Ministerial Communications

Questions (670)

Niall Collins

Question:

670. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development if he has ever directly or indirectly canvassed the president of higher education institution on behalf of a job applicant; if so, if he will report on this canvassing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53024/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Rural)

The Deputy’s question would appear to relate to my role as a public representative rather than to the fulfilment of my duties as Minister for Rural and Community Development.  As a public representative, I am asked by constituents to make representations on their behalf to a range of public bodies in respect of a range of matters.  I am not in a position to review or confirm the nature of all of the correspondence or queries handled by my constituency office in that regard.

Rural Regeneration and Development Fund

Questions (671)

Dara Calleary

Question:

671. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the amount of funding to be allocated to the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund over the lifetime of National Development Plan 2018-2027; the amount allocated in each year over the 2018 to 2020 period to the fund; the amount of funding allocated for each approved project in 2018 and 2019, in tabular form; and the amount issued in payments to date. [53061/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Rural)

Under Project Ireland 2040, the Government has committed €1 billion to the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund over a 10 year period to support rural economic development and help build strong communities.  The Fund has been allocated €315m over the period 2019 to 2022 and the various allocations over that period will be confirmed as part of the annual budgetary process. €52 million was allocated to the Fund for 2019.

Following the conclusion of the first call under the Fund in February 2019, a total of 84 successful projects had been announced, with funding of €86m provided from the Fund to support projects worth a total of €117m.  Under the recently concluded second call, another 26 projects were allocated funding of €62 million from the Fund.  These 26 projects will deliver total investment of €95 million. Table 1 sets out the list of projects and the amount of funding which were approved under both calls.

Significant progress is being made on the implementation of the successful projects. To date, €31.3 million has been drawn down from the Fund by 65 separate projects.  I look forward to further progress in the implementation of projects over the coming weeks and months. 

List of projects which were approved for RRDF Funding under the first and second calls.

List of projects

Employment Support Services

Questions (672, 679)

Pat Casey

Question:

672. Deputy Pat Casey asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the supports that will be put in place by her Department and agencies under her aegis for employees that lost their jobs in a company (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [52686/19]

View answer

Pat Casey

Question:

679. Deputy Pat Casey asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the supports and advice her Department will make available to workers laid off at a company (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [52685/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Employment)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 672 and 679 together.

Officials in my Department have been in close contact with the Company over the past number of weeks (during the consultation period between the company and its employees), to ensure that were the plant to close that my Department would be ready to act swiftly in terms of providing support and advice for the employees.

The consultation period has now concluded and unfortunately the outcome has resulted in a closure of the plant. My Department put a support plan for the Company named into operation with immediate effect, and held two information sessions in the town on Monday 16/12/19 to which all the affected employees were invited.

Information about the income and other supports available to the employees was made available at both sessions. Officials from my Department provided advice and information on the income support payments to which the employees may be entitled from my Department and they explained the supports that are in place to assist them in finding alternative employment.

Kildare Wicklow Education & Training Board was also available to provide information on training and education options for employees interested in reskilling. Wicklow Local Enterprise Office and Enterprise Ireland provided advice to people who may want to consider self-employment as an option. In addition, the local Jobs Club assisted employees who needed help with CV preparation and interview skills and the Money Advice and Budgeting Service was also in attendance to offer advice on money management and debt, if required.

In addition to the support and information sessions, the local Intreo Centre put a process in place to ensure claims applications will be received and processed in a timely manner. Staff from my Department and the other agencies mentioned above will be available to give ongoing support and advice to the workers affected during this difficult time.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Community Employment Schemes Supervisors

Questions (673)

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

673. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if she has received proposals to address the issue of pension and gratuity of community employment supervisors; if so, her views on the proposals; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [52738/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Employment)

The Community Employment Scheme (CE) is an active labour market programme designed to provide eligible long-term unemployed people and other disadvantaged persons with an opportunity to engage in useful work within their communities on a temporary, fixed term basis.

The programme is delivered through independent Community Employment Sponsoring Bodies.  The contract agreement between the Department and the Community Employment Sponsoring Body establishes their role as an independent contractor, responsible for all purposes and all persons recruited by them.

CE Supervisors are not employed by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection.  CE Supervisors have always been employees of Community Employment Sponsoring Bodies which operate in the community and voluntary sector. 

Earlier this year, I made a commitment to the CE supervisors and the unions to try to address the issues that were arising and still outstanding from the Labour Court recommendation of 2008.

