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Thursday, 4 Nov 2021

Written Answers Nos. 301-315

Departmental Funding

Questions (301)

Paul Kehoe

Question:

301. Deputy Paul Kehoe asked the Minister for Education when an organisation (details supplied) will receive requested documents; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [53918/21]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

The organisation, which the Deputy refers to, received €137,000 in funding from my Department in 2020. As part of the supporting documentation to comply with the DPER Circular 13/2014 we requested and are still awaiting a Certificate of Assurance from the organisation for the funding which they received in 2020.

A Certificate of Assurance gives written assurances from recipients of public funding that any monies received are used in accordance with the terms and conditions as laid out in DPER Circular 13/2014. This is in line with official governance guidelines and is part of the annual criteria required to enable us provide the funding as outlined in the budget approval letter which issued on 24th March 2020 to the organisation.

As the Deputy can appreciate, the funding that we give to this organisation, comes from the Exchequer. It is imperative that we have these assurances in place in advance of funding issuing. Officials from my Department have been in touch with this organisation recently regarding this Certificate of Assurance and as soon as it arrives into my Department, signed, we can consider final funding arrangements for 2021.

Social Welfare Benefits

Questions (302)

Peter Burke

Question:

302. Deputy Peter Burke asked the Minister for Social Protection if the current age limit of 18 for the children’s allowance will be extended until the child finishes their education up to third-level. [53796/21]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

Child benefit is a monthly payment made to families with children in respect of all qualified children up to the age of 16 years. The payment continues to be paid in respect of children until their 18th birthday who are in full-time education, or who have a disability. Child benefit is currently paid to over 631,000 families in respect of almost 1.2 million children with expenditure of more than €2.1 billion in 2020.

Families on low incomes may be able to avail of a number of social welfare schemes that support children in full-time education until the age of 22, including:

- Increase for a Qualified Child (IQC) with primary social welfare payments;

- the Working Family Payment for low-paid employees with children; and

- the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance.

These schemes provide targeted assistance that is directly linked to household income and thereby support low-income families with older children participating in full-time education.

As part of Budget 2022, I secured increases in the rates for a qualified child aged under 12 by €2 to €40 per week, and for a qualified child aged 12 or older by €3 to €48 per week. These increases will come into effect in January 2022. The income thresholds for all families in receipt of Working Family Payment will also increase by €10 per week in 2022.

Extending Child Benefit in respect of full time students in second level and third level education who are over 18 years of age could only be considered in a Budgetary context and in the context of competing demands for limited resources.

Food Poverty

Questions (303)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

303. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Social Protection the schemes that are in place to distribute food to persons living in areas of high social deprivation and who are suffering significantly from food poverty; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [53826/21]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

My Department is the designated managing authority for the Fund for European Aid to the most Deprived (FEAD) and has responsibility for the implementation of the programme in Ireland. Support provided through FEAD aims to help people take their first steps out of poverty and social exclusion by addressing their most basic needs.

FoodCloud is the department's primary partner organisation and they deliver the food element of the FEAD programme. FoodCloud manages the procurement and storage of 23 dried FEAD food products and coordinates the collection of the products by the other partner organisations which are the local charities. There are over 150 charities approved as partner organisations across the country and over 5,000 tonnes of food have been distributed to communities through these charities since the programme commenced in late 2016. In 2020, over 250,000 people were supported through this programme.

In addition, the school meals programme provides funding towards the provision of food for disadvantaged school children. The objective of the programme is to provide regular, nutritious food to children who are unable, due to lack of good quality food, to take full advantage of the education provided to them. The programme is an important component of policies to encourage school attendance and extra educational achievement.

There are 1,506 schools and organisations benefiting 230,000 children on the programme with a budget of €65.1 million provided for the scheme in 2021.

In recent years, entry to the School Meals Scheme has been confined to DEIS schools in addition to schools identified as having levels of concentrated disadvantage that would benefit from access to the School Meals Programme.

Prior to the introduction of DEIS in 2005, all schools and organisations that were part of one of a number of Department of Education and Skills’ initiatives for disadvantaged schools were eligible to participate in the programme, which included Breaking the Cycle, Giving Children an Even Break, the Disadvantaged Area Scheme, Home School Community Liaison and the School Completion Programme. These schools and organisations have continued to remain in the scheme since the introduction of DEIS in 2005 but their level of funding has been capped at the same rate year on that year to allow for the concentration of the scheme on DEIS schools.

