Tuesday, 18 May 2021

Questions (111)

Claire Kerrane

Question:

111. Deputy Claire Kerrane asked the Minister for Social Protection if consideration will be given to extending maternity benefit eligibility to women who have not built up the required PRSI contributions prior to the birth of their baby and the possibility of providing a partial rate maternity benefit in these cases; the financial support that can be made available to women returning to Ireland who have lived in countries which do not have bilateral agreements on maternity benefits with the State; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26176/21]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Social)

This question concerns maternity benefit. A number of women have got in touch with me who have returned to Ireland, specifically from Canada and America, who do not have the required number of PRSI contributions. Having returned, they have had or are having a baby and they cannot access maternity benefit. Has any consideration been given to partial maternity benefit payments or any similar support for women when they have a baby but they do not have the required PRSI contributions?

I thank Deputy Kerrane for raising this matter. Maternity benefit is a statutory payment made for 26 weeks to employed and self-employed women who satisfy certain PRSI contribution conditions. The fundamental qualification criteria for maternity benefit are that a woman must be in insurable employment and entitled to statutory maternity leave or be in insurable self-employment. The applicant must also satisfy certain PRSI contribution conditions.

EU social security co-ordination regulations include provisions to cater for maternity benefit in situations where workers have moved between EU member states. Similarly, the convention on social security between Ireland and the UK, put in place in response to the UK leaving the EU, provides for situations where workers have moved between Ireland and the UK. Where an individual has insufficient social insurance contributions to qualify for maternity benefit, she may be eligible for another social welfare payment provided she meets the relevant conditions. For example, the main purpose of the supplementary welfare allowance scheme is to provide immediate and flexible assistance for those in need who do not qualify for payment under other welfare schemes. There are no plans to introduce a partial payment of maternity benefit for those who do not satisfy the requisite PRSI contribution conditions.

It is great to see those who have emigrated coming home to start a family and take up work here after being abroad for a number of years. It is especially welcome to see young people, who had left, returning. When they do come home, if they do not have the required number of PRSI contributions if they have been in a country outside the EU, I accept the supplementary welfare allowance is available but there are difficulties in meeting the habitual residence requirements. I am not sure how long the supplementary welfare allowance can be paid, and I wonder if some additional measure could be examined to ensure a woman is supported to take a number of months off after having a child.

I take on board what Deputy Kerrane says. We have been trying to improve the supports available to parents. We have extended parental leave from two weeks to five weeks. That has been welcomed. It is a good support and it is something I would like to see us extending further.

I am aware of the habitual residence clause that is in place. It can sometimes have unintended consequences in that when you start to change the criteria for one particular cohort, it could result in a considerable budgetary demand. However, I take on board what the Deputy says and I will discuss it with my officials.

Under the bilateral arrangements that exist between this country and a number of other countries in respect of social welfare, is it possible to arrange a payment based on their contributions in the country from which they are leaving?

There are arrangements across the EU, as I said, and there is a bilateral arrangement with the UK. Many cases would traditionally have been dealt with in terms of contributions. The convention on social security between Ireland and the UK, which was put in place in response to the UK leaving the EU post-Brexit, provides for situations where workers have moved between Ireland and the UK. We signed that agreement so all of the benefits we had prior to the UK leaving the EU are still in place, which is very important. As I said, the EU social security co-ordination regulations include provisions to cater for maternity benefit in situations where workers have moved between EU member states. Again, in terms of what arrangements can be put in place with other countries, these are the main ones. We are part of the EU and the UK is our closest neighbour. We do not have any arrangements with other countries that I am aware of.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.