Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2010: Committee and Remaining Stages

Sections 1 and 2 agreed to.
NEW SECTIONS

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 6, before section 3, but in Part 2, to insert the following new section:

3.—The Minister shall as soon as may be after the passing of this Act report to both Houses of the Oireachtas on the anomalous position of persons who marry their employer and who are previously paying class A contributions, but who are left in a significantly worsened social insurance position as a result of marriage."

I am substituting for my colleague, Senator Prendergast. I would be interested in the Minister's response.

I am not going to accept the amendment but I accept the point being made. There are many issues relating to the 36 rates of PRSI, the different classes, etc. I am aware of a case, which might be similar to the one to which the amendment refers, where a person who had worked as a PAYE taxpayer in a shop subsequently married the employer and then had a child. She applied for the maternity payment only to find she was ineligible for it. Had they had the child and forgot about the marriage, she would still be an employee and would have got the maternity payment. It seems odd. I will examine all these issues.

There are many possible difficulties because one must try to establish in the situation of family members that there is a real working relationship. I met those involved in one such case who were caught in this particular trap and I expressed understanding of what is, when one looks at it from the way they see it, an unusual situation. In the review of the PRSI system, the single social payment and so on, we should look at all these matters again to see whether we can improve them. We must ensure a person could not nominate all his or her family for social welfare entitlements without real work and payment input. That is the challenge in this case, which I understand is the kind of problem Senator McCarthy raises.

I appreciate the Minister's reply. He illustrated an example of the spirit of this amendment. It never ceases to amaze me that there is a large group of people who do not understand the PRSI codification system, and I would include public representatives in that. For example, there are persons who up until the budget would not have realised that their PRSI contributions would have covered dental and optical benefit. They did not realise it until it was gone.

There is a disconnection in terms of the perception of the categories of PRSI, for example, among persons who move employment. The majority of those in this House would have moved onto a different class of PRSI when they became Members of the Oireachtas and would have lost some of the benefits that their previous PRSI contribution, if they were in PAYE employment, would have conferred upon them.

In that macro-sense, when the Minister is looking at the system, it needs to be made understandable to the ordinary individual, never mind the practitioners of politics or others who will be using that system to explain cases and deliver a process or a procedure in a particular Department. It is also important that there is a strong understanding of that.

I remember a number of years ago when the Tánaiste, Deputy Coughlan, was Minister in this Department, she was looking at that in terms of jargon busting and using terms that were easy for persons to decipher and understand in terms of communicating.

A number of years ago, the workload of a public representative, as the Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, would have realised in Galway, would have been one-off rural housing and the planning difficulties associated with it being a political hot potato, whereas now the majority of us spend our time working in the social welfare system for those who, unfortunately, find themselves signing on and making inquiries about entitlements. It is a difficult system to gain a commanding brief of, from our point of view not to mind that of the ordinary individual or customer to whom the Department would seek to provide the service. It is important in the context of the manner in which the Minister looks at the PRSI codification system that it is made easier for everyone to understand, not least those to whom Department would wish to offer a service.

I fully accept the spirit of what Senator McCarthy says. I have had a great deal of experience with the social welfare system and how it has developed over the years because at one stage I was effectively the employer. I was a manager of a co-operative and I learnt many of the crinkles of the social welfare system, unemployment rules, casual labour and so on. What I have seen over years for all sorts of bizarre reasons, all of which were good at the time, is how it has got ever more complex. There are 36 different rates of PRSI and I do not believe there are many in the country who fully understand that. If one holds a medical card it is this, and if one does not, it is that, and there are all sorts of odd situations. I would much prefer a simpler system.

As Senator McCarthy also will be aware, the challenge in going from where one is to where one would like to be or where one would have constructed it if one was starting with a clean sheet is that it is fraught by the fact that people do not accept one going backwards. One must improve matters, and then there are issues of funding, etc. Notwithstanding the statement of the Minister for Finance that there would be a universal social contribution, I do not believe we will get there in one jump. However, if we could progressively reduce the number of social welfare classes and the sub rates under the various classes, such as A, M, K and S classes which, in turn, are divided into A0, AX, etc., simplify it and see how to reduce the variation in benefits under the different classes, it would represent a good day's work for the ordinary citizen. I have no notion of so doing but if I held a quiz here on the tax implications of social welfare benefits, I doubt if too many people understand that area fully either. I understand some of the large accountancy companies claim few people fully understand the tax and social welfare pay-in code in total or the classifications of the various payments one may get. I believe all of this should be simplified over time and during my time as Minister I will work in that direction. If, at any time, it is believed a debate on the issue either in this House or a joint committee were warranted, I would make myself available. If we all put our heads together and put our common experience of the crinkles in the system together, we might improve it. However, I warn the House that one must avoid unintended consequences which one may not have considered in the first place. Any changes would have to be carried out carefully. It will take some time but I am determined to move forward on this agenda in my time as Minister. I accept the spirit of the amendment if not the amendment itself. We should all follow this agenda and I am interested in people's input to the agenda. The Senator has highlighted some rather relevant points.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 6, before section 3, but in Part 2, to insert the following new section:

3.—The Minister shall as soon as may be after the passing of this Act prepare and lay before both Houses of the Oireachtas a report on the potential yield of each of the following revenue raising measures:

(a) requiring insurance companies to compensate the Minister for illness or disability payments where they have admitted liability and where the value of social welfare entitlements are deducted from the gross claim settlement;

(b) changing Charge PRSI on rental income on PRSI classes A, B, C, D, E, H & S;

(c) applying PRSI to capital gains on PRSI classes A, B, C, D, E, H & S;

(d) applying PRSI to share based remuneration and share options on PRSI classes A, B, C, D, E, H & S;

(e) withholding payment of Mortgage Interest Supplement until proof is provided that a bank has declined a payment-free period, an interest-free period, a partial write-off, an extension of the term, or any other reduction in the cost of the mortgage to the mortgage-holder and use the saving to improve the means-test for Mortgage Interest Supplement and modernise the rules including the deletion of the “30 hour rule”.

Several elements are involved here. One issue relates to the requirement on insurance companies to compensate the Minister for illness and disability payments due to be refunded. I agreed in the Dáil to examine this issue. If there is a great heap of money available, it would be very attractive to get it. It is worth noting that the level of recovery by the compensation recovery unit which operates the legislation in the UK in 2007-08 and 2008-09 amounted to €142 million and €138 million respectively. The UK is 15 times our size, but even if one takes a factor of ten it would appear to indicate that the reimbursement would be in the range of €13 million or €14 million. Unfortunately, despite what I and many others would have held to be the case, it would appear there is no big honeypot. However, €14 million is not to be sneezed at.

A proposal was put to the previous Minister containing a possible saving of €88 million but it does not appear that any such saving has taken place actually in the UK. It is unclear how this figure was arrived at. We must consider the impact on job retention and creation and establish what costs are estimated to offset against any potential yield. I indicated I would begin to examine this issue to establish if it is worth progressing with. I trust this deals with the issue.

I refer to PRSI and rental income, a complicated issue. This matter goes back to a review of PRSI. We are introducing a universal social contribution to replace employee PRSI. The situation at present is complex. At present, self-employed contributors pay PRSI on rental income. It is not the case universally that one does not pay PRSI on rental income. In addition, while employed contributors are not generally subject to PRSI on investment income and rental income, there is a liability where the individual concerned also has a trade, professional or partnership income which is chargeable to PRSI as a self-employed contributor on rental income. I understand the amendment proposes all such income should be subject to PRSI. At the moment some income is subject to PRSI, depending on one's circumstances and whether one is a self-employed trader or subject to PRSI on rental income. We are considering the Commission on Taxation recommendations and this will arise in the budgetary context and the review. It is not off the agenda and it is something I will examine.

I refer to the matter of mortgage interest supplement and the matter of proof provided when a bank has declined a payment free period. As I announced last week, we are examining the 30 hour rule. It has been recommended that we get rid of it. We insist there should be a six month arrangement with a bank before mortgage interest supplement would kick in. We also maintain that if the State is paying the interest, it should get bottom dollar interest rates and not pay inflated interest rates to banks. I am working actively on this. It is my intention to make changes to mortgage interest supplement in the coming weeks.

I refer to PRSI, capital gains and PRSI classes. The same point applies and as part of the review of PRSI, these matters will be examined. The same also applies to the PRSI to share base and the remuneration of share options. Everything on which one pays the PRSI social contribution is being examined in the context of the new social charge.

I take the view that in general the more universal a payment and the less exceptions we make, the lower it will be. In other words, the wider it is, the shallower one can have it. One mistake made in the past relates to the number of exceptions made. At times, budget changes were introduced and then people sought exclusions. The more exclusions there are, the higher the rate must be. All these issues will be considered in the context of changes to the PRSI system, which are overdue and which, as part of the last budget, we announced and we are actively pursuing.

I note the Minister's commitment to carry out a review of the mortgage interest supplement and based on that, I will withdraw the amendment.

I welcome the Minister. I refer to matters relating to employers, PRSI and exclusions. Will the Minister explain why people who were self-employed, who were employers, whose businesses have folded and who have fallen the furthest in many cases have no right to the jobseeker's allowance or jobseeker's benefit? Many such people are penniless and carry a good deal of debt at present and they have no basic source of cash. It is rather humiliating for many. I question the justice in this given that a European citizen from another country can come here and, within a short period, qualify for jobseeker's benefit. Will the Minister explain this anomaly? What does the Minister propose to do to help our small and medium enterprise people who have fallen on hard times? Is there anything for them in the form of social welfare benefits?

Such people are perfectly entitled to jobseeker's allowance. Many constituents of mine, who are also constituents of the Senator, are in receipt of jobseeker's allowance. Some such people were self-employed and may still have a small self-employed income. This was the first question I double checked when I came to the Department. In the old days, when I was working in the commercial economy, I knew many people who had small self-employed incomes and who were in receipt of jobseeker's allowance. I double checked this was the case when I came to the Department. What can catch some people out is the request for the previous year's accounts.

If such a person has a titim tubaisteach in income, last year might have shown a profit. This would not entitle a person to a payment but the position may be different this year. In that case the rule is not absolute. I have answered innumerable parliamentary questions about this. If one can prove that the income this year will be nil, one is still entitled to jobseeker's allowance. I had a case where a person obtained management accounts that showed clearly that in the previous four months there was so little trading, a negligible income was generated. The simple rule is once there is satisfactory documentary evidence that, for example, a single person's income for the current year will be less than the threshold, depending on his or her family circumstances, he or she will receive the payment. He or she is entitled to €196 a week and if he or she can prove his or her income will only be €100 a week, for example, he or she will be paid €96 a week. That is clear. The difficulty arises where the discretion comes in. He or she must satisfy the deciding officer that is the case and he or she can appeal. If an individual had a large income the previous year which has suddenly collapsed, he or she must come up with proof such as the loss of a contract. In a simple case, he or she might have had a good contract last year with a company, supplier or purchaser and can prove it has disappeared, which gives him or her a clear-cut case when dealing with the deciding officer. If he or she has lost a job here or there, he or she would have to come up with adequate proof that he or she had no work.

With regard to the issue of the self-employed drawing unemployment assistance, we face the challenge outlined by the Senator but, on the other hand, we face a different challenge, which is if the income of a tradesman drops to €100 a week and he or she is paid jobseeker's allowance and activity picks up again, the Department is faced with the practical difficulty when he or she is caught working and drawing of establishing when his or her income was not €100 a week. The Bill provides that the simplest measure to implement regarding the self-employed is to activate them into a scheme, like the farm assist solution under the rural social scheme. Good luck to them if they want to work in the evenings because they have given us the time, they were paid for it and they can work to their heart's content, subject to periodic means tests into the future. In that way, money is not being given for nothing and, therefore, the working and drawing issue does not arise.

The issue is worthy of debate. They are entitled to the jobseeker's allowance. The rural social scheme is a much better solution for the genuine under-employed farmer and for society and protecting the State's interest than an arrangement under which the person receives a payment and the State gets nothing in return. In addition, especially with the self-employed, it is difficult to control those who are working and drawing and undercutting honest, decent people who pay their tax and insurance. They are complaining all the time that they are being undercut by people in the black economy.

Will the self-employed people who fall on hard times still qualify for jobseeker's allowance, even if their accounts are outstanding and taxes are due to the Revenue, given that they do not have the money to pay Revenue because the business has done so badly? As the Minister correctly said, they are in trouble in the current year but they have to submit accounts for the previous year and they do not have the money to pay tax.

Revenue must go after and collect taxes where possible, but if a person has no income or assets, it is difficult to collect anything. If these individuals were taken to court, the court would have to take into account their lack of income.

On the social welfare side of the equation, we are dealing primarily with small operators and we advise them to go to their accountants and ask them to do up management accounts for the previous four months if last year's accounts are no good. They will then be able to make a successful claim for jobseeker's allowance based on the management accounts and they can pay Revenue when they can because they will never be able to pay if no income is coming into their house. These people are small operators earning less than €200 a week and all they need is management or profit and loss accounts, not accounts costing thousands of euro, which show the claimants are not earning money.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 6, before section 3, but in Part 2, to insert the following new section:

3.—The Courts Service is required automatically to notify the Minister of upward or any changes in maintenance orders.".

