Thursday, 2 May 2013

Questions (124)

Denis Naughten

Question:

124. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will outline the instruction circular, if any which has been issued by her Department to officials dealing with reviews/applications under the farm assist scheme in view of the impact of the current fodder crisis; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [21003/13]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

The farm assist scheme is based on jobseeker’s allowance. It was introduced in 1999 to replace ‘Smallholders Unemployment Assistance’ for low income farmers, without the requirement to be available for and genuinely seeking work. Farm assist recipients retain all the advantages of the jobseeker’s allowance scheme such as retention of secondary benefits and access to activation programmes. Budget changes over the last two years have brought the more beneficial treatment of farm assist claimants relevant to the treatment of other self-employed persons who would be claiming jobseeker’s allowance to an end. This ensures greater consistency in the treatment of self-employed person in both farm assist and jobseeker’s allowance. The headline rates of farm assist are being maintained so farm families with the lowest income will be least affected by these changes. Farm assist remains a flexible payment and any farmer experiencing lower levels of income or cash-flow issues, due for example to bad weather, can ask his local social welfare office to review the level of means applying to his claim. In this context no circular has issued in relation to current reviews or applications.

It may also be noted that the assessment of means for the purpose of qualifying for farm assist is designed to reflect the actual net income. It also looks at gross income, less any expenses necessarily incurred, from farming. Income and expenditure figures for the preceding year are generally used as an indicator of the expected position in the following year. However, account is taken of any exceptional circumstances so as to ensure that the assessment accurately reflects the current situation.