Pensions Reform

Question No. 97 answered with Question No. 90.

Questions (96)

Róisín Shortall

Question:

96. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Social Protection the discussions, if any, she has had with the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to align the State pension age with the typical ages that workers are required to retire from their employment because of long standing contractual arrangements; her plans, if any, arising from these discussions; and the plans, if any, she has to address the anomaly whereby potentially thousands of workers will be required by their contract to retire from their employment in 2014 once they reach 65 years but will not be entitled to a State pension, will have to sign on the live register to access income support and in some cases will potentially have no income support for three months of next year because of recent changes to the duration of jobseeker's benefit. [11367/13]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

Analysis of 2011 and 2012 figures indicates that an average of just 13%, or less than 1,600 per year, of those awarded State pension (transition) (SPT), came from employment in the period immediately prior to SPT. State pension reform is essential to ensure sustainability and to address the challenges of changing demographics including increasing life expectancy. The abolition of SPT removes the retirement condition which acts as an incentive to leave the workforce and has been widely criticised as a barrier to older people remaining in employment. Currently, a person who retires from work on reaching age 65 and who does not have sufficient PRSI contributions to qualify for SPT may apply for another social welfare payment. This will remain the case when SPT is abolished in 2014. Legislation provides that, subject to having paid 156 or more qualifying contributions and satisfying the general scheme conditions, a person whose job seekers benefit expires in their 65th year will continue to be paid benefit up until the age of 66.

In relation to the employment relationship, responsibility for setting retirement age is a matter for the employer/employee relationship and the contract of employment. However, it is recognised that the range of policy areas which influence working and retirement decisions fall within the remit of a range of departments and requires a co-ordinated responses if labour market participation rates and effective retirement ages of older workers are to improve. In this regard, an Interdepartmental Working and Retirement Group is currently considering cross departmental policy issues that may support longer working and thereby improve the sustainability and adequacy of pensions systems. This Group, which includes the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation is considering the broad range of issues impacting on the labour market participation of older workers and will prepare preliminary proposals detailing measures which may encourage participation and retention in the labour market of older workers.

Question No. 97 answered with Question No. 90.

Job Initiatives

Question No. 99 answered with Question No. 85.

Questions (98)

Michael Moynihan

Question:

98. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Minister for Social Protection the progress that she has made in the implementation of the Pathways to Work plan; the use of private contractors in its implementation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11108/13]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

As the Deputy will be aware, the ‘Pathways to Work’ policy commits to the provision of more regular and on-going engagement and greater targeting of activation places and job opportunities for those who are unemployed. It also aims to increase engagement and incentivise employers to provide more jobs for people who are unemployed. INTREO is the new integrated employment activation and supports service model delivering on the ‘Pathways to Work’ policy. The first ten Intreo offices have now opened and service performance has improved in all of these offices with claim processing times and waiting times for new claimants for group interviews and follow up one-to-one interviews reduced.

The most significant elements of the Pathways to Work approach are: i) Profiling of clients to inform the approach taken to activation, and in particular to target those who are most likely to become long-term unemployed and to provide appropriate interventions at the earliest possible stage; ii) Early engagement with clients through group engagement sessions; iii) One to one interviews with case managers; iv) The agreement of a personal progression plan between the client and the Department setting how the steps to be taken by the client, with the support of the Department, in order to re-enter employment; v) The signing of a social contract – known as a Record of Mutual Commitments – between the Department and the client. This sets out the client’s rights with regard to the type and quality of services to be provided by the Department but also sets out the client’s responsibility to engage with these services and actively seek employment.

Progress under each of these headings is as follows: (a) The profiling of all new claimants is now operational in all DSP offices. Under the Pathways to Work programme, the Department had profiled 53,800 new claimants to the end of 2012.; (b) 68,600 clients had participated in group engagements by the end of December 2012; (c)158,000 one-to-one initial interviews were conducted by the end of December; in addition a further 134,000 follow-up meetings were held by the end of 2012; (d) all new clients in Intreo offices now sign the social contract.