Part 12 of the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005 imposes an obligation on spouses to maintain each other and their children and on parents to maintain their children. The Act also imposes a liability on liable relatives of recipients of certain social welfare payments to contribute a determined amount to the Department towards that payment. All one-parent family payment claimants are required to make ongoing efforts to seek maintenance from their spouse or other parent of their child. This condition must be satisfied in every case. Section 357 of the Act provides that payments made under a court order for maintenance shall offset, either in whole or in part, as the Department may determine, contributions due by the liable relative. All liable relatives assessed with a maintenance liability are notified by the Department and issued with a determination order setting out the amounts of contribution assessed. The method of assessment of the liable relative's ability to pay are specified in detail in regulations, specifically SI 142 of 2007. Decisions can be reviewed where there is new information about or changes in the financial or household circumstances of a liable relative. A change in the amount payable through a court order can be notified to the Department by the liable relative and considered in determining the amount of contribution claimed. I do not know if that addresses the Senator's amendment but there would be an issue if the court had to inform the Department because these cases are heldin camera.

I have often raised this issue, which is open to abuse. Although the amendment warrants serious redrafting, the issue of significant maintenance payments being made under the table and not declared remains. A good way to address this would be to attach the earnings of the non-custodial parent to the claim or have the Courts Service notify the Department of maintenance orders. That would place a significant administrative burden on the service. Generally, in these cases, the male of the species tends not to want to have anything with the raising of his children——

Senator McDonald to continue, without interruption, please.

A debate on this issue would be welcome. While the amendment might not be relevant to the legislation, it warrants consideration.

Sometimes maintenance orders are not worth the paper they are written on because those affected — mostly men — have absconded. It becomes the responsibility of one parent and I wonder whether there is any way the legislation could be improved to prosecute those who do not pay up.

The amendment states: "The Courts Service is required automatically to notify the Minister of upward or any changes in maintenance orders". The Senators can bet their bottom dollar if there is money owing to the Department, I will go after it. Sometimes in the debate on social welfare, there is a lack of proportion regarding the amounts we are dealing with. While I am not one to sneeze at €1 million, €2 million, €20,000 or €30,000, my calculation is that, we spend €3,500 in the Department every second of every working day. That means we spend approximately €200,000 a minute and approximately €2 million every ten minutes. The reason I make this point is that the scale of savings to be made by focusing on the bigger issues runs to hundreds of millions. That is what will make an impact and help to improve things for people. We could spend €2 million chasing a sum of €3 million, but we could spend the same amount chasing a much bigger fish and get much greater bang for our buck.

With regard to savings, we will introduce an identity card later this year which will streamline the process in many areas, including service provision and overhead costs, and affect anybody playing the game of double identities. It will be a high grade identity card.

No. There is an even bigger saving to be made by way of an arrangement to enable a claimant's voice to be recognised. If it is not the claimant's voice, the messaging service will switch off.

Is it voice messaging?

No, it is an interactive service. One is asked for one's name and PRSI number and if whoever responds is not the claimant, the system will switch off. It will also be location sensitive. In other words, if a claimant rings from outside the jurisdiction, the system will cut them off. The only way the system can be fooled is if a claimant is working and rings from the place of employment. We recognise this is an issue. On the other hand, if a claimant takes a half an hour off to sign on, the person behind the desk will not know this either. We are all aware that people take a day off each week to sign on. The improvements made will free many front-line staff to chase those considered to be high risk, those who might be working and drawing welfare. Staff will be free to conduct on the ground investigations. The aim is to identify and target risk.

The third area in which there is a huge saving to be made and a significant social objective to be achieved is activation. This involves putting in place an employment action programme and inviting various claimants to an interview, for example, when they are moving to jobseeker's allowance from job benefit or when they are signing on. They will be asked to consider a job, an education or activation opportunity. If they refuse and say they are not interested in any of these, it is only fair to send the investigator to ask them some really hard questions. There are savings to be made by identifying people who are working and drawing benefits. Any savings made will be applied to activation measures. This will be a great boon for those who are unemployed. We are all aware that the majority of unemployed persons are looking for work.

On the courts system, it should be noted that the Courts Service is an independent body established under statute to perform five functions, namely, to manage the courts; provide services for judges; provide information for the courts system; provide, manage and maintain court buildings and provide facilities for the users of the courts. Family law is administeredin camera. Conveying information of the nature suggested in the amendment would be in breach of that principle because in a family law case the State is not conducting a prosecution, what one has are two people sorting out their differences in court. In addition, the functions suggested in the amendment, without the consent of the parties involved, would give rise to data protection issues. The Courts Service is an independent provider of services for both parties in a case, in this instance, a civil or family law case. An obligation of the kind suggested would involve the passing of information to the State, a third party, in a case which is private to both parties. In addition, maintenance is increasingly paid not through the District Court office but via bank transfers. Therefore, the Courts Service would not have information available on the actual sums of money paid over. These are the difficulties involved. I recognise that we do not raise a huge amount of money in maintenance payments.

I am glad the Minister touched on the issue of abuse. It is estimated that approximately 10% of social welfare payments fall into that category. That is a significant amount of money, considering that we are paying out a sum of €20 billion. Even if the figure was only 5%, the sum involved would amount to €1 billion.

It would be well worth following the money considering the size of the national deficit and the need to find savings of €3 billion. Does the Minister think the measures he is taking are adequate? Also, what has he done about the scandal during the ash cloud crisis with regard to the social welfare payments not collected during those weeks?

That has nothing to do with the amendment.

With respect, the Minister has addressed the issue of abuse with regard to maintenance payments. I would like him to address this issue also.

I am delighted the Senator has asked that question because the ash cloud story is one of the great urban myths. Some journalist had the story written and then asked the question. When he received the information, it took him three weeks to disaggregate the information in a way that would allow him retain the original story. We check claims in the third week of every month. When the figures are compared with those for previous months, it is found that approximately 2% of claimants do not sign on in any one week. In the week of the ash cloud, at 2%, the figure was no different. There was a very good article inThe Sunday Tribune in which the journalist in question used the accurate information. I give him full credit for his integrity in carrying the story. When we had the figures available, we looked at the nationalities of the 3,500 who had not signed on. Some 85% were from a little country called Ireland. These were the people who were finding cheap flights. English people accounted for the next largest ethnic group.

This has nothing to do with the amendment which has to do with maintenance orders.

There were people from almost every country in the world, including eastern European countries, Pakistan and Australia. The list was two pages long. The myth about cheap flights is nonsensical; some of the countries are so far away it would not be worth someone's while flying here, even to claim the dole for one month. Therefore, the research proved that virtually no one was availing of cheap flights to fly in to claim payments.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 6, before section 3, but in Part 2, to insert the following new section:

3.—The Civil Registration Act 2004 is amended—

(a) in section 19, by the deletion of subsection (6)(g),

(b) by the deletion of section 22 and the substitution therefor of the following section:

22.—(1) This section applies without prejudice to the general duty on both parents to register a birth under section 19, whether those parents are married or not.

(2) It shall be the duty of a parent whether married to the other parent or not, to furnish to the registrar particulars of the other parent.

(3) Where a mother who is the informant for the purposes of section 19, gives particulars to the registrar of the father, those particulars shall be registered following the giving of notice to the person so named, unless he makes a claim, within such period as may be prescribed, that he is not father; and on the making of such claim the matter shall be referred by the registrar to the District Court for directions prior to the registration of the birth.

(4) Where a mother who is the informant for the purposes of section 19 fails or refuses to furnish particulars of the father, or provides particulars that are false, misleading or incomplete, any person claiming to be the father of the child may at any time thereafter supply to the registrar or to any other qualified informant particulars regarding the father of the child, and the registrar shall register such particulars if the mother does not object to them within such time as may be prescribed; and in case of such objection the registrar shall refer the matter to the District Court for directions.

(5) Where the father of a child has not been registered in respect of any child born before the commencement of section 7 of the Guardianship of Children Act 2010, or where, in respect of such a child, a mother who is the informant for the purposes of the Act of 2004 has provided particulars of the father that are false, misleading or incomplete, the father of the child may at any time after such commencement supply to the registrar particulars regarding the father of the child, and the registrar shall re-register the birth containing such particulars if the mother does not object to them or in case of objection shall refer the matter to the District Court for directions.".".

While I have sympathy for the thinking behind the amendment, it would raise many problems. However, the issue is worth debating. The current position on birth registration is that no man who is not married to the mother can be named as the father of a child in an entry unless there is consent or he is found to be the father of the child by the courts. Under the provisions of the Civil Registration Act 2004, where the parents are not married to each other at the time of the birth, the father's particulars can be registered if the parents make a joint application to do so, or if either makes an application accompanied by a statutory declaration from the other parent naming the father, or if either parent makes an application accompanied by a court order naming the father. Where a father's details are not registered initially, the parents may re-register the birth to add his details. The procedures for such re-registration are similar to those for registration. All such parents married to each other following the birth are legally obliged to re-register the birth under the provision of section 24 of the Act.

In its first report of October 2009 the Joint Committee on Social and Family Affairs recommended that it be made compulsory for the father's name to be registered on a child's birth certificate and the amendment would support this recommendation. However, the Law Reform Commission issued a discussion document in September 2009 on the legal aspects of family relationships which included the issue of registration of the father's particulars. The commission has invited submissions from interested parties and will issue recommendations in a further report which is not expected to issue before the autumn of this year. The provisions contained in the amendment are premature, as any recommendation by the Law Reform Commission with regard to compulsory registration of the father's details on a birth record would be of considerable significance. In the circumstances it is considered best to await the outcome of the deliberations of the Law Reform Commission before considering legislation on this matter. It seems to be very simple but when one examines all the possible and conceivable cases it gets very complicated. I suggest we wait for the Law Reform Commission. I know the spirit of the amendment. The big principle is easy but the devil is in the detail. I will look forward to studying the Law Reform Commission's deliberations in detail which no doubt the select committee will also do.

I accept the Minister is genuine when he says he will wait for the report of the Law Reform Commission. On that basis I will withdraw the amendment. Nonetheless, this issue needs to be addressed and sooner rather than later. That was the purpose of the amendment in its entirety, to bring about the closing of a situation which, to say the least, is undesirable. I know the Minister is probably in agreement and I accept that such a seismic change will cause difficulties. I look forward to the Minister delivering on a commitment to act upon the spirit of the amendment post the report of the Law Reform Commission.

The Minister knows I have spoken in the House on the Civil Registration Act with regard to another issue, an amendment of the Act to deal with deaths abroad of Irish citizens and whose deaths are not registered in the State. I know the Minister has met with some of the families in question who are constituents of ours. I ask the Minister to say what progress has been made with regard to amending the legislation. This affects the many hundreds of deaths of people who die abroad who may only have been outside the country for a short time for a holiday or during the summer. One pressing reason may not have been mentioned in the debate so far and this is the potential abuse of Irish passports. When a death is not registered in Ireland, the person's passport is still live and if that passport is stolen — such abuse has happened recently——

Senator Healy Eames, that has nothing to do with the amendment. I will allow you speak on the section.

Thank you. I am talking about the amendment of the Civil Registration Act. I look forward to the Minister's response.

The amendment has a lot of merit and I appreciate the proposer has indicated he may withdraw it. The Minister has said he sympathises with the sentiments behind the amendment. We need to give serious consideration to ensuring that birth certificates record the names of both parents, in so far as this is possible. There should be an onus on people to comply with this condition.

We have discussed in the House on previous occasions the rights and obligations of fathers which, presumably, will be addressed in the Law Reform Commission report. I am moved to support the sentiments of the amendment on the basis of a meeting I chaired with a lady called Joanna Rose who was born as a result ofin vitro fertilisation and the use of a donor bank. She was very anxious to identify her biological father from the point of view of her own health history, apart from anything else. She was also anxious to identify her many siblings, having estimated that she had 300 siblings because her father was a student who donated to a sperm bank. This is a very complicated area in which the rights of children come into play. I urge the Minister to explore this issue in depth and that the various competing rights and priorities be examined, particularly bearing in mind the right of the child to know the identity of his or her biological parents.

I echo much of what has been said on this amendment which Senator McCarthy has indicated he will withdraw. This is a very significant area. Senator Walsh has given an example and there are many examples in ordinary life where fathers are really not that interested in knowing their child even though they are living down the road. Being a parent brings responsibility and for a long time in our laws we have allowed that responsibility to be avoided. It is incumbent upon us, as legislators, to ensure that both parents, if possible, can be made responsible for their children, the first step of which is the registration at birth. This is a significant subject for debate and I am glad to hear the Minister is actively thinking about it. He realises it is a very complex area which will probably also come within the remit of the Minister for Justice and Law Reform when any amendments are made. This debate is timely when we are facing into a constitutional amendment on children's rights. The rights of children are paramount. The Ombudsman for Children spoke today about the rights of the child. It shows the nation's coming of age when this reality is faced up to. We have waited quite a while for it and it is overdue.

The amendment is probably not right for this Bill but it highlights an area which needs significant debate, legislation and much work in various Departments.

I agree with Senator McDonald. This subject warrants much discussion. There are mothers who have no idea who are the fathers of their children. This shows abject irresponsibility which must be addressed. I do not know how it is to be addressed but certainly not in a social welfare Bill.

Senator Walsh raised an interesting point with regard to sperm donation and a father's responsibility in that case. I do not think that in the case cited, that father was thinking of the child to be born; he had no interest in his responsibility. I acknowledge the point about the child needing to know his or her medical history but the other side of the coin is where birth fathers, whose child was being given up for adoption, chose not to have their name on the child's birth certificate. Under the Hague Convention, fathers will be asked if they want to have their name recorded on the birth certificate. Ireland will be compliant with the Hague Convention this year when the Adoption Bill becomes law but prospective adoptive parents have been assessed under that for 15 to 18 years.

