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Tuesday, 14 Dec 2021

Written Answers Nos. 418-434

Schools Administration

Questions (418)

Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire

Question:

418. Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire asked the Minister for Education the status of the transfer of ownership of lands located at a school (details supplied) to her Department. [61992/21]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

The property referred to by the Deputy is in the ownership of the Patron of the school. The Patron has recently informed my Department that they are considering changes to the registered ownership of the property to reflect the previous changes in trusteeship of the school. The Patron previously changed the trusteeship of the school to Le Chéile, an education trust which has been established by a number of religious congregations who operate schools. In line with the terms of the Deed of Trust in place for this school my Department is currently considering this issue and will be in contact with the Patron to discuss further.

Departmental Data

Questions (419)

Gary Gannon

Question:

419. Deputy Gary Gannon asked the Minister for Education the number of school inspectors in her Department; and the number of these inspectors that are registered with the Teaching Council. [62000/21]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

A total of 135.4 whole-time equivalent inspectors are serving in the Department of Education currently. The Department is not aware of the number of these inspectors that are registered with the Teaching Council.

An Garda Síochána

Questions (420)

Gary Gannon

Question:

420. Deputy Gary Gannon asked the Minister for Education the status of a centralised system for vetting SNAs. [62001/21]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

The National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Acts 2012 to 2016 (the Vetting Act), which was commenced in April 2016, put in place statutory requirements for the Garda vetting of persons involved in working with children and vulnerable persons.

The Vetting Act applies not just to schools but to any relevant organisation that employs, contracts, permits or places a person in relevant work with children or vulnerable persons. The Vetting Act provides that vetting is conducted by the National Vetting Bureau on foot of an application by a relevant organisation that is registered with it. The vetting legislation and the vetting procedures operated by the National Vetting Bureau fall within the remit of the Minister for Justice.

The Vetting Act provides that a relevant organisation must, other than in certain limited circumstances, obtain a vetting disclosure from the National Vetting Bureau prior to commencing the employment of an employee to undertake relevant work with children or vulnerable adults.

The Department of Justice has recently established an inter-departmental group to undertake a review of Garda vetting arrangements and legislation. The group will make recommendations for amending legislation and strengthening the Garda vetting process and the feasibility of the introduction of a centralised system for vetting SNA's can be considered as part of this work.

Public Sector Pay

Question No. 422 answered with Question No. 406.

Question No. 423 answered with Question No. 406.

Questions (421)

Gary Gannon

Question:

421. Deputy Gary Gannon asked the Minister for Education the status of the implementation of an electronic payroll system. [62002/21]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

As the Deputy will be aware, my Department provides a payroll service to primary, post-primary, non-teaching and retired staff. The service has some 130,000 users and is managed by my Department’s Payroll Division in Athlone.

The payroll system is an electronic system and a number of processes are already highly automated. For instance, the submission of leave absences for school staff and claims for payment for substitution through the Online Claims System (OLCS).

I am pleased to be able to advise the Deputy that my Department has concluded the upgrade of the school staff payroll software systems, as planned, in 2021. The primary purpose of this upgrade is to receive continued support from the Department’s vendor and to upgrade payroll software systems.

Question No. 422 answered with Question No. 406.
Question No. 423 answered with Question No. 406.

Community Employment Schemes

Questions (424)

Patricia Ryan

Question:

424. Deputy Patricia Ryan asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will revise the offer of a gratuity payment to community employment supervisors as part of the long-standing pension claim; if she will consider an earlier start date given that a large cohort of community employment supervisors are not being adequately rewarded; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [61682/21]

View answer

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 CE assistant supervisors who are employed by CE scheme sponsors.

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

Department officials wrote to both SIPTU and Fórsa recently setting out the terms of a full and final settlement which will involve a once off ex-gratia payment to CE supervisors and assistant supervisors on reaching pension age. The total value of the financial package now on the table is in excess of €24 million.

The scheme will apply to CE supervisors and CE assistant supervisors who have retired since 2008, subject to qualifying criteria, and has the potential to benefit up to 2,200 existing and former CE supervisors and CE assistant supervisors.

The LCR recommendation issued in 2008. This is why employment as a CE supervisor or assistant supervisor, from this date, is covered by the terms of the settlement for this ex-gratia payment.

The current proposal is now under consideration by the representative unions and it would not be appropriate for me to comment further at this time.