My officials and I held an initial meeting with the unions to establish a process for these discussions and to agree the terms of reference and, these considerations are ongoing. As I have indicated in replies to previous parliamentary questions I am endeavouring to finalise a proposal. 

As previously stated, all parties agreed that the detail of all discussions undertaken by the group should remain confidential until the process had completed.  I would ask Deputies to respect these wishes and allow the talks to continue free from speculation.

JobPath Programme

Questions (674)

Brendan Griffin

Question:

674. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if a person (details supplied) in County Kerry must participate in JobPath with Turas Nua due to their age; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [52556/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Employment)

To be in receipt of a Jobseeker's payment from my Department an individual must be capable of; available for and actively seeking full time employment. This applies to all individuals who are on a jobseeker's payment and are on the Live Register.  For those jobseekers up to the age of 62 they are required to engage with the Department’s activation services, including those delivered through JobPath. In the case of the individual concerned, as they are under 62 years of age they are therefore required to engage with these services.

JobPath provides intensive activation support on a one to one basis to Jobseekers who are long term unemployed.  The supports provided typically include Job Seeking skills, CV preparation and Interview skills.   Personal Advisors work with JobPath participants to address any other specific, individual requirements.  I would encourage the customer concerned to engage with the service in assisting them to find employment.

I trust this information is of assistance to the Deputy.

Carer's Allowance Eligibility

Questions (675)

David Cullinane

Question:

675. Deputy David Cullinane asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if the threshold disregard for the carer's allowance and carer's benefit is due to rise when the amount of hours a carer can work increases on 6 January 2020; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [52587/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Employment)

As part of Budget 2020, I announced that recipients of Carer’s Allowance, Carer’s Benefit and the Carer’s Support Grant would be allowed to increase the number of hours they can work, study or attend a training course, outside the home, from 15 to 18.5 hours per week.  An additional 1,200 family carers are expected to benefit from this change at an estimated cost of €11.6 million.  Also any carer currently working less than 18.5 hours per week can avail of the additional hours. 

I particularly prioritised this measure in response to the carers I have met who have told me that they found the current number of 15 hours to be too restrictive.  An increase to 18.5 hours will accommodate increased participation by carers in work or training to strengthen their connection with the labour force, while also serving the additional purpose of reducing the social alienation experienced by many carers. 

Carer’s Benefit is not means tested. The existing income disregard and means test for Carer’s Allowance is the most generous within the social welfare system. Weekly earnings disregarded is currently €332.50 for a single person and €665 for a couple.  

Changes to schemes are considered in an overall budgetary and policy context and from an evidence based perspective.  Some 92% of the current recipients of Carer’s Allowance have no means or means of less than €7.60 per week and would not benefit by increasing the disregard.

Carers who would benefit from an increased disregard would be in higher income households. Given the need to target available resources fairly and equitably to those in most need, allowing an increase in the number of hours was the best use of the limited resources available.

I hope this clarifies the issue for the Deputy.

Carer's Allowance Applications

Questions (676)

Marc MacSharry

Question:

676. Deputy Marc MacSharry asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection when a person (details supplied) in County Sligo will receive a decision on their application for a carer's allowance; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [52590/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Employment)

Carer's allowance (CA) is a means-tested social assistance payment made to a person who is habitually resident in the State and who is providing full-time care and attention to a child or an adult who has such a disability that as a result they require that level of care.

The person concerned is in receipt of CA for one care recipient since 6 November 2014.

I confirm that my department received an application for CA for a 2nd care recipient, from the person concerned, on 25 October 2019.

The application was awarded to the person concerned on 11 December 2019 with effect from 4 October 2019. The first payment will issue to her nominated post office on 19 December 2019. 

Arrears of allowance due from 4 October 2019 to 18 December 2019 will issue to their nominated post office on 19 December 2019.

The person concerned was notified on 11 December 2019 of this decision, the reason for it and of her right of review and appeal.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Invalidity Pension Applications

Questions (677)

Seán Sherlock

Question:

677. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection when a person (details supplied) will receive an invalidity benefit. [52596/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Employment)

The lady referred to has been awarded invalidity pension with effect from 14 November 2019.  Payment will issue to her nominated bank account on 09 January 2020.  Any arrears due from 14 November to 08 January 2020 (less any overlapping social welfare payment) will issue as soon as possible.  The lady in question was notified of this decision on 13 December 2019.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Free Travel Scheme Applications

Question No. 679 answered with Question No. 672.

