Employment Rights

Questions (641)

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

641. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if she has established regulatory mechanisms to monitor and invigilate employment rights compliance in all publicly funded infrastructural capital projects; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27685/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Employment)

Ireland has a comprehensive body of employment legislation, in respect of which the Workplace Relations Commission, which comes under the remit of my colleague, the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Ms. Heather Humphries T.D., is mandated to secure compliance.

Ireland’s employment rights legislation protects all employees, including those employed on publicly funded infrastructural capital projects, who are legally employed on a contract of service basis. This is specifically set out in Section 20 of the Protection of Employment (Part Time Work) Act 2001.

Where an individual believes they are being deprived of employment rights applicable to employees they may refer a complaint to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) where the matter can be dealt with by way of mediation or adjudication leading to a decision that is enforceable through the District Court. Complaints can be made on a single online complaint form available at the WRC’s website www.workplacerelations.ie.

Ireland also has a well-resourced and proactive labour inspectorate, which forms part of the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC). The WRC undertakes inspections on the basis of risk analysis, which identifies certain sectors as a result of complaints received and on a routine basis.

It is important that any person with questions or complaints regarding their rights under employment law should contact Workplace Relations Customer Service on lo-call 1890 80 80 90 or at www.workplacerelations.ie

There are, separately, strict rules governing public procurement, responsibility for which rests with my colleague, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Mr. Paschal Donohoe T.D.

I am committed to address the issue of false self-employment, and I have put in train a series of measures to deter, detect and tackle it. A key element is the increased focus by Social Welfare Inspectors on the enforcement of PRSI compliance obligations. Inspectors nationwide have commenced a campaign of employer inspections and a new unit is being established to focus specifically on the area of false self-employment.

Deliberate misclassification of employment status is an offence with penalties on prosecution of up to three years imprisonment and/or fines up to €13,000 or twice the amount denied to the Social Insurance Fund as a result of the misclassification, whichever amount is greater. The new unit will ensure that cases of fraudulent misclassification of employment status are prosecuted and that the full force of penalties are applied. To this end, led by my Department, the 2007 Code of Practice on Employment Status will reach the end of a comprehensive revision process next month. This Code will be a vital tool for employers and employees alike so they can be clear when a worker is genuinely self-employed. This document will be circulated to ICTU and IBEC for their input before it is published. In addition, Heads of Bill have already been drafted in order to place the revised Code on a statutory footing later this year.

The question of whether a worker is employed or self-employed is not always a simple one. The Courts have repeatedly stated that a decision must be made based on the specific facts of each case, having regard to key tests such as the level of control a would-be employer has over the worker and the level of obligation they have towards each other.

My strong view is that this is a far better mechanism than trying to capture in legislation a definition that can never be black and white.

I have instructed my officials to also explore a range of legislative proposals to complement the increased inspection work that will be key to the long term success of this project. These proposals include anti-penalisation provisions for workers who will be able to take a claim to the WRC if they are victimised by an employer for raising a query regarding their status; and an increase in penalties for employers who deliberately mis-classify employees as being self-employed.

Scope Section of my Department undertakes investigations on foot of requests from a variety of sources, for example employees, employers or Social Welfare Inspectors. These investigations cover a variety of situations, for example, modified classes of PRSI for civil and public servants, family employments or insurability of Directors.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Departmental Expenditure

Questions (642)

Peter Burke

Question:

642. Deputy Peter Burke asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the estimated cost of increasing payments (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27705/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Employment)

The costings sought by the Deputy are detailed in the following tables.

Table 1: Cost of €1 increase in all social insurance payments

Scheme

Full year cost of a €1 increase

€m

Social Insurance Schemes

Pension Payments

State Pension (Contributory)

22.45

Widow/er's Contributory Pension (Aged 66 and over)

4.98

Deserted Wife's Benefit (Aged 66 and over)

0.34

Death Benefit Pension (Aged 66 and over)

0.03

Working Age Payments

Widow/er's or Surviving Civil Partner's (Con) Pension

1.55

Deserted Wife's Benefit

0.15

Invalidity Pension

3.23

Partial Capacity Benefit

0.09

Guardian's Payment (Contributory)

