There are a number of basic principles which underpin the Irish social insurance system. Firstly, there is the contributory principle. Under this principle there is a direct link between the PRSI contributions that a person has paid and entitlement to a varying range of benefits and pensions. Where a person has sufficient PRSI contributions, then benefits and pensions may be paid, where a particular contingency arises and without a means test.
Secondly, there is the solidarity principle. Under this principle the benefits and pensions that are paid are not directly related to the amount of PRSI contributions paid by insured persons. PRSI contribution income is instead redistributed to support contributors who are more vulnerable.
To qualify for a Widow's, Widower's or Surviving Civil Partner's (Contributory) Pension, either the person claiming or their late spouse or civil partner must have a certain number of PRSI contributions and not be in a cohabiting relationship. All the PRSI requirements must be met on one person's record - one may not combine the contributions of either spouses or civil partners. All PRSI contributions must have been made before the death of the spouse or civil partner.
Virtually all PRSI contributions count towards this pension, including contributions paid by public servants and the self-employed. Once in payment, the pension remains payable while the person remains widowed or a surviving civil partner. The pension is payable regardless of other income.
Primary social welfare legislation provides that PRSI paid by the person and their employers only provides coverage for one payment at such times. In the case of PRSI funded pensions, a person cannot be in receipt of both a State Pension (Contributory) and a Widow’s, Widower’s or Surviving Civil Partner’s (Contributory) Pension. It should be noted, however, that the maximum personal rate of a Widow’s, Widower’s or Surviving Civil Partner’s (Contributory) Pension is significantly higher for those aged 66 or over than it is for a widow or widower of working age, as it is aligned with the maximum personal rate for the State Pension (Contributory).
To change the underlying principle of entitlement, and allow people claim multiple payments would involve significant additional expenditure which could prove unsustainable in the long-term, and would have to be considered in the overall policy and budgetary contexts.
There are a number of additional supports in the social welfare system which further benefit widows:
- A person who loses their spouse or civil partner may be entitled to the Living Alone Allowance in addition to the Widow's Pension.
- People in receipt a Widow's Pension may also be eligible for the Household Benefits Package. In addition, a widow aged between 60 and 65 years, whose late spouse/civil partner received the Household Benefits Package from this Department, may qualify for that package if they otherwise satisfy all other conditions and receive a relevant qualifying payment.
- A Widow's Pension recipient may also qualify to receive Fuel Allowance, subject to the conditions of the scheme, including a means test.
- A Widow's Pension recipient who qualifies for both the Living Alone Allowance and the Fuel Allowance will automatically qualify for the Telephone Support Allowance. This payment aims to help those living alone with the cost of communications and/or home alert security systems.
I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.