Nothing that cost us money. The primary savings related to bank charges, which was €2.8 million. I am not sure why bank charges are under the training subhead. I am informed it is the training and incidental figure.
The Department also incurred savings in other areas including training in customer communications and advertising, PeoplePoint charges and the higher of rooms charges. It is difficult to extend those subheads with 100% or even 99% accuracy.
Training savings of €665,000 were incurred in this particular area. That was primarily as a result of lower costs than were initially anticipated. We got our training courses last year for less than what we thought we would have to pay.
With regard to additional information on learning and development, savings were incurred. The Department has provided extensive training for all our staff in 2018. To date, there have been 13,416 staff attendances at instructor-led classroom training, and 2,678 staff received this training in 2018. There have been 2,447 e-learning modules and front-line serving training areas were completed in 2018. Other internally delivered staff training outside the scope of these programmes was provided to 2,796 staff and another 1,799 staff received an externally delivered training programme. The Department arranges approximately 100 one day learning courses across a range of subjects, and those are available to all our staff. Those are the training and administration figures.
Deputy Joan Collins raised the issue of school meals, as did the other two Deputies. Most, if not all, of our schemes are demand led. We can put out an offer, as we did in this year's budget, to extend a hot school meals pilot scheme, which we hope to take on board at the beginning of next year, but we cannot make schools take up that offer.
A significant amount of additional money was provided, at a sitting of this committee at which I was present in October or November 2017, for the year 2018 but there was not the level of uptake that we expected for which there is a variety of reasons. I would not have viewed the matter in the same way as the Deputy concerned who sounded frustrated and wondered why schools would not avail of such a good scheme.
We had an issue with one particular area. I refer to instances where school meals were distributed by staff or volunteers who were over and above the staff in the school. In the past year something happened to the provision of those staff members so schools could no longer deliver the school meals programme. Thankfully, we have resolved the issue but it would have meant the non-delivery of school meals for a number of months in a small cluster of schools. There are other schools where the staff are not available in the schools to take in meals and distribute them on a daily basis over and above the normal day-to-day running of the schools. Again, we are trying to work with individual schools to break down whatever barriers exist that prevent schools from availing of the programme. When we added the extra money last year, it was probably before we addressed the matter and we added people to the list thinking nobody would say "No". Some schools have different issues. We have to break down those barriers school by school because the barriers are not the same in each school. Again, we are working with people.
Let me give the example of a school that has difficulties with the items listed on the school meals programme as suggested by Healthy Ireland in its health eating guidelines. The school is a special needs school. Some of the children will not eat what is listed on the school meals programme and, therefore, pulled out of the school. We worked with the school and decided that we needed to be more flexible about recommendations. We brought in a nutritionist and considered what should be provided to the children to ensure that we can continue to deliver. Reasons vary in schools. We have an incredible division located in Sligo that looks after the scheme and they are very proactive. If there are issues, we visit the schools and work with them to make sure that we break down the issues, where we can, and bridge any gaps. We are intent on ensuring that the school meals programme is fully up to spend. We will also add the hot school meals pilot programme next year. Please God it will go well and we can add another string to our bow in terms of school meals.
In terms of the carers' allowance, there has not been a decrease in the number of people applying for the allowance. I know it probably looks like there was a decrease. Last year, we anticipated that more people would apply than applied because there had been an increase year-on-year. For example, at the end of last October as many as 17,406 applications had been received and we received 20,852 last year.
There is a new carers' form planned. Deputy Joan Collins suggested that it is a very difficult scheme to apply for and the Chairman suggested that one of the reasons for a reduction in the number of applicants is due to the process taking so long to complete. My answer is no as the process took equally as long the year before and the year before that, unfortunately. As a result we have worked very closely with the Carers' Association of Ireland in the past year and come up with a new application form. As Deputy O'Dea will be aware, particularly with our work with the domiciliary care allowance and DCA Warriors in the past number of years, we have similar issues because it is a very similar scheme. Obviously, one scheme is for adults while the other scheme is for children. It was a difficult application to navigate and we did great work with the DCA Warriors. The organisation and the parents helped us enormously to make the application a much simpler process. We have done exactly the same work with the Carers' Association of Ireland and we will release a new form at the beginning of next year. I hope that the new form will mean that far more people will be successful with their first application.