Budget 2022 has provided the Department of Education an allocation of €18million for 2022 and €32million for 2023 to extend the DEIS programme to further schools with the highest levels of disadvantage. This represents an increase of over 20% in funding for the DEIS programme and will enable an expansion in 2022 of the programme to further schools.

This package follows an extensive body of work which has been undertaken by the DEIS technical group in relation to the development of a model to identify the concentrated levels of disadvantage of schools. The refined model is an objective, statistics-based process, based on school enrolment data and data available from Census 2016 under the HP Deprivation Index.

This work involved an initial process of consultation by the Department of Education with the education partners on the technical aspects of the model. Over the coming weeks there will be further consultation with relevant stakeholders to outline the components of the model. The purpose is to ensure that, as far as possible, the refined DEIS identification model can provide an objective and independent means of identifying schools serving high concentrations of pupils at risk of educational disadvantage and also to ensure there is a full understanding of the refined model and its potential application.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

State Pensions

Questions (304)

Kieran O'Donnell

Question:

304. Deputy Kieran O'Donnell asked the Minister for Social Protection if the case of a person (details supplied) will be examined [53827/21]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

According to the records of my Department, the person concerned has a social insurance record of 669 full-rate paid contributions, 325 credited contributions and 892 HomeCaring Periods from their date of entry into insurable employment until pension age.

The person’s pension entitlement has been assessed under both the yearly average and aggregated contributions methods. Based on their yearly average of 20 contributions, the person is entitled to an 85% rate of State pension (contributory) which has been in payment since the person’s 66th birthday, 22/01/2015.

The aggregated contributions method allows for the inclusion of HomeCaring Periods. The person concerned has been awarded 892 HomeCaring Periods, which, when taken into account with their 994 qualifying contributions and credits, gives them a pension entitlement of 82.16% of the maximum rate.

Therefore, the person concerned is in receipt of the most financially beneficial rate of State pension (contributory) commensurate with their social insurance record. They were notified of the outcome of their pension review on 15 October 2021.

If they consider that they have additional contributions or credits that have not been recorded, it is open to them to forward documentary evidence to my Department and a further review of their pension entitlement can be undertaken. The person concerned may wish to consider applying for State pension (non-contributory) which is a means-tested, residency-based payment for people of pension age. The maximum personal rate is over 95% of the maximum rate of the contributory pension.

I hope this clarifies the position for the Deputy.

State Pensions

Questions (305)

Kieran O'Donnell

Question:

305. Deputy Kieran O'Donnell asked the Minister for Social Protection if the case of a person (details supplied) will be examined; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [53829/21]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

The person concerned had been awarded State pension (contributory) at 85% of the maximum rate from their 66th birthday, based on their contribution record as held by my Department.

Following a review of their contribution record for the social insurance years 1971/72 to 1976/77 an additional 213 full rate contributions have been awarded.

The person’s pension entitlement was re-assessed under both the yearly average and aggregated contributions methods. Using the yearly average method the person is entitled to a 90% rate of State pension (contributory), while the Total Contributions approach gives a 96.1% entitlement.

A revised award letter notifying the person concerned of the outcome of their pension review issued on 21 October 2021. Arrears have issued.

I hope this clarifies the position for the Deputy.

Employment Support Services

Questions (306)

Carol Nolan

Question:

306. Deputy Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will reverse the decision not to extend the contract of a club (details supplied); the reason for this decision; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [53830/21]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

The current contract term for Birr Job Club is from 1 Jan 2021 to 31 Dec 2021 at which time it shall expire. My Department has met with Birr Job Club to inform them that this contract will not be renewed beyond the end of this year, as employment services will be delivered by the new Regional Employment Service in Offaly in 2022.

My Department is now at an advanced stage in its first phase of a two-phase procurement of the rollout of a consistent and high quality range of employment services across the entire State. The expansion of changes to employment services being implemented through a two-phase procurement process has been well signposted for some years and involves implementing recommendations from the 2018 Indecon Reviews of Job Clubs and Local Employment Services, which recommended that the Department amalgamate these employment services and procure them in an open and competitive manner.

