My Department provides a suite of income supports for those who are unable to work due to an illness or disability. It is important to note that entitlement to these supports is generally not contingent on the nature of the illness or disability but on the extent to which a particular illness or disability impairs or restricts a person’s capacity to work. This Department spent a total of €4.7 billion on illness, disability and caring payments in 2020.
In March of last year, under the Health (Preservation and Protection and other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Act 2020 (No. 1) and subsequent regulations, the Government provided for entitlement to Illness Benefit for persons who have been diagnosed with Covid-19 or are a probable source of infection with Covid-19.
The rate of payment of this enhanced Illness Benefit payment in respect of Covid-19 is higher than the normal maximum personal rate for a limited period. This enhanced benefit is payable for 2 weeks where a person is isolating as a probable source of infection of Covid-19 and up to 10 weeks where a person has been diagnosed with Covid-19.
The measures were designed to ensure that where a registered medical practitioner or a HSE medical officer diagnoses a person with Covid-19 or identifies them as a probable source of infection of Covid-19, the person can comply with medical advice to isolate, while having their income protected. This is essential to limit the spread of the virus, to keep the number of people affected to a minimum, and hence to avoid extreme pressure on the health system.
In a case where a person continues to be ill beyond 10 weeks, standard Illness Benefit may be paid for an extended period, based on the person’s continued eligibility. Illness Benefit is the primary income support payment for people who are unable to attend work due to illness of any type and who are covered by Pay Related Social Insurance (PRSI) contributions. Illness Benefit is payable for up to two years, depending on satisfying the eligibility conditions. Additional payments may be made in respect of a qualified adult and qualifying children.
Apart from these income supports, my Department also provides means tested supports under the Supplementary Welfare Allowance scheme for people who are ill but who do not qualify for Illness Benefit. The Department may also make an exceptional needs payment (ENP) to help meet essential, once-off expenditure which a person could not reasonably be expected to meet from their weekly income.
My Department keeps the range of income supports under review in order to make sure they meet their objectives. Any changes to the current system would need to be considered in an overall policy and budgetary context.
I trust this clarifies the matter.