We need to legislate for the child and this Bill is not the place to do so. We did not have this debate in the Adoption Bill. This issue should be raised in the context of the constitutional amendment on the rights of the child.

The Constitution should lay down principles and it should not lay down statute law. This whole issue is immensely complicated. Currently in the case of married parents, owing to the statutory presumption of paternity set out in section 46 of the Status of Children Act 1987, that a married man is presumed to be the father of all the children born within that marriage, either or both parents are allowed to register a birth. This creates a situation that can be difficult and it is a question of whether that should be changed to name the biological father which could cause a few interesting hours of debate in the first place. The reference to both parents seems to place a duty on both parents to attend to register in all cases. This is likely to be impractical and potentially unworkable in some cases.

Section 22(2) appears to propose the imposition of a duty on all parents to give the registrar particulars of the other parent, without exception. This presupposes that a woman must be aware of the identity of the father in all cases. It may well be that this is not the case and the imposition of such a requirement may be in breach of the rules of natural justice. Other jurisdictions such as England and Wales have provided for exceptions to similar provisions involving lack of consent, age, incest and unknown identity etc. I could go on with the problems this will raise. I accept the principle but the details lead to a major amount of challenges. For example, section 22(3) proposes to require the registrar of births to enter the particulars of the named father as given by the mother in the register of births following the issue of the notice to the father unless he rebuts paternity within a period as may be prescribed, in which case the registrar shall refer to the District Court for direction. The proposal appears to place an inordinate duty on the registrar in assisting in the determination of paternity matters, currently appropriate only to the parents and the courts. We have a Law Reform Commission that is expert in examining the potential complexities of a change in the law. We should allow the Law Reform Commission to do its job, issue a report and then examine it carefully. It looks simple but it is not. The more one goes into it, the more complicated it gets and one must ask if one wants to go down this route because we may be creating more chaos than we are solving. This is not a case of running away from a hard decision but ensuring that if one is changing it, it is changed for the better.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 5:

In page 6, before section 3, but in Part 2, to insert the following new section:

3.—Section 257(a) of the Principal Act is deleted and the following paragraph substituted therefor:

"(a) on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding €5,000 (in the case of an employer) or not exceeding €3,000 (in the case of any other person) or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months, or to both, and in the case of a person other than an employer, particular consideration shall be given to community service under the Criminal Justice (Community Service) Act 1983,”.

I do not propose to accept this amendment concerning penalties for offences. The maximum penalty currently in place in criminal cases taken summarily in the District Court is a fine not exceeding €1,500 per offence or a term of imprisonment not exceeding six months, or both fine and imprisonment. A commencement order for the Fines Act 2010, which is currently being drafted, will increase the fine from €1,500 to €2,500 per offence. A community service order under the Criminal Justice (Community Service) Act may be made by any court other than the Special Criminal Court in respect of any offender over 16 years of age convicted of an offence for which the appropriate sentence would otherwise be one of imprisonment. The Department's control activities report has been examined by the Comptroller and Auditor General in the Committee of Public Accounts. The Department has a programme of employer inspections to ensure accurate records of employees are kept, the correct class of PRSI is being deducted and remitted, employees are not concurrently working and claiming social welfare payments and employers are aware of their responsibilities with regard to social welfare and tax legislation. Due to industrial action, total year-to-date control savings and reviews have not been fully recorded. However, on the basis of what has been recorded to the end of May 2010, approximately 137,000 reviews have been carried out as well as 332 employer inspections, yielding average savings of €110 million. There are approximately 600 staff at local and regional level whose work includes control activities. We are continuing to target this area. Most people brought to court by the Department are not employers; the vast majority are recipients of social welfare. I will pass the detail onto the Members later.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 6 to 8, inclusive, are related and will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 6:

In page 6, before section 3, but in Part 2, to insert the following new section:

3.—Section 198 of the Principal Act is amended by the insertion of the following subsection after subsection (3D):

"(3E) The payment of a supplement towards the amount of rent payable by a person in respect of his or her residence will be paid to this person on the day it is due according to the tenancy agreement of this person with their landlord.".

These amendments concern rent supplement. I need not tell the Minister how much rent supplement is costing the State. The historical experience of rent supplement is that it is paid for houses, flats and apartments built on foot of generous tax breaks, which contributed to the fuelling of the construction bubble in this country for a significant period. One of the real casualties of that is that few social houses were built. At the moment we have too many houses and some people in NAMA are considering knocking houses, which is an appalling vista. We had a very good system when the State was building local authority houses and giving grants to voluntary organisations such as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and organisations dealing with care of the elderly. They built specific houses for the people they cared for and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government was involved in this and was happy to see that diversity in the provision of social housing. We also had good affordable housing schemes when that was an issue. The criticism at the time was that there were not enough houses.

This amendment seeks to address a number of key issues. I ask the Minister to give an indication of how much rent supplement costs the State. On the balance of costs, the figures from a number of years ago ran into millions of euro. The enactment of the legislation establishing the Private Residential Tenancies Board gave us an insight into who owns rental property and who engages in that activity. What does rent supplement cost and what will it cost in terms of building social houses and stopping this scheme? What thinking has prevailed in terms of how the Department seeks to raise money and provide better bang for its buck?

As is often the case on Committee Stage, this series of amendments allows us to wander a little beyond the Bill itself. Interesting questions have been posed by Senator McCarthy and may be more pertinent to the Minister and the Minister of State with responsibility for housing at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The questions are nevertheless worth asking. Rent supplement has multiplied one thousandfold over the past 20 years and is an interesting political concept. Senator McCarthy referred to the tens and hundreds of millions of euro expended on rent supplement. The Department of Social Protection and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government need to sit down to examine how these moneys can be best expended.

One of the problems is our obsession with house ownership. In the past day or two I read a magazine that Members receive from the German Embassy, which gives facts and figures on life in Germany. The relatively low rate of home ownership compared to renting in Germany struck me. This is normal across Europe but we have a different way of doing business in Ireland. Rent supplement has been part of the equation in allowing people to find proper accommodation. It has a role. These amendments, which will not be accepted, are about tidying up matters and having certainty and propriety. I am interested in the broad comments of the Minister on rent supplement and rental allowance. It is a necessity at a time when we do not have substantial numbers of vacant local authority housing units. The Minister of State with responsibility for housing must work on this. Most constituents find it hard to accept people are on waiting lists for social housing when there are so many vacant houses in the private sector and at local authority level. The methodology for allocating housing can be slow and local authority houses in virtually every local authority area are vacant for six to 12 months without being allocated. This is a problem. There is the financial consideration of repairing houses and the regulations that mean the house must be in pristine condition before it can be allocated. Housing is a very interesting——

Senator Bradford is moving away from the amendments.

Sadly, as I predicted, I am moving away from the amendments. Housing is interesting in the sense that, even when little money is available to be allocated, there is always a choice in how this will be done. Consideration must be given to the manner in which so much money is being spent on rent allowance, although there are other ways to spend the money, while housing people and their families. I await with interest the Minister's comments on this issue. While I will not comment on the specific amendments tabled by my colleague, Senator McCarthy, I will second them for debating purposes. I refer to the facts and figures in respect of rent allowance and seek the Minister's views on how the money could be used in other ways. While I acknowledge that I have meandered in my comments, the Minister often meanders to make interesting comments also.

The Senator should stick to the amendment.

Consequently, I look forward to his musings and meandering in response.

I refer to the proposal made in amendment No. 8 that the supplement be paid in its entirety by the HSE to the landlord. I seek the Minister's comments on the amendment, in particular, and the efficiency of the HSE's involvement in the paying of rent supplement.

First, since musings and meandering are being allowed, I will revert to the previous——

The Minister should note they are not being allowed.

I beg the Leas-Chathaoirleach's indulgence. I refer to the aforementioned employer cases, as I have found the relevant statistics. In the full year figures for 2009 there were two instances of failure to pay PRSI, four instances of failure to produce maintained records and one case of failure to provide the employment details of employees. As the total number of employers' cases finalised in court was seven, it is a myth that many employers are being caught in serious cases. As for the outcomes, three were fined, one was given the Probation Act, one was given community service, one case was struck out and one was withdrawn. If one excludes the latter two cases, that equates to five convictions. Consequently, it is not the huge ball of wax that people sometimes consider it to be. Therefore, the amendment would not have had the effect Senator McCarthy might have anticipated. However, it is worth asking the question and the answer is interesting. Certainly, when I received the statistics, it was reassuring.

As for rent supplement, I held a meeting on this issue last week with Focus Ireland, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, the Simon Communities of Ireland and one other group. I held meetings with some of them previously and continuously engage with them. Many issues arise in this context that must be considered. First, the State is paying approximately €500 millin — I believe €512 million was allocated in the Estimate this year — which is a lot of money. Second, one must be clear that my Department, not the HSE, is the payer. While community welfare officers handle this matter for my Department, they, in turn, are due to transfer to the Department of Social Protection, which will make it much clearer that it is the payer. However, my Department neither has nor seeks to have a relationship with the landlord. In other words, the tenant, not the Department, is the tenant of the landlord. If we were to make the Department the tenant of the landlord, there would be further complications about the appropriateness of the accommodation and so on. Obviously, the Department sets a general condition when paying, but, fundamentally, one picks one's own accommodation.

While the Department asks for PPS numbers, it does not receive them in all cases. In fact, it does not receive them in many cases. I should specify — funnily enough, some of the aforementioned groups dealing with tenants are reluctant to impose this — that every landlord should produce a PPS number or there will be no rent supplement payable. Moreover, this is the time to do this when there are plenty of houses on the market and when it is a buyer's, rather than a seller's, market. It is not satisfactory that someone could rent a house, have the State indirectly pay for it and not account for all of their taxes.

As I stated, I was a little taken aback when I found that some of the groups were reluctant in this regard. They suggested it would place an onus on vulnerable persons. However, I do not perceive it in that way because there is adequate accommodation available and those who find it difficult to find accommodation should be given assistance. Once it is known that one either gives one's PPS number or one will not be able to rent one's property, particularly while there is a glut in the market, the numbers will be forthcoming. I am interested in hearing Members' views in this regard.

A second point is that having made checks, my Department provides data for the Revenue Commissioners, on which they engage in data matching. The rate of compliance with the tax law is very high, at approximately 88%. Consequently, there is a high rate of compliance and there is not a large number of landlords who are not paying their taxes, according to the data being matched. The good news is that although my Department is receiving a much lower number of PPS numbers, when the names and addresses are forwarded and there is data matching, the compliance level is high, which is important. However, it should be at 100%.

I wish to discuss this issue with the Private Residential Tenancies Board because it is very important that when someone rents a property, particularly when he or she receives State aid in doing so, the law is fully complied with by the landlord. While my Department does not have a direct relationship with the landlord, there should be a method, whereby it would make sure the landlord was complying with the law on registration. In this regard, the question on the standard of accommodation, etc. should be basic, but that is the responsibility of the Private Residential Tenancies Board. However, it is important to tie together these matters as best we can to ensure a better standard of accommodation is provided and that people are not renting substandard accommodation.

Other issues arise in respect of when one should pay. There is discretion to pay deposits when it is considered necessary. In many cases, it is not needed, as a person who rents a property has sufficient money for this purpose. Alternatively, in some cases, people must rent for a while before being placed on the housing list and so on.

The other issue to which Senator Bradford referred is valid. Some persons have been in receipt of rent supplement for far longer than two years. The reason this is happening is complex and it is not completely due to the failure of local authorities to provide housing. In some cases, people have rented good accommodation, are comfortable in it and have a good relationship with their landlord. They are living in a good area and do not particularly want what is being offered by the local authority because they might consider that they would be moving from a mixed to a socially segregated area. There are many complex reasons associated with this issue.

That said, I intend to discuss this matter with my colleagues during the holidays when one will have an opportunity to discuss issues that sometimes can be difficult to discuss when the Dáil is sitting. My gut feeling is that in an ideal world one should move to the rental accommodation scheme after a certain period. In addition — I acknowledge I am straying as far or perhaps further than Senator Bradford — I believe in the provision of integrated housing. I refer to RAPID programme areas and the areas in which there are the greatest levels of deprivation in our society, regardless of the town in question, and compare the chances children have when growing up in rural Ireland, irrespective of parental circumstances, against those of children in urban areas. Segregation in our cities and towns has been an utter disaster; one could get much better outcomes in more mixed societies. The question on the reason children born in certain areas of our towns have from the day they are born a much lower chance of, for example, finishing second level or going on to third level education, have a much higher chance of winding up addicted to drugs or in prison than those born in other areas warrants wider debate. This is not fault of the child, as all newborn children are equal. Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000 was a very good measure because it moved in the direction of mixed housing. I suspect that one reason people are hanging on to rent supplement is some parents perceive short-term renting as offering a better outcome for their children than perhaps being accommodated in a segregated housing estate. Moreover, the statistics bear out the point that they could be correct.

On the other hand, I do not agree with the German model. While I have nothing against long-term leasing, whatever suits the Germans suits them. There are two points we must consider on housing, one of which is that, for some reason, the Irish do not respect things they do not own in the same way as they respect things they own. Those of us who have canvassed in housing estates could tell the purchased houses from the rented houses. We all know this can be done. Ownership is fundamental in respect of this Bill.

