Questions Nos. 1 to 21, inclusive, answered orally.

Questions Nos. 22 to 80, inclusive, resubmitted.

Questions Nos. 81 to 88, inclusive, answered orally.

Rent Supplement Scheme Payments

Questions (89, 92, 96, 98, 99, 114)

Clare Daly

Question:

89. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Social Protection the arrangements in place to enable persons who are in danger of homelessness to access increased levels of rent supplement. [24228/14]

View answer

Maureen O'Sullivan

Question:

92. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Social Protection in view of the fact that persons on rent allowance are finding it very difficult to find accommodation to suit the caps on rent allowance and where a family might be expected to move from their local community, the reason she will not consider implementing caps on the amount the landlord is allowed to charge for the rental property; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24125/14]

View answer

Joan Collins

Question:

96. Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Social Protection her plans to deal with the increases in rent prices in urban areas as they relate to persons on rent allowance. [24199/14]

View answer

Mick Wallace

Question:

98. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will consider the immediate revision of the current rent limits under the rent supplement scheme in order to alleviate the pressure on many families; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24230/14]

View answer

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

99. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Social Protection further to Parliamentary Question No. 425 of 27 May 2014, the timeframe by which she expects its new housing interagency intervention system to be fully operational; the number of rent supplement recipients that it is anticipated will be assisted via the new system; if that assistance will include higher rent supplement payments; the number of persons who have applied for a supplement under the existing discretionary powers of Department officials; and the number who have been awarded such a supplement. [24118/14]

View answer

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

114. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Social Protection if community welfare officers have discretion to raise the rent caps for those searching for accommodation in order to allow them to find housing in the area in which they are based; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24232/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 89, 92, 96, 98, 99 and 114 together.

The Government has provided over €344 million for the rent supplement scheme in 2014, the purpose of which is to provide short-term income support to assist with reasonable accommodation costs of eligible people living in private rented accommodation who are unable to provide for their accommodation costs from their own resources. There are currently approximately 76,000 rent supplement recipients, of which over 50,000 have been in payment for more than 18 months. A review of the maximum rent limits has commenced within the Department and will be considered as part of the budgetary process. The most recent review was completed in June 2013 with revised rent limits introduced on 17 June 2013. Despite pressures on the social protection budget, the last review saw rent limits increase in line with market rents in some areas, including Dublin and Galway, with Dublin limits increasing by a weighted average of 9%.

All prospective tenants, including those seeking to access rent supplement, particularly in urban areas, are now finding it increasingly difficult to secure appropriate accommodation due to the reduced availability of rental properties. Policy in relation to implementing rent controls on the amounts landlords can charge is a matter for my colleague in the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government.

I can assure Deputies that Department officials have considerable experience in dealing with customers of the scheme and will continue to make every effort to ensure that their accommodation needs are met. Staff in the Department’s Community Welfare Service have discretionary powers to award a supplement for rental purposes in exceptional cases where it appears that the circumstances of the case so warrant, for example, when dealing with applicants who are homeless or who are at risk of losing their tenancy. Such cases are examined on a case by case basis having regard to the situation presented. Statistics are not maintained on the number of applications seeking payments over the maximum limits or their outcome.

In view of the current supply difficulties, the Dublin Region Homeless Executive in conjunction with Dublin local authorities and voluntary organisations have agreed with the Department a protocol so that families at risk of losing existing private rented accommodation can have more timely and appropriate interventions made on their behalf. Cases will be assessed on an individual basis having regard to the individual circumstances and families requiring additional support will receive the necessary assistance from the Department, including financial support as necessary. The necessary operational arrangements are currently being put in place and it is expected that the initiative will be launched on 16 June 2014. The number of families that will require assistance under this arrangement is not known at present but will be monitored following its rollout.

Officials in the Department are continuing to engage with those in the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, in progressing the transfer of customers with long term housing needs from this Department to the local authorities under the new Housing Assistance Payment (HAP).

Departmental Schemes

Questions (90)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

90. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social Protection the extent to which the various employment incentive schemes have so far impacted on the numbers of people on the live register in respect of both long-term and youth unemployment; if she will identify the total numbers so far accommodated through such incentives; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24227/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

Since the lowest point of the jobs crisis, the unemployment rate has fallen from a peak of over 15% to 11.8% at present. The long-term unemployment rate has fallen from 9.5% to 7.3%. The number of long-term unemployed has fallen from 204,000 in early 2012 to 156,000 at present. In terms of the Live Register, a target was set that 75,000 of those who were long-term on the Register at the beginning of 2012 would move into employment by the end of 2015; the number who have already done so is now over 46,000 and we are well on track to beating our target –a target that was considered by many to be overly ambitious. The youth unemployment rate has fallen from a peak of 33% to 25% at present, and the number of unemployed young people has fallen from 64,000 early 2012 to 47,500 now.

