has been affected. I would like to give some background, as the Deputy asked for, and then I will outline to the House what we are doing to rectify this situation.

The Revenue Commissioners introduced pay as you earn, PAYE, modernisation systems from 1 January 2019. PAYE modernisation involves the most significant reform of the PAYE system since its introduction in 1960. From 1 January 2019 employers are required to report their employees’ pay and statutory deductions to Revenue for each payroll issue. The new real-time reporting regime is operational for all employee payments made from 1 January 2019. Employers, agents and payroll providers have to have new business processes and practices in place to meet the new requirements. This involved major changes to most payroll systems in the country. The aims of PAYE modernisation are to improve the streamlining of business processes and to reduce the administrative burden previously experienced by employers in meeting their PAYE reporting obligations.

My Department issues 120,000 payments per fortnight to teachers, non-teaching staff, retired staff and casual and non-casual substitute staff. The serving staff are employed by the managerial authorities of schools and their salaries are paid by my Department on behalf of the managerial authorities. The salary issue that has arisen and has been referred to relates to the taxation of the substitute staff. It is confined to substitute staff who were paid in the first payroll of 2019 and in the case of post-primary substitute teachers in the second payroll also. The first payrolls of 2019 were on 3 January 2019 for post-primary teachers and on 10 January for primary teachers, non-teaching staff and retirees. The second payroll for post-primary staff was on 17 January.

The claims for the payment of substitute staff are submitted by the managerial authorities of schools using an automated system referred to as the on-line claim system, OLCS. The records of employment are submitted through the OLCS for casual and non-casual substitute staff. The details of each period of employment transfer to the Department where the appropriate rates of pay are applied, statutory deductions are calculated and the payment issues in the regular payroll run for the sector. The OLCS ensures that service history for casual and non-casual substitute staff is accurately recorded regardless of the number of schools a person may teach in and ensures accurate service history and accurate incremental progression.

In the first payrolls of the new year, in which the new system was applied for the first time, the payroll files that transferred to Revenue inadvertently included an end date for casual and non-casual substitute staff which informed Revenue that these staff would not be paid under this employer number in the future. This notification immediately caused Revenue to reduce the tax credits and cut-off points to zero for this cohort of staff. This meant that when they were next paid there were no tax credits available to be applied to the salary if they were paid on our payrolls in the next payroll issue. When Revenue is notified by an employer that an employment has ceased, the credits at that employment are available for reallocation to an existing employment or to a new employment. This has affected the substitute staff paid in the payrolls I mentioned, a group which represents 8% of payees on the payrolls. This has meant that substitute staff who were paid on the payrolls of 3 January, 10 January and 17 January and who have continued to be employed since are being taxed at a very high rate. Substitutes employed or paid after these dates for the first time in the 2019 tax year are not be affected by the issue.

The payroll software has been amended to prevent an end date transferring to Revenue for future payments. This means that casual and non-casual substitute staff being paid for the first time in the 2019 tax year since the payroll of the 17 January will not have problems with tax credits. However, this software amendment did not correct the issues that arose for the substitute staff paid in the first payrolls of the year. That is the issue that has been raised tonight. Within my Department the highest priority is being accorded to addressing the problem for the substitute staff affected and to ensuring that the correct tax credits apply and that refunds of tax that have been deducted in error will issue to the people in question.

The introduction of the PAYE modernisation systems by Revenue means the resolution of the issue is not completely within the control of the Department of Education and Skills. It requires collaboration with the Revenue Commissioners to address the issue and reach a technical solution. My Department is actively working with the Revenue Commissioners to bring about a resolution. I have just left a meeting on this very issue and I wish to let Deputy Byrne and the House know that we are using all our efforts and capacity to find a solution for this. A technical solution is needed, but this requires effort at a human level as well. I am conscious that there are teachers out there who have faced deductions and are facing pressure with the everyday realities of living, having expected a certain amount and then not received it. I wish to give an assurance that when this is rectified, the deductions that were made will be reimbursed.

Tá sé seo i bhfad níos measa ná a cheapamar. Tá daoine ag dul gan pá mar tá an iomarca imithe ar cháin, toisc go raibh fadhb ag an Roinn, agus níl aon fhreagra ag an Aire anseo sa Dáil maidir le cathain a gheobhaidh siad an pá sin.

This is far worse than has been reported publicly. This is an absolutely incredibly blunder by the Department. It is not one blunder but at least two. First, information was inadvertently included to the effect that substitute staff, casual and non-casual staff had an end date. Second, a software fix was applied that did not fix the problem. That is two blunders. I will gladly volunteer to go into the Minister's Department and help write the cheques to the teachers affected. That is the only solution to this problem. It is not good enough for the Minister to come into the Dáil and say he is using all his efforts to find a solution. The Minister is the employer: he is required by law to pay the wages of his staff. I strongly suggest that a manual process is applied, with all hands on deck to make sure that the cheques are written. It is simply not good enough to tell teachers to wait for Revenue to refund their tax. They are PAYE staff. They are not responsible for making returns to Revenue. Not once but twice the Minister has admitted on the floor of the Dáil that this is the Department's fault and we still do not have a solution to this problem. The only news the Minister has given me tonight is that he is using all his efforts to find a solution. I suggest the solution is to write cheques from the Department and then sort it out between the Department and Revenue separately.

That is the only way this will be solved. These teachers are extremely vulnerable. They are utterly dependent on their wages for what is in many cases casual work and this would not be accepted by the Government from a private employer. There must be a total change of approach and money due to these teachers should be paid.

We must be clear about what is happening here. This is a collaborative approach between Revenue and my Department. The employers of these teachers are the respective boards of management but I have a responsibility as Minister to ensure that we find a solution. The solution will be found, and speed is of the utmost importance. I am conscious that the next round of payment is coming up next week. My assurance to the people who have had wrong amounts deducted from their wages is that the deductions will be paid back to them in full. I have impressed on all my officials, and I have just come from a meeting, the need to ensure we get a solution. I share the Deputy's concern on a number of fronts where people have to pay their day-to-day bills, mortgages or rent. The reality of living costs is foremost in my mind.

I want to be clear that the software used did not take into account substitute teachers. That issue has been rectified but the difficulty is that it has not been rectified for those three payments affecting two cycles for substitute teachers and one cycle for primary substitute teachers. I will ensure that we put all our resources into finding a solution to this issue.

It is not good enough in my opinion.