I concur with the theory that people who own property respect it, feel part of society and are more likely to be contributors to voluntary organisations. Ownership changes one's psychological and social position and one's self-worth. I am still very old-fashioned in my belief in this regard. When people advocate newfangled social theories, they often want to try them on the less well off. I always say that if it is such a great idea, we should see whether the very rich opt for it, and that if they do the rest of us will consider it. Many people who are fairly well off are very quick to suggest others should do things they would not dream of doing themselves. We should always be a little wary of this syndrome. When one meets people working in planning units in local authorities, for example, they are dead set against rural houses, but when one inquires as to where they live, one finds they are living in them. I will say no more on that.

I oppose the amendment. I am not sure whether it will be pressed. I welcome the announcement that the community welfare officers will be transferred to the Department of Social Protection. That represents an holistic move. It is far better to have the staff within the one Department. We may need to examine the relationship between the RAS and local councils.

I support the Minister's idea that the PPS numbers of 100% of landlords should be provided. This one small move will assist in stamping out potential problems or fraud in this area. The amendment would play greatly with landlord and tenant laws and affect rights to tenancies if the Government is paying the rent. This was touched upon by the Minister. The amendment cannot be accepted for this reason. I understand the sentiment behind the Labour Party's amendment but I do not believe its objective can be achieved in this way. PPS numbers would assist in addressing the matter.

With regard to the Minister's pronouncement on social housing and the comparison between the Irish and German models, we could have a debate on this in the next term. I fully support and agree with the Minister's view.

The Minister stated the cost of the rent supplement totalled €500 million. How many people are in receipt of rent supplement?

Some 95,000 people are receiving rent supplement and 32,000 are in receipt of payments for more than 18 months. The provision for 2009 was €510 million and that for 2010 is €512 million. The Deputy must understand rents have decreased and, therefore, the allocation will accommodate more people.

Ninety-five thousand is the general figure.

We inform the PRTB of new tenancies but not all tenancies must register with the PRTB. All this must be followed up. I am very keen to try to achieve the best value possible for the tenant.

I assure the Minister that the German model is not my personal preference and that I illustrated it for the purpose of debate.

The sum of €510 million is a hell of a lot of money, bearing in mind that the tax compliance rate is 88%. All the people who are making money from rental income should be paying tax.

They should be assessed and pay their tax. While it is good that the compliance rate is 88%, this suggests 12% of people are not compliant. Given the cost of €510 million, one wonders how many of the 95,000 recipients are renting properties from those landlords who are among the 12% of non-compliant persons. In the context of budgetary changes, it is helpful to know these statistics.

With regard to the 32,000 people who have been in receipt of payments for 18 months and longer, I understand the PRTB seeks PPS numbers when a tenancy is registered, at least from the tenant. I am not entirely sure about whether they are sought from the landlord. I have dealt with cases in this area and found the PRTB to be very helpful.

From debating legislation in this House, I know the PRTB is not a State service. It is not a public service and is run by a private company. Am I correct in that?

As far as I know, it is a board under the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

I believed there was more distance between it and the Department. I found the board very efficient and good at providing advice sought by public representatives for constituents.

Why are all tenancies not registered with the PRTB, as stated by the Minister? If the State is paying €510 million per annum, it would be very helpful to know the PPS numbers of the landlords. It is not beyond reason to be given this information. I wish the authorities luck in bringing the 12% who are not compliant into the system.

It is noteworthy that, in respect of the PRTB, council houses are exempt. If they were brought within——

It covers private residential tenancies.

I know but private people are living in them. From my experience as a constituency politician trying to get councils to make improvements to houses, I believe it would be far more helpful to have them brought under the auspices of the PRTB.

I agree with the Minister that Irish people really like to own their own houses. It is very self-evident that resident associations always flourish in housing estates where people own their houses. In my area, unfortunately, the local authorities are not building any new houses and have not done so for a long time. I agree with the Minister that being on rent supplement continuously for two years does not ensure regularity for families. The RAS scheme is very good. Perhaps we should explore further the idea of having leases of a more long-term nature.

We are straying far from the amendment. All details of new rent supplement tenancies are electronically provided by the Department to the PRTB. Where registration is required, the landlord has up to one month after the commencement of the tenancy to register with the PRTB. Not all tenancies are required to be registered with the PRTB as the relevant legislation, the Residential Tenancies Act, provides for certain exceptions. According to the PRTB, these cover business premises, even where partly residential; a dwelling to which Part II of the Housing (Private Rented Dwellings) Act 1982 applies, i.e. formerly rent controlled dwelling occupied by the "original tenant" or his/her spouse, or to which Part II of the Landlord and Tenant (Amendment) Act 1980 applies, i.e. long occupation equity lease tenancies; a dwelling occupied under a shared ownership lease; a dwelling in which the landlord is also resident; a dwelling in which the spouse, parent or child of the landlord is resident and there is no written lease or tenancy agreement; and a dwelling that is occupied rent free. Senators will note there are very good reasons for most of the exceptions.

The Minister stated he would have discussions with some of his colleagues, presumably including those from the housing sector, over the course of the summer. The Department of Social Protection will be providing €500 million to resolve a problem that, from a political perspective, should be solved by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. We often mention how, through the decades, a lack of joined up Government planning has posed a difficulty. Does the Minister's Department have a working group or would it try to develop one with the appropriate housing Department to consider how best to use this sum of money? Only when the Minister put the amount on the record in his informative responses were we struck by the figure. In the current economic climate when billions and trillions are mentioned, €500 million does not always hit the front page, but it is still a great deal of money and we have a duty to determine how best to use it.

Our primary duty is to ensure that citizens are housed in the best possible circumstances. We must be thankful for how rent allowance has contributed to the solution, but the amount of money is considerable and, from a long-term perspective, the two Departments must ensure it is spent in a strategic and well planned manner. Is the Minister in discussions along these lines and will we see new policy initiatives?

I am not sure it would be quite so expensive or that there are always cheap options. I suggest we do a little sum. We are spending approximately €500 million and the 95,000 households can be rounded up to 100,000. At an average cost of €150,000 per house built by a local authority, the total is €15 billion. It will be 30 years before we spend €15 billion housing those 100,000 households. As such, the option might not be the dearest. Indeed, it might be cheaper than building a house and handing it over. The question is whether the social outcome is as good. The debate should centre on what is best for the tenant.

The rental accommodation scheme, RAS, has many attractions. Transferring people onto long-term tenancies after two years provides them with security in their houses. It also allows the prospective tenant to choose the property and removes social segregation, as someone can choose an available property in a mixed area. It is better than rent allowance because it is more secure.

I am not convinced that there is a cheap way to house 100,000 tenancies. After a certain time, people are entitled to a more permanent arrangement for their social good. I must ask myself which is better. Should I put people into large, clustered housing estates and segregate everyone or should they be mixed around, which is the current tendency? There are mixed opinions on this question, as some permanent residents do not like tenanted residents. The former might prefer long-term tenanted residents, people with an interest in the properties in which they live, over short-term tenanted residents who do not care about the condition of the properties, whether they are painted and so on.

Many issues must be discussed, although they are more proper to a housing debate. It is useful for us to consider this particular payment in the social context as opposed to in terms of its cost alone. The cost is not too expensive, since borrowing €15 billion tomorrow to house 100,000 families would not leave one with much change. Some people's housing needs are short term. Given family formations and so on, short-term accommodation will always be required.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 7 and 8 not moved.

Amendment No. 9 is deemed to be out of order, as it is outside the scope of the Bill.

I wish to comment briefly.

I cannot allow any debate on it.

We asked that a review be laid before the House. It would not have cost anything. I do not accept that it should be ruled out of order.

The Cathaoirleach's ruling is that it is outside the scope of the Bill.

I must accept that.

This reply comes from the Bills Office.

Amendment No. 9 not moved.

I move amendment No. 10:

In page 6, before section 3, but in Part 2, to insert the following new section:

3.--The Minister shall, within 2 months of the enactment of this Act, report to the Oireachtas Committee on Social Protection on the progress made in establishing a register of Irish citizens that have died abroad.

The Minister is acutely aware of this situation. Some months ago, family members of citizens who died abroad made a strong and reasonable case for the registration in Ireland of their loved ones' deaths. That both families needed to travel to America to organise the documentation and so on was heartbreaking. The young men in question died in their prime. As a nation, it was unpatriotic of us to refuse to allow their families to register their deaths. The committee discussed the possibility of our Embassy in America registering their deaths. Senator Healy Eames, who has been vocal on this issue, attended that meeting. She highlighted a situation regarding the passport of a deceased person. There is potential for such passports to be abused.

Consider the heartache. Those families are in limbo and the situation is uncertain. The Minister should reconsider his position. He is far-thinking and connected with the people. He has the ability to look on my amendment favourably.

I support Senator McFadden's amendment. Recently, people who gave evidence at a committee rightly encountered problems with the media afterwards. It is bad enough that a family must bury a son or daughter. We are discussing someone who takes a year out — economic necessity might not allow for that now — to go to Australia or America, has a tragedy befall him or her and arrives home in a coffin. Unfortunately, a family living near me in west County Cork needed to undertake one such visit to Australia. On top of this was the technical administrative grief of trying to register a death in Ireland. Every effort should be made.

The Minister discussed patriotism, the 85% of Irish people and the ash cloud. This is another situation that uniquely pertains to the citizens of this Republic. We owe a duty to the unfortunate people who, after going through the horrific ordeal of burying a family member, must deal with this ridiculous situation. No Minister would add to a grieving family's burdens and the current situation does not exist just to do that. Nonetheless, having heard the evidence at first hand and given that families have suffered because of the system, there is an onus upon us. Senator McFadden's amendment is worthy of acceptance.

I cannot accept the amendment because the issue is too complicated. The Chief Registrar was with me when I met the families. We had a good discussion with them and are considering the issue in the context of an amendment to registration law. There are a number of issues to be dealt with. The extension to all citizens who die abroad is impractical. Under our law, if one is the grandson or granddaughter of a person born in Ireland, one is entitled to Irish citizenship, so we are talking about millions of people. That is definitely out of the question. The debate centres around other people's domicile, and mostly this refers to people who went away, for example, on holidays, so the legislation would have to be confined to that. It would not be practicable to go any further than that. One then gets into other issues.

The documentation required for the registration of a death in the State is based on the requirements of the civil registration legislation. Should the provisions be extended, registrars would, as a matter of routine, be required to deal with documentation based on a variety of legislative provisions for many countries. This would inevitably undermine the present standardised approach relating to evidence of the event and the recording of the details of the deceased. This would have an effect on epidemiological studies and so on. There would also be the issue of resolving arguments about the cause and place of death and so on, where such arguments arose.

One of the issues the families mentioned was that it would not be a death certificate in the legal sense we know it in Ireland. What they really want is a recording of the death in Ireland, not necessarily the document that is needed for all types of legal purposes which is normally obtained from the country of origin. There is an exception in our law which provides that if a country does not provide a death certificate, we can do it. That is in law. If one dies in a country that will not provide a death certificate, one can be obtained here. Where a person dies in a country with a well developed registration system and the death certificate can be obtained, for legal purposes that document covers everything.

I have heard what the families have said, that they want some Irish record of the death. Whether that would be a death certificate in the legal sense or something slightly different is worth looking at. We will examine this situation and I am anxious to progress it in the context of any further law. It will take time and the families know and are agreeable to that. I have given an undertaking to review the existing provisions of the Civil Registration Act 2004 and this issue will be dealt with in that context. I have to engage in considerable consultation before this matter is brought to a conclusion.

Is the amendment being pressed?

Yes, I am pressing the amendment.

The Minister has met the families and knows precisely what they are requesting. I would not for a second propose something that involved us in the complexities of citizenship. We shall come to that or related aspects when we discuss amendment No. 15. There are significant issues to be addressed. The Minister knows exactly what the families want and if it is reasonable or practicable, there should not be any difficulty in meeting the need. Regardless of what the document is to be called, they are seeking recognition in this country that they have lost a loved one abroad.

The Minister indicated that the amendment was too technical to take on board. He cannot accept this amendment or any other at this time because in the event he did, the Dáil would have to be recalled and we all know that in practice this will not happen.

If an amendment of such merit had been tabled today which required us to wait until the Dáil reconvened and the wait was worth the benefit, I would certainly have accepted the amendment. The Senator cannot presume that I will not accept any amendment.

I shall bear that in mind for amendment No. 15.

This amendment proposes that, "The Minister shall, within 2 months of the enactment of this Act, report to the Oireachtas Committee on Social Protection on the progress made in establishing a register of Irish citizens that have died abroad". I have no problem. If the Senator wants me to report progress, all he has to do is table a motion for the Adjournment or on Private Members' time and I shall come in at any time. In terms of a technical amendment, it is superfluous.

I have gone to considerable bother, one of the families is in my constituency and——

The O'Reilly family.

——I know the grandparents particularly well. While the issues identified do not appear to represent insurmountable barriers, it is clear that whatever is decided will require careful consideration, comprehensive interdepartmental consultation and discussion among Government agencies. The families accepted that this was going to take time and I was very clear in my comments. When one is at this a long time, one knows that teasing out legislative issues takes time and that we are always overpromising and underdelivering. My policy is to try to be kind to people by explaining why it takes time and the natural length of time these things take. It is not an excuse for doing nothing but rather so that people do not get unrealistic expectations. I have also undertaken to consider this issue to see whether it may be resolved and bring in legislative change to the Civil Registration Act to address this issue to their satisfaction. The families have been very reasonable. When they met the registrar and heard about all the complexities, they took them on board, and I believe they were willing to accept something less than the full registration of the death of every Irish citizen abroad, which is impracticable. We are moving forward and perhaps the best thing we could agree today is that some time in the autumn, either through promotion in the House or on foot of a request for me to address an Adjournment matter, I will come to the House to give an update of where we are.

