Exceptional Needs Payment Appeals

Questions (150)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

150. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social Protection regarding the decision by the appeals officer in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare in respect of exceptional needs payment-dietary allowance, cognisance was taken of the fact that the person is an old age pensioner caring for their grandchild; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26527/13]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

The person concerned recently applied for a review of a decision by a designated person to refuse an exceptional needs payment. The review officer was aware of the family composition of the person concerned at the time of the review. The person concerned previously appealed to the Social Welfare Appeals Office a decision of a designated person to refuse a diet supplement. The means calculation for the diet supplement was based upon a percentage of the personal rate of income of the applicant. The family composition of the person concerned is not a factor in determining whether an entitlement to a diet supplement exists. The appeal was disallowed.

FÁS Local Training Initiatives Eligibility

Questions (151)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

151. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social Protection the extent to which suitable FÁS training or an upskilling course will be made available in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare through Kildare Employment Service; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26528/13]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

The person concerned was interviewed by her local employment services on 23 April 2013 at which time all her training options were explored. As part of her career planning, it was agreed that she needed to improve her information technology skills before pursuing further training. To this end, she was given an application form for a technical employment support grant. However, the form has not yet been returned. If the person concerned wishes to proceed, she should return the completed form to her local employment services office.

Child Benefit Eligibility

Questions (152)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

152. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social Protection the basis on which it was concluded that a person (details supplied) in County Kildare did not qualify for child benefit; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26529/13]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

The person concerned did not qualify for child benefit as under Social Welfare legislation she is not the qualified person for receipt of the payment. Section 159 (1) of S.I. 142/2007 provides that the person with whom a qualified child shall be regarded as normally residing shall be determined in accordance with specified Rules. Subject to Rule 2, a qualified child, who is resident with more than one of the following persons, his or her – Mother, Stepmother, Father Step-father - shall be regarded as normally residing with the person first so mentioned and with no other person.

Section 159 (4) of S.I. 142/2007 provides that a qualified child, who is resident elsewhere than with a parent or a step-parent and whose mother is alive, shall, where his or her mother is entitled to his or her custody whether solely or jointly with any other person, be regarded as normally residing with his or her mother and with no other person. While the mother retains custody of the children, it is not possible under Social Welfare legislation to award child benefit to any other person.

Departmental Budgets

Questions (153)

Seán Fleming

Question:

153. Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for Social Protection if she has received any indicative figure from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform regarding the fiscal adjustments her Department will be asked to make in 2014 and 2015; the size of those adjustments; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26554/13]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

In the context of the forthcoming Budget, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (D/PER) has asked my Department to identify savings which will feed into the expenditure decisions by Government for the Estimates 2014 and the setting of future Ministerial ceilings. The identification of savings options should ensure that a sufficient range of proposals are made by all Departments to help the Government make well-informed choices about spending priorities and allocations across Departments.

The Expenditure Report 2013, which was published by the D/PER last December, provides for additional new expenditure reduction measures of €440 million to be achieved in the Department of Social Protection budget in 2014. Government will be making decisions on the future ceilings as part of the forthcoming budgetary deliberations.

Carer's Allowance Appeals

Questions (154)

Pat Deering

Question:

154. Deputy Pat Deering asked the Minister for Social Protection when a person (details supplied) in County Carlow will receive a decision on their appeal for carer's allowance. [26564/13]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

The Social Welfare Appeals Office has advised me that an appeal by the person concerned was registered in that office on 20 February 2013. It is a statutory requirement of the appeals process that the relevant Departmental papers and comments by or on behalf of the Deciding Officer on the grounds of appeal be sought. These papers were received in the Social Welfare Appeals Office on 22 April 2013 and the case will be referred to an Appeals Officer who will make a summary decision on the appeal based on the documentary evidence presented or, if required, hold an oral hearing.

The Social Welfare Appeals Office functions independently of the Minister for Social Protection and of the Department and is responsible for determining appeals against decisions on social welfare entitlements.