Enhanced engagement with employers at local level is also part of the Intreo process and this is progressing well. A dedicated Employer Engagement Unit has been established and an Employer Engagement Manager is available in each region to support and advise employers at each stage of the employment process including the advertisement of opportunities and sourcing potential candidates from the Live Register. During Autumn 2012, a series of employer briefings were held nationwide to provide employers with practical advice and assistance on the full range of recruitment supports available from the Department. Partly as a result of these engagements with employers, the Department developed the JobsPlus scheme, announced as part of the Action Plan for Jobs, to incentivise employers to recruit long term unemployed people from the Live Register. It is intended to launch this scheme for availability from July 2013.

In November 2012, following a procurement process, the Department engaged the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion London (CESIL) to provide expert advice with regard to the options for a contracted employment services model to supplement the Department’s own in-house services. The Department expects to receive CESIL’s final report shortly and will, at that stage, finalise its own proposals as to what type of contracting model, if any, should be submitted for consideration by Government.

Question No. 99 answered with Question No. 85.

Jobseeker's Allowance Payments

Questions (100)

Gerry Adams

Question:

100. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will ensure the threshold to access community employment and other job activation schemes and qualification for additional social protection benefits fuel allowance will be reduced in line with the change in jobseeker's benefit scheme which has been reduced from 12 months to nine months. [11368/13]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

The duration of jobseeker's benefit will be reduced by 3 months with effect from 3 April 2013. For people with 260 or more PRSI contributions paid, it will reduce from 12 months to 9 months. For people with fewer than 260 PRSI contributions paid, it will reduce from 9 months to 6 months. Claimants getting jobseeker's benefit for 6 months or more on 3 April 2013 (or 3 months for people with fewer than 260 contributions) will not be affected. The changes to the JB arrangements I have outlined will not impact on the qualifying periods on welfare payments required for access to CE. This qualifying period will remain at 12 months. Time spent on JB will continue to count towards this qualifying period. There are also no changes to the fuel allowance qualifying periods for recipients of JA. This will remain at 15 months and time spent on JB will also continue to count towards this qualifying period.

Illness Benefit Eligibility

Questions (101)

Pearse Doherty

Question:

101. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Social Protection the way she can put a cap on illness benefit of 12 months in cases when there is ongoing treatment such as chemotherapy involved. [11380/13]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

The purpose of illness benefit is to provide income support - during relatively short spells of incapacity or illness - for people of working age who are unable to work due to illness and who satisfy certain social insurance conditions. In relation to the duration for which illness benefit is payable, an OECD review entitled “Sickness, Disability and Work: Breaking the Barriers” noted that paying illness or sickness benefit without a time limitation was very unusual across the OECD, and pointed to the risk that people in such circumstances would never return to the labour market. Against that background, the Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 2008 provided that entitlement to illness benefit would be limited to two years (or 624 days) duration for claims arising after the 5 January, 2009. However, a person who has paid between 104 and 259 contributions at an appropriate class, since entering employment, is entitled to receive payment of Illness Benefit for a maximum of one year (or 312 days) in any one period of interruption of employment.

I should point out that people who are unable to work long-term because of a disability or a medical condition, and who have exhausted entitlement to this short-term payment, may apply for continued income support through the Invalidity Pension or Disability Allowance schemes. Should they not qualify for either of these schemes they have also recourse to apply for Supplementary Welfare Allowance.

Social Welfare Appeals Waiting Times

Questions (102)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

102. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social Protection the extent to which the time taken to determine appeals against decisions in respect of various payments provided by her Department continues to be examined with particular reference to cases where the medical information available is clear and incontrovertibly favours the applicants case and where, in many cases, considerable and unnecessary hardship is caused by any delay; if she will categorise such cases in the future with a view to minimising the stress on seriously ill applicants; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11339/13]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

I am advised by the Social Welfare Appeals Office that appeals where medical grounds are identified as an issue under appeal are referred in first instance to the Department's Medical Assessors for a second medical assessment and any further investigation, examination or assessment by the Department's Inspectors and Medical Assessors that is deemed necessary. The second medical assessment is carried out by a different medical assessor to the applicant’s first medical assessment, and affords an applicant a second opportunity to present medical evidence to my Department in support of their application for a scheme for which medical assessment forms part of the qualifying criteria.

Should the applicant be deemed suitable for a scheme following second medial assessment, the Deciding Officer may issue a revised decision in favour of the applicant. If after a second medical examination an applicant is again deemed not to meet the qualifying criteria, the appeal proceeds by assignment to an Appeals Officer.