In light of what the Minister has said I withdraw the amendment. I look forward to tabling an Adjournment motion, perhaps with my colleague in the Labour Party, to get a progress report from the Minister in the autumn.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 11:

In page 6, before section 3, but in Part 2, to insert the following new section:

3.—The Minister shall, within 1 month of the enactment of this Act, report to the Oireachtas Committee on Social Protection on the progress made in establishing an Employer Job PRSI Incentive Scheme.".

This amendment seeks that within a month of the Bill's enactment the Minister will report to the Joint Committee on Social Protection on the progress made in establishing an employer job PRSI incentive scheme. I take on board what the Minister said on the other amendment about his wish to simplify the PRSI system. Perhaps he will introduce a universal social contribution scheme. In light of that, I expect the Minister to report to the House at another stage as to how he is progressing in that regard.

I have no problem in coming back. I know why amendments are tabled in this manner. There are constraints on Senators that I found frustrating when I was a Member of this House. I have no problem at any time in coming back to the Seanad, if requested by Members, to debate any issue and keep the House informed on what has happened. It is the right of Senators as parliamentarians. We have launched the scheme but it is early days yet. There seem to be a number of inquiries and it seems to be successful. I know the Fine Gael Party mentioned this last Christmas.

It has been longer than that.

There is a saying in Irish: "Is fearr deireanach ná go brách." I trust it will be a great success, because we all hope employment picks up and that we can encourage employers to take on more staff. Unemployment and money problems at the individual level are horrendous legacies of what has happened in recent years.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 12:

In page 6, before section 3, but in Part 2, to insert the following new section:

3.—The Minister shall, within 2 months of the enactment of this Act, report to the Oireachtas Committee on Social Protection on the progress made on providing a system of attachment to social welfare payments for fines and civil debt.".

This amendment seeks that the Minister, within two months of the enactment of the Bill, would report to the Joint Committee on Social Protection on the progress made in providing a system of attachment to social welfare payments for fines and civil debt. This amendment was also discussed in the Dáil and I feel very strongly about people going to jail for not paying small amounts of debt. There is a good deal of frustration, especially within the Garda Síochána, and an enormous waste of money where gardaí bring someone to court, he or she is sentenced to jail and released the next day. This amendment seeks to allow fines and civil debt to be attached to social welfare payments.

We had a fines Bill which allows for instalment payments. The court decides what a person can pay. There is always a problem with people on social welfare. One cannot go below the supplementary welfare rate which is the same as the jobseeker's allowance basic rate and the jobseeker's benefit basic rate. The fines Bill is the way to go. The Department recovers moneys owed to it. I get endless representations from Deputies and Senators asking for the Department to go easy in such cases. I have sympathy for those affected because none of us can live beneath a certain threshold. The best approach is to stop people receiving overpayments because going after them to retrieve them can be a painful experience. While overpayment can be hard to avoid if people do not give all the information, one still cannot get blood out of a turnip afterwards. Even if one had all the orders in the world, there is only so much money that can be taken off a social welfare recipient.

I believe the Fines Act was a great step forward. Before that, one person earning €100,000 a year and another earning €10,000 could both be fined €1,000. It was not the same penalty, however. The first person could easily pull out a cheque book, write the cheque and not think about the fine again. For the other person, however, it would have been a huge penalty. The Fines Act addressed this anomaly.

It must also be remembered the numbers brought to court for social welfare fraud are relatively small. Overpayments occur for many reasons. The most common is the older person whose social welfare payments continue to their next-of-kin but the older person had money in the bank which they did not declare. Some time after they died it can come out in the probate. These are the overpayments we get without fail. While people must declare as they have an obligation to do so, on the scale of wrongs that have been committed in our society I am not sure these are the greatest. There is also a burden already on those less well off.

Will the Minister agree that going to jail for petty indebtedness is not the best approach?

I accept that. If people knew the system, they should not go to jail for debts. A court will not require them to pay a debt they cannot pay. A court will not order someone to pay an amount of their income that they need to live on. The instalment payment system introduced by the Fines Act has been a step forward in this regard.

Over the years I have seen people go to jail for the non-payment of ordinary debts. The only reason this happened was because they did not understand that if they went to court, admitted their debt, had the court examine their means, then the court could not order them to pay more than they could reasonably afford. I encourage people to use MABS, the free advisory budgeting agency, which will give them this advice.

This is not a licence for people to ignore their debts, however. The Fines Act does ensure people are not sent to jail unnecessarily. While we must acknowledge the prisons are not exactly full of debtors, I agree there are other approaches in dealing with this issue.

One always finds the guy who does not want houses built in rural areas is the one with the nice little house tucked into a little green field on the side of a hill. It is the same with social welfare fraud. While I accept fraud deserves to face the full rigours of the justice system, I always ask those who go on about it their views on tax evasion. Tax evasion is as serious a crime as social welfare fraud. While I accept he cannot give me an exact figure, will the Minister give us an approximate figure as to how much social welfare fraud costs the State every year?

Two weeks ago two brothers were murdered by gangland criminals in this city. The media coverage said they were known to the Garda, as if their lives were worth less and almost justifying their murders. There are several people who walk freely around the Republic who almost brought the economy to the brink of collapse. They are also known to the Garda but then that is a societal interpretation.

The anecdotal evidence on guesstimates for social welfare fraud we receive from community welfare officers and those in the Department suggests a 5% to 10% figure of the overall budget. If that were correct, it would mean it is a very significant sum of money, some €2.5 billion. Redistributing that among the needier in the system would make a big difference.

The battle against social welfare overpayments or mispayments is difficult because of this country's certain traditions and culture. If it were presented not as an attack on social welfare fraud but an attempt to ensure moneys in the budget could be used more effectively to look after those most in need, we might be a little more successful. We spoke earlier about housing. Similarly, when we go tackling fraud and evasion, there is something in the Irish psyche that does not warm them to that sort of battle.

Is there any possibility of getting an accurate figure for social welfare payments made in error?

In 2009 the Department had a target of making savings of €616 million in social welfare fraud. In 2010, the target was significantly lowered to €533 million. At such a time of budgetary pressure, is it correct to do this since one would expect us to go really hard against those committing fraud?

I approach this from different angles. The Department carries out fraud and error surveys in payments. At times it can be very hard to differentiate between fraud and error and whether a person culpably held back certain information. We all have had constituents in our offices telling us they did not understand the system. Sometimes one believes them; other times not.

Then there is the born loser who if they knew how to do it straight would have got as much as they did doing it illegally. Maybe I am a little softie in that I do not pass moral judgment on any of these people.

All Members have had the case of a person inheriting money that was not declared. Again, it was a case of people not understanding the rules or believing them a little penal, with which some of us would agree and others would not. Naturally, when an interest rate of 20% is being charged on capital, there will be two views on the matter.

We should try as far as possible to eliminate wrongful payments. There are two ways to do this, one of which is to police the system more. I have statistics for the checking of errors, fraud services and so on. The second way is to change the structure which may be facilitaing cheating. By changing it, one eliminates the opportunity to cheat. We need to identify the areas in which fraud is likely to occur. We are all aware that, despite having money in the bank, people will claim benefits. We will get the people concerned sooner or later, given that there is an effective system in place. While it would be better if we could recoup this money earlier, we get it back in the end because when probate is taken out, there is an obligation to make a declaration.

One of the main ways identified by which people engage in fraud is that they claim using two identities or child benefit payments at 15 post offices. Members will be aware of the game played in this regard. There is a simple answer, namely, the introduction of a high quality card providing for facial recognition, similar to a passport with a chip. This would be worth more than any number of inspectors running around trying to check up on people. Through the use of technology, we could tighten the system and close down the opportunities for abuse.

Another way identified by which people engage in fraud — I suppose this is understandable if one is tight for cash and under pressure, although it is not justifiable — is that they work and draw benefits at the same time. I cite as an example a self-employed carpenter who has hit hard times, is in receipt of benefit and takes on a job not expecting to have one the following week but who then gets another one the following week. The structure in place is wrong, as it is too tempting to do this. One would have to have an army of people policing everybody and every back kitchen being constructed. My general view is that self-employed persons would be much better off participating in activation schemes which would allow them to work at night, as long as they paid their taxes and PRSI. On the other hand, if one gives them approximately €204 a week and allows them to work for 19.5 hours, one receives a huge contribution for them and value for money; it is a win-win. In this way one structurally solves the problem of fraud in the system.

Another area in which it is obvious people are breaking the rules is that of cohabitation. It is advantageous because people receive two single payments and two rent allowances which is better than one full payment and a two thirds payment if one is cohabiting officially. I do not believe anyone can quantify the level to which this is happening. It was proposed that a single working age payment be introduced. The late Deputy Seamus Brennan introduced proposals that would have assisted in addressing the cohabiting rule, which is unenforceable. It is a difficult area to police. There are approximately 620 staff at local, regional and national level engaged on a full or part-time basis in the control of fraud or abuses of the social welfare system. This figure includes 392 inspectors. However, if the system easily lends itself to cheating, all of the policing activities in the world will not eliminate it. I am examining the areas wherein there is widespread fraud to determine why it is taking place and the motivations for it to see if we can change the system to make it easier for people to operate legally. Many years ago when tax rates were high, people cheated because the advantages of working in that way were so minimal.

I do not know what the level of fraud is, but I do not believe a saving of €2 billion can be made. If somebody could come up with a programme to save me €2 billion, I would take it on board like a shot because there is an awful lot I could do with such a sum. I will not go easy on those who cheat the system. I am examining the biggest structural areas which offer the greatest opportunity to engage in fraud. However, I do not believe there is that kind of money to be plucked from trees. We should try to keep things in proportion.

Tax cheating was mentioned. If one took it to the absolute letter of the law, it is fair to say the amount is mega . With no disrespect to anyone, there are many PAYE workers, not to mind self-employed persons, who are always the target in terms of tax cheating, who do the odd job, give grinds and so on who do not necessarily declare it on their tax forms. Technically, anybody who accepts a tip in a restaurant and so on and does not declare it for tax purposes is breaking the law. It is not only the big guys who are involved in tax fraud, to be puritan about this, although I am not making any judgments.

On social welfare fraud, one must keep a sense of balance and reality. We have all had to do this when confronted by a person who received an over-payment. The people concerned are not the biggest cheats in the world. In recent times I have received representations from Senators and Deputies about over-payments, asking if the Department can go easy on those concerned, as they cannot afford to pay and so on. While, on the one hand, I want to eliminate opportunities to engage in fraud and cheat, we must also keep a sense of proportion, as most of those in receipt of social welfare payments are not in the higher echelons when it come to cheating the State of major amounts of money. In this regard, it is interesting to note, when one looks at the number of convictions for social welfare fraud, that it normally involves small sums of money when compared, for example, to what we see in the newspapers for tax defaulters at the top end.

Nobody is suggesting the Minister is going easy on fraud. In fact, the opposite is the case. I support his notion that a change in the structure would be far better, rather than sending out inspectors to stumble on incidents of fraud. The Minister's example of back kitchen extensions is a good one. Perhaps if we had helicopters flying around the place, we would notice some of them. Self-declaration of works might be the way forward. The Minister mentioned the introduction of an identity card and the giving of PPS numbers, all of which will assist in the crack down on fraud. Change in the structure is important. If a system is not defrauded or challenged easily, people will be far more compliant, as happens in all walks of life.

I know as a practising solicitor that often during the Celtic tiger years banks did not look for insurance from solicitors when sending in requisitions for cheques. They do now.

In the same way perhaps the banks should request the PPS numbers, the insurance certificates and the C2 certificates of the builders. There is widespread abuse at the lower end of the construction trade in terms of people claiming and so on, but the best idea to which I heard the Minister refer was that self-employed people should be immediately subject to the activation rule because they can contribute. There are many examples of that. We see with NAMA, for example, and many other cases where people in the self-employed trade could and should offer something in terms of payment. There is much sense in what the Minister said. I fully support his efforts to bring that to fruition and I hope we will see it soon.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 13:

In page 6, before section 3, but in Part 2, to insert the following new section:

3.—The Minister shall, within 2 months of the enactment of this Act, report to the Houses of the Oireachtas, on the progress made in reducing the processing time for social welfare payments.".

This amendment is about waiting lists in terms of processing claims. In my own area of Athlone and its environs the processing of people's claims is excellent. I compliment the staff on the courtesy and decency they show to people who find themselves out of work. In other areas of Westmeath, especially the Mullingar and Castlepollard area, difficulties have been experienced. I appreciate those difficulties are being addressed but I regret to say that officials in the Department of Social Protection who are following up people defrauding the system have been put on desk work and are trying to process claims, which is somewhat of a contradiction. This is a valid amendment which asks that the Minister would give Members a progress report at some point on the way these issues are progressing.

When I came into the Department I was asked in an interview about my role as Minister. On most occasions the media focus on policy changes and I believe in policy changes, but I have often said that if someone owned a factory which had a good policy but was not producing the goods, the factory would not last very long and it certainly would not give a good service. If someone had a restaurant that had a policy of having the best organic food but was not producing or cooking that food very well, it would not have many customers. Similarly, it is not good enough for the Department of Social Protection to have a good policy. I fully agree with the Senator and I have said from the outset that delivery of the service to the punter on the ground is essential because the person who goes into an office looking for a payment does not worry too much about the policy. They just want to know when they will get a cheque and how much they will get in the cheque.