0.06

Disablement Pension

0.26

Illness Benefit

2.76

Injury Benefit

0.08

Incapacity Supplement

0.05

Jobseeker's Benefit

1.7

Carer's Benefit

0.14

Health and Safety Benefit

0.00

Maternity & Adoptive Benefit

1.03

Paternity Benefit

0.04

Total Social Insurance Schemes

38.94

Table 2: Cost of €1 increase in all social assistance payments

Scheme

Full year cost of a €1 increase

€m

Social Assistance Schemes

Pension Payments

State Pension (Non Con)

5.03

Carer's Allowance (Aged 66 and over)

0.1

Half Rate Carer's Allowance (Aged 66 and over)

0.34

Working Age Payments

Blind Pension

0.07

Widow/ers or Surviving Civil Partner's (Non-Con) Pension

0.07

Deserted Wife's Allowance

0.00

One-Parent Family Payment

2.04

Carer's Allowance

2.22

Half Rate Carer's Allowance

0.59

Guardian's Payment (Non-Contributory)

0.03

Jobseeker's Allowance

7.83

Jobseeker's Allowance - for those aged 18 to 24 years of age

0.6

Jobseeker's Allowance - for those aged 25 years of age

0.09

Disability Allowance

7.94

Farm Assist

0.44

Back to Education Allowance

0.3

Back to Work Enterprise Allowance

0.37

Community Employment

1.25

TÚS

0.37

Rural Social Scheme

0.22

Jobs Initiative

0.07

Supplementary Welfare Allowance

0.88

Total Social Assistance Schemes

30.85

Overall Total

69.79

The costs shown above are on a full year basis and are based on the estimated number of recipients in 2019. It should be noted that these costings are subject to change in the context of emerging trends and associated revision of the estimated numbers of recipients for 2020.

It should also be noted that these costings include proportionate increases for qualified adults and for those on reduced rates of payment, where relevant.

Child Benefit Expenditure

Questions (643)

Peter Burke

Question:

643. Deputy Peter Burke asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the estimated cost of extending the time limit for eligibility for a payment (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27707/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Employment)

Child Benefit is a monthly payment made to families with children in respect of all qualified children up to the age of 16 years. The payment continues to be paid in respect of children up to their 18th birthday who are in full-time education, or who have a disability. Child Benefit is currently paid, as of May 2019, to almost 634,000 families in respect of over 1.2 million children, with an estimated expenditure of more than €2 billion in 2018.

Given the universality of Child Benefit, extending entitlement to parents of full time students in second level education who are over 18 years of age would not be a targeted approach. The adoption of such a proposal would have significant cost implications and would have to be considered in an overall budgetary context.

Families on low incomes may be able to avail of a number of social welfare schemes that support children in full-time education until the age of 22, including:

- Increase for a Qualified Child (IQCs) with primary social welfare payments;

- the Working Family Payment for low-paid employees with children;

- the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance.

These schemes provide targeted assistance that is directly linked to household income and thereby support low-income families with older children participating in full-time education.

Fuel Allowance Data

Questions (644)

Peter Burke

Question:

644. Deputy Peter Burke asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the estimated cost of extending the number of months for a payment to be made (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27708/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Employment)

The cost of extending the Fuel Allowance payment for the full calendar year would be €201.9 million.

To examine the impact of the measure on poverty rates, a social impact assessment has been carried out. This is an evidence-based methodology which estimates the likely distributive effects of this change on household income. The assessment uses a tax-welfare simulation model developed by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) know as SWITCH (Simulating Welfare and Income Tax Changes). The model simulates the impact of changes in welfare and income tax for a representative sample of 9,770 households drawn from the 2013/2014/2015 CSO Survey on Income and Living Conditions, with the data updated to reflect trends in population, employment and incomes.

The model estimates that the overall population at risk of poverty would fall by 0.2%, with a reduction in the rate of older people at risk of poverty by 1.5%.

Any change to the Fuel Allowance conditions would need to be considered in an overall budgetary context.

Child Benefit Expenditure

Questions (645)

Peter Burke

Question:

645. Deputy Peter Burke asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the estimated cost of increasing a payment (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27709/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Employment)

The estimated full year cost of increasing Child Benefit by €10 would be €146.6 million.

