Thursday, 3 December 2020

Questions (10)

Christopher O'Sullivan


10. Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Social Protection if a person will be allowed to apply for carer’s benefit based on the PRSI contributions of their spouse in which the applicant is either self-employed or does not have qualifying contributions in their own right. [30679/20]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Social)

I ask the Minister if a person will be allowed to apply for carer’s benefit based on the PRSI contributions of their spouse, where the applicant is either self-employed or does not have the qualifying contributions in their own right.

I thank the Deputy. Carer's benefit is a payment of up to two years' duration made to people who may be required to leave the workforce or reduce their working hours to care for a person in need of full-time care. Under the provisions of the legislation, to be eligible to claim carer's benefit, a claimant must have paid PRSI contributions in classes A, B, C, D, E or H. Self-employed workers who pay social insurance contributions at the class S rate of 4% are not eligible for carer's benefit.

For a first claim, the carer must have 156 PRSI contributions paid since entry into insurance and either 39 contributions paid in the relevant tax year; 39 contributions paid in the 12 months immediately before the commencement of the carer's benefit; or 26 contributions paid in the relevant tax year and 26 contributions paid in the previous relevant tax year.

Entitlement to social insurance benefits is generally dependent on the applicant's social insurance contribution record, the class of social insurance paid and other qualification criteria relevant to the schemes in question. This is to reflect the fact that the payment is made to an individual to address a contingency that he or she is experiencing.

A claim cannot be made for carer's benefit based on the contributions paid by another person, such as a spouse or partner. Where a person does not have the necessary social insurance record, he or she can claim for carer's allowance. The first €332.20 of weekly income for a single person, or €665 for a couple, is disregarded in the means test.

Any proposal to amend social insurance entitlements would have to be considered in a budgetary context, taking account of the current economic circumstances and the sustainability of the Social Insurance Fund. I hope my reply has clarified the issue.

I thank the Minister for her response. While I appreciate that the disregards and allowance bands are high, I have encountered a few tough examples of self-employed people not being able to apply for the same carer's benefit as someone who has been paying PRSI class A. The best thing I can do is provide an example. A self-employed male electrician has a wife who had been in full-time employment paying class A before she fell extremely ill. He may have to leave work to look after her, but he will only be entitled to apply for a means-tested carer's allowance and savings and other means will be taken into account. This impedes the amount for which they can qualify. There is a number of potential solutions. Although I understand that the wife in this instance may be able to apply for illness benefit based on her contributions, could her contributions be used to allow her spouse to apply for carer's benefit?

We cannot change the principle that benefits are paid to the contributor. As the Deputy mentioned, the means-tested carer's allowance is available. The means test has a generous disregard of €665 for a couple. I understand that there are difficult situations, but we have extended supports for the self-employed. For example, they can now get jobseeker's benefit. This is why many self-employed have been able to benefit from the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, which is only right and proper. Many extra benefits have been made available to the self-employed, but in the case outlined, extending a benefit in the way the Deputy requested to attach it to someone else's contributions would represent a fundamental change in the social welfare system.

I understand the Minister's point about claiming carer's benefit on the spouse's contributions, but I am glad that she raised the example of self-employed people being able to avail of jobseeker's benefit by paying class S. That contribution entitles a self-employed person to invalidity pension. This welcome change was made a couple of years ago. Could a self-employed person making class S contributions be allowed to avail of carer's benefit? Could this potential solution be considered?

Yes. That would entail expanding further the benefits relating to a class S stamp. I always want to consider how to review and improve, but this could result in the contribution increasing, given that the benefit is commensurate with the stamp paid. I will consider the proposal and I would be happy to engage with the Deputy.

Question No. 11 answered with Question No. 9.