We pay 2 million people a week and therefore the numbers we are dealing with are huge. It is fair to say that there has been a huge increase in the customer base, so to speak, in recent years but the Senator can rest assured that both I and the Department are focused on delivery. Part of this Bill, for example, deals with the delays in appeals, which we will come to again, but I also believe we must examine a range of ways of streamlining the delivery of the service to the person on the ground and, if necessary, simplifying schemes to ensure there is less work involved.

One of the major delays involves means testing. Anything that must be means tested requires a great deal of homework. It is sometimes difficult to get applicants to give details but if we activate people, the means test is not as critical because they are either eligible for the payment or they are not and they get the full payment if they are working.

We must examine a range of ways of speeding up the processing of these lists. The Department is doing a great deal in that direction and I have no problem in giving updates at any stage, and not only on the local areas. I believe that was done previously in terms of the length of time it takes to process jobseeker's benefit and jobseeker's allowance in every local office. The Senator can rest assured that I will be giving updates and that I am focusing on this issue. Our determination is that we have efficient procedures in place.

I wrote to all Senators some time ago regarding representations made to me by public representatives. I felt at that stage that unless they were still outstanding, giving answers for January, February, March and April was a waste of time. If the client had found out the information in February, there was not much point in telling the Senators in June. I thank the Senators for the spirit in which that was received. Unless Senators come back to us with an outstanding query, we are taking those as read. The reason I did that was to try to give answers more quickly to the recent queries to ensure backlogs do not develop in terms of queries and that Senators do not get answers to queries three months after their constituents get them. The departmental officials have been very helpful in that regard. We hope constantly to improve the quality of service to ensure we not only have good policy but good delivery as well.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Sections 3 to 5, inclusive, agreed to.
SECTION 6

I move amendment No. 14:

In page 9, line 18, after "regulations" to insert "which shall be approved by Dáil Éireann".

This amendment is about insured people and their capacity to attend work. It seeks to insert "which shall be approved by Dáil Éireann" after "regulations" in line 18 on page 9. The amendment is self-explanatory. I understand the gist of the Bill in this regard but it is no harm to lay the regulations before the Houses of the Oireachtas.

As the Senator will be aware, all regulations are laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas for 21 sitting days after signing. After this 21-day period, they are approved by Dáil Éireann.

In that case the Minister can accept the amendment.

I do not need to accept the amendment because it already happens. There is nothing to stop a committee, for example, examining the regulations before the end of the 21-day period. The Senator has got what she seeks in the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 6 agreed to.
Sections 7 to 13, inclusive, agreed to.
NEW SECTIONS

I move amendment No. 15:

In page 12, before section 14, to insert the following new section:

14.—Section 220(2)(a) and (b) of the Principal Act are deleted and the following paragraph substituted therefor:

"(a) the Minister shall by regulations provide that where two parents or guardians have joint custody of a child, the child benefit may be apportioned between them;”.”.

I welcome the Minister. I was delayed at a health committee meeting and I thank Senator McCarthy for moving the amendments in my absence. How much child benefit is being paid in respect of children who reside in other EU member states?

I wish to comment on the amendment which seeks to provide that where two parents or guardians have joint custody of a child, the child benefit may be apportioned between them. Generally speaking, joint custody does not mean that a child lives with one parent for three days of the week and the other parent for four days of the week. It is usually the case that a child lives with a parent from Monday to Friday and then goes to the other custodian at the end of the week. If child benefit were to be split on the basis of joint custody, it would be very difficult to work out.

We have eminent judges who take a long time to examine issues such as this one. They consider the issue of income to the household and child benefit is added to that to ensure the parent involved in the normal day-to-day care of the child gets the child benefit. In a case where both parents are not very well off, the question arises as to the household in which the benefit is best placed. Where there is abuse of that position, it is always open to the parent who believes there is such abuse to go to court because applications for maintenance can always be reopened in court. While I understand the tenet of the amendment, which is honourable, it would be unworkable and the current system is sufficient to deal with it.

Just over 5,300 mothers reside in another EU member state whose partner or husband is either employed in Ireland or is in receipt of a contributory social welfare payment in Ireland. We should put this in context. Total expenditure on child benefit in 2008 and 2009 was in the region of €2.5 billion. If one takes €2,500 and then one puts €1 million after it, we are speaking about €20 of the €2,500. I am not denying it is €20 but it is not a huge amount of money and it is because there is an obligation under the European Union. What we have been doing, which is worth much more money than trying to avoid a European Union obligation, is writing to recipients of child benefit to check whether they still reside at the address we have. The number of returns we get where the person is not known at the address are significant. For every 9,000 letters we send, we get responses that 100 people are not known at the address, which is significant when the total numbers are all stacked up. This includes writing to Irish people.

In 1,500 responses to every 9,000 letters people do not return it in the envelope. In some cases, as soon as the payment is missed, the envelope comes flying back to us. It is unfortunate that people do not return it but it has been important for us to run the rule across the board, not only across those who came to live in Ireland but also those who permanently live in Ireland, to ensure they are living here and entitled to child benefit. Savings are being made there and they will be far greater and fraud elimination will be far greater through changing this rule whereby one can work here legitimately and have the payment paid to a spouse in another country. It is less than 1% of the payment.

The scheme does not provide for the splitting of payments between parties irrespective of the formal custody arrangement. Where the child is mainly resident with the mother, the child benefit is paid to the mother. If the child is resident with the father for more than half the time, the benefit is paid to the father. There is no provision for circumstances where the child is resident with each parent for exactly half the time and there would be severe difficulties in trying to determine this administratively in the event of a dispute. As child benefit is paid on a residence basis, a change to a formal custody or guardianship arrangement would change fundamentally the base on which child benefit is paid for all recipients of child benefit and not only in those circumstances where parents have separated. I understand the Law Reform Commission is examining the legal aspects of family relationships further and will issue a report later this year. It will examine all these matters and I will re-examine the issue of appropriate payment arrangements for child benefit in light of this report to ensure it reflects the most up-to-date thinking in the area.

We must be careful that any change we make does not discommode the many for the few. It is one of the problems. I am always very sorry for the odd cases but we also have to be careful not to discommode the many for the few. If one can come up with a solution that gives to the few without discommoding the many, I will be fine with it, but if it creates a hugely complicated situation instead of the situation we have, which is relatively straightforward and satisfies 99%, I would say not to change it unless we are absolutely sure that will not be disturbed and that we are going to a better place for the remainder.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 16:

In page 12, before section 14, to insert the following new section:

14.—In all decisions relating to what constitutes a reasonable or suitable offer of training or employment, or in relation to any other activation measure, the interests of a child dependant shall be considered before a payment is suspended, reduced, or stopped.".

This comes back to the question of fraud. At times, we underestimate the safeguards we have in our arrangements. As a Deputy I have dealt with social welfare appeals officers for years and the funny thing is that I cannot go near them now. Until I came into this great job I often went to the social welfare appeals office or sent someone from my office. I always found the appeals system to be very benign, informal and fair. One is told what all the issues are. In the changes we are making, whereby if one refuses either a job or suitable training opportunities there is a penalty, one must take it that we are doing so because we need to clamp down on those who never seem to be available no matter what is offered to them. Therefore, they seem to be too busy doing something else. We have had much talk about fraud this afternoon. As far as I am concerned, one has to have some sanction against such people. The intention is to use the savings to give activation and better opportunities to those who are genuinely unemployed — the vast majority — and move forward. I cannot see that it is fair and reasonable that society must run with its hands tied behind its back all the time in dealing with people who never seem to be available.

I know of people in receipt of social welfare payments who, to be quite honest, are not employable even on a scheme. They are very few in number but they exist. Chasing them is a waste of time and would serve neither society nor the individuals involved. Now that we are introducing various activation schemes, I would like to take a systematic approach. Everyone, or at least the vast majority, in receipt of jobseeker's benefit is by definition probably employable unless he or she had a breakdown, in which case he or she should really be on illness benefit. Therefore, it is reasonable to engage in activation people who go over the threshold from jobseeker's benefit to jobseeker's allowance. Every reasonable person who is genuinely unemployed would welcome any type of social activity that was reasonably suited to their gifts rather than sitting mindlessly at home all day, every day.

However, we have to have some sanction for the 10% who just do not turn up and when they are made turn up, they refuse training and work. It is not fair on the genuinely unemployed, who are the vast majority. There are people who never seem to be available. The supplementary welfare system and the appeals system are in place for those who are really done down and in common with many Deputies and Senators, I have never seen the appeals system being less than fair. The benefit of doubt has always been given in marginal cases to the appellant and statistics from the appeals office bear this out.

I ask Senators to accept that, as a Minister, I am fairly tolerant about people but I passionately believe that there is a small coterie of people who are working and drawing and I must have leverage and sanction to deal with them. That is what this is about. It will not be unreasonable and I assure Senators of that.

I support the amendment. The child dependant is the kernel of the issue as far as I can see. That is my concern.

The jobseekers' guidelines proved for a person's family circumstances to be taken into account. For example, it may be unreasonable for a person with certain family responsibilities to seek work which involves a considerable amount of travelling time to and from work. Also, while the guidelines for the jobseeker's scheme do not specifically mention child care, it is one of the aspects which could impact on their availability. A deciding officer must take all matters into consideration, as provided for in the the guidelines.

As Senator Prendergast is aware, the policy is to make the schemes included in the activation programme local in nature. For example, the rural social scheme, the CE scheme, etc., are local in nature. The Senator can take it, therefore, that somebody who has children will not have to travel 100 miles to take up a job on the minimum wage. That does not and will not happen. If it were and an unreasonable view was to be taken, I would be the first to come in here to amend the scheme. However, it does not happen in practice. At times, the more one legislates, the more one creates chances for persons to make excuses, while those who are legitimate lose out.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Sections 14 to 18, inclusive, agreed to.

As amendments Nos. 17 and 18 are related, they may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.

NEW SECTION

I move amendment No. 17:

In page 20, before section 19, to insert the following new section:

"19.—The Minister will take all practicable steps to ensure that courses of training provided in accordance with section 62A shall be appropriate given the person's existing qualifications and experience.".

These amendments are about training. I am asking that courses being provided apply to the person and his or her existing skills and circumstances and, as the Minister stated, not be held a significant distance from where he or she lives. I am asking, for instance, that the Department not offer a barrister a dog-grooming course.

Why not? He or she might own a dog.

I am asking that the course be relevant to his or her qualification.

It would be relaxing.

It might be, but I am not a barrister.

I have concerns. While I completely understand what the Minister is saying about sanctions, that 10% of people, no matter what the Minister does, will want to find a lazy way out, do not want to work, want everything for nothing and have never known anything other than this, however, there are others who need to be motivated. Given that the Department only has 61 job facilitators to deal with the 450,000 unemployed — each one of these 61 facilitators is responsible for 7,000 persons — I cannot see how they would be able to counsel, motivate and support that many persons. That is a considerable number of persons to have to deal with.

The idea behind the work placement programme put in place 12 months ago by the two Ministers, Deputies Hanafin and Coughlan, is a really good one. Some 2,000 positions were provided, but the uptake has been disappointing. I am interested in hearing what the Minister has to say in that regard.

I agree the training provided should be suitable, although there are very few activities in life from which one would not profit. In my own career, having finished a degree, I wound up as a manager of a farmer's co-operative. I have pulled sheep from lorries and also thrown them into them; I have humped bags on my back and done anything and everything that has had to be done, including sweep floors. To be honest with Senator McFadden, I do not think it did me any harm; I am much better for having done it. I worked on the factory floor in a timber mill when somebody did not turn up in the morning, even though I was the manager. We did not have the money or the luxury to let the work stop just because somebody had not turned up; one just stood in the line until a replacement was found.

I am not being unreasonable. I would expect much more from myself than I would of others in a state system. However, if we are interested in the wellbeing of people, in my experience a person who is working, no matter at what he or she is working, or attending a course has a much greater chance of getting a job that the person who is sitting at home and staring at the wall. We must activate people. I would always encourage those who are unemployed, if they came to see me as an individual, not as a Minister, to take what was going. I have a line for young people, that if they are given a job sweeping the floor, they should sweep it well and they will get a better job. That might sound like kitchen sink type thinking, but I honestly believe we would do people a disservice, particularly young people, if we encouraged them not to become engaged. Of course, we should try come up with courses that suit applicants; that makes common sense. I always believe in giving people the job that suits them, but if it is a choice between any job and doing nothing, they are better off in some job than doing nothing.

A second issue concerns employment action programme, EAP, numbers. Senator McFadden may wish to take them down because they are interesting. Between January and December 2009, 86,782 persons were referred — 53,638 left the live register, while 33,000 are still on it. Of the total number, 65,600 were interviewed. Some 4,000 were placed in a job, 9,000 were placed on a FÁS programme, 1,599 were provided with education and training courses and 24,000 left the live register. Of the FÁS interviewees, 39,000 without a direct placement left the live register. As I stated, 26,000 of those who were interviewed remained on the live register. The non-attendees, those who never turned up for interview, numbered approximately 20,000, of whom 14,000 left the live register. I accept that we must be careful with the figures. We know that 60% of those on the live register receive some placement after three months. Therefore, many of them might have been in a position to get a job and their disappearance from the live register might have had nothing to do with being asked to attend for interview. Of 10,000 placed on the live register, only 4,000 remain after approximately three or four months, after which the rate of decline is very slow. It is even slower after a year. After a year we intend to see what has happened to the remaining 4,000. We will want to see how many have disappeared and if there has been an increase in the number who disappear off the live register when one asks the question a second time or if is it just a natural process. I will need to have something to offer those whom we will interview a second time.

