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Social Welfare Benefits.

Dáil Éireann Debate, Wednesday - 22 March 2006

Wednesday, 22 March 2006

Questions (46, 47, 48, 49)

Trevor Sargent

Question:

64 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if his Department maintains statistics on the number of children born here not entitled to be in receipt of child benefit payments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11043/06]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Family)

To qualify for child benefit a child must be under 16 years — 19 years if in full-time education — and ordinarily resident in the State. The vast majority of children born in Ireland will satisfy these conditions. Child benefit is paid to the person with whom the child is normally resident, which in most cases is the child's mother.

Since 1 May 2004, the new qualifying condition — habitual residency condition, HRC — for child benefit was introduced. From that date the applicant must be habitually resident in Ireland. Section 17 of the Social Welfare Act 2004 specifies that a person shall not be considered as being habitually resident in the State at the date of making the application unless the person has been present in the State or any other part of the common travel area for a continuous period of two years ending on that date.

The question of what is a person's "habitual residence" is decided in accordance with European Court of Justice case law, which sets out the grounds for assessing individual claims. Each case that is subject to a determination on the habitual residence condition is dealt with on its merits and a decision is based on the individual circumstances of the case. Any applicant who disagrees with the deciding officer decision has the right of appeal to the social welfare appeals office.

Straightforward cases are dealt with as part of the normal claim process, while more complex cases are passed to more senior officers for decision. The Department requires applicants to supply a range of information in support of their application, including details of employment, property owned in Ireland, family in Ireland, family or property abroad, before making a decision.

Since 1 May 2004 over 70,000 new applications for child benefit have been received. The vast majority of these cases are straightforward and are approved as part of the normal claims process. In 10,596 cases the decision was passed to a more senior officer, with 1,299 claims or 12% deemed not to have satisfied the habitual residency condition. A total of 514 children born in Ireland were affected in these cases. It is open to applicants to re-apply for the benefit at a later time if their circumstances have changed in the interim, for example, if their residency status, family composition or employment status has changed.

Currently the percentage of applicants for CB who satisfy the habitual residency condition is 94%. The main reasons that applicants would not satisfy the habitual residency condition is that their residency status in the country is not yet decided or they have failed to satisfy the Department of their intention to reside in Ireland on a long-term basis. EU nationals working in Ireland are paid child benefit under EU regulations and as such are not subject to the habitual residence condition.

Non-EU workers in Ireland on work permits and whose families are resident here are considered to satisfy the habitual residence condition if they are in permanent employment, have brought their families to Ireland and can satisfy the Department of their intention to make Ireland their home on a long-term basis.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

65 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of persons deemed to be suffering from coal workers lung disease/pneumoconiosis; the number who are currently in receipt of occupational injury payments; his views on the award of occupational injury payments to all such sufferers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11083/06]

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Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

186 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the fact that special recognition and payment has been awarded in other jurisdictions to sufferers of pneumoconiosis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11334/06]

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Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

187 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of persons suffering from pneumoconiosis currently in receipt of a disability payment, invalidity payment or occupational injury payment; his views on recognising the disease as a 100% disability or illness for the purposes of qualification for occupation injury payment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11335/06]

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I propose to take Questions Nos. 65, 186 and 187 together.

My Department does not create or hold records or statistics on health matters per se. Information relating to occupational diseases regarding miners is only held by my Department in the context of claims made under its occupational injuries benefits scheme. Departmental records reflect that there are 21 persons currently in receipt of disablement benefit under the occupational injuries scheme as a result of pneumoconiosis. A total of 19 of these are former coal workers.

The legislation governing the occupational injuries scheme provides entitlement to benefit for persons suffering from certain prescribed diseases which are listed in the legislation and where that person has contracted that disease in the course of their employment. Where a person has contracted one of the diseases listed in the legislation, benefits are payable if they were employed in an occupation which is specifically prescribed with regard to that disease. In addition, benefits may be payable if the claimant can show to the satisfaction of my Department that the disease was contracted through an employment not specifically prescribed with regard to that disease.

Employment under a contract of service as a miner is insurable for occupational injuries benefit under the Social Welfare Acts. Miners who are unable to work due to an accident arising from their employment may be entitled to occupational injury benefit for the first 26 weeks of their claim. If their incapacity extends beyond that period they may receive disability benefit or invalidity pension subject to meeting the qualifying conditions for these payments.

Miners may be entitled to disablement benefit if they suffer a loss of physical or mental faculty as a result of an accident at work or a disease prescribed in legislation that they contracted at work. Medical assessments are undertaken in all such cases to determine the degree of disablement, which is calculated by comparison of the state of health of the applicant with a person of the same age and gender. The degree of disablement is expressed as a percentage loss of faculty and the compensation payable varies accordingly.

There is, therefore, an existing mechanism in cases where miners develop lung disease as a result of their occupation. Persons claiming occupational injuries benefit in cases of pneumoconiosis are referred to consultant respiratory physicians in the first instance for an examination and report. This examination consists of a clinical assessment and pulmonary function testing, PFT. Disablement benefit is awarded on the basis of the consultant's report, including the pulmonary function testing result.

Where a person has qualified for occupational injuries benefits, the rate of benefit payable increases on an annual basis in line with the normal social welfare budget increases. In addition, where a person feels that his/her occupational injury has deteriorated since the assessment was made under the scheme, it is open to that person to apply for a review of the percentage calculated.

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