Defined Benefit Pension Schemes

Questions (155, 156, 157, 158)

Róisín Shortall

Question:

155. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Social Protection her plans regarding providing legislation to meet the growing issues of the insecurity of many defined benefit schemes; the vulnerability of benefits accruing to members of such schemes; the vulnerability of such schemes to irresponsible employers; if she will provide a timeline for this legislation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26565/13]

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Róisín Shortall

Question:

156. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will provide the latest information provided to her on the number of pension schemes that currently fail the funding standard; the extent to which they fail; and the way these figures compare with each of the past six years. [26568/13]

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Róisín Shortall

Question:

157. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Social Protection the action she is taking to ensure that the minimum funding standard in respect of defined benefit pensions is adequately enforced. [26569/13]

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Róisín Shortall

Question:

158. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Social Protection her views on the possibility of applying any shortfall from the minimum funding standard in respect of a defined benefit pension scheme as a corporate debt on the company concerned. [26570/13]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 155 to 158, inclusive, together.

The persistent funding difficulties of defined benefit schemes are well recognised. Employers, unions and trustees have been making strenuous efforts to protect the viability and many measures have been introduced to support these efforts. Between 1980 and 1999, the defined benefit pension environment was healthy with average pension schemes managing fund returns of the order of 20% per annum. Until 2000, few schemes had any difficulty meeting the Funding Standard. DB pension schemes have suffered a series of shocks over the last number of years. At the end of 2007, 80% of defined benefit pension schemes satisfied the Funding Standard. At the end of 2008, following the downturn in financial markets, the situation was reversed with in excess of 80% of schemes failing to meet the Funding Standard at the end of 2008. The Funding Standard was suspended at that time in order to give the trustees and sponsoring employers adequate time to assess their schemes and consider a response to improve the funding position.

The reintroduction of the Funding Standard was delayed on a number of occasions pending changes to legislation which were designed to help trustees respond to the funding challenges facing pension schemes and protect scheme members. These changes were carried out in the context of the publication of the Green Paper on Pensions in 2007, the downturn in financial markets in 2008, and the review of the defined benefit pension model in 20010/2011:

- Significant legislative changes in the Social Welfare and Pensions Act in 2009 allowed for the restructuring of underfunded schemes by removing the priority given to post-retirement increases for pensioners to ensure a more equitable distribution of assets in the event of the wind-up of a DB scheme;

- The powers of the Pensions Board were strengthened to ensure that pension contributions are remitted by employers to scheme trustees;

- The Pensions Insolvency Payments Scheme was established to reduce the cost of purchasing pensions for trustees where the employer has become insolvent;

- Legislation was introduced in 2010 and 2011 to provide the option of a sovereign annuity for trustees;

- Changes to the defined benefit model and the Funding Standard were introduced in the Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2012. The re-introduction of the Funding Standard followed;

- Legislation is being brought in the current Social Welfare and Pensions Bill to strengthen the powers of the Pensions Board.

The primary change to the Funding Standard in 2012 was the introduction of a requirement for a risk reserve to assist the longer term stability of defined benefit schemes. This was introduced to provide a "buffer" against volatility in the financial markets and provide some level of protection for scheme members. The risk reserve has an in-built mechanism to incentivise trustees to better match their assets with the scheme's liabilities in their investment strategies and guidance was issued in this regard. In view of the current funding status of defined benefit schemes, an extended time period was given for the introduction of the risk reserve: it will be operable from 2016 and schemes do not have to meet the reserve until 2023.

Trustees of defined benefit schemes are expected to submit funding proposals to the Pensions Board at the end of June 2013. At present, it is considered that 80% of schemes are underfunded. It is the responsibility of the Pensions Board to ensure that the minimum funding standard is enforced and I will be receiving regular updates from the Board on the timeliness of submissions. Following receipt of proposals, it will be possible to get a more accurate indication of the level of under-funding in defined benefit pension schemes. It will also allow for the impact of the many measures already introduced by Government to be assessed, including the potential benefits to schemes of the use of sovereign annuities/bonds. Compliance with the regulatory structure is essential for the future sustainability of defined benefit schemes and to protect members' benefits.