Questions (678)

Seán Haughey

Question:

678. Deputy Seán Haughey asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if a person (details supplied) will be issued with a travel pass and a companion pass; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [52628/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Employment)

The Free Travel Scheme operated by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection allows people who are age 66 years or over and who are permanently residing in the State to travel free of charge on most public transport.

I am advised that the records of the Department show that the person concerned is not resident in the State and therefore does not qualify for a Free Travel Card or an Over 70 Companion Free Travel Card at this time.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Question No. 679 answered with Question No. 672.

Carer's Support Grant

Questions (680)

Niamh Smyth

Question:

680. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if an application by a person (details supplied) will be expedited; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [52710/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Employment)

The Carer’s Support Grant is an annual payment made to full-time carers.

The Grant cannot be paid to a person who receives Jobseeker’s Allowance or Benefit. The level of care that must be provided to qualify for the Grant means that a person cannot also be available for full-time work. The person concerned received payment of Jobseeker’s Allowance from December 2017 to October 2019 and cannot therefore qualify for either the 2018 or 2019 Grants.

This claim was also refused on the ground that the Deciding Officer was not satisfied that the information supplied was sufficient to show the need for full-time care and attention.   

Written notification of this decision was sent to the person concerned on 11th December 2019. She was advised of her right of review and of her right of appeal to the Social Welfare Appeals Office.

 I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Social Welfare Fraud Data

Questions (681)

Catherine Murphy

Question:

681. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the breakdown by location of the 220 suspected cases of fraud that were detected by use of facial matching technology since 2013; the sanctions imposed on persons suspected of fraud during this period; the number of cases of suspected fraud referred to An Garda Síochána during the period; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [52712/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Employment)

As of 11th December 2019, my Department has referred 225 cases of suspected identify fraud, which were identified using facial matching system, to the Department's Special Investigations Unit for further investigation.

To date:   

- 36 cases have been finalised in court. The sanctions imposed by the Courts in these cases are as follows - 16 custodial sentences, 6 suspended sentences, 6 received the Probation Act and, in 8 cases, fines were imposed;

- 146 cases are currently under investigation;

- In 12 cases, the persons have either left the jurisdiction or their whereabouts are currently unknown; and  

- 31 cases have been concluded with no issues with regard to identity. 

As the majority of suspected fraud cases are still under investigation, the Department is not in a position to provide any further detail on such cases.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Social Welfare Fraud

Questions (682)

Catherine Murphy

Question:

682. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the specification of the facial matching technology her Department uses to detect potential fraud; the make and or brand and model of the camera used; the name of the software used in conjunction with the cameras; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [52736/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Employment)

The facial image matching software used by my Department is supplied by Thales Ltd. This software facilitates facial image verification and comparison by my Department.

To facilitate the SAFE registration and for Public Service Card (PSC) production processes, the Department uses software (Daon Capture/Cognitec Face VACS) to support the capture of a facial image using a webcam/camera and to accept images from scanned photographs. 

When a person presents at one of my Department's 106 SAFE registration locations, their photograph is taken by Logitech WebCams (C525, C920 and Pro 9000). 

This photograph (in JPEG format) is inputted into and stored in the facial image matching software. It is then searched against the Department’s photo database to ensure that the person in that photograph has not already been registered using a different Personal Public Service Number or a different identity dataset.

I trust this clarifies the position for the Deputy.

Respite Care Grant Applications

Questions (683)

Tom Neville

Question:

683. Deputy Tom Neville asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the status of a respite care grant in respect of persons (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [52752/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Employment)

The Carer’s Support Grant is an annual payment made to full-time carers.

The person concerned has been awarded 2019 Grants in respect of both persons being cared for. The person has also been awarded the 2018 Grant in respect of one person.

The Grant is paid at a rate of €1,700 in respect of each person being cared for, and a total amount of €5,100 will lodge to her nominated bank account on Thursday 19th December 2019. Written notification of this award was issued to her on 11th December 2019.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Illness Benefit Payments

Questions (684)

Tom Neville

Question:

684. Deputy Tom Neville asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection when payment will issue to a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [52779/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Employment)

I am advised that the person concerned was found capable of work on the 1st August 2019 and her Illness Benefit claim was subsequently stopped from the 10th August 2019.

The person concerned appealed this decision, and the Department was notified by the Social Welfare Appeals Office on the 11th December 2019 that the appeal had been allowed, and the person concerned was medically unfit for work.