To examine the impact of the measure on poverty rates, a social impact assessment has been carried out. This is an evidence-based methodology which estimates the likely distributive effects of this change on household income. The assessment uses a tax-welfare simulation model developed by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) know as SWITCH (Simulating Welfare and Income Tax Changes). The model simulates the impact of changes in welfare and income tax for a representative sample of 9,770 households drawn from the 2013/2014/2015 CSO Survey on Income and Living Conditions, with the data updated to reflect trends in population, employment and incomes.

The model estimates that the overall population at risk of poverty would fall by 0.1% as a result of this measure. For children at risk of poverty, there would be a reduction of 0.2%.

Any increase to Child Benefit would need to be considered in an overall budgetary context.

Community Employment Schemes Review

Questions (646)

Maureen O'Sullivan

Question:

646. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection her plans to extend the community employment scheme objectives to allow for extensions of time beyond three years for older employees that have little chance of gaining full-time employment in the workforce (details supplied). [27717/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Employment)

Community Employment (CE) is an employment and training scheme which helps long-term unemployed people to re-enter the active workforce by breaking their experience of unemployment through a return to work routine. The scheme assists by enhancing and developing a person’s technical and personal skills which can then be used in the workplace. The very significant improvement in the number of people in employment and concomitant reduction in unemployment is a strong testament to the Government's job creation and pathways to work strategies which is ensuring employment opportunities across all age groups and in all regions.

All CE participants age 55 and over can avail of 3 consecutive years on a CE scheme. As CE is intended to be a stepping stone to employment for participants rather than a long-term placement, there is an overall lifetime limit of participation on CE of 6 years from 1st January 2007 (7 years if on a disability payment).

As the Deputy will be aware, the Government agreed to establish an Interdepartmental Group (IDG) to explore how social inclusion schemes might best be organised into the future including which Department should hold lead responsibility for sponsoring CE schemes focused on social Inclusion. The deliberations of the group will also inform any further consideration to review participation limits.

Community Employment Schemes Administration

Questions (647)

Maureen O'Sullivan

Question:

647. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if consideration will be given to transferring responsibility for community employment schemes from employment affairs to community affairs in view of the community gain being provided by community employment schemes. [27719/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Employment)

My Department operates a number of employment support schemes one of which is the Community Employment (CE) scheme.

I am fully committed, as are all of my Ministerial colleagues, to the future of these community services and the valuable contribution they make to local communities. We want to see them sustained. I believe that we need to take a wholly inclusive approach for people who participate in CE and to include an appropriate focus on their ongoing contribution to the provision of services in local areas.

As the Deputy will be aware, the Government agreed to establish an Interdepartmental Group (IDG) to explore how social inclusion schemes might best be organised into the future including which Department should hold lead responsibility for sponsoring CE schemes focused on social Inclusion. The Interdepartmental Group was charged with the task of examining the options in this regard and I expect to have a final report shortly.

Invalidity Pension Appeals

Questions (648)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

648. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection when a decision will be made on an invalidity pension appeal by a person (details supplied); the reason for the delay with the appeal; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27720/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Employment)

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.

The department received a claim for IP for the gentleman concerned on 05 April 2018. His claim was disallowed on the grounds that the medical conditions for the scheme were not satisfied. He was notified on 26 June 2018 of this decision, the reasons for it and of his right of review or appeal.

He requested a review of this decision and submitted further medical evidence in support of the review. Following a review of all the information available it was decided that there was no change to the original decision. He was notified on 05 December 2018 of the outcome of the review.

The gentleman concerned appealed the decision to the independent Social Welfare Appeals Office (SWAO) and submitted further medical evidence in support of his appeal. Following a review by a deciding officer of this medical evidence in conjunction with all information available to date, it has been decided that there is no change to the original decision. A submission has been prepared by the department and forwarded to the SWAO for determination.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Social Welfare Appeals Waiting Times

Questions (649)

John Brady

Question:

649. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the waiting times for appeal for all social welfare payments in tabular form. [27726/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Employment)

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

All claim decisions taken by the Department’s Deciding Officers and Designated Persons are appealable to the Chief Appeals Officer. In any year about 85% of all claims are awarded by the Department and just 1% are appealed. Nevertheless, the Department is concerned that these cases are dealt with as quickly as possible.