To answer the question posed by Deputy O'Dea, we have a new recruitment campaign for medical assessors planned for January. It is not just to extend the service. A number of medical assessors left over the course of the year and we got new replacements this year. The new recruitment campaign will help us to continue and extend that employment recruitment drive. We want to make sure that the application is as easy as possible and people give us all of the information. The reason it takes a while to process applications is not that the qualifying, from a condition perspective, is onerous. One must meet the conditions outlined in the means test, which are relatively simple. Out of all of the schemes, they would have the highest conditions to reach. One's income threshold and all of that kind of stuff on the carers' allowance would be much higher than some of our other schemes. Due to the fact that people need to be medically assessed and the bar for a full and half carer's allowance - the threshold of the care that has been given has to be fully detailed and examined by medical assessors, which takes a little bit of time.
We all accept that it has taken too long, but I hope the new application form and the employment of additional medical assessors next year will bring a drastic reduction in the numbers. I believe, and management share my view, that there is a need for more staff in that area, and we are awaiting staff arising from efficiencies in other areas to move into this area. It will then benefit from a double whammy of getting the attention and new initiatives it deserves. The annualised figures for the number of carers at the end of October 2018 were 78,681 an increase from 74,881 in the same period the year before. The rate of increase has slowed down.
Deputy Carey raised the issue of treatment benefits. We increased the allocation for treatment benefits this year and allowed both the self-employed and employees to claim under this scheme. We expected the uptake to increase, but never to the level received. This is good, as it means that people perceive this scheme as a genuine benefit. When people think about their social insurance contribution, all they think about is the pension that comes when they reach 66 years, which in their case is donkey's years away. We wish to instill the value of the social insurance contribution and treatment benefits are one clear way that resonates with the people and there has been a significant increase in the number of applications this year.
Deputies Brady and O'Dea raised the issue of the CE scheme. There are 1,600 and odd vacancies on this programme. The scheme is entirely different from Tús, the community work placement initiative. Under Tús, the employment official in consultation with the unemployed person and with his or her co-operation send him or her on a Tús scheme whereas under the CE scheme, one has to apply for a place on the scheme. People on the live register visit the Intreo office on a weekly basis and they choose to apply for the CE opportunities.
The number of people applying for places on a CE scheme is reducing for two reasons. First, there are fewer people on the live register than there used to be so fewer people are available to apply for the scheme in the first instance. Based on the contributions of the members who were of the view that JobPath was hampering people in applying for CE places, we allowed anybody who was on JobPath this summer to do both. That has not resulted in a significant increase in the number of people applying for the CE programme from this summer. The only factor I can put my finger on is that because there are jobs in the community, people are looking for full-time employment as opposed to work experience. We work with all of our CE sponsor schemes which do tremendous work on a monthly basis and we try to improve their access to people and help them to advertise their positions
. As unemployment numbers reduce, the number of positions on CE schemes should reduce by a percentage in line with the reduction in the live register because the CE programme is purely an activation model. I do not subscribe to the fact that it is an activation model because a raft of people on community programmes are not there just to be trained to move on to the next job as they see what they do as a fulfilling and worthwhile activity. Members share my view that this work is of significant value to our communities. We need to reflect on that and change how it is viewed. Sometimes it is more than just a work experience or training opportunity for people but the reasons the numbers are falling is that the unemployment figures are reducing and it is reflected in that. The falling numbers is not due to anything we are doing differently in the Department, as the scheme is entirely demand-led. The places are available because of the reflected numbers that we expected to be on the live register this year. That number will reduce next year as the number on the live register comes down again. Nobody is preventing anybody from applying for a place on a CE scheme anymore. Anybody who is on the live register can apply to be on a scheme. They are choosing not to and we will reflect on that.