This requires consideration of a number of policy options, including corporate debt. The Review of the Irish Pension System which was published by the OECD in April this year which described the Funding Standard (including the recent changes) as "undemanding" will also inform further developments in this area. I am keeping the situation under review and will report back to Government in the coming months on these issues. A wider package of legislative proposals and additional reforms will be considered at that stage.

Domiciliary Care Allowance Appeals

Questions (159)

Michael McGrath

Question:

159. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Social Protection the position regarding a domiciliary care allowance appeal in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Cork. [26571/13]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

An application for domiciliary care allowance was received from the person concerned on the 14th November 2012. This application was referred to one of the Department's Medical Assessors who found that the child was not medically eligible for the allowance. A letter issued on the 10th January 2013 advising of the decision. The person concerned subsequently lodged an appeal against this decision. As part of the appeal process, the case was reviewed by a second Medical Assessor on the 16th May 2013 who confirmed the opinion that the child was not medically eligible for the allowance. The file was forwarded to the Social Welfare Appeals Office on the 28th May 2013 to have the appeal processed.

Turf Cutting Compensation Scheme

Questions (160)

Denis Naughten

Question:

160. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the consultation, if any, he has had with turf cutters or their representatives regarding the contract issued to them earlier this month; if he will confirm the identity of the third party who drafted the accompanying explanatory document; if he will redraft controversial aspects of the contract including the provision to revise the commitment to relocation post-2016; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26455/13]

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Written answers (Question to Arts)

Under the cessation of turf cutting compensation scheme, three types of legal agreements have been issued and are being issued by my Department. The first is a legal agreement for qualifying turf cutters who are signing up to the annual payment of €1,500, index-linked, for 15 years. The second is a relocation interim legal agreement for qualifying turf cutters who have expressed an interest in relocation but no relocation site is currently available for them to relocate to. This relocation interim legal agreement provides for the payment of €1,500, index-linked, or a supply of 15 tonnes of cut turf per annum while these applicants are awaiting relocation to non-designated bogs. The third is a relocation final legal agreement. This agreement has been issued to qualifying turf cutters where a site has been assessed as suitable for relocation and is ready or can be made ready for use for domestic turf cutting.

Turf cutters who sign and return the applicable legal agreement to my Department will also receive a once-off incentive payment of €500. The legal agreements are modelled on those which have been agreed with groups of turf cutters from Clara Bog in County Offaly, and from Carrownagappul Bog and Curraghlehanagh Bog in County Galway. The explanatory document which accompanies the legal agreements was drafted by officials of my Department. The interim legal agreement is required in the case of relocation sites because, for the majority of raised bog special areas of conservation, the relocation site and the terms and conditions applicable to those sites will take time to finalise. Turf cutters are being asked to sign the interim agreement on the understanding that when a relocation site is sourced, assessed and agreed they will be asked to sign a final legal agreement at that time. If it is not possible to find a suitable relocation site, for example, for reasons of quality or quantity of turf, planning requirements, or issues in relation to the purchase or lease of a site, then the Department will consult with turf cutters as to the best option to take at that time.

For the avoidance of all doubt, it is the absolute aim of my Department to secure a relocation site for every person who has applied for one. That is what my officials are working to achieve, and progress is being made in that task. However, I feel it is important to be upfront with turf cutters and be clear that relocation is a complex process that does take some time to deliver. The agreements being issued reflect this reality. The interim agreement is designed to give all stakeholders the time to deliver relocation options that work for turf cutters. The clear directions that I have given my officials is to examine all relocation options with a view to securing alternative cutting locations for as many turf cutters within the shortest timeframe.