The time taken to process an appeal reflects a number of factors including that the appeals process is a quasi-judicial process with Appeals Officers being required to decide all appeals on a ‘de-novo’ basis. In addition, appeals decisions are themselves subject to review by the High Court and decisions have to be formally written up to quasi-judicial standards. Other factors that influence appeals processing times include the quality of the initial decision – in this respect the Department has changed the decisions process in respect of medical schemes, in order to provide more information to the claimant. I expect that this will help to reduce the number of appeals over time.

In addition, a considerable number of new Appeals Officers have joined the Appeals Office over the past 12-18 months, to replace staff leaving on retirement. Given the complexity of the appeals process it takes some time for new staff to be trained up and develop expertise and this has led to somewhat longer processing times during this period. The Chief Appeals Officer has advised me that appeal processing times continue to be a priority for her Office.

Accordingly, significant efforts and resources have been devoted to reforming the appeal process in recent years. As a result, appeal processing times in respect of all schemes improved between 2011 and 2017 from 52.5 weeks for an oral hearing in 2011 to 26.4 weeks in 2017 and from 25.1 weeks for a summary decision in 2011 to 19.8 weeks in 2017. The corresponding processing times for the year 2018 were 30 weeks for an oral hearing and 24.8 weeks for a summary decision. There has been some improvement to date in 2019 with an oral hearing decision taking on average 28.2 weeks and a summary decision taking 23.3 weeks.

Finally, where a claimant has been refused a social welfare payment, regardless of the scheme involved, and is appealing that decision, if their means are insufficient to meet their needs it is open to them to apply for supplementary welfare allowance in the interim.

If their application for supplementary welfare allowance is refused, they can also appeal that decision. The supplementary welfare allowance appeal will be prioritised for attention within the Appeals Office as soon as the appeal file and submission is received from my Department.

The following table sets out the appeal processing times (for summary and oral hearing cases) for the various schemes for the first five months of 2019.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Appeal Processing Times by Scheme 1 January 2019– 31 May 2019

Average processing times (weeks) Summary Decisions

Average processing times (weeks) Oral Hearings

Adoptive Benefit

Nil

33.7

Blind Person’s Pension

19.6

30.0

Carer’s Allowance

26.5

29.2

Carer’s Benefit

26.2

22.9

Child Benefit

33.0

35.0

Disability Allowance

15.8

20.9

Illness Benefit

32.6

32.3

Partial Capacity Benefit

34.5

46.9

Domiciliary Care Allowance

29.1

33.0

Deserted Wife’s Allowance

20.4

Nil

Deserted Wife’s Benefit

91.7 (1 case)

33.6

Farm Assist

29.2

33.2

Bereavement Grant

39.7

Nil

Working Family Payment

22.7

29.6

Invalidity Pension

26.6

28.2

Liable Relatives

25.9

14.2

Maternity Benefit

33.5

31.6

Paternity Benefit

34.5

17.7

One Parent Family Payment

32.3

37.0

State Pension (Contributory)

34.9

47.0

State Pension (Non-Contributory)

36.1

39.3

Occupational Injury Benefit

32.3

56.6 (3 cases)

Disablement Pension

26.5

32.4

Incapacity Supplement

Nil

32.5

Guardian's Payment (Contributory)

20.9

30.1

Guardian's Payment (Non-Con)

22.2

Nil

Jobseeker's Allowance (Means)

28.1

35.8

Jobseeker's Allowance (Payments)

25.0

30.1

Back To Work Family Dividend

28.3

Nil

Jobseeker's Transitional

27.7

37.3

Recoverable Benefits & Assistance

37.3

Nil

Jobseeker's Benefit

26.2

26.9

Carer’s Support Grant

26.9

26.7

Insurability of Employment

63.7

72.4

Supplementary Welfare Allowance

19.2

26.9

Widow/Widower's Pension (Contributory)

35.9

31.0

Widow/Widower's Pension (Non-Contributory)

37.6

42.1

Widowed Parent Grant

34.7

Nil

All Appeals

23.3

28.2

Rent Supplement Scheme Payments

Questions (650)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

650. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the progress to date in switching a rent supplement payment to a new address in the case of a person (details supplied) who was previously in receipt of the payment and has submitted all documentation as requested; when payment will issue; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27786/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Employment)

The most recent rent supplement claim in respect of the person concerned was closed in October 2017. There is no record of any application for rent supplement since that date.