The Department operates four main schemes whose purpose is to provide a pathway to employment.

JobsPlus is targeted specifically at encouraging employers to recruit people who are long-term unemployed. Over 2,300 long-term unemployed people have been placed in employment as a result of JobsPlus and over 60% of these have been unemployed for 2 years or more.

Community Employment and Tús provide work experience opportunities for long term unemployed jobseekers mainly within the community and voluntary sector. The numbers of participants on Community Employment and Tús as of April 2014 were 23,000 and 7,400 respectively up from 21,200 and 4,800 in April 2013.

The JobBridge scheme provides a stepping stone for unemployed people to employment in the wider economy. As of the end of April there were over 6,700 participants on the Scheme, up 12% from 6,000 in April 2013. To date nearly 30,000 people have participated in the scheme. Evaluation results indicate that 61% of leavers from JobBridge find employment within 5 months of leaving their internship.

With specific reference to youth unemployment, the main strategy of the Government to reduce youth unemployment is the Youth Guarantee. Approximately 5,000 places had been taken up on schemes covered by the Youth Guarantee in the first four months of this year.

The impact of the employment incentives outlined cannot be precisely separated from the impact of other factors affecting the decline in youth and long-term unemployment (such as the general improvement in the economy and the labour market resulting from the government’s overall economic and employment policies). However, I am satisfied that they have played an important part in recent progress in reducing unemployment levels.

Work Placement Programmes

Question No. 92 answered with Question No. 89.

Questions (91)

Willie O'Dea

Question:

91. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Social Protection the number of persons that have been put on the Gateway initiative; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24105/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

As the Deputy is aware, Gateway is a work placement initiative delivered by county, county and city, and city councils. While over 2,500 positions have been identified for Gateway by councils so far, progress on recruitment has been slower than anticipated. By week ending 13th June, a total of 270 jobseekers will be actively working on Gateway across 16 councils. For the Deputy’s information, these include the Limerick Council, which has been one of the leaders in providing opportunities in this regard. An additional 469 jobseekers are currently awaiting the completion of contracts to commence work. The councils have been tasked with starting this cohort within the next few weeks. I expect placements to accelerate thereafter, with the aim of the councils employing 3,000 jobseekers by the end of the year. Responsibility for the recruitment of jobseekers and identifying work opportunities rests with individual councils. Similar to Tús, participants are selected by the Department from those persons in receipt of a jobseekers allowance payment for 24 months or more. Jobseekers are informed when they have been selected and, once they agree to participate, their contact details are passed to the relevant council for recruitment.

To further support the recruitment process, the Department has recently put arrangements in place for jobseekers meeting the criteria to apply to the Department or councils for participation on Gateway and for Departmental case officers to nominate suitable candidates for recruitment. The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government has also sanctioned 150 acting-up allowances for existing local authority staff to support the supervision of Gateway. Additionally, that Department has provided €2 million to offset the costs of health and safety, training for specified tasks and personal protective equipment.

I believe that there are considerable personal and wider social benefits to jobseekers from engaging in worthwhile work in their community. Gateway is modelled on successful schemes such as community employment, Tús and the rural social scheme with the same level of pay and similar conditions of employment.

The ambition of the Government is that Gateway will build on these positive initiatives using the quality working environment, resources and opportunities available to county and city councils enabling the long-term unemployed to make a positive contribution to their communities whilst up-skilling themselves for future prospective employment.

Question No. 92 answered with Question No. 89.

Data Protection

Questions (93, 95)

Willie O'Dea

Question:

93. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Social Protection the data protection safeguards present in her Department; if she plans to improve these safeguards; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24106/14]

View answer

Thomas Pringle

Question:

95. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Social Protection her plans to ensure that her Department sufficiently protects the personal data of citizens; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24233/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 93 and 95 together.

As one of the largest data controllers in the State, the Department is committed to protecting the rights and privacy of individuals in accordance with the Data Protection Acts 1988 and 2003 and takes its responsibilities in relation to data protection very seriously.

Every effort is made to ensure that personal customer data is used solely for business purposes and that it is not compromised in any way. Records of data accesses are kept and are subject to audit. In the rare instance where reports of illegal sharing of information with third parties by a member of staff have been substantiated, sanctions up to and including dismissal have been applied.

The Department assists An Garda Siochana and/or the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner in their investigations and puts substantial resources in place to deal with these.

