Invalidity Pension Appeals

Questions (294)

Michael Healy-Rae

Question:

294. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if a decision on an application for an invalidity pension by a person (details supplied) will be overturned; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4941/18]

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Written answers (Question to Employment)

The Government is committed to encouraging self-employment and entrepreneurship and this includes improving the level of PRSI based benefits available to self-employed people while ensuring the sustainability of the social insurance fund.

Self-employed contributors have been eligible for the invalidity pension from December 2017. For the first time, this has given the self-employed access to the safety net of State income supports if they become permanently incapable of work as a result of an illness or disability without having to go through a means test. When deciding to extend access to this benefit to the self-employed, Government wanted to ensure that it was on a similar basis to that of those in employment. This is a real advance in the level of cover available to the self-employed.

Invalidity pension (IP) is a payment for people who are permanently incapable of work because of illness or incapacity and who satisfy the pay related social insurance (PRSI) contribution conditions. To qualify for IP a claimant must, inter alia, have at least 260 (5 years) paid PRSI contributions since entering social insurance and 48 contributions paid or credited in the last or second last complete contribution year before the date of their claim. Only PRSI classes A, E, H or S contributions are reckonable for IP purposes. Class S contributions are those paid by self-employed people.

Voluntary contributions paid by formerly self-employed people are not reckonable for IP; they are reckonable for State Pension Contributory, Guardian’s Contributory Payment and Widow’s, Widower’s and Surviving Civil Partner’s Contributory Pension.

A person who applied for Invalidity Pension in 2017 must have the required 260 paid PRSI contributions and also have 48 paid or credited class A, E, H, or S contributions in either 2015 or 2016 to meet the contribution conditions of the scheme. This is a legislative requirement and contributions outside of the reference period cannot be assessed for the purposes of establishing the required 48 paid or credited contributions.

The Department received a claim for IP for the gentleman concerned on the 29 December 2017. He was refused IP on the grounds that the contribution conditions for the scheme are not satisfied. Specifically, he does not have any qualifying contributions paid or credited in the reckonable years 2015 & 2016. He was notified on the 12 January 2018 of this decision, the reason for it and of his right of review and appeal.

On foot of your representation a review of the decision of 12 January 2018 has been completed and it has been decided that there is no change to the original decision. The gentleman concerned was notified on 29 January 2018 of the outcome of the review and of his right to appeal the decision to the independent Social Welfare Appeals Office within 21 days.

In line with the original objective of this measure, any proposed changes to the current scheme conditions would have to be considered for other social insurance contributors including employed contributors. Therefore, any changes on the lines proposed would be expected to have significant financial implications and any decision to improve these provisions would be a matter for Government to consider in the context of the Budget.

I hope this clarifies the issue for the Deputy.

Invalidity Pension Applications

Questions (295)

Willie O'Dea

Question:

295. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection when a decision will be made on an application for an invalidity pension by a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4942/18]

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Written answers (Question to Employment)

The lady referred to has been awarded invalidity pension with effect from the 19 October 2017. Payment will issue to her nominated post office on the 15 February 2018. Any arrears due from 19 October 2017 to 14 February 2018 (less any overlapping social welfare payment) will issue in due course. The lady in question was notified of this decision on the 29 January 2018.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

State Pension (Contributory) Eligibility

Questions (296)

Willie Penrose

Question:

296. Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection to outline the reason a person (details supplied) has only received €214 in State contributory pension from 17 May 2017; if this can be reviewed in the context of the person's contribution record and in particular in the context of the proposals to deal with the pension anomalies which have arisen particularly for persons that had a break in contributions; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4946/18]

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Written answers (Question to Employment)

The person concerned is in receipt of a reduced rate state pension (contributory) at 90% of the maximum rate with effect from their 66th birthday, based on an assessed yearly average of 39 contributions, covering their working life from 1974 to 2016 inclusive. According to the records of my Department, the person has a social insurance record of 1,688 reckonable contributions and credits during that period. The person concerned is in receipt of the correct rate of contributory pension based on this social insurance record. The person was notified in writing of their pension award on 31 January 2017. Attached to that letter was a copy of their contribution record, as held by my Department and upon which their entitlement was calculated. If the person concerned considers they have additional unrecorded contributions or credits, it is open to them to forward relevant documentary evidence and my Department will review their entitlement.