The point in bringing all of the schemes within the remit of the Department is that I have activation funding, with unemployment programme funding, and can activate more people, particularly if I can make savings in identifying those who should not be on the live register in the first place.

What the Minister has stated is plausible, but I am wondering about the 20,000 who have nothing. After all of the measures taken, there are still people who find it ever so difficult. They are called back for the next interview and so on. I realise it is very difficult within the Department because I know and meet the people involved. I realise some of the FÁS and community employment schemes are operating at full capacity. What is the position of those who make up the percentage that find it very hard to get a job or be placed on a suitable course? There are people in that category who are willing to work.

That is why one must consider the Bill from here on in its totality. We pay out €4.3 billion in unemployment payments. Effectively, we put it to the people concerned that they can have the payment, but they must be available for work. However, if they do work, they lose it. That is what we say to them in simple English. We spend approximately €500 million on community employment and rural social schemes and community service programmes. We intend to transfer the €500 million to the same Department which administers the sum of €4.3 billion. The purpose is when such schemes are within the remit of one Department, it is a good deal easier to transfer between subheads. We are keen to pay more people to do something because this is what they wish to do also and pay fewer to do nothing because that is what those who are genuinely unemployed do not wish to do.

Having people participating in schemes is considerably more expensive than having them on the dole. There is a cost to placing them on schemes. However, there is a great societal gain to be made if they are working in providing care for the elderly or the young, in after school services or environmental works. However, there is a cost in my Department's budget. The rural social scheme is a good deal more expensive because of the training element of community employment schemes. Some of the difference in the cost could be met by separating the wheat from the chaff. The wheat represents those who are unemployed and genuinely seeking and capable of work. We should place them on schemes. The chaff represents those who draw unemployment payments, but when they are called up, they suddenly disappear off the live register. The savings could be used for the purposes of engaging in activation. That is where we wish to go and if we can move in this direction, we can secure a double gain.

We deal with something all Senators have discussed with me time and again, that is, fraud and people claiming who are not entitled to do so. We aim to use the benefits of any savings to help directly those who are genuinely unemployed and knocking on our doors each day seeking placement on a community employment scheme, rural social scheme, community service employment scheme or something to do because they are going out of their minds. We have evidence to show that health is affected by unemployment.

Especially mental health.

There is evidence to show family circumstances are affected by unemployment. My life experience informs me that if one creates employment and people get up in the morning with a purpose, it changes their life and they will say as much. That is where we are going with this legislation. If someone asked me to move in that direction without giving me a sanction for the person who does not turn up, after some time, he or she will cop on to the fact that I cannot do anything about him or her. I must be able to impose a sanction on those who do not turn up and are always full of excuses but who are not willing to do anything. That is what this is about. However, it will be done in a fair and targeted way. I have discussed how we can target it with the Department. I believe in the gateway approach, that is, as people go through a process of three months and one year, we pick them up at certain milestones along the way and try to help them. In addition, if they are not available for activation, we ask some hard questions

Is the amendment being pressed?

I listened to the Minister's comments. He has referred to those involved in courses having a greater chance of gaining full-time employment than those who sit at home looking at the walls. Unfortunately, I know many who are unemployed and they do not sit at home looking at the walls. The are seeking employment and some of them will be affected by the measure in the Bill.

The Minister has admitted the activation programmes are not in place. This is completely premature. We need the Government to put in place training programmes and come up with a strategy suited to people's needs. The HEA is not properly funded for the number of courses it must provide this year. It is already refusing entry to some courses. The Minister has suggested the measures will be carried out in a targeted way and I have no doubt that will be the case. However, he also contests that this will be done in a fair way and I disagree with him in that regard. The social welfare legislation during the past two years and in recent budgets suggests "fairness" is not in the vocabulary of the Government. This is a dangerous and premature measure because the activation courses and measures are not in place. It would give discretion to an inspector to cut a payment made in the past on basis that a person did not take up training.

We must consider the greater issues involved. My party has been critical of some of the training provided. I listened to the Tánaiste when she was Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. She referred to some of the training courses FÁS had provided in the past as being questionable. We must ensure training is suited to people's needs. Our job creation strategy argues that for the 86,000 young people unemployed we should consider their long-term career prospects, given that each individual has different needs and skills and different training programmes would best suit their needs.

The Minister will be aware from his previous role of people who have taken up training. There are cases on my desk of people who have taken up FÁS training and other courses. They enjoyed the training and believe it will lead to employment. I have no wish to be critical of all FÁS training courses. Nothing could be further from the truth. Training is the means by which to get people back to employment based on their needs and skills and the areas earmarked for future employment creation.

There are situations where people are involved in training and who must travel from A to B. They live in remote, rural communities in which there are no bus services. I have just finished dealing with a case in my office in which Bús Éireann has cut back further on services to west Donegal, affecting the townlands of Dungloe, Lettermacaward and Glencolumcille, such that people cannot get to the training centres without using private cars, if they have them. If they are unemployed, that is one luxury they might have to give up and, therefore, they may be obliged to use to use taxis. In some of the cases with which I am dealing this has happened. People are using taxis to get to and from the training centres. Sometimes it may be down in black and white that a training course has been provided. However, the cost of availing of such a training course could be prohibitive and, therefore, it may not be practical for such persons to take up these courses.

This measure has not been thought out sufficiently. It is premature and can be used to penalise the unemployed who are not sitting at home looking at the walls, who wish to become involved in training to get back into real, valuable and meaningful employment. However, the courses and jobs are not available. This gives too much latitude at a time when the alternatives are not in place.

I cannot agree with the Senator who obviously has not read the whole Bill. Commencement orders are involved. One primary purpose of the Bill is to provide for activation. However, it is a question of considering which comes first: the hen or the egg. As far as we are concerned, it is interlocking. As the Senator is aware, the putting in place of the rural social scheme transformed the lives of many farmers who came to me from throughout the country to inform me of the benefits in getting work which suited them in their communities. This worked because the schemes were well organised by the communities and were a transforming feature in the lives of the people concerned. They were not unemployed because they had farms. Let us consider someone who is totally unemployed. The rule for getting an unemployment payment is that a person is not in full-time education or in work. There is the problem of not having anything to do because that is the condition on which the payment is given. My proposal is that people are given something useful to do. I come from a strong community background and I believe communities should have a great deal of involvement in resolving their own problems. I have not seen communities in all my years creating jobs in both the commercial and voluntary sectors forcing people on to unsuitable schemes. They matched people to jobs they were good at because that generated the greatest return for the community.

I have a clear plan, even if the Senator does not know about it, whereby communities are motivated to create jobs through schemes and they are allowed to decide their priorities, whether it is environmental work, training children in music, sport and so on or after school care. Much work needs to be done in our society. If we do this through the community structures under FÁS, the rural social scheme, the community services programme and so on, we need not worry too much about the communities matching the skills of their people to their requirements. I have too much respect for communities to think they will not do that.

With regard to more formal courses, there are plenty of protections in the law regarding unreasonable questions being asked and reducing the payment because the training was not warranted on the basis of existing qualifications and experience and so on. Plenty of protections are in place and I do not believe what I propose will get anyone except the people we should get and if Senators want to dodge around that because of so-called concerns, they are not in tune with what people are saying on the ground, which is that the genuinely unemployed should be helped in every way and they are crying out for opportunities to serve their communities and those who are not genuinely unemployed should have their payments stopped.

We will continue to disagree on this. I come from a community background where I was a Gaeltacht co-operative manager for many years working with other co-operative managers to transform some of the most isolated, rural communities in the country. We know what we did for our own people in bringing them from idle communities to working communities and the social benefit we generated. The disciplines we imposed reduced the incidence of social problems such as alcoholism, marriage breakdown and so on because we created jobs and a work ethic. Other areas had "poverty programmes" and they are worse off in the context of social problems now than they were 30 years ago whereas we transformed the social reality of people's lives in our communities while starting out at the same time.

In this case, we are acting in the best interests of our citizens and when we go to the electorate in two years, a large number of people will say the Government and I were right, we did what was in the interests of society and we had the courage to do it and all the sceptics who said we would not create jobs and training places were wrong because we had a plan that clearly worked.

The Minister's heart is in the right place but, unfortunately and sadly, this is not the reality on the ground. The places are not available.

However, I look forward to the Minister providing those places.

That is exactly what I will do. That was the purpose of setting up the Department.

It is good to have aspirations but the reality on the ground is that the places are not available. Fine Gael believes in activation but the positions must be provided before sanctions can be applied.

One has to have both.

I agree, but I will press the amendment.

I hope we will not have to wait two years for the people to cast judgment. We may be able to cast judgment on the Government's record sooner rather than later since the wheels began to turn in this regard yesterday. I would welcome that because the Minister referred to the Government's record in transforming communities and so on. He knows my community and the constituency I represent. A total of 30% of the eligible workforce is unemployed. Who will we give that record to? Is that the way the Minister wants to transform communities?

How is that relevant?

We are trying to do something about this and the Senator is opposing it.

A total of 30% of the workforce are unemployed. These people are on the live register. If the Minister wants to talk about transforming communities, let us have an honest debate.

The Senator is going outside the scope of the amendments, which are specific.

This affects 30% of the workforce in Donegal and, unfortunately, they are dependent on social welfare payments. If the Minister wants a pre-election debate, we can have one.

I understand there are activation measures but, as the Minister asked, is this the chicken or the egg? People are not crying out for legislation that will penalise them if they do not take up a training place, whether adequate. They want training courses and, more important, the jobs that will follow. They want a job creation strategy and a stimulus package from the Government. The Minister should outline what is in place and if people are defrauding the system, they need to be taken out across the board. He will get support across the political spectrum for that initiative.

However, that is not the issue in these amendments. As public representatives, we deal with cases day in, day out where legislation is being implemented by officials on the ground in a way that is unfair and callous and penalises people on the lowest incomes in our society. I will not pass judgment on the Minister's intentions, as he may be introducing this in good faith, but this measure gives officials discretion to cut social welfare payments in circumstances where training courses may not be adequate. For example, a participant might have to travel by taxi to a course and, therefore, incur a large cost. Where is the provision in the legislation to exempt them? If somebody from Gweedore has to take a taxi to and from Dungloe, which is only seven miles over the road, five days a week——

That is not covered by the amendments. They do not deal with taxis and travel costs.

The amendments are concerned with appropriate training places and the issue is whether it is appropriate for somebody to have to incur exorbitant travel costs. It is alright for Ministers with a Mercedes at their backsides but it is different for people dependent on a social welfare payment who must put their hands in their pockets to pay taxi fares, which could cost more than 60% of their income. That is my problem.

If the Senator had been here on time, he would know we dealt with that issue.

I listened to the debate. Will the Minister provide the reference for the exemption in the legislation?

It is in the regulations. We are going back over the debate we had on the previous section. The regulations clearly provide that if the distance involved in travelling to a course is unreasonable, it must be taken into account and, therefore, the Senator can discount that issue.

What distance is laid down in the regulations? A seven-mile taxi fare would be quite expensive over five days a week.

In deference to the Senators who have been here all afternoon, we should not go back over issues that have been already dealt with. The situation with regard to this issue is a bit like St. Augustine saying please make me good, but not quite yet. I have a simple view on the issue. The Senator said he is all for catching people who defraud the system, but when a proposal is put forward on how to catch them, the Senator opposes it and suggests I am trying to catch out people who are legitimately unemployed and in hard circumstances. I find that difficult to take from the Senator. I have spent a lifetime working in communities creating employment. I have never had a commercial job and all of the people who have worked with me know that I have dedicated my life to community development and job creation.

What we are saying is that we need money. The Senator has spoken about stimulus packages. That is fine. We have a stimulus package and are spending €6 billion on capital expenditure every year.

The only thing the Government is stimulating is Anglo Irish Bank.

We are not discussing stimulus packages now. We are on amendments Nos. 17 and 18.

If the Senator wishes to debate the banks, I will go to Gaoth Dobhair and debate them with him. What the Senator wants to do is to rob the depositors of the banks, but he does not understand the consequences of that. Let him explain that to the people of Donegal.

We are on amendments Nos. 17 and 18.

Yes, but I am trying to answer the point made by the Senator. All we are saying in this section is that we can create savings which we can reinvest to create new opportunities for those who are unemployed. I find it very difficult to understand why anybody would oppose that. I certainly do not think that those who oppose it are acting in the interest of those who are genuinely unemployed and asking us to do something about it. Why should we not use money that can be saved from those who should not get it for the benefit of those who need it for a better life and employment? I have no problem——

The Minister is moving away from the amendments and on to the section.

I do not think I am.

The amendments are specific and relate to the appropriateness of qualifications and experience.

I am trying to give a broader view of what we are at. I believe what we have proposed already covers the issue of the appropriateness of qualifications. This is a red herring that is being raised and it has no validity.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Section 19 agreed to.
SECTION 20

I move amendment No. 18:

In page 23, to delete line 29 and substitute the following:

"section 197.

196A.—The Minister will take all practicable steps to ensure that courses of training provided in accordance with section 195A shall be appropriate given the person's existing qualifications and experience.".".