The Department has an extensive suite of data protection and information security policies, standards, procedures and guidelines in place governing the use of its computer systems and customer data. Staff members are regularly reminded of their obligations under data protection and information security policies and of the penalties applicable in respect of any breach of these policies. All staff members, every year, must sign undertakings to read and act in accordance with data protection policies and guidelines, which are kept under constant review and are updated as appropriate. Data protection obligations are also covered on training programmes for new and existing staff members.

Social Welfare Benefits Eligibility

Question No. 95 answered with Question No. 93.

Question No. 96 answered with Question No. 89.

Questions (94, 121, 350)

Charlie McConalogue

Question:

94. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Social Protection her plans to enhance social welfare supports available for those persons who were self-employed and now find themselves unemployed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24235/14]

View answer

Patrick O'Donovan

Question:

121. Deputy Patrick O'Donovan asked the Minister for Social Protection when we can expect to see reform of the management of social insurance to allow self-employed persons access to social welfare during periods when they cannot access work; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24115/14]

View answer

Bernard Durkan

Question:

350. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social Protection the extent to which the self-employed can qualify for various social welfare supports in the future; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24748/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 94, 121 and 350 together.

Self-employed persons are liable for PRSI at the class S rate of 4% which entitles them to access long-term benefits such as State pension (contributory) and widow's, widower's or surviving civil partner's pension (contributory). Ordinary employees who have access to the full range of social insurance benefits pay class A PRSI at the rate of 4%. In addition, their employers make a PRSI contribution of 10.75% in respect of their employees, resulting in the payment of a combined 14.75% rate per employee under full-rate PRSI class A. (For employees earning less than €356 per week, the rate of employer’s PRSI is 8.5%).

Self-employed workers may access social welfare supports by establishing eligibility to assistance-based payments such as jobseeker’s allowance and disability allowance. In the case of jobseeker’s allowance they can apply for the means-tested jobseeker’s allowance if their business ceases or if they are on low income as a result of a downturn in demand for their services. In assessing means from self-employment, income from the previous twelve months is used as an indicator of likely future earnings. Given the variety of self-employment situations, the means assessment procedures are applied in a flexible manner to ensure that any circumstances that would be likely to lead to a significant variation, either upward or downward, in the level of a person’s income from one year to the next are taken into consideration. It is recognised that the downturn in the economy had an impact on many self-employed persons and the consequent reduction in their income and activity levels. This may be reflected in any assessment of their means from self-employment for jobseeker’s allowance purposes. As in the case of a non-self-employed claimant for jobseeker’s allowance or disability allowance, the means of husband/wife, civil partner or co-habitant will be taken into account in deciding on entitlement to a payment.

In September 2013, I published the report of the Advisory Group on Tax and Social Welfare on Extending Social Insurance Coverage for the self-employed. The Group was asked to examine and report on issues involved in extending social insurance coverage for self-employed people in order to establish whether or not such cover is technically feasible and financially sustainable, with the requirement that any proposals for change must be cost neutral.

The Group found that the current system of means tested jobseeker’s allowance payments adequately provides cover to self-employed people for the risks associated with unemployment. In this context, the Group noted that almost 9 out of every 10 self-employed people who claimed the means tested jobseeker’s allowance during the three-year period from 2009 to 2011 received payment. Consequently, the Group was not convinced that there was a need for the extension of social insurance for the self-employed to provide cover for jobseeker’s benefit.

The Group found that extending social insurance for the self-employed was warranted in cases related to long term sickness or injuries. To this end, the Group recommended that class S benefits should be extended to provide cover for people who are permanently incapable of work, because of a long-term illness or incapacity, through the invalidity pension and the partial capacity benefit schemes. The Group further recommended that the extension of social insurance in this regard should be on a compulsory basis and that the rate of contribution for class S should be increased by at least 1.5 percentage points.

This recommendation will require further consideration in conjunction with the findings of the most recent Actuarial Review of the Social Insurance Fund which indicated that the self-employed achieve better value for money compared to the employed when the comparison includes both employer and employee contributions in respect of the employed person.

My colleagues in Government and I will reflect on the findings of the Advisory Group on this issue and will further consider the recommendations contained in the report taking into account future developments in terms of the budgetary and fiscal situation.

Question No. 95 answered with Question No. 93.
Question No. 96 answered with Question No. 89.

Community Employment Schemes Places

Questions Nos. 98 and 99 answered with Question No. 89.