In addition to the person’s Irish record, they have 522 recorded UK contributions for the tax years 1971/72 to 1972/73 and 1975/76 to 1983/84 inclusive. The person’s entitlement to a state pension (contributory) EU pro rata has also been examined. As the person’s entitlement to this pension is at a lower rate, the person concerned is financially better off on their existing (standard) state pension (contributory) and has been notified of this decision in writing on 21 August 2017.

The person concerned appealed the decision and a letter of clarification about the decision was issued to them on 26 September 2017. If the person is not satisfied with the clarification they have received, they should contact the Social Welfare Appeals Office.

Last week the Government announced proposals that pensioners who qualified for state pension (contributory) since September 2012, and whose rate of entitlement was impacted by the 2012 rate band changes, may apply for a review to have their entitlement considered under a new Total Contribution Approach (TCA). It will take some time to draft and pass the necessary legislation, and then develop the systems and procedures necessary to administer the new pension entitlement option. It is not necessary for any individuals to contact the Department at this juncture as the Department will contact them once the legislation, processes and systems have been developed. Therefore, it is expected that these pensioners will start receiving invitations from my Department in Q4 2018 to apply for a review under the new pension eligibility arrangements and to notify any periods spent caring for which HomeCaring credits may be due. Review applicants will be notified of the outcome of their review and the higher rate of entitlement, where applicable, will be paid to them. Where an increase is awarded, it will be backdated to 30 March 2018.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Departmental Staff

Questions (297)

Willie Penrose

Question:

297. Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection to outline the status of the social welfare local office (details supplied) at Castlepollard, County Westmeath; if a person has indicated a desire to continue in a position for at least two years or more; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4958/18]

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Written answers (Question to Employment)

The Department currently has 58 Social Welfare Branch Offices at various locations throughout the country. Each Branch Office is operated and managed, under a contract for services, by a Branch Manager who is required to act as an agent for the Department in the area served by the office. Branch Office managers operate on a contract for service and are independent contractors.

The contract for the delivery of contracted Branch Office services in Castlepollard is due to expire on the 9th of February 2018, and the Department is considering options for the delivery of services in this area.

Commercial Rates

Questions (298)

Willie Penrose

Question:

298. Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to outline his plans to implement a more equitable rates system which takes cognisance of the effective turnover of rural businesses, their locations and their ability to pay in view of the fact that if no alterations are made to the review system a significant amount of these businesses will close (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4947/18]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

Local authorities are under a statutory obligation to levy rates on any property used for commercial purposes in accordance with the details entered in the valuation lists prepared by the independent Commissioner of Valuation under the Valuation Acts 2001 to 2015. The Commissioner of Valuation is independent in the performance of his functions under the Acts and the making of valuations for rating is his sole responsibility. The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government has no function in decisions made in this regard. The levying and collection of rates are matters for each individual local authority.

The Commissioner for Valuation has responsibility for valuation matters, including the revaluation of properties. The Valuation Acts provide for the revaluation of all rateable property within a rating authority area so as to reflect changes in value due to economic factors such as business turnover, differential movements in property values or other external factors and changes in the local business environment. This is a welcome and positive development which is long overdue and on which considerable progress has been made in recent years. Having a modern valuation base is very important for the levying of commercial rates on a fair and equitable basis across all economic sectors.

The general outcome of the revaluations conducted to date by the Valuation Office has been that about 60% of ratepayers have had their liability for rates reduced following a revaluation and about 40% have had an increase, a pattern which is expected to be replicated elsewhere as the revaluation programme advances.

