I propose to take Questions Nos. 201, 207 and 218 together.
I am aware of concerns that have been raised regarding the pace of recovery for the aviation sector, and that it has been suggested that the level of support be increased and/or that the application of some of the new State supports should be delineated on the basis of explicit sectoral qualification criteria. However, the reality of COVID-19 is that our whole economy and labour market have been rapidly transformed by this unprecedented shock and nearly all sectors have been negatively impacted either directly or indirectly.
The objective of the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) is to support all employment and maintain the link between the employer and employee insofar as is possible. The Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) has been a key component of the Government’s response to the continued Covid-19 crisis to support viable firms and encourage employment in the midst of these very challenging times. To date, subsidy payments of over €1.5 billion have been made and PRSI relief worth over €270m granted to over 41,600 employers in respect of over 467,000 employees.
I have been clear that there will be no cliff-edge to the EWSS. It is noted that the legislation implementing the measure provides that it will be in place until 31 March 2021, but also provides that the scheme may be extended until the end of June 2021 if required and subject to certain procedural conditions.
It is likely that continued support will be necessary out to the end of 2021 to help maintain viable businesses and employment and to provide businesses with certainty to the maximum extent possible. Decisions on the form of such support will take account of emerging circumstances and economic conditions as they become clearer.
In the meantime I am satisfied that the design of the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) fully takes account of the changing environment around living with the COVID-19 pandemic, in line with Resilience and Recovery 2020-2021: Plan for Living with COVID-19.
For those businesses who may need additional support at this time, I would draw attention to the comprehensive package of other business and employer supports that have been made available since the July Stimulus Plan and Budget 2021 - including the Covid Restriction Support Scheme (CRSS), the Credit Guarantee Scheme, the SBCI Working Capital Scheme, Sustaining Enterprise Fund, and the Covid-19 Business Loans Scheme.
Regarding the offering of further mortgage payment breaks, I would draw the Deputy's attention to the fact that the Central Bank has confirmed that there is no regulatory impediment to lenders offering payment breaks to borrowers, providing they are appropriate for the individual borrower circumstance. The BPFI has also reiterated in recent days that standard payment breaks continue to be part of the wide range of tailored solutions which are being made available to customers upon assessment of their situation.
Borrowers have a suite of regulatory protections, such as the Central Bank's Code of Conduct on Mortgage Arrears and the Consumer Protection Code, and lenders have specific obligations to support and work with borrowers who are continuing to experience loan difficulty because of COVID-19. The options could include additional flexibility, and this could be a short term arrangement such as additional periods without payments or interest-only repayments, or if appropriate more long term arrangements.
Through ongoing engagement with the BPFI and lenders, the Central Bank is working to ensure that borrowers affected by COVID-19 continue to be supported through this period of unprecedented stress. The Central Bank recently wrote to all lenders indicating that lenders are to ensure that they have sufficient expert resources to assess individual borrower circumstances, and to offer appropriate and sustainable solutions to affected borrowers in a timely manner in line with regulatory requirements and Central Bank expectations.
I will continue to work with the Central Bank, as regulator, to ensure that the Central Bank consumer protection and other applicable frameworks will be fully available to all borrowers that will still need support.
Questions in relation to the Pandemic Unemployment Payment are a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Social Protection.