Appeals Officers make summary decisions on the appeal based on documentary evidence presented or, if required, hold an oral hearing. Processing times of appeals reduced by 10.3 weeks overall in 2012 with respect to 2011. Of course, further improvement is needed. In that regard, the Chief Appeals Officer expects to finalise 6,000 more cases in 2013 than in 2012. There were 32,558 cases finalised in 2012; there is a major programme of process redesign and modernisation currently underway in relation to many scheme areas which will reduce backlogs and will also reduce the time taken for the Department to respond to requests from the SWAO for submissions in relation to appeals.

These measures will further reduce the waiting time for appellants. By its nature and because it is a quasi-judicial process, the processing of appeals takes time even at the best of times and reflects the fact that while every effort is made to deal with appeals as fast as possible this cannot be at the expense of fairness of due process.

Rent Supplement Scheme Payments

Questions (103, 106, 107, 108, 117)

Alan Farrell

Question:

103. Deputy Alan Farrell asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will examine the rent supplement limits in Dublin Fingal for two and three bedroomed houses due to the rise of rent in Dublin, its proximity to Dublin City Council areas which are allowed an extra €100, the lack of availability of premises for families seeking two and three bedroomed accommodation and the distance of up to 28km between the north and south end of the constituency, of which only properties in the most north part of the constituency is a feasible option for accommodation under the rent levels; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [10959/13]

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Brendan Smith

Question:

106. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Social Protection the total number of recipients of rent supplement in 2011, 2012 and to date in 2013; the discussions she has held with the National Assets Management Agency and the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government in relation to social housing lists and procuring suitable housing stock to tackle social housing lists; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11112/13]

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Bernard Durkan

Question:

107. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social Protection having regard to the variation in the costs of residential renting in the private sector at different locations throughout the country particularly the greater Dublin area, if she will again examine the inadequacy of the current maximum rent support available from her Department in north Kildare where the rent ceiling set by her Department is lower than some adjoining areas where the actual rent charged is lower; if her attention has been drawn to the distress caused to applicants on local authority housing waiting lists who are unable to access accommodation in the current market climate; if she will re-examine this situation as a matter of urgency; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11338/13]

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Mick Wallace

Question:

108. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will reverse cuts to the rent supplement and changes to the maximum rent payable in view of the fact that average rents increased nationally by 2.2% in 2012 according to the latest rental report by a company (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11389/13]

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Catherine Murphy

Question:

117. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will consider extending to the highly populated area of north Kildare the same provision for the highly populated portion of County Wicklow in which residents may avail of rent assistance at the Dublin rent limit level; if not, the reason for same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [10958/13]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 103, 106, 107, 108 and 117 together.

There are currently approximately 86,700 persons in receipt of rent supplement for which the Government has provided €403 million in 2013. The table shows the number of rent supplement recipients at end 2011 and 2012.

Revised rent limits are in place since January 2012 and are applicable to all new rent supplement tenancies from this date and existing tenancies on review. It is essential that State support for rents are kept under review and do not distort the market in a way that could increase rent prices for others, such as low paid workers and students. The central aim is to ensure availability of accommodation for rent supplement tenancies and not to provide access to all housing in all areas. Approximately 48,700 rent supplement claims were awarded during 2012, showing that accommodation can be secured within the new limits.

On-going analysis shows that for Dublin there are properties available within the maximum rent limits for rent supplement recipients. Over 32,500 persons in receipt of rent supplement reside in Dublin. Based on current analysis, there is accommodation available within the Fingal rent limits for both two and three bedroom properties. For the Kildare region, there are over 4,300 cases in receipt of rent supplement, with over 1,000 of these in the North Kildare area. The number of rental properties available in North Kildare is somewhat lower than the numbers available in the rest of the county and therefore impacts on the number of accommodation units available for rent supplement. Department officials dealing with rent supplement tenants will continue to ensure that their accommodation needs are met.