It is open to the person concerned to contact the South Kildare/West Wicklow Rents Unit should he wish to submit an application for a rent supplement payment. The Rents Unit can be contacted by telephone at 01 6732155, by post at Rents Unit, PO Box 1107, Newbridge, Co Kildare or by email at RentsSouthKildare@welfare.ie. The person concerned will need to complete form SWARS 1 and return it with relevant supporting documentation in support of his application.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Carer's Benefit Payments

Questions (651)

Peter Burke

Question:

651. Deputy Peter Burke asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the reason a person (details supplied) is not in receipt of a full carer's payment. [27828/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Employment)

Carer's allowance (CA) is a means-tested social assistance payment made to a person who is habitually resident in the State and who is providing full-time care and attention to a child or an adult who has such a disability that as a result they require that level of care.

The person concerned is currently in receipt of CA since 11 April 2013 in respect of one care recipient. Her current weekly basic rate of payment is €156.50 plus and increase for one qualified child under 12 years of age of €17.00 totalling €173.50 per week.

Full basic rate CA for a claimant under 66 years of age is currently €219.00 per week. The person concerned was initially assessed with means of €67.85 in 2013 which was derived from her spouse’s income.

Once a CA claim is in payment, a person can at any stage request a review of their claim where they consider there is a change in their circumstances, including a change to their means, which could affect their rate of entitlement.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

State Pensions

Questions (652)

Michael McGrath

Question:

652. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the way in which approved retirement funds, ARF, distributions are treated with regard to PRSI contributions and entitlement to the State pension; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27836/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Employment)

Approved Retirement Funds or ARFs are funds managed by a qualifying fund manager into which an individual may invest the proceeds of their pension fund when they retire. The income and gains of such funds are exempt from tax within the fund. Any amounts withdrawn from an ARF are referred to as a distribution. A distribution is treated as income from an employment. It is subject to income tax and the fund manager must operate the PAYE system on it.

Under social welfare legislation any payments received by way of pension are not regarded as reckonable emoluments for the purposes of self-employed pay related social insurance (PRSI). However, unlike annuity products, ARFs are not pensions but are treated as assets. As such distributions from ARFs for people less that 66 years of age fall within the charge to Class S self-employed PRSI, or if the recipient of the distribution is a modified class contributor, Class K. Distributions and imputed distributions, after age 66 (current State Pension age), are not liable to Class S PRSI deduction. They are recorded under PRSI Class M for which there is a nil liability.

As the Deputy will be aware PRSI Class S contributors are covered for the State Pension (Contributory), Widow's, Widower's or Surviving Civil Partner's Pension (Contributory), Guardian’s Payment (Contributory), Maternity & Adoptive Benefits, Paternity Benefit (since September 2016), Treatment Benefits (since March 2017) and Invalidity Pension (since December 2017). This Department is in the process of developing a new Jobseeker’s Benefit for the Self-Employed scheme which will be introduced in November 2019.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Disability Allowance Payments

Questions (653)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

653. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection when payment will issue in respect of a recent allowed appeal for a disability allowance in the case of a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27839/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Employment)

Following a successful appeal, this lady has been awarded disability allowance (DA) with effect from 11 July 2018. The first payment will be made by her chosen payment method on 17 July 2019.

Arrears of payment due, will issue as soon as possible once any necessary adjustment is calculated and applied in respect of any overlapping payments.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Carer's Benefit Eligibility

Questions (654)

Peter Burke

Question:

654. Deputy Peter Burke asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the estimated cost of increasing the income disregard for carer’s benefit from €332.50 for a single person and €665 for a married couple to €450 and €900 per week, respectively. [27841/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Employment)

Carer's Benefit is a payment made to insured people who leave the workforce to care for someone in need of full-time care and attention. A person may be eligible for Carer's Benefit if they have enough PRSI contributions. This and other care-related supports, such as the Carer’s Allowance payment and the Carer’s Support Grant, provide recognition and support for the valuable role of carers.

Carer’s Benefit is payable for a maximum period of 104 weeks for each person being cared for. It can be taken in one block or in separate periods as long as the combined total does not exceed 104 weeks. The current weekly rate is €220.00. Where a person is caring for two or more care recipients, the rate of payment is increased by 50%.