Phase one of the procurement process sees the rollout of the new Regional Employment Service which amalgamates these services in seven counties including Offaly and is the start of extending them across the State. My Department has undertaken extensive consultation with existing service providers in this regard, including prior to the Request for Tenders being published in May of this year.

Phase two of this process, to commence shortly, will see the Regional Employment Service model rolled out across the State. The possibility of retaining the current model used in both Local Employment Services and Job Clubs, which was developed a generation ago, with standalone annual contracts under a closed procurement process, was not an option.

As the new Regional Employment Service will be in operation in Offaly in January 2022 , the Department will not be offering a new contract or an extension to the current contract to the Birr Job Club as employment services will, in 2022, be provided by the Regional Employment Service across the entire county.

I trust this clarifies the position for the Deputy.

Cross-Border Co-operation

Questions (307)

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

307. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for Social Protection the details of the cross-Border Project Ireland 2040 infrastructure projects and the funding allocated for 2021, 2022 and 2023, in tabular form. [53852/21]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

There are no Project Ireland 2040 cross-border infrastructure proposals or projects under the aegis of the Department of Social Protection.

Cross-Border Co-operation

Questions (308)

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

308. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for Social Protection the details of her Department’s current cross-Border initiatives, goods and or services committed to and the funding allocated to each for 2021, 2022 and 2023, in tabular form. [53870/21]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

The EURES Cross Border Partnership Ireland – Northern Ireland is concerned with the coordination of employment services across Northern Ireland and the border counties of Ireland (Louth, Cavan, Monaghan, Donegal, Sligo and Leitrim). It supports frontier and cross border workers, jobseekers and employers in the Ireland/Northern Ireland Border region. Up until 31 December 2021, the Partnership was 80% funded through the European and Social Innovation Programme (EaSI). Following the UK’s decision to leave the European Union, it was agreed the Partnership would continue to be funded by this Department and the Department for Communities (DfC) on a three year rotating basis.

Year

Allocated Funding

Comments

2021

Nil

Internal costs for support staff

2022

€175,000

Internal Costs for support staff and a dedicated Coordinator. Allocated funding covers activities, events and subsidies to associated bodies.

2023

€175,000

Internal Costs for Support staff and a dedicated coordinator. Allocated funding covers activities, events and subsidies to associated bodies.

The annual Social Welfare Summer School has been running for over 23 years and is hosted each year by this Department and DfC on a biannual basis. The costs are shared 50-50 between the two Departments and the venue rotates between Dublin and Belfast. The last in-person Summer School was held in Dublin in August 2019 and the next Summer School is scheduled to take place in Belfast in August 2022. A virtual summer school was held in September 2021. The school is organised and managed by a Steering Group comprising of officials from this Department and DfC along with the Academic Director of the School.

Year

Cost

Comment

2021

€7,532

Based on conversion of £6,407

2022

€40,500 est

Based on 2019 costs

2023

€40,500 est

Based on 2019 cost

The All Ireland Free Travel (AIFT) scheme entitles customers of this Department aged 66 years and over who hold a Senior Smart pass to travel within Northern Ireland. Persons resident in Northern Ireland for 3 months and aged 65 or over, may similarly obtain a Senior Smart pass. The cost of cross border travel and the AIFT scheme for 2020 was €3,318,056. Cross border travel and usage of the AIFT scheme has been impacted by public health restrictions due to the pandemic. It is not possible to provide details at this time of the funding to be allocated for 2021, 2022 and 2023 as this is a demand led service. However, I am committed to continuing to support this important initiative.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Employment Support Services

Questions (309)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

309. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social Protection if a person (details supplied) will be allowed to undertake employment for two extra hours per week on the understanding that their caree would be under their supervision at all times; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [53887/21]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

Carer's allowance (CA) is a means-tested social assistance payment made to a person who is habitually resident in the State and who is providing full-time care and attention to a child or an adult who has such a disability that as a result they require that level of care.

A person can be considered to be providing full-time care and attention where they are engaged in employment, self-employment or on training courses for a maximum of 18.5 hours per week, provided that they can show to the satisfaction of a deciding officer that adequate care is being provided for the care recipient in their absence.

If the person concerned exceeds the maximum of 18.5 hours per week, they will no longer have an entitlement to CA.

I hope this clarifies the position for the Deputy.