Social Welfare Schemes

Questions (425)

Matt Carthy

Question:

425. Deputy Matt Carthy asked the Minister for Social Protection the number of dairy farmers in receipt of farm assist by county; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [61909/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

Farm Assist is a means-tested payment for low-income farmers under the Jobseeker's Allowance Scheme. Recipient details by county are set out in the table below. I am advised that my Department does not hold information of the type of farming recipients engage in; accordingly the below refers to all recipients of Farm Assist.

County

Farm Assist recipients

Carlow

37

Cavan

178

Clare

211

Cork

347

Donegal

908

Dublin

16

Galway

465

Kerry

423

Kildare

17

Kilkenny

54

Laois

42

Leitrim

202

Limerick

88

Longford

103

Louth

48

Mayo

805

Meath

36

Monaghan

239

Offaly

47

Roscommon

167

Sligo

127

Tipperary

163

Waterford

39

Westmeath

62

Wexford

111

Wicklow

27

Total

4,962

Social Welfare Appeals

Questions (426)

Pádraig O'Sullivan

Question:

426. Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Social Protection when a decision will be made on a disability allowance appeal by a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [61126/21]

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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 25 November 2021. It is a statutory requirement of the appeals process that the relevant Departmental papers and comments by the Deciding Officer on the grounds of appeal be sought. When these papers have been received from the Department, the case in question will be referred to an Appeals Officer who will make a summary decision on the appeal based on the documentary evidence presented or, if necessary, hold an oral appeal hearing. The outcome of the appeal will be communicated to the person concerned as soon as possible.

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 Appeals

Questions (427)

Willie O'Dea

Question:

427. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Social Protection when a decision will issue to a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [61195/21]

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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.

It is a condition for receipt of CA that the person being cared for must have such disability that they require full-time care and attention.

This is defined as requiring, from another person, continual supervision and frequent assistance throughout the day in connection with normal bodily functions or continual supervision in order to avoid danger to him or herself and likely to require that level of care for at least twelve months.

The evidence submitted in support of the application was examined and the deciding officer decided that this evidence did not indicate that the requirement for full-time care was satisfied.

The person concerned was notified on 9 March 2021 of this decision, the reason for it and of her right of review and appeal.

The person concerned requested a review of this decision, submitting additional evidence in support. Following this and subsequent appeal the decision remained unchanged.

The person concerned requested an additional review and submitted further medical evidence on 17th November 2021.

Additional information was requested from the person concerned on 9 December 2021.

Once this information is received the application will be processed without delay and the person concerned will be notified directly of the outcome.

I hope this clarifies the position for the Deputy.

Cybersecurity Policy

Questions (428)

Jim O'Callaghan

Question:

428. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Social Protection the measures that are in place to ensure that the social welfare infrastructure is not subject to cyberattack; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [61203/21]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

My Department implements a security-by-design and defence-in-depth approach to cyber security. My Department also has 24/7 cyber defensive systems in place which react to any threat to its systems in the event of a cyber incident or security breach. All systems are monitored on a 24/7 basis. My Department also works closely with the National Cyber Security Centre and the Office of the Government CIO to ensure that best practice principles are followed regarding cyber security.

I trust this clarifies the position for the Deputy.

Social Welfare Benefits

Questions (429)

Alan Kelly

Question:

429. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Minister for Social Protection if matters raised by a person (details supplied) regarding self-employed persons will receive a response. [61222/21]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

The matters raised by the person concerned relate to the rate of payment of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment; the rate of a Jobseeker’s payment arising from their transfer to standard jobseeker payments; and their potential entitlement to the new Benefit Payment for persons aged 65 years.

The Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) was introduced as an emergency measure to provide an income support to those who had lost their employment as a result of Covid. Initially, payment was made at a weekly rate of €350.

From 26 June 2020, the rate at which the PUP is paid was linked to the amount that individuals previously earned. This ensured the sustainability of the scheme and made it more targeted and fairer. In determining the rate payable, the objective was to ensure that recent earnings were taken into account. This is consistent with the approach underpinning short-term income support schemes such as Jobseeker’s Benefit and Jobseeker’s Allowance.

The person concerned was self-employed prior to claiming the PUP. The rate of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment for a self-employed person is calculated by reference to their reckonable income in either 2018 or 2019, whichever is the greater. In 2018, the person had average weekly earnings of €111; in 2019, their income was below the threshold of €5,000 at which self-employed PRSI contributions are payable. On that basis the PUP was paid at a rate of €203 from 26 June 2020.

With the reopening of the economy it is important in the interest of fairness and sustainability to restore standard Jobseeker terms in a