At the end of May 2019, there were 2,724 carers in receipt of Carer’s Benefit. An Increase for a Qualified Child was being made in respect of 824 children, 302 of whom are aged 12 years or more. Estimated expenditure on Carer’s Benefit in 2019 is €37.83m

A person in receipt of Carer's Benefit may not take part in employment, self-employment, training or education courses outside the home for more than 15 hours a week. The maximum amount a person can earn is €332.50 per week. (€332.50 is the net income after deducting income tax, Universal Social Charge, PRSI, superannuation (pension payments), pension levy, union dues, subscriptions to Friendly Societies and any health insurance contract premium from total wages.)

With regard to Carer's Benefit the means/income of a spouse, civil partner or co-habitant of a carer would only be taken into account if claiming an increase for a child dependant (IQC). Therefore it is not possible to estimate the cost of increasing the income disregard for Carer’s Benefit from €332.50 for a single person and €665 for a married couple to €450 and €900 per week respectively.

Carer's Allowance is a means tested payment, made to people who are providing full-time care and attention to elderly people or to people with disabilities and whose income falls below certain limits. The principal conditions for receipt of the allowance are that full time care and attention is required and being provided and that the means test which applies is satisfied.

The conditions attached to payment of Carer's Allowance are consistent with the overall conditions that apply to social assistance payments generally. This system of social assistance supports provides payments based on an income need with the means test playing the critical role in determining whether or not an income need arises as a consequence of a particular contingency - be that illness/disability, unemployment or caring.

The means test for Carer's Allowance is one of the most generous in the social protection system in that €332.50 of gross weekly income is disregarded in the calculation of means for a single person; the equivalent for someone who is married, in a civil partnership or cohabiting is €665 of combined gross weekly income.

As of end of May 2019, there were 81,131 people in receipt of Carer's Allowance. The projected expenditure on Carer's Allowance in 2019 is almost €840 million.

With regard to Carer's Allowance, it is not possible to make a robust estimate of the costs requested on the level of additional programme costs using available administrative data, particularly as such a change would be highly sensitive to the income distribution in households at the time of implementation. However, analysis based on the SWITCH model (Simulating Welfare and Income Tax Changes) predicted an estimated cost in the region of €73 million, which, when income tax and Working Family Payment offsets are taken into account, produces an estimated net expenditure of €55 million.

Any changes to qualifying criteria for these schemes, including income disregards, would have to be considered in an overall budgetary context.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Departmental Reviews

Questions (655)

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

655. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the number of live studies, reviews and research undertaken or commissioned by her; and the date by which each study, review and research is scheduled to be completed. [27881/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Employment)

The information requested by the Deputy is being compiled by my Department. It will be made available to her as soon as possible.

Departmental Reports

Questions (656)

Joe Carey

Question:

656. Deputy Joe Carey asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the documents published by her Department since 1 January 2016 (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27905/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Employment)

All documents published by my Department are on the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection's comprehensive and user-friendly website www.welfare.ie. The full list of document published can be found at the following link.

http://m.welfare.ie/en/Pages/publications_home.aspx

Free Travel Scheme Eligibility

Questions (657)

John Brassil

Question:

657. Deputy John Brassil asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if the free travel pass will be made an automatic entitlement for persons deemed unsuitable to drive by the national licensing authority (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28002/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Employment)

The free travel scheme provides free travel on the main public and private transport services for those eligible under the scheme. These include road, rail and ferry services provided by companies such as Bus Átha Cliath, Bus Éireann and Iarnród Éireann, as well as Luas and services provided by over 80 private transport operators. There are currently approx. 948,000 customers with direct eligibility. Following recent announcements in Budget 2019 the funding for the free travel scheme was increased by €5 million to a total of €95 million.

In general access to a free travel pass for those aged under 66 is linked to a person being in receipt of certain primary Social Protection payments such as disability allowance, invalidity pension, carer’s allowance, blind pension and partial capacity benefit. In 1997 the free travel pass was extended to all registered blind people regardless of whether they qualify for the Department's blind person's pension or any other Social Protection payment. Blind people remain one of the only cohorts of people aged under 66 who can qualify for a free travel pass while not in receipt of a qualifying Social Protection payment.

Any possible extension to the eligibility criteria for free travel would have significant costs implications for the free travel scheme and would also require additional administrative processes to be put in place to adjudicate eligibility. Any decision to do so could only be considered in the context of overall budgetary negotiations.

