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Jobseeker's Payments

Dáil Éireann Debate, Wednesday - 29 July 2020

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Questions (21)

Claire Kerrane


21. Deputy Claire Kerrane asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection her plans to address the ongoing issue of 65 year old persons signing on for jobseeker’s payment for one year at retirement; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19302/20]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Employment)

I would like to ask the Minister her plans to address the ongoing issue of 65 year olds being forced to sign on for a jobseeker's payment on retirement.

The new Programme for Government - Our Shared Future proposes an early retirement allowance or pension for 65 year olds, paid at the same rate as jobseeker's benefit without a requirement to sign on, partake in any activation measures or be available for and genuinely seeking work.  The new payment will be introduced as early as possible for those who are retired from employment.  

I made this an immediate priority on coming into the Department and my officials are currently considering the design of the scheme and assessing the necessary legislation, ICT system requirements and administrative processes required to support the introduction of this payment.

Regarding the current position, it is hoped that in most cases Irish workers will continue to work up to State pension age.  Where this is not possible, there are specific measures which apply to someone claiming jobseeker's benefit from a date after their 65th birthday.  Social welfare legislation states that jobseeker's payments may be made until a person reaches pensionable age.  If a person aged 65 has paid at least 156 weeks of pay-related social insurance, PRSI, contributions, he or she will continue to receive jobseeker's benefit until he or she reaches State pension age, even when that benefit exhausts.

Ordinarily, those in receipt of a jobseeker's payment must engage with my Department's activation process.  These conditions do not apply to people aged 62 and older.  However, they can still avail voluntarily of an array of supports which are available from my Department if they wish to return to work, training or education.  

Special arrangements are also in place so that people in this age group, that is, those aged 62 and older, only have to register with their Intreo office once a year and so do not need to sign on.  Additionally, their payments will be paid directly into their bank accounts if they wish. I trust this clarifies the matter.

I thank the Minister. I acknowledge the commitment in the programme for Government and I am glad this will be a focus of her Ministry. That is welcome. However, all the commitment in the programme for Government does is change the name of the payment. I welcome the revocation of the requirement for those who go on jobseeker's payments at 65 to seek work. It was a very silly rule that expected people to go around with CVs at 65 years of age, after working for 40 or 50 years and paying 40 or 45 years of contributions. I am glad that it will be addressed and I hope the Minister will deal with it as urgently as she has said.

As of last month there were 4,499 65 year olds on a jobseeker's payment. As I have said, some of these people started working when they were 15. At 65 they have worked for 50 years. I hope the Minister will acknowledge that providing for them through jobseeker's payments, as is the case today, is really inappropriate.

I thank the Deputy. There is no statutory retirement age in the State. I recognise the need for a payment for 65 year olds who are required to retire early or choose to do so. I have directed officials in my Department to introduce the early retirement allowance or pension as soon as possible. Officials in my Department are assessing the legislative, technological and administrative issues. We must ensure a robust system is in place before that is rolled out. The State pension age will not increase to 67 next year. As the Deputy knows, I will be setting up a commission on pensions which will examine a range of issues, including contributions, calculation methods, sustainability, eligibility and intergenerational fairness issues.

I thank the Minister. It is always said by Ministers, especially when we discuss the abolition of mandatory retirement ages, that there is no statutory retirement age in the State. We know that, but so many employment contracts stipulate retirement at the age of 65. There would not be almost 5,000 65 year olds on jobseeker's payments if the age of 65 was not contained in their employment contracts. That is the issue.

The Minister must also acknowledge the difference in payments. When a person retires they can fall from €400 or €500 a week to €203 a week on jobseeker's benefit. That is a difference of more than €2,300 a year. People are losing out financially from this. I am concerned that the new retirement allowance will be paid at the same rate as jobseeker's benefit and as such this will not be addressed.

Finally, will the Minister look again at abolishing mandatory retirement? My party brought forward a Bill on this and it was passed unanimously by the Dáil. People who want to remain at work beyond 65 should have that option.

I agree with the Deputy that people who want to work for longer should be allowed to. Let us face it; we are living longer, we are healthier and we want to work. It is good for a person's health to continue to work. Many have said that those who work longer live longer. We certainly need to look at that. The commission will examine a range of issues when it is set up. I will await the findings of its report on the entire matter.