The Illness Benefit claim from the person concerned has been reinstated from the date that it stopped, the 10th August 2019. Arrears of €3755.50 have issued to her bank account paying her fully up to date, and she is currently medically certified until the 29th May 2020.  

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Free Travel Scheme Eligibility

Questions (685)

Jack Chambers

Question:

685. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if she will consider changes to allow pensioners who are no longer allowed to drive for medical reasons to qualify for free travel (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [52790/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Employment)

The free travel scheme provides free travel on the main public and private transport services for those eligible under the scheme.  These include road, rail and ferry services provided by companies such as Bus Átha Cliath, Bus Éireann and Iarnród Éireann, as well as Luas and services provided by over 80 private transport operators.  There are currently approximately 961,000 customers with direct eligibility.  Following announcements in Budget 2019, the funding for the free travel scheme was increased by €5 million to a total of €95 million.

In general, access to a free travel pass for those aged under 66 is linked to a person being in receipt of certain primary Social Protection payments such as Disability Allowance, Invalidity Pension, Carer’s Allowance, Blind Pension and Partial Capacity Benefit.  In 1997 the free travel pass was extended to all registered blind people regardless of whether they qualify for the Department's Blind person's Pension or any other Social Protection payment.  Blind people remain one of the only cohorts of people aged under 66 who can qualify for a free travel pass, while not in receipt of a qualifying Social Protection payment.

Any possible extension to the eligibility criteria for free travel, to include those who are not allowed to drive for medical reasons, would have significant cost implications for the free travel scheme and would also require additional administrative processes to be put in place in order to adjudicate eligibility.  Any decision to do so could only be considered in the context of overall budgetary negotiations.

Under the Supplementary Welfare Allowance scheme (SWA), the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection may award a travel supplement, in any case where the circumstances of the case so warrant.  The supplement is intended to assist with ongoing or recurring travel costs that cannot be met from the client’s own resources and are deemed to be necessary.  Every decision is based on consideration of the circumstances of the case, taking account of the nature and extent of the need and of the resources of the person concerned.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Working Family Payment Applications

Questions (686)

Willie O'Dea

Question:

686. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection when a decision will be made in relation to an application for a working family payment by a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [52868/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Employment)

Working Family Payment (WFP) is an in-work, weekly payment which provides additional income support to employees on low earnings with children, relative to their family size.

An application for WFP was received from the person concerned on 04 September 2019. Their application was referred to a local Social Welfare Inspector (SWI) for further clarification on 11 September 2019.

Following receipt of the completed SWI report, the person concerned has been awarded WFP for 52 weeks with effect from 05 September 2019 to 02 September 2020. Their first weekly payment and all arrears owing will issue to their nominated financial account on 16 December 2019.

The person concerned was notified of this decision on 12 December 2019 and of the right of review and appeal.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Invalidity Pension Applications Data

Questions (687)

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

687. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the number of applications for the invalidity pension refused in each of the years 2017, 2018 and to date in 2019, in tabular form; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [52883/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Employment)

The following table shows the number of invalidity pension claims refused for periods requested.

 -

2017

2018

2019 (YTD)

Claims disallowed

4,544

4,601

4,501 

Public Services Card

Questions (688)

John Brady

Question:

688. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the actions she plans to take having received the enforcement notice from the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner in respect of the public services card; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [52891/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Employment)

The Enforcement Notice was formally served on my Department by registered post on Tuesday, 11th December, last. 

My Department is carefully considering the terms of the Enforcement Notice before determining an appropriate response.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Fuel Allowance Applications

Questions (689)

Seán Sherlock

Question:

689. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if a person (details supplied) is entitled to arrears on their fuel allowance application. [52909/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Employment)

Fuel allowance is a means-tested payment, payable during winter months, to assist householders on long-term social welfare payments towards the cost of their heating needs. 

The main eligibility conditions that apply to the fuel allowance scheme are that a person must be in receipt of a qualifying payment, must satisfy a means test and must either be living alone or with other qualifying persons.  The fuel allowance means test is linked to the maximum rate of the state pension (contributory). 

The person concerned applied for fuel allowance on 5 November 2013.  Fuel allowance was awarded on 9 November 2013 with effect from 5 November 2013.  The person was notified in writing of this decision on 9 November 2013.  Fuel allowance has remained in payment to the person concerned during the annual fuel allowance seasons since date of award. 

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.