Jobseeker's benefit and jobseeker's allowance are the two main income supports available from my Department to people who have lost work and are unable to find alternative full time employment. Jobseeker’s benefit is a social insurance based scheme and applicants must have sufficient insurance contributions and suffered a substantial loss of employment to qualify. The 2020 revised estimates for my Department provide for expenditure next year on the jobseeker’s benefit scheme of €354.4 million.
To be eligible for jobseeker’s benefit a person must be available for and genuinely seeking full time employment. It is a fundamental condition for both jobseekers schemes that a person must also be fully unemployed for 4 days in any period of 7 consecutive days. The social insurance contribution condition requires a jobseeker to have at least 104 weeks qualifying PRSI contributions paid since they first started work and 39 weeks qualifying PRSI contributions paid or credited in the relevant tax year or, 26 weeks qualifying PRSI paid in the relevant tax year and 26 weeks qualifying PRSI paid in the tax year immediately before the relevant tax year. The relevant tax year is the second last complete tax year before the year in which the jobseeker’s benefit claim was made. So, for claims made in 2019 the relevant tax year is 2017.
In the case of a person who normally works full time but their hours are reduced by their employer on a temporary basis they may be entitled to receive jobseeker’s benefit for the days that they don’t work provided that they meet all the conditions of the scheme including that they cannot work for more than 3 days in 7 consecutive days. This is known as systematic short time working and the person’s Jobseeker’s benefit is not taxable. If a person works part time and their hours are temporarily reduced they are not treated as a systematic short time worker, they are treated as a part time worker and their jobseeker’s benefit is taxable. They must also be genuinely seeking full time work to continue to be eligible for the scheme.
If a person does not meet the conditions to qualify for jobseeker’s benefit they may apply for means tested jobseeker’s allowance.
In addition to the jobseekers schemes another in-work support scheme offered by my Department is the Working Family Payment, which provides an income top-up for employees who have child dependents and they are on low earnings. To qualify for this payment, a person must be engaged in insurable employment which is expected to last for at least three months and be working for a minimum of 38 hours per fortnight or 19 hours per week. The payment effectively preserves the incentive to take up or remain in employment in circumstances where the employee might only be marginally better off than if s/he were claiming other social welfare payments.
It is recognised that a changing labour market has resulted in a move away from the more traditional work patterns, resulting in an increase in the number of persons employed for less than a full week. However, any changes to the current criteria, such as moving to an hours-based system, could result in significant numbers of additional individuals becoming eligible for a jobseeker’s payment with the substantial corresponding costs for the Exchequer. In addition, if there were a change from a days-based to an hours-based system, existing casual jobseekers could lose out if their current hours worked over three days exceeded the new hour’s threshold, creating a disincentive to work longer. This is an important policy issue for the Department which is kept under review in a budgetary context.
I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.