The farm assist scheme is a means-tested payment for farmers on low incomes and is similar to jobseekers allowance. Recipients retain the advantages of jobseekers allowance scheme such as the retention of secondary benefits and access to activation programmes. The 2020 Revised Estimates provide for expenditure of almost €61 million for farm assist (which also includes provision for fish assist).
Budget 2017 fully reversed the previous cuts to the farm assist means test. The changes included that 70% of farm income is now assessed as means (previously 100%) which is equivalent to a 30% income disregard, and an additional annual means disregard of €254 for each of the first two children and €381 for the third and subsequent children. Budget 2020 provides for a €2 per week increase in the Increase for a Qualified Child for children aged under 12 and a €3 per week increase for children aged 12 and over. These increases will be implemented from 6th January 2020 and will benefit farm assist recipients with children.
The estimated cost of changing the farm assist means testing rules so that the first €3,000, irrespective of the source of income is disregarded and the balance is means tested at 50%, is approximately €18 million for a full year. This estimate is based on the existing number of recipients and current rates. The number of new farm assist applications may increase if these measures were introduced and the cost should be regarded as a minimum estimate.
Any further changes to farm assist would have to be considered in a budgetary context and within the overall resources available for welfare improvements.
I trust that this clarifies the matter.