Wednesday, 1 December 2004

Questions (143, 144, 145, 146, 147, 148)

Joe Higgins

Question:

171 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will make provision for the abolition of the means testing of the carer’s allowance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31619/04]

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Joe Higgins

Question:

175 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the status of the review of the carer’s allowance and carer’s benefit schemes; the likely date of its completion and publication of recommendations. [31672/04]

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Joe Higgins

Question:

176 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on the abolition of the means test for the carer’s allowance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31673/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Family)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 171, 175 and 176 together.

The primary objective of the carer's allowance is to provide income support to low income carers. In line with other social assistance schemes, the means test is applied to the carer's allowance so as to ensure that limited resources are directed to those in greatest need. The means test applied to the allowance has been eased significantly in the past few years, most notably with the introduction of disregards of spouse's earnings. In April 2004 the weekly income disregards increased to €250 for a single carer and to €500 for a couple. The effect of this increase, for example, ensures that a couple with two children, earning a joint annual income of up to €29,328, can qualify for the maximum rate of carer's allowance, while the same couple, if they had an income of €46,384 could still qualify for the minimum carer's allowance, the free schemes and the respite care grant.

The complete abolition of the means test would have substantial cost implications. It is estimated, based on available data, that abolition of the means test could cost in the region of €160 million per annum. This estimate should be taken as an order of magnitude given the difficulties in costing such a proposal. The views of some support and health organisations is that if resources of this scale were available, it would be more beneficial to carers to invest in the type of community care services which would support them in their caring role, such as additional respite care facilities. My officials are carrying out a review of the carer's allowance and carer's benefit schemes within the Department. The issues and recommendations raised by the Joint Committee on Social and Family Affairs in its report, The Position of Full-time Carers, are being considered in the context of this review. The review is at an advanced stage and measures will be finalised as soon as possible in the new year.

Joe Higgins

Question:

172 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will take immediate measures to assist persons in receipt of rent allowance who are refused accommodation in the private rented sector due to the fact that some landlords are failing to declare their investment properties in order to evade tax. [31633/04]

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I am aware of allegations that some landlords are unwilling to accept rent supplement recipients as tenants. However, the fact that there are over 57,500 rent supplement recipients indicates that many landlords are willing to accept people in receipt of rent supplement as tenants. The amount of accommodation for rent has increased significantly in recent years and this has also had a positive impact on prices. Data published by the Central Statistics Office show that, on average, rents have fallen in the last two years. These trends are favouring tenants in their search for accommodation and increase the range of accommodation available to them. It would not be possible to require property owners to rent their properties to any person if they are unwilling to do so.

It is a matter for the Revenue Commissioners to ensure that all people, including landlords, pay the appropriate amount of tax. My Department, however, facilitates the process by transmitting data to the Revenue Commissioners on landlords who have tenants in receipt of rent supplement.

Separately, the new Private Residential Tenancies Board requires landlords to register all tenancies. My Department is assisting this process by including information about the board in payments issued to rent supplement clients during December, and by putting arrangements in place to notify the board of the names of landlords in rent supplement cases to help ensure compliance with the new system of tenancy regulation and safeguards.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

173 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the reason one parent family allowance has been refused in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare in view of the fact that an irrevocable judicial separation has been granted, that he has custody of his two children and is prevented from seeking maintenance from his ex-wife by virtue of the legal separation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31651/04]

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Under the regulations governing the one parent family payment scheme, a separated spouse is required to make appropriate efforts in the particular circumstances to obtain adequate maintenance from her or his spouse for herself or himself and the children. In the case of the person concerned, he was requested by a deciding officer of the Department to make efforts to seek maintenance from his spouse. However, to date he has not forwarded documentary evidence of his efforts in this respect. On receipt of the requested documentation an early decision will be made and he will be notified of the outcome without delay. Under social welfare legislation, decisions on claims must be made by deciding officers and appeals officers. These officers are statutorily appointed and I have no role in regard to making such decisions.

Willie Penrose

Question:

174 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will take steps to ensure that all social welfare pensions including those issued fortnightly will issue on a weekly basis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31671/04]

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Since 18 November 2004 social welfare pensions, which were paid fortnightly by electronic fund transfer into bank accounts etc. are now paid weekly. All social welfare pensions are, therefore, now paid weekly. Some 89,000 pensioners paid by electronic fund transfer have benefited from this improvement.

Questions Nos. 175 and 176 answered with Question No. 171.
Question No. 177 withdrawn.