Traditionally, the Bray area was permitted the use of the County Dublin rent limits. It was noted during analysis for the June 2010 Rent Limit Review that Dublin limits for the Bray area had become a significant distorting influence for the local market. It was concluded that rents were out of line with the natural supply and demand points expected for the Bray area. The June 2010 Rent Limit Review broke the link between Bray and County Dublin maximum limits and accordingly it was decided that the Bray area was to be excluded with separate limits set for this area which are lower than the Dublin limits with the aim of returning the local rental market to a more natural price level.

The report referred to by the Deputy shows that rents have increased in Dublin, Cork and Galway cities with rental asking rates falling in other cities and rural areas. Officials in the Department continue to examine the impact of the rent limits on those who claim rent supplement. The next review of rent limits is being undertaken before June 2013 and any changes to the existing limits will be considered as part of this process. Discussions regarding the use of National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) properties for social housing is a matter for my colleague the Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government.

Number of rent supplement recipients

End 2011

96,803

End 2012

87,684

22/02/2013

86,706

Job Initiatives

Questions (104, 122)

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

104. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Social Protection her role in the development and roll out of Intreo in view of the fact that its key remit is to act as a one stop shop to tailor employment services for jobseekers and employers; if she put forward any proposals for the new Intreo service in terms of local employment initiatives and the matching of jobseekers with local employment opportunities; if she will confirm that local development bodies have established direct links with their local small and medium enterprises and large employers to match unemployed citizens and available jobs; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9039/13]

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Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

122. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for Social Protection the measures that have been taken to ensure that employers understand exactly the schemes that are open to them; and her plans to raise awareness of such schemes in view of the fact that a recent IBEC study showed extremely low awareness. [11386/13]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 104 and 122 together.

The Intreo service was formally launched in October 2012 and is being rolled out across the country in 2013 and 2014. Intreo is a single point of contact for all employment and income supports. It is designed to provide a more streamlined approach for jobseekers.

In parallel with the development of an integrated service for jobseekers, the Department is increasing its engagement with employers. A dedicated employer engagement Unit has been established and employer engagement teams are available in each local Division to support and advise employers at each stage of the employment process including the advertisement of job opportunities and sourcing potential candidates from the live register. These teams also assist the employer in accessing the full range of services and incentives, such as the Employer PRSI Job Incentive Scheme and Revenue Job Assist, available to them when they recruit from the live register. A dedicated employer call-centre is also operated from Edenderry in Offaly, the staff at this call-centre assist employers in using the Department’s online vacancy/recruitment service – jobsireland.ie. This is one of the most used recruitment websites in the country.

In addition, in order to increase employer awareness of the services and supports available to them, the Department hosted a series of seven employer road-shows attended by c 2,000 employer representatives in Limerick, Sligo, Galway, Athlone, Waterford, Cork and Dublin at the end of 2012. Partly as a consequence of feedback received at these events, the Department developed the new JobsPlus scheme to replace the PRSI Job Incentive and the Revenue Tax Assist schemes. This new scheme will be put into operation later this year. An Employer Information Pack has also been developed which provides information to employers on these supports and services and is available through the Department’s website www.welfare.ie so employers can have this information at their fingertips.

Unemployment Data

Questions Nos. 106 to 108, inclusive, answered with Question No. 103.

Question No. 109 answered with Question No. 94.

Questions (105)

Pádraig MacLochlainn

Question:

105. Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Minister for Social Protection the reason her Department no longer shows redundancy figures as detailed previously with statistical breakdown by industry, county and gender on its website. [11383/13]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

At present, my Department is not in a position to provide a breakdown of the redundancy statistics by county, sector or gender. Work on the reporting facility of the redundancy payments system is on-going and it is hoped that it will be possible to provide these types of data in the near future. Information on the overall number of redundancy applications received by the Department is available on the Department’s website www.welfare.ie.

Questions Nos. 106 to 108, inclusive, answered with Question No. 103.
Question No. 109 answered with Question No. 94.

Redundancy Payments

Questions (110)

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

110. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for Social Protection the reason a person must be in continuous employment for 104 weeks to qualify for a redundancy payment. [11384/13]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

The purpose of the redundancy payments scheme is to compensate workers, under the Redundancy Payments Acts, for the loss of their jobs by reason of redundancy. Under the scheme, an eligible employee is entitled to two weeks’ pay for every year of service, plus a bonus week, subject to a gross weekly salary ceiling of €600.

