I propose to take Questions Nos. 1828 and 1829 together.
The farm assist (FA) scheme is a means-tested payment for farmers on low incomes and is similar to jobseeker's allowance (JA). To qualify for the scheme a person must satisfy the means test and be engaged in farming. Recipients retain the advantages of the JA scheme such as the retention of secondary benefits and access to activation programmes. The 2019 Revised Estimates provide for expenditure of some €72 million for the FA scheme (which also includes the Fish Assist provision).
The assessment of means for the purpose of qualifying for FA is designed to reflect the actual net income from farming. Income and expenditure figures for the preceding year are generally used as an indicator of the expected position in the following year. However, account is taken of any exceptional circumstances to ensure that the assessment reflects the current situation accurately. In the case of capital assets, such as farm machinery and equipment, the capital cost is not allowed as an expense. An allowance is made for the depreciation of these assets instead. Where farm machinery or equipment is purchased outright, an allowance for depreciation relative to their usage is made. There would be a cost to increase the depreciation to a standard rate of 10% which could only be considered in a budgetary context.
Farm machinery depreciation is calculated on the gross output of the farm, not on the gross income. Gross Output is the sum of all sales and grants plus any other farm income, less the cost of animal purchases only (expenses are not included). The means assessment for the FA scheme, including the current guidelines for determining depreciation of farm equipment and machinery is detailed on the Departmental website at the following link: http://www.welfare.ie/en/Pages/Farm-Means---Assessment-of-Income-from-Farming.aspx.
Once land is under forestry it is considered as being used for husbandry and it does not attract a capital value for means assessment purposes. The forest premium scheme applies to farmers and others who have land under afforestation. Premiums paid under this scheme are assessed as farm income for the FA means test. However, allowances are made in respect of any necessary expenditure incurred with regard to the scheme. The afforestation grant scheme is available to private landowners for projects approved by the Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine. It is designed to cover only the costs involved in planting, maintenance etc so monies accrued from this grant are not assessable as means for FA.
I want to advise the Deputy of the improvements to the FA scheme in recent years. Budget 2017 fully reversed the previous cuts to the means test. The changes included that 70% of farm income is now assessed as means, down from 100% (which is equivalent to a 30% income disregard) and there is an additional annual means disregard of €254 for each of the first two children and €381 for the third and subsequent children. Budget 2019 also provided for a €5 per week increase in the personal rate of payment for FA from €198 to €203 per week from 25 March 2019 with proportionate increases for qualified adults and children.
Any further changes to the FA scheme would have to be considered in a budgetary context and within the scope of the overall resources available for welfare improvements.