Questions (97)

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

97. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will provide additional community employment places to a community organisation (details supplied) in Dublin 17 regarding a proposed environmental project due to the strong renewed case made by the organisation for these places. [24198/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

The organisation in question recently submitted an application for additional places on the Community Employment project. The main objective of CE is to enable long-term unemployed people to re-enter the labour market through the provision of training and work experience on a fixed-term basis. While, the application submitted details the benefits for the local community, it gives no information in relation to training and development of participants or how it will improve their prospects of gaining employment. In the circumstances, it is not proposed to sanction the additional CE numbers requested by the organisation. However, the Department will consider how the proposal might be supported under one of its other employment schemes such as Gateway or Tús. Officials will be in contact with the organisation in this regard in the coming weeks.

Questions Nos. 98 and 99 answered with Question No. 89.

Ombudsman's Reports

Questions (100)

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

100. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Social Protection if her attention has been drawn to the fact that 491 complaints were made to the Ombudsman about her Department last year; and the steps she will take to prevent the reoccurrence of failings identified by the Ombudsman. [24117/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

I welcome the publication of the Ombudsman’s 2013 annual report. The Department will examine its contents in detail with a view to ensuring issues of concern are addressed.The 491 complaints relating to the Department of Social Protection, represents a continuing drop over the last number of years in complaints to the Ombudsman regarding the Department’s decisions, as follows:

2013 – 491

2012 – 624

2011 – 1135

These numbers must be seen in the context of the scale of the Department’s business i.e. some 2.1 million claims were processed in 2013 in addition to 1.1 million claim reviews. It is considered the overall statistics are a positive indication of service. For example Supplementary Welfare Allowance complaints are down to 51 in 2013 compared to 335 in 2011. When the outcomes of complaints to the Ombudsman are examined, over half or 55% of DSP complaints were not upheld, compared to 51% in 2012. It is important to emphasise that staff in this Department are very conscious of their obligations to claimants and every effort is made to ensure people receive the entitlements due to them.

Employment Rights

Questions (101, 298, 309)

Peadar Tóibín

Question:

101. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will extend the definition of insolvency under the Protection of Employees (Employers' Insolvency) Act 1984, section 4(2) to provide for a situation of informal insolvency to enable employees access the insolvency payment scheme where an employer fails to wind up a company as has happened in the case of a company (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23801/14]

View answer

Michael Healy-Rae

Question:

298. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Social Protection her views on correspondence (details supplied) regarding the closure of a company; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24685/14]

View answer

Mick Wallace

Question:

309. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Social Protection her plans to address the legal loophole regarding the definition of insolvency in the Protection of Employees (Employers' Insolvency) Acts 1984 to 2006 which has resulted in workers in several companies being left without wages when employers cease trading but do not go into liquidation, receivership or wind up the company; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23800/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 101, 298 and 309 together.

The purpose of the insolvency payments scheme, which operates under the Protection of Employees (Employers’ Insolvency) Act, 1984, which, in turn, derives from EU Council Directive 987/80, is to protect certain outstanding pay-related entitlements due to employees in the event of the insolvency of their employer. These entitlements include wages, holiday pay, sick pay, payment in lieu of minimum notice due under the Minimum Notice & Terms of Employment Acts, 1973-2001, and certain pension contributions. Various other statutory awards made by the Employment Appeals Tribunal, Rights Commissioners, etc., are also covered by the scheme.

Where a person’s former employer was a limited company, the company must be in liquidation or receivership in order for the person to be eligible to claim under the insolvency payments scheme. In such circumstances, the liquidator or receiver becomes the relevant officer for submitting claims as he or she has access to the company records and can certify that the amounts claimed are in order.

I am aware that there are cases where companies have ceased trading without engaging in a formal winding-up process and that in some such cases those employers owe monies to their employees. Such employees are not eligible for payments under the insolvency payments scheme. My Department is reviewing the position to establish what, if anything, can be done to progress payments to individuals in these situations.

I want to assure the deputy that officials from my Department have been in contact with representatives of the former employees of the company to which Deputy Tóibín refers and they are actively engaging with the workers in order to process exceptional needs payments and any other relevant applications as quickly as possible.

School Meals Programme

Questions (102, 103)

Clare Daly

Question:

102. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will increase the funding for the school meals programme. [24113/14]

View answer

Mick Wallace

Question:

103. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Social Protection her plans to increase funding for the school meals programme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24229/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 102 and 103 together.

The school meals programme provides funding towards the provision of food services benefitting over 205,000 disadvantaged children. Despite overall pressures on social welfare funding, Budget 2013 provided an additional €2 million for the programme, increasing the total allocation from €35 to €37 million. This increased allocation was used to extend the programme to approximately 100 additional DEIS schools in the 2013/2014 academic year, bringing the total number of schools/organisations in the scheme to approximately 1,200. Any further changes to the funding for the school meals programme could only be considered in a budgetary context.