Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Questions (118)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

118. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Social Protection her policy regarding the farm assist scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24110/14]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

Farm Assist is a means-tested income support scheme for farmers. To qualify for Farm Assist, a person must be a farmer, farming land in the State, aged between 18 and 66 and satisfy a means test. There were just over 10,300 recipients of farm assist at end December last and nearly €99.5 million was spent on the scheme in 2013. The farm assist scheme is based on jobseeker’s allowance and 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. Recent changes to the scheme have brought it into closer alignment with the jobseeker’s allowance scheme’s treatment of self-employed persons.

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.

The scheme, including the recent changes, is kept under ongoing review. Last year I met with representatives from the Irish Farmers Association to discuss a number of issues including the farm assist scheme.