It is the employer’s responsibility to pay statutory redundancy payments in the first instance. Where an employer can prove to the satisfaction of the Department that it is unable to pay statutory redundancy to its eligible employees the Department will make lump sum payments directly to those employees. Such payments raise a debt against the employer which the Department will seek to recover. Lump sum payments made by the Department are from the Social Insurance Fund.

In order to be eligible for a statutory redundancy payment, an employee must: have at least two years continuous service; be in employment which is insurable under the Social Welfare Acts; be over the age of 16; and have been made redundant as a result of a genuine redundancy situation meaning that the job no longer exists and he/she is not replaced. These conditions are intended to ensure that an employee has had a reasonable attachment to employment before qualifying for a statutory redundancy payment.

Proposed Legislation

Questions (111)

Denis Naughten

Question:

111. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Social Protection her plans to amend the Civil Registration Act 2004; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [10956/13]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

Any broadening of the current provisions of the Civil Registration Act 2004 will require careful consideration. A number of proposed amendments to the Act are under consideration in my Department and in this regard it is hoped that legislation will be introduced in 2013.

Youth Enterprise Initiatives

Questions (112)

Catherine Murphy

Question:

112. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will develop a dedicated youth entrepreneur fund along the lines of the proposal submitted to her by a youth council (details supplied); if she has considered preparing a list of projects that could potentially be funded from the recent financial commitment by EU leaders to tackle youth unemployment whether as part of a wider scheme or not; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [10960/13]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

The proposal to which the Deputy refers is for a Youth Entrepreneurship Fund to be administered by Enterprise Ireland. Any decisions on this would be a matter for that agency and the Minister for Jobs Enterprise and Innovation. My Department supports entrepreneurship on the part of unemployed people, who have been on certain welfare payments for more than 12 months, through the Back to Work Enterprise allowance. Participants on BTWEA, who set up in self-employment, receive a standard weekly rate of payment, equivalent of the rate of their prior Social Welfare payment, for one year, reducing to 75% in year two. At the end of 2012, there were 10,810 people receiving support under BTWEA, of whom 312 were aged under 25 years.

The Youth Employment Initiative (which has been included in the Multi-annual Financial Framework for the EU agreed recently by the European Council) will provide €6 billion for youth employment measures across the 27 Member States over the seven-year period 2014-2020). EU-wide decisions still remain to be made on the allocation of funding from the Initiative across Member states, and on the range of measures that will be eligible for funding. Details of these decisions will emerge over the next few months.

Domiciliary Care Allowance Review

Questions (113)

Peadar Tóibín

Question:

113. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Social Protection the status of the review of the domiciliary care allowance; the number of refusals of DCA in each of the years since the payment was transferred from the Health Service Executive; if there has been an increase in refusals; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11376/13]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

The review of the domiciliary care allowance (DCA) scheme, which I requested in May 2012, was completed by the end of December 2012, on schedule. The report is with me and is currently receiving consideration and will be published in due course. It is estimated that expenditure on the DCA scheme in 2013 will be circa €101m with a further €37m on the associated Respite Care Grant. The number of beneficiaries of the scheme in each of the years since it transferred to the Department from the HSE is detailed in the following table.

Transfers from HSE

-

-

Following transfer from HSE September 2009

22,763 Customers

24,587 Children

September 2010

23,407 Customers

25,208 children

September 2011

23,932 Customers

25,758 Children

September 2012

24,610 Customers

26,416 Children

Details of the numbers of DCA applications allowed and refused in each of these years are detailed in the following table.

Domiciliary Care Allowance applications – April 2009 to Dec 2012

-

Applications received

Applications fully processed in year

Applications allowed incl. on review*

Applications disallowed

2009 (from 1st April)

3,389

2,823

1,220

1,603 (57%)

2010

5,457

5,333

2,576

2,757 (52%)

2011

5,525

5,396

2,502

2,894 (54%)

2012

4,339

4,680

1,579

3,101 (66%)

Total

18,710

18,232

7,877 (43%)

10,355 (57%)

(* Includes cases initially disallowed but allowed on review following receipt of additional information ).

Although the percentage of applications refused on initial application has averaged 57% over the last four years there has been a steady increase each year in the number of beneficiaries of the scheme.