Under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme (SWA) the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection may award a travel supplement in any case where the circumstances of the case so warrant. The supplement is intended to assist with ongoing or recurring travel costs that cannot be met from the client’s own resources and are deemed to be necessary. Every decision is based on consideration of the circumstances of the case, taking account of the nature and extent of the need and of the resources of the person concerned.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Community Employment Schemes Eligibility

Questions (658)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

658. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if reconsideration will be given to an extension of time on community employment schemes in the case of persons (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28003/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Employment)

The persons concerned were originally approved for participation on Community Employment (CE) under the Part-Time Integration (PTI) option.

Under the PTI option, a person may be eligible to participate on CE for a maximum continuous period of two years. After the two year period elapses, they must leave the program and be on the live register for 12 months before re-qualifying for any additional participation on CE. Any further participation on CE is limited to a maximum lifetime duration of 3 years for persons under 55 years of age and 6 years for persons over 55 year of age.

The first person concerned will complete his 6th year on CE on the 27/9/2019 and will have reached the maximum eligible time on CE on this date. Unfortunately, he does not qualify for a further extension beyond this date.

The second person concerned will complete his 6th year on CE on the 16/8/2019 and will have reached the maximum eligible time on this date. However, as the participant is over 62 he can be considered for the ‘Special Stream 62 initiative. To qualify, the position must be approved by the Sponsor in the first instance and there must be vacancy on the scheme on the participants finish date i.e. 16/8/2019.

The Department's activation services are available to the persons concerned, to work with them to ensure that the benefits of the experience and training they received during their time on CE are maximised. This process will help identify potential employment opportunities and offer support to them in overcoming any barriers to employment.

As the Deputy will be aware, the Government agreed to establish an Interdepartmental Group (IDG) to explore how social inclusion schemes might best be organised into the future including which Department should hold lead responsibility for sponsoring CE schemes focused on social Inclusion. The Interdepartmental Group was charged with the task of examining the options in this regard and I expect to have a final report shortly.

I trust this clarifies matters for the Deputy.

Departmental Funding

Questions (659)

John Brassil

Question:

659. Deputy John Brassil asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if the assisted technology grant for partially sighted and blind persons will be reviewed (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28005/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Employment)

The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection (DEASP) does not operate an "assisted technology grant". The Department of Education and Skills does administer an "Assistive Technology Grant" under the Assistive Technology scheme, where funding is provided to schools towards the cost of computers and specialist equipment which are required for educational purposes. Any funding to Community Healthcare Organisations (CHO) areas as mentioned in the Deputy's question, is likely to come through the HSE, which is under the remit of the Department of Health.

However, this Department does administer the Workplace Equipment Adaptation Grant (WEAG) under the Reasonable Accommodation Fund (RAF). A range of employment support grants for people with disabilities and employers are provided under the RAF.

The fund is comprised of -

- Employee Retention Grant: The purpose of the Employee Retention Grant Scheme is to assist employers to retain employees who acquire an illness, condition or impairment which impacts on their ability to carry out their job.

- Workplace Equipment / Adaptation Grant: Where a person with a disability has been offered employment or is in employment, and requires a more accessible workplace or adapted equipment to do the job, funding / a grant will be provided by the department.

- Personal Reader Grant: If a person is blind or visually impaired and needs assistance with job-related reading, s/he may be entitled to a grant to allow him/her to employ a Personal Reader.

- Job Interview Interpreter Grant: A jobseeker who is deaf, hard of hearing or has speech impairment and is attending job interviews, may apply for funding to have a sign language interpreter or other interpreter to attend the interview with him/her. Funding can also be provided to cover the costs of an interpreter during an induction period when starting work.

- Disability Awareness Support Scheme. This scheme is open to all organisations in the private sector and is available for raising the awareness of personnel at all levels and occupations. It may be regarded as grant support for staff development programmes that deal with disability etiquette. The purpose of this scheme is to assist the integration of people with disabilities into the workforce and to eliminate mistaken perceptions about people with disabilities and their capacity to be productive and effective colleagues and employees.

