Wednesday, 25 September 2019

Questions (10)

John Brady


10. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the reason for letters being issued from her Department to State pension (contributory) recipients in which they claim for a qualified adult in addition to a declaration form to be signed by the recipient; if her attention has been drawn to the contents of the letter; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38800/19]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Employment)

I ask the Minister to advise on the rationale for letters being issued from her Department to State contributory pension recipients claiming for a qualified adult and whether she is aware of the content of these letters, and if she will make a statement on the matter.

The increase for a qualified adult is a means tested payment, payable to a State pension contributory claimant whose spouse, civil partner or cohabitant is being wholly or mainly maintained by him or her and where that qualified adult's personal means from any other source does not exceed a means test income limit. There are currently 60,635 beneficiaries of this payment. As part of my Department’s commitment to ensuring that claimants are receiving their full and correct entitlements, ongoing reviews of means tested payments are carried out annually.

In the case of increases for qualified adults, IQAs, for those in receipt of the State contributory pension, the primary claimant is contacted by my Department to notify him or her that his or her continuing entitlement to the means tested IQA payment is currently being examined. In addition, details of the means of the qualified adult are requested. Just over 10% of the 60,635 IQA cases are reviewed every year. These review letters have been approved by the National Adult Literacy Association, NALA, and were sent out recently.

Where a qualified adult has weekly means of less than €100, the maximum rate of IQA is paid. Where his or her weekly means is between €100 and €310, a reduced rate of IQA is payable. If the qualified adult has means of more than €310 per week, this exceeds the means limit and, therefore, no IQA payment is paid. Only the means of the qualified adult are taken into account for claimants of contributory pensions. In the case of joint bank accounts or joint ownership of land or property, apart from the family home, only half of the value or amount is, therefore, assessed as means for that qualified adult. It is open to claimants to contact my Department regarding the return of any of the information requested. Flexibility can be and often is provided if there is difficulty in replying within the requested 21 days suggested in the letter.

I raised this matter yesterday during questions on promised legislation because there is significant fear among the public. I have been contacted by a number of people who have received this letter, who fear they will lose the payment, and wording of the letter has created that fear. The Minister needs to clarify the position.

My office spoke to officials in her Department about the number of letters being issued, and was told that 60,635 people are in the system and letters will be issued on a phased basis. So far, 10% of the letters, or 6,000, have been sent and they have generated concern. The remaining letters will be sent out in phases in the near future. The first to receive letters are those who have not been reviewed for a long time. There is major concern. Perhaps the Minister could answer that question first.

I am not sure what the Deputy is asking me to confirm. Just over 60,000 people are in receipt of this particular allowance. We apply control measures every year, and 10% of those in receipt of the payment are randomly selected and receive the letter, and that is what has happened. I do know what the Deputy means by "phased basis" and "the rest of them will get it shortly."

We carry out control measures across all of our schemes every single year. A percentage of claimants are randomly selected every year across every scheme for inspection. The number of people in this scheme who have been selected for inspection is just over 6,000 recipients, which is 10%.

The words "phased basis" are not my words; rather, they are the words of staff in the Department. The first round of letters have gone out to the 10% concerned and I took the response of the Department to mean that the rest will go out in the near future. What has caused the most concern is the wording of the letters. People have been given 21 days to respond. There is a fear that if they do not respond or provide all of the necessary documentation, the payment will be stopped.

I again ask about flexibility. When I raised the matter with the Minister yesterday, she told me that there is no flexibility whatsoever. I received a letter from the Department, which states that there could be flexibility in different scenarios. She is now saying that there is a little flexibility, but that is not stated in the letter. There is no indication that the Department will work with recipients to ensure all the necessary documentation is in place. They need to be reassured that their payments will not be stopped. That needs to be communicated not just to me, but to all 60,000 recipients.

I assume the Deputy is splitting hairs over the fact that he thinks we sent out 6,000 letters in one go. I assume what my officials meant to tell him is that we do not send out 6,000 letters in one go because we do not have the staff to receive 6,000 responses in one go.

The 6,000 letters are sent out on a phased basis and we respond to people as they send the stuff back to us. There is no documentation to be returned. I do not know if the Deputy has read the letter. There is a form to be filled out and people do not have to give us copies of anything. Either people's circumstances have changed or they have not. If they have not changed, people have nothing to fear whatsoever. If they have changed, they have an interview with somebody to ascertain what the new payment is or if the payment will stay exactly the same. This is a control measure to ensure that people are getting the correct payment. If the Deputy has met people who are fearful that their payments are going to be changed, he should explain that all we are trying to do is to make sure that people have the right payment and that they stay on it, which is the remit of the Department.