Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Questions (306)

Michael McCarthy

Question:

306. Deputy Michael McCarthy asked the Minister for Social Protection if she has carried out an analysis on the impact of changes to the farm assist scheme; if she will consider reviewing the changes in view of the serious negative affect this has had on the income levels of already struggling farming families, the local economy and the agriculture sector as a whole; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15355/14]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

There were just over 10,300 recipients of farm assist at the end of December 2013 and nearly €99.5 million was spent on the scheme in 2013. The farm assist scheme is based on jobseeker's allowance. It was introduced in 1999 to replace 'Smallholders Unemployment Assistance' for low income farmers. Farm assist recipients retain all the advantages of the jobseeker's allowance scheme such as retention of secondary benefits and access to activation programmes.

The assessment of means for the purpose of qualifying for farm assist is designed to reflect the actual net income 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.

Changes under Budgets 2012 and 2013 have brought farm assist into closer alignment with the treatment of self-employed persons under jobseeker's allowance and the scheme is kept under ongoing review by my officials. It may be noted that the changes related to the assessment of means under the scheme – rates of farm assist have been maintained so there has been no change in the level of support being given to farm families with the lowest incomes.

My officials are in regular contact with the Irish Farmers Association with regard to issues arising in relation to the farm assist scheme. At present there are no plans to change the current scheme criteria.