Community Employment Schemes

Questions (310)

Paul Kehoe

Question:

310. Deputy Paul Kehoe asked the Minister for Social Protection the position regarding community employment supervisor pensions; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [53921/21]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

As the Deputy will be aware, CE supervisors and CE assistant supervisors have been seeking for several years, through their union representatives, Siptu and Forsa, the allocation of Exchequer funding to implement a 2008 Labour Court recommendation relating to the provision of a pension scheme for CE supervisors and assistant supervisors who are employed by CE scheme sponsors.

This claim creates some difficulties because the State is not the employer of the supervisors.

Within this context, officials from my Department and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform held discussions on proposals to progress and resolve this complex issue, while having regard to the wider budgetary framework. Department officials also held discussions with unions representing CE supervisors and CE assistant supervisors.

At the start of April this year, agreement was reached between the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and the Minister for Social Protection on proposals to resolve the long-standing issue. These proposals included a financial package.

Since that time, discussions on these proposals took place between my Department and the unions representing CE supervisors and CE assistant supervisors, in consultation with other relevant Government Departments; the Department of Expenditure and Reform and the Department of Finance.

The most up to date position is that Department officials wrote to both Siptu and Forsa last week setting out the terms of a full and final settlement. The total value of the financial element package now on the table is in excess of €24 million. This is a comprehensive and generous offer which I am confident will bring this long-standing matter to a conclusion.

I trust this clarifies the matter.

Social Welfare Appeals

Questions (311)

Michael Healy-Rae

Question:

311. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Social Protection the status of an appeal by a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [53922/21]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

The Social Welfare Appeals Office has advised me that an appeal by the person concerned was registered in that office on 30 July 2021. It is a statutory requirement of the appeals process that the relevant papers and comments by or on behalf of the Deciding Officer on the grounds of appeal be sought from the Department of Social Protection. Those papers were received in the Social Welfare Appeals Office on 26 August 2021 and the case was referred on 5 October 2021 to an Appeals Officer .

The Appeals Officer will make a summary decision on the appeal based on the documentary evidence presented or, if necessary, hold an oral hearing.

The Social Welfare Appeals Office functions independently of the Minister for Social Protection and of the Department and is responsible for determining appeals against decisions in relation to social welfare entitlements.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Social Welfare Payments

Questions (312)

Claire Kerrane

Question:

312. Deputy Claire Kerrane asked the Minister for Social Protection the number of persons who have received both the pandemic unemployment payment and the working family payment since January 2020 to date; the number of recipients who no longer received the working family payment since their transition from the pandemic unemployment payment to the jobseeker’s payments in September 2021, in tabular form; the number of recipients of each payment by month; the number who have transitioned from the pandemic unemployment to jobseeker’s terms; and the number who have lost their working family payment per week since September 2021. [53928/21]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

Working Family Payment (WFP) is an in-work family benefit which provides additional income support to employees on low earnings with children.

My Department, as part of the overall Government response to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, put in place supports, including the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP), for individuals who lost their employment as a direct consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic. Customers in receipt of WFP and PUP are entitled to receive both payments concurrently.

As people have returned to employment, the number of customers in receipt of PUP has reduced while the numbers claiming WFP has increased. Overall, the numbers in receipt of PUP have fallen dramatically by over 403,000 from the 2021 peak and by over 524,000 from the 2020 peak to just under 78,000 recipients. It is not possible to provide a historical breakdown of the number of recipients of WFP and PUP as numbers change on a week by week basis. At the end of October 2021 there were 771 customers in receipt of WFP and PUP concurrently.

The Department has not yet transitioned any customers from WFP to Jobseekers. All customers who continue to meet the qualifying criteria for WFP and PUP will continue to receive both payments until the 9th November 2021. The process of moving the lower €203 rate of PUP to a jobseeker's payment has commenced. WFP customers who are affected have been contacted by the Department to advise them that their PUP payment will cease and the options available to them, including the timeframe within which claims for jobseekers payments should be submitted.

The Department is aware that, in a small number of cases, customers made early applications for jobseeker payments and this has stopped their WFP payment earlier than should have been the case. The Department will identify the people concerned and will restore the payment for the period in question. This will be done at an early date and the people concerned will be communicated with directly.

I hope this clarifies the position for the Deputy.