Commercial rates form an important element of the funding of all local authorities. The principle of local authorities levying rates based on an independent valuation is well established and I have no plans to change this. However, the legislative basis for the levying of rates is spread over a number of enactments, some dating back to the 19th century. My Department has developed legislative proposals to modernise and consolidate the legislation governing commercial rates. In this regard, the Government last year approved the drafting of a Rates Bill. The General Scheme of the Bill is currently with the Attorney General’s office for drafting, with a view to its introduction as soon as possible.

Approved Housing Bodies

Questions (299)

Barry Cowen

Question:

299. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to outline the steps he will take in view of EUROSTAT CSO changes to the Government balance sheet status of approved housing bodies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4832/18]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

In December 2017, the Central Statistics Office (CSO) made a decision on their review of the classification of Approved Housing Bodies (AHBs) for Government accounting purposes. They found that 14 of the 16 largest AHBs should be re-classified as falling within the public sector, under the broad local government classification.

While a final decision has yet to be taken by Eurostat regarding this matter, detailed analysis of the potential impacts on the Government debt and expenditure is underway. My Department is examining the implications of this decision by the CSO in detail, in close collaboration with my colleague, Minister Donohoe's Departments.

To inform these considerations, the CSO is currently engaged in collecting the required data to compile the end-March 2018 Excessive Deficit Procedure (EDP) notification tables that cover  general government deficit and debt. At the same time, the Department of Finance is also preparing the Stability Programme Update 2018. This will take full account of the figures published by the CSO as part of the government finance statistics release.

The on-going work aims to identify what measures can be taken to manage or mitigate the potential impacts on the capacity of the AHB sector in the supply and management of social housing. I intend to bring proposals to Government with a view to exploring the options available to us that will ensure that the commitment to the AHB sector's role in contributing to delivery of social housing under Rebuilding Ireland is met.

Housing Agency Portfolio

Questions (300)

Jackie Cahill

Question:

300. Deputy Jackie Cahill asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if he will address a matter relating to a school (details supplied) in County Tipperary; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4692/18]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

The folio of lands referred to by the Deputy is in the ownership of the Housing Agency. The lands were purchased by the National Building Agency around 10 years ago and in the course of winding up the National Building Agency, this asset transferred to the Housing Agency. Any disposal of land now in the ownership of the Housing Agency is subject to normal due diligence procedures.

I understand that the Housing Agency is open to, and available for, discussions with the school board of management and the Department of Education and Skills in relation to the site concerned.  However, the Agency has indicated that, to date, no representations in this regard have been made to them by either such party. If such a representation is made, the Agency will deal with it without delay.

Pyrite Remediation Programme

Questions (301, 302, 303)

Darragh O'Brien

Question:

301. Deputy Darragh O'Brien asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to set out the number of homes that have been remediated under the pyrite remediation scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4699/18]

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Darragh O'Brien

Question:

302. Deputy Darragh O'Brien asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to outline his plans for homes that are affected by pyrite but which have been left out of the current remediation scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4700/18]

View answer

Darragh O'Brien

Question:

303. Deputy Darragh O'Brien asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to outline his plans to extend and expand the pyrite remediation scheme for homes that failed to reach the high thresholds set down under the previous Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4701/18]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 301 to 303, inclusive, together.

The Pyrite Resolution Act 2013 provides the statutory framework for the establishment of the Pyrite Resolution Board and for the making of a pyrite remediation scheme to be implemented by the Board with support from the Housing Agency. The pyrite remediation scheme is a scheme of “last resort” and is limited in its application and scope. The full conditions for eligibility under the scheme are set out in the scheme which is available on the Board’s website, www.pyriteboard.ie.

In accordance with the provisions of the Act, the Board is independent in the performance of its functions, and as Minister, I have no role in the operational matters (including sampling and testing) pertaining to the implementation of the scheme. The Board may be contacted by phone at Lo call 1890 252842 or by email to info@pyriteboard.ie or alternatively at oireachtasinfo@pyriteboard.ie.

