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Social Welfare Benefits.

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 22 March 2005

Tuesday, 22 March 2005

Questions (287, 288, 289, 290, 291)

Mary Upton

Question:

287 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will consider expanding the back to education allowance to include part-time courses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8871/05]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Family)

The back to education allowance is a second chance education opportunities scheme designed to encourage and facilitate people on certain social welfare payments to improve their skills and qualifications and, therefore, their prospects of returning to the active work force.

To qualify for participation in the BTEA scheme an applicant must, inter alia, be pursuing a course of study at a recognised second or third level institution. The course must be a full-time day course of study which is approved by the Department of Education and Science or have Further Education Training and Awards Council, FETAC, or Higher Education Training and Awards Council, HETAC, recognition.

The back to education programme operated by my Department already takes cognizance of the fact that many people wish to pursue part-time courses of education as an alternative to the more structured full-time courses. Persons who wish to pursue a part-time course of study may do so and retain their social welfare payment.

Applicants for the part-time education option do not have to satisfy any specific eligibility criteria. The applicant may be of any age and may be in receipt of a social welfare payment for any length of time prior to commencing a part-time course of study. Part-time courses of education are adequately catered for under my Department's back to education programme.

Richard Bruton

Question:

288 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the categories of persons who will be eligible for the €1,000 respite grant awarded to a person caring full-time for a person in need of care; if there will be a more relaxed means test to qualify for this grant; and if persons who are disqualified for the carer’s allowance due to their having another social welfare payment will be eligible to receive the grant. [8883/05]

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Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Question:

290 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the progress made in regard to the commitment in Budget 2005 to extend the respite care grant to all carers providing full time care to an older person or a person with a disability, regardless of means, subject to certain employment related conditions; the number of carers who have benefited from this initiative; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8895/05]

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Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Question:

291 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the progress made in regard to the commitment in the Budget 2005 to increase the respite care grant to €1,000 to benefit 9,000 carers; the number of carers who have benefited; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8896/05]

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I propose to take Questions Nos. 288, 290 and 291 together.

Persons in receipt of a carer's allowance and carer's benefit receive a respite care grant in June each year. The grant is also payable to carers who are caring for recipients of a constant attendance or prescribed relative's allowance.

The conditions for receipt of the extended respite care grant are set out in the Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2005. The following conditions will apply: the carer must be providing full time care to a person who is in need of such care; as is the case with recipients of carer's allowance, a full-time carer must not be engaged in employment for more than ten hours per week; those who are on unemployment payments will be excluded since they are required to be available for and actively seeking full-time work.

This means that subject to these conditions, the respite care grant is being extended to include all carers who are providing full-time care and who are either in receipt of a social welfare payment, other than carer's allowance and carer's benefit, for example, widow's pensions, old age pensions, one parent family payment, disability benefit and invalidity pension, or who are not currently receiving a weekly social welfare payment from my Department. Under Budget 2005, the respite grant is payable for each care recipient, and is payable without a means test. This measure will benefit over 9,000 carers who are not currently in receipt of carer's allowance or carer's benefit. Overall, some 33,000 full-time carers will receive the grant at a cost of €7.24 million. Full details of the conditions for receipt of the extended respite care grant will be set out in regulations and will be widely publicised before the scheme commences in June 2005.

Willie Penrose

Question:

289 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs when the regulations were changed whereby applicants for unemployment assistance have to sign on at their local Garda station; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that as a result of this change, some applicants will have to make a 20 to 30-mile round trip, which in the absence of their own transport, or public transport necessitates the expenditure of moneys on taxis and so on; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8886/05]

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Up to November 2004, recipients of unemployment payments who reside more than six miles from their nearest social welfare local or branch office signed a declaration at their local Garda Station for the purpose of proving unemployment. This service was instituted, as a service to customers, at a time when transport was less frequent and travel was more difficult than today.

My Department is currently implementing a modernisation action plan aimed at improving customer service and at enhancing control. In this context the role of signing at Garda Stations has been reviewed and it has been concluded that the service has long since ceased to be appropriate and is taking from, rather than adding to quality customer service. The new signing arrangements, which balance customer service requirements with effective control measures, began in January 2005. The following are the revised signing arrangements: customers residing up to ten miles or 16 km from their social welfare local or branch office attend that office once every four weeks for certification purposes; customers residing over ten miles from their local or branch office self-certify every four weeks and attend that office every 12 weeks. These customers have been offered the flexibility to attend at the office on any day in a designated week; a flexible approach to certification has been adopted for customers on offshore islands and other remote areas of the country and they will not, as a general rule, be required to attend their local or branch office.

These changes represent a significant improvement in customer service by enabling all unemployed customers have direct contact with their social welfare local or branch office where they can be directed to the many educational and work supports available to the unemployed.

To qualify for unemployment payments a person must show that he or she is available for and genuinely seeking work. In the normal course my Department would expect unemployed customers to take up offers of employment within a reasonable distance of their residence and to travel there on a daily basis. In these circumstances it is not unreasonable to require a customer who is actively seeking work, to travel to his social welfare local office for certification purposes once every twelve weeks. If however, any customer has particular difficulties with the revised arrangements, my officials in the local office will be glad to consider these and make whatever adjustments are considered appropriate.

Questions Nos. 290 and 291 answered with Question No. 288.
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