State Pensions

Questions (313)

Réada Cronin

Question:

313. Deputy Réada Cronin asked the Minister for Social Protection if there are plans to make emergency foster carers eligible for the State pension (contributory); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [53943/21]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

Subject to the standard qualifying conditions for State Pension (Contributory) also being satisfied, the State pension system already provides significant recognition to those whose work history includes an extended period of time outside the paid workplace, often to raise families or in a full-time caring role.

This is provided through the award of credits and/or the application of the Homemaker’s Scheme (under the Yearly Average method for payment calculation) and/or the application of HomeCaring Periods (under the Aggregated Contribution Method, also known as the interim Total Contributions Approach).

Details of these are –

- Credits – PRSI Credits are awarded to recipients of Carer’s Allowance (and Carer’s Benefit) where they have an underlying entitlement to credits. Credits are also awarded to workers who take unpaid Carer’s Leave from work.

- The Homemaker’s Scheme - The scheme, which was introduced with effect from 1994, is designed to help homemakers and carers qualify for State Pension (Contributory). The Scheme, which allows periods caring for children or people with a caring need to be disregarded (from 1994), can have the effect of increasing a person's Yearly Average.

- HomeCaring Periods – HomeCaring Periods may be awarded for each week not already covered by a paid or credited social insurance contribution (regardless of when they occurred) to a maximum of 20 years. HomeCaring Periods can only be used under the Aggregated Contribution Method (also known as the Interim Total Contributions Approach) of pension calculation.

Since April 2019, all new State (Contributory) Pension applications are assessed under all possible rate calculation methods, including the Yearly Average and the interim Total Contributions Approach, with the most beneficial rate paid to the pensioner. The elements which make up each method are set out in legislation.

Foster parents are entitled to the benefits of the Homemakers Scheme or HomeCaring Periods, on the same basis as other homemakers, and will qualify if the carer is in receipt of Child Benefit. If the foster parent is not in receipt of Child Benefit s/he can still qualify for the Homemaker’s scheme or HomeCaring Periods provided the caring periods are confirmed by TUSLA (these are cases where caring is for a short period of time).

It should be noted that if a person does not satisfy the conditionality to qualify for State Pension (Contributory), s/he may qualify for the means-tested State Pension (Non-Contributory), the maximum rate of which is over 95% that of the maximum rate of the State Pension (Contributory). Alternatively, if his/her spouse is a State pensioner and has significant household means, his/her most beneficial payment may be an Increase for a Qualified Adult, based on his/her personal means, and amounting to up to 90% of a full contributory pension.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Child and Family Agency

Questions (314)

Carol Nolan

Question:

314. Deputy Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if the obligatory notification reports that must be made to Tusla by doctors, community sexual health and family planning services with respect to children under 15 years of age who have engaged in sexual activity, includes data on whether or not a termination of pregnancy was sought; the number of such notification reports made by these service providers to Tusla for the period 1 January 2019 to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53771/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

The Deputy is referring to an operational matter for Tusla, the Child and Family Agency. I have therefore referred the matter to Tusla, and asked that a direct response be provided to the Deputy.

Rights of People with Disabilities

Questions (315)

Richard O'Donoghue

Question:

315. Deputy Richard O'Donoghue asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if his attention has been drawn to the fact that persons with Down syndrome do not have the necessary mechanism to access their rights; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53714/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

Ireland ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) in 2018. This marked an important milestone in a process to strengthen the rights of people with disabilities in Ireland.

The approach being taken to meeting the obligations of the UNCRPD is one of progressive realisation, each year moving forward on key reforms, with the obligations arising from the Convention being met over time. Initial priority has been given to meeting legislative commitments.

Ireland currently has two whole-of-government strategies in place, the National Disability Inclusion Strategy (now extended until the end of 2022) and the Comprehensive Employment Strategy for People with Disabilities, 2015-2024. These include important measures to support people with disabilities in all aspects of their lives. They encompass a wide diversity of people with disabilities, including those with Down's Syndrome.

These are the key frameworks for policy and action to address the needs of persons with disabilities in Ireland, and to improve their lives in a practical sense. They include actions on enabling people with disabilities to access education, to enter employment and to live independently. They are also the key frameworks for advancing progress with respect to UNCRPD obligations. My Department coordinates these two strategies and my colleague, Minister of State Anne Rabbitte T.D., chairs the National Disability Inclusion Strategy Steering Group.

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