Question, "That the words proposed to be deleted stand," put and declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.
Section 20 agreed to.
Section 21 agreed to.
NEW SECTION

I move amendment No. 19:

In page 24, before section 22, to insert the following new section:

"22.—The Minister may provide for the recruitment of retired social welfare appeals officers to the Social Welfare Appeals Office.".

The reason for this section is to provide for the recruitment of retired social welfare appeals officers to the Social Welfare Appeals Office. We debated this issue in the Dáil and there seemed to be some concern at the wording. I assure Senators that their concern that it might be possible for me to appoint my buddies is unfounded. It would be impossible for me to do that. The wording being used in the section is the exact same wording as that used with regard to the Minister appointing deciding officers or appeals officers within the Department. I assure Senators that this is something I am doing very reluctantly, but it is the lesser of two evils. We have had a huge increase in the number of social welfare appeals and I owe it to the people to try and reduce those appeals. The people who do this work must be very skilled in the law. It would not be possible, even if a Minister was so tempted, to appoint people who did not have the appropriate qualifications. The problem for me in terms of internal promotions is that it takes a long time to train appeals officers because they must have comprehensive knowledge of social welfare law before they are appointed. I understand the Senator's concern, but I do not think there is any grounds for it. The section has the same wording as that used for appointments of deciding officers.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
SECTION 22

I move amendment No. 20:

In page 25, between lines 7 and 8, to insert the following subsection:

"(2) The Minister shall, within one month of the commencement of this section, report to the Oireachtas Committee on Social Protection on the progress made in reducing social welfare appeals office waiting list.".

This is similar to the previous amendment. I would like the Minister to lay a progress report before the House on progress on reducing numbers, particularly given the growth of appeals from 15,000 in 2007 to 35,000 in 2010. The Minister has said he will bring back retired appeals officers and I am aware that both Fine Gael and the Labour Party have questioned the appropriateness of this. I regret that the Minister is not creating new jobs or providing new jobs for those who need them. The delay in dealing with appeals is 53 weeks for child benefit, 38 weeks for illness benefit, 30 weeks for farm assist and 34 weeks for the State pension. This is far too long to wait for an appeal and it is not fair or right. We spoke about valuing people and making this a person-centred service that would provide a good quality service. It is reprehensible that there is such a delay in the appeals process for so many people. This is a worthwhile amendment. We require a report on the progress being made with the reintroduction into the system of the retired appeals officers.

I, too, have questions in this regard. I understand the issue of skills and the fact the people concerned have the skills. However, why do we not promote from within and create new jobs at entrance level in the Department instead of bringing back retired social welfare officers to act as appeals officers? How will these people be remunerated? Will they receive their pensions and be paid at the same time? Perhaps those are matters for another debate.

I support the amendment and agree that we need a report on the progress being made in reducing social welfare appeals. It appears the letter of the law is being applied in a harsher way than in the past. One case referred to me relates to where a social welfare payment was denied to an individual because the social welfare inspector called out to the house on two occasions, but because nobody was home, the inspector deemed the person did not live at that address. As a result of queries made through a Deputy, the person asked how he was deemed not to live at that address just because the inspector found nobody at home, but the Department could not provide a satisfactory answer. A parliamentary question was submitted on the issue and as a result of that, and dialogue with the staff in the Department, the person was granted his social welfare payment.

Questions must be raised about the spike in social welfare appeals at this time. Of course we have a higher number of people unemployed, but it seems there is a more rigorous approach within the Department. People are being refused on their first application. As the Minister is aware, many people do not appeal the refusal. I may be wrong, but I believe the approach within certain sections is to refuse first. For example, in the case of the person who was not at home on two occasions when the officer called, his application was refused and he was not entitled to his payment. If I called to the house of any of us on two different occasions, there might be nobody at home either. However, this is the approach used by officials in the past.

One would hope at least that the Senator would be working, but maybe not.

If the Minister stands over a social welfare inspector who calls to a home on two occasions and finds nobody at home and then cuts off the payment from the State which those people are dependent on to survive, then a wider debate is required. Those are the decisions being taken in some cases. I know many staff in the Department who are working under significant strain and pressure and are trying to beat the timeframes and long delays that have been mentioned by Senator McFadden. Unfortunately, these cases are on my desk. They are undisputed, black and white cases and this is why they are being refused. There is an issue but I would welcome a report and I do not see any harm in reporting to the committee about progress made on appeals.

To answer the Senators' questions, eight retirees are working an average of two days per week. This is roughly equivalent to three full-time equivalents. This will continue to the end of the year. It is a temporary arrangement which will be reviewed at that stage.

The Senator raised a very valid question as to their pay arrangements. They are paid on aper diem basis, based on the mid-point of the standard modified assistant principal scale. This is subject to tax, PRSI, income levy and pension levy and subject to the normal pension abatement arrangements. This means they cannot earn more in any tax year than they would have earned before retirement. There is no honey pot in this one.

There is a significant learning curve for appeals officers when assigned. They must become familiar with the entire social welfare code and also with other legislation which may impact on entitlements, such as employment law and also with administrative law, case law and EU law, as it affects social welfare entitlements. A new appeals officer will generally operate under the wing of an existing appeals officer for approximately three months. The level of complexity of a case as assigned will increase as time goes on. Experience shows that it takes up to two years for a new appeals officer to develop sufficient experience and knowledge to deal with most types of cases at full productivity.

The challenge is to get a quick fix. We all agree that immediate changes are required. In order to deal with the situation, two additional appeals officers were assigned to the office in 2009. These are above the retirees who are being employed on a part-time basis. An additional two administrative staff have been approved for the office. These officers have been assigned to enable 6,800 cases to be dealt with on-site in Longford without the need for the transfer of the majority of these cases to the social welfare appeals office.

There is currently an in-depth review of process in the office being carried out by the Department's business process improvement section. Enhancements to the office's IT and phone systems are being put in place which will greatly improve the flow of work in the office. Overtime, including on Saturdays, is being worked by staff of the office in an effort to reduce the backlog.

This information is more to do with amendment No. 19. We are on amendment No. 20.

The appeals office is an independent office which does not come under my remit in its operation. However, I discussed with officials the need to ensure that simple appeals with clear solutions should not go down on the same flow chart as appeals dealing with means tests or medical reports. They must find ways of dealing quickly with the simpler appeals because the longer the queue, the more people are ringing up to look for answers. It is hoped that by the end of the year, the chief appeals officer will be able to report that we have made significant progress in dealing with appeals and that this problem is being brought under control. The real reason for the problem is a significant increase in appeals.

In reply to Senator Doherty, a total of 2% of decisions are appealed. There has been a high success in appeals but part of the reason is that when a case goes to appeal, the person will supply more information which if provided initially, would have won the case at that stage. If new information is provided, the case goes back to the deciding officer and he or she has an opportunity to change the decision if it is believed that, based on the further information, an unwarranted decision was made. This is very common in medical cases. The doctors provide a lot of medical information with regard to various claims such as carer's allowances and so on but they do not address the real question of whether the person is capable of work in the case of illness benefit. They outline the medical condition but do not give a clear opinion on capability for work which is the crucial sentence. This is similarly the case with regard to appeals for carer's allowance. The crucial question is whether the person needs full-time care and attention. I have discussed this matter with the chief medical officer. There may be a case for better medical certification with more details on it so the pertinent questions are addressed and to save time and the need for people to appeal. I am all in favour of such a process.

On the case of the two visits referred to by Senator Doherty, I cannot comment on an individual case because I do not know whether that was the full story. All I can say is that I have found the investigative officers I have dealt with for the past 20 years to be thorough and helpful. I have on occasion made representations and they have explained to me they were trying to persuade the applicant to provide further information and if I could persuade the applicant to supply it, they assured me they would have no problem in passing the claim. If I had not made a representation, they would be unable to ask me to help as a third party. A representation must be initiated. It may be the case that the staff in Donegal are different but I do not think so. The staff in the Department are very good although with a staff of 5,000, not all of them will be uniformly helpful but in my long experience dealing with the Department from the outside, both as a Government Deputy and Senator and in Opposition, I have found the departmental staff to be helpful in the main and anxious to deal fairly with the customer. I have found the appeals officers extremely fair. I have noted that appeals hearings have procedures in place that certainly put people at ease. They are very open to appellants being accompanied and they always are prepared to share the information in the file so one is not led into places. The appeals system, in my opinion and experience, is very fair.

I agree in the main with the Minister that the officials are helpful. However, it is not black and white as some people are not always as co-operative as they could be. How many retired appeals officers is the Minister intending to bring back?

Eight. It will be for two days a week, equivalent to bringing back three full-time staff.

I assume people are being trained.

The kernel of the issue is that all these appeals are being made because people are desperate and they need the money to survive. They need to put bread on the table and to pay the ESB bill. We should not lose track of the fact this is the reason for the significant increase in appeals. The bottom line is people really need the money.

I wish to clarify for the record of the House that when I was referring to the case of the two calls that it was a colleague here in the Oireachtas who referred that story to me. For correction, it was not a member of the Department's staff, unless they are doing constituency work in Donegal. My more general point is whether it would be acceptable for a social welfare inspector to refuse on the basis that nobody was in the house when he or she called and therefore proof of address could not be verified. If that is allowable within the rules and regulations, we need to ensure it is applied in a fair way. I am positive people are giving false addresses to scam the system. We must have balance. My question about appeals directly relates to this amendment and the report to the Oireachtas. We know there has been a spike in appeals and we know there has been a spike in the live register, which accounts for it. Has there been analysis by the Department to take account of the rise in the live register and the number of payments made versus the number of appeals? What proportion of appeals is being made compared with last time? Are we seeing a proportionate increase in appeals or is it at the same level? Is the percentage of appeals for applications processed three years ago neither higher nor lower than the current percentage? This is a worry.

The simple answer on this subject that I follow with interest, and I am not speakingex cathedra anseo, is that the percentage has not changed dramatically. It is a percentage of the number of applications, not of the total number of people in payment. It concerns the number of people who have made new applications. There has been a surge in the number of applications for illness benefit and carer’s allowance. Much of this goes back to what Senator McFadden said, that people on jobseeker’s benefit apply for jobseeker’s allowance when it runs out, they have a spouse with an occupation and then they apply for the carer’s allowance. The person being cared for must be medically qualified and people are pursuing different avenues. We all know these people in the constituency clinics. There are many more applications and people are making more than one application. To my knowledge, there is no change in the percentage of applications decided on. Many people are transferring from jobseeker’s benefit to jobseeker’s allowance. Jobseeker’s benefit has relatively few appeals because if someone has not made the contributions, they do not receive the payment. If the person attends the clinic of a Member of the Houses, he or she could count the number of contributions and explain that the number of contributions was insufficient according to the rule in the book. The Member could then advise the constituents that an appeal would not work. On the other hand, in the means test, the cattle, sheep, pigs and cows are all counted and it is much more subjective. Inevitably, people go to a clinic when they are disappointed with the level of payment they receive and the Member may ask if the person included all the hay and the silage he has bought. The person might say they forgot to put in the hay——

The Minister is now moving completely away from amendment No. 20.

I am trying to explain the appeals system. I am trying to be helpful to the Senators.

We appreciate that.

The number of appeals on certain schemes will be higher because there is a greater chance of success and there is a greater level of judgment. In means-tested cases, it is more likely that people did not provide the full information.

It is the ducks, the geese and the hens.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Question, "That section 22 stand part of the Bill," put and declared carried.
Sections 23 and 24 agreed to.
SECTION 25

Amendment No. 21, in the name of Senator McFadden, has been ruled out of order.

Amendment No. 21 not moved.
Question put: "That section 25 stand part of the Bill."
The Committee divided: Tá, 28; Níl, 21.

  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Butler, Larry.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Carroll, James.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Corrigan, Maria.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Dearey, Mark.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Feeney, Geraldine.
  • Glynn, Camillus.
  • Hanafin, John.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • McDonald, Lisa.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Ó Brolcháin, Niall.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O’Brien, Francis.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • O’Sullivan, Ned.
  • Ormonde, Ann.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.

Níl

  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Cannon, Ciaran.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • McCarthy, Michael.
  • McFadden, Nicky.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Norris, David.
  • O’Reilly, Joe.
  • O’Toole, Joe.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Prendergast, Phil.
  • Twomey, Liam.
  • White, Alex.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Niall Ó Brolcháin and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Pearse Doherty and Phil Prendergast.
Question declared carried.
Sections 26 to 34, inclusive, agreed to.
Schedule agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment and received for final consideration.
Question put: "That the Bill do now pass."
The Seanad divided: Tá, 28; Níl, 21.

  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Butler, Larry.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Carroll, James.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Corrigan, Maria.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Dearey, Mark.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Feeney, Geraldine.
  • Glynn, Camillus.
  • Hanafin, John.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • McDonald, Lisa.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Ó Brolcháin, Niall.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O’Brien, Francis.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • O’Sullivan, Ned.
  • Ormonde, Ann.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.

Níl

  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Cannon, Ciaran.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • McCarthy, Michael.
  • McFadden, Nicky.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Norris, David.
  • O’Reilly, Joe.
  • O’Toole, Joe.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Prendergast, Phil.
  • Twomey, Liam.
  • White, Alex.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Niall Ó Brolcháin and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Maurice Cummins and Nicky McFadden.
Question declared carried.

When is it proposed to sit again?

Ag 10.30 maidin amárach.