The Department intends to commence a focussed policy review of the Reasonable Accommodation Fund in 2019.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Social Welfare Benefits Data

Questions (660)

Pearse Doherty

Question:

660. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the full cost of the Christmas bonus for the past five years it was issued; the size of the bonus, for example, 85% or 100%; and if the bonus is included in the expenditure base in each year in tabular form. [28015/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Employment)

The Christmas Bonus payment is made to long-term social welfare recipients, such as pensioners, carers, people with disabilities, lone parents and long-term unemployed people who rely wholly or mainly on their social welfare payments for financial support.

The payment of a Christmas Bonus is a discretionary decision made by Government in the context of the annual Budget process and available resources. The level of payment made can vary annually and, in fact, was not paid at all in the period from 2009 to 2013.

The bonus was reinstated in 2014, initially at a rate of 25%, rising to 75% in 2015, 85% in 2016 and I am happy to say was paid at 100% in 2018.

The following table provides details of the percentage of Christmas bonus paid and its cost since it's reinstatement.

Year

Expenditure

Christmas Bonus

€m

%

2014

€63.5

25%

2015

€197

75%

2016

€221

85%

2017

€219

85%

2018

€264.3

100%

The Revised Estimates do not include a specific allocation in respect of a Social Welfare Christmas Bonus. This is in line with the practice that such payments are funded based on the fiscal position at Budget time. For this reason, the expenditure does not go into the base for the following year, as the decision on whether to pay a bonus as well as the rate of that bonus depends on the projected end-year position.

Any decision taken regarding the payment of the Bonus has to be consistent with the legal requirements set out in the domestic Fiscal Responsibility Acts 2012 and 2013 and the targets set for Ireland by the EU Stability and Growth Pact.

Equal Opportunities Employment

Questions (661)

Pat Deering

Question:

661. Deputy Pat Deering asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection her plans to review and extend the workplace adaptation grant to those on community employment schemes, particularly for those that are vison impaired; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28030/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Employment)

My department provides a range of grants and supports to assist both jobseekers with disabilities and employers to take appropriate measures to enable either a potential employee or existing employee with disabilities to obtain or retain employment. These include the:

- Disability Awareness Support Scheme (DASS)

- Reasonable Accommodation Fund (RAF), which encompasses -

- Employee Retention Grant

- Workplace Equipment / Adaptation Grant

- Personal Reader Grant

- Job Interview Interpreter Grant

The purpose of the Workplace Equipment/Adaptation Grant (WEAG) is to increase the job opportunities for people with a disability by supporting any additional costs, related to the disability, incurred by private sector employers employing or retaining an employee with a disability or self-employed people with a disability.The general principles of the scheme are that it -

- applies only to the additional costs of adapting workplace equipment or of provision of equipment arising from the individual’s disability. It should not be used to provide support usually provided by employers or supports required under legislation for employees who do not have a disability;

- is a contribution towards the cost of an adaptation or of equipment up to a current limit of €6,350. It can also be used to upgrade adaptive equipment which may have been funded previously. Application in excess of this sum will be considered on an individual basis up to a maximum of €9,523 if specialist training for the assistive technology is required;

- is not intended to meet the usual costs of setting up and running a business either for an employer or a self-employed person;

- will be treated as a grant; and

- may be used in part for training in the use of the grant-aided equipment.

Those eligible for receipt include -

- Any person with a disability who is about to take up employment with a private sector employer, change job as a result of re-deployment or promotion, or become self-employed, and who requires assistive technology or an adaptation to the workplace in order to undertake the duties required.

- Any person employed by a private sector employer who acquires a disability whilst in employment, whose employer is participating in the Employee Retention Grant Scheme (ERGS), and who requires assistive technology or an adaptation to the workplace in order to retain his/her employment.

- Any person with a disability who is employed by a private sector employer, whose condition deteriorates so that he/she requires new assistive technology or a further adaptation to the workplace in order to retain his/her employment.

The Community Employment (CE) scheme provides part-time employment and training opportunities in local communities for people in receipt of a long term Social Welfare payment as a stepping stone back to employment. It is important to note that community employment, does not, nor is it intended to, provide full-time sustainable employment. As CE projects are funded by the exchequer, participation on a CE scheme is not considered as private sector employment for the purpose of eligibility for WEAG.

The Department intends to commence a focussed policy review of the Reasonable Accommodation Fund (RAF) in 2019.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.