The working family and the back to school allowance payments are demand-led schemes. People are benefitting from the fact that the economy is recovering.
This relates to the back to school allowance as well. Nothing has changed. I view the changes in the back to school allowance and the working family payment as positive for those who receive these payments. We introduced a disregard into the working family payment. People who rely entirely on the working family payment to top up their incomes now have a weekly disregard for their rent payments. Back to school payments for next year were increased significantly in the budget. I know we have not finalised that yet. Deputy O'Dea is right when he says that this increase reflects the fact that the cost of going to school is increasing.
The number of people who are accessing both of these schemes is a reflection of the fact that the economy is recovering. Many people are moving into full-time employment at a level where they do not reach the means test, do not need the working family payment or do not qualify for the back to school allowance anymore. The number of new applications for the working family payment received so far this year - the figure was 23,803 at the end of October - is relatively similar to last year's number. I have mentioned the introduction of the disregard. It is a good thing that the numbers are slowly decreasing. It is not something to be worried about. As I have said, this will always be a demand-led scheme. I want to be able to allow people who are currently on the scheme to earn more and to take home more of the money they are actually earning. I hope this will incentivise and encourage them to earn more and keep more of their own money. The scheme will always be led by demand. If there is an increase in the need for the scheme next year, we will respond to that.
I have spoken about school meals. I will come back to illness benefit in a second. Deputy Brady mentioned the overspend of €4.2 million under the heading of Office Equipment and External IT Services. Our list of ongoing schemes is continuing to grow. Every time I introduce a new scheme, I have to get into the queue to get an entirely new platform developed. Thankfully, we are introducing new schemes. We introduced the paid parental leave and the self-employed jobseeker's schemes this year. These brand new schemes need brand new IT platforms. We are investing in our online digital services. We are about to go live with mywelfare.ie, which is a new and hugely positive method of interacting with the Department. It is so user-friendly that even I am totally impressed by it. This new system is incredibly easy to use. We have 6,000 staff and 70 schemes. This means that our IT platforms are constantly being upgraded and new systems are constantly coming on board. The only difficulty we have as a society, a country or an economy at the moment is that there are so few software developers on the Government procurement list. They are all busy. They are already doing stuff for all the other Departments. This will probably slow down our ability to deliver on some of the new schemes we would like to deliver on. It is possibly something that needs to be looked at. That accounts for the €4.2 million overspend.
I think Deputy Brady is under the impression that there is a programme to move people off rent supplement and onto HAP. I say that because I am making an assumption. I hope I am wrong. No one in the Department is working off a list with a target of getting 100 people off rent supplement. Rent supplement is a short-term measure to bridge a gap in the housing need of a family or couple. The State has to make sure it provides long-term sustainable solutions for people. Ideally, we would like to see people not being on rent supplement for any more than about a year. That has not been the reality in recent years because we have given people rent supplement for more than 12 months. It was always intended to be a short-term stop for people as they come in and out of need. Over recent years, HAP has been introduced, there has been a move away from RAS and a long-term requirement for HAP leases to be five or ten years has been introduced. As a result, people have moved gradually from rent supplement to HAP. There is no agenda of getting officials to hurry through a list of 10,000 people. It will happen as people come. Therefore, I am disappointed to hear from the Deputy that people are being told they will lose their RAS if they do not take up HAP. It is definitely not coming from the Department. People will get RAS for as long as they need it. Rent supplement is provided because there is a need for it. When somebody moves onto HAP or into a social house, or wins the lotto and buys his or her own house, he or she will come off rent supplement because it is no longer required. Nobody is actively pushing people off rent supplement. All of our schemes are led by demand. If someone has a need and the conditions apply to him or her, he or she will get what comes from the Department. There is nobody telling that person that he or she should or should not be here.
I have just been given the figures. At the end of October, we had 25,654 people on rent supplement, 19,196 people on RAS through the local authorities and 41,693 people on HAP. I might be wrong, but I think the Deputy is asking how many people came off rent supplement and went onto HAP. Is that what he is asking?