Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Questions (214)

John Brady


214. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection her views on the fact that lone parents with a maintenance order from the courts in which payment is taken by her Department as household means against other social welfare supports may not be actually paid; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [37811/19]

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Written answers (Question to Employment)

The issues relating to maintenance are currently a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality, who has responsibility for the Family Law Acts, which govern maintenance requirements.  

Existing Family Law Acts place a legal obligation on parents to maintain their children.  In cases where the family unit has broken down these obligations continue to apply.  Relevant maintenance payments can be arranged either directly between the parties themselves, or with the assistance of supports from the Department of Justice and Equality, such as the Family Mediation Service and the Legal Aid Board, or ultimately through the Courts. The enforcement of the obligation on parents to maintain their children is a matter for the Department Justice and Equality.

My Department operates a range of means tested social assistance payments.  Social welfare legislation provides that the means test for these payments takes account of the income and assets of the person and a spouse/partner, if applicable.  Income and assets include income from employment, self-employment, occupational pensions, maintenance payments as well as property owned (other than the family home) and capital such as savings, shares and other investments.

For social assistance schemes, such as jobseeker’s allowance, one-parent family payment, disability allowance and the state pension non-contributory, maintenance payments (including maintenance payments made to or in respect of a qualified child) are assessed by first disregarding any housing costs incurred (up to €4,952 per annum or €95.23 per week), and then assessing the remainder at 50%.  Budget 2019 introduced a maintenance payment disregard for the Working Family Payment (WFP). With a value of €95.23 per week, this brings WFP into line with other social assistance schemes.

Accordingly, the total value of any maintenance payments is never assessed as means for these weekly income support payments. Therefore, the total income received by the family (social welfare payment and maintenance payment combined) will be higher than someone not receiving maintenance payments.

The purpose of means testing is to ensure that resources are targeted to those with the greatest financial need.  The current method of means assessment ensures that appropriate levels of support are available to those who need them, across the wide range of income supports available from my Department.  

Customers should always advise my Department of any change in their circumstances and their means may be reviewed if necessary.  For example, a customer in receipt of OFP who was previously in receipt of maintenance which has ceased should seek to have that maintenance reinstated and where this is not possible the customer should bring this to the attention of the relevant Officer(s) in my Department who may review the payment.