The scheme is applicable to dwellings, which are subject to significant damage attributable to pyritic heave, established in accordance with I.S. 398-1:2013 - Reactive pyrite in sub-floor hardcore material – Part 1: Testing and categorisation protocol. In this regard, it is a condition of eligibility under the scheme that an application to the Board must be accompanied by a Building Condition Assessment with a Damage Condition Rating of 2. Dwellings which do not have a Damage Condition Rating of 2 are not eligible to apply under the scheme. This ensures that, having regard to the available resources, the focus of the scheme is on dwellings which are most severely damaged by pyritic heave. I have no proposals to amend this eligibility criterion.

The Report of the Pyrite Panel (June 2012) recommended a categorisation system as a means of prioritising pyrite remediation works in recognition of the expensive and intrusive nature of pyrite remediation and the unpredictability of pyritic heave. The independent Pyrite Panel was clear in its view that only dwellings with significant damage due to pyritic heave should be remediated and that it would be unreasonable to expect dwellings not exhibiting such damage to be remediated.

Dwellings which have no significant damage but have reactive pyrite in the hardcore material should be monitored and only remediated if they display significant damage due to pyritic heave. This remains the position with regard to dwellings which do not display significant pyritic damage.

On foot of this recommendation of the Pyrite Panel, the National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI) published I.S. 398-1:2013 Reactive pyrite in sub-floor hardcore material Part 1: Testing and categorisation protocol in 2013. The standard provides the means by which dwellings that may be affected by pyrite can be tested and categorised.

In late 2015, the NSAI commenced a review of I.S. 398-1:2013 in the light of practical experience since the standard was first introduced in January 2013. The standard was updated and revised to reflect the on-site experiences and evidence gathered by technical experts, such as engineers, geologists, professionals providing sampling and testing services and other technical experts, who have been using the standard over the past four years and was published on 4 August 2017.

I welcome the revised standard published by the NSAI and in this context I signed the Pyrite Resolution (Standard for Testing) Regulations 2017 (S.I. No. 556 of 2017) on 6 December 2017. These Regulations provide that pursuant to section 14(9)(a) of the Pyrite Resolution Act 2013, the “standard for testing” for the purpose of the Act shall be Irish Standard 398-1:2017 Reactive pyrite in sub-floor hardcore material —Part 1: Testing and categorisation protocol, as published by the National Standards Authority of Ireland on 4 August 2017.

My Department is in regular contact with the Pyrite Resolution Board and the Housing Agency with regard to the implementation of the scheme. Any amendments, which the Board consider are required to the scheme as a result of the revised standard will be given full consideration should they be submitted to me in accordance with the requirements of the Act.

The latest figures available indicate that a total of 1,963 applications have been received under the pyrite remediation scheme. Of the 1,963 applications received so far, 1,523 dwellings have been included in the pyrite remediation scheme and the applicants notified accordingly.

A further 110 applications have been validated and referred to the Housing Agency for the Assessment and Verification Process, while another 218 applications are at the initial Application and Validation Process. 112 applications under the scheme were not successful.

Of the 1,523 dwellings that have been included in the pyrite remediation scheme: 343 are at remedial works planning stage; 96 are at tender decision; 139 are under remediation; and 945 are complete.

With regard to funding, a sum of €25 million was expended on the operation of the pyrite remediation scheme in 2017. This funding facilitated the remediation of some 400 additional dwellings.

An increased amount of €30 million was announced under Budget 2018 to fund the operation of the pyrite remediation scheme in 2018. This allocation will facilitate the remediation of some 430 additional dwellings this year and is a clear signal of the continuing importance attached by Government to addressing the issue of significant pyritic damage in private dwellings.

Ultimately, the Pyrite Remediation Board, together with the Housing Agency, will arrange for all eligible dwellings to be remediated to a high standard and at no additional cost to the affected homeowners. Remediation works will continue to be carried out at the earliest possible opportunity having regard to the existing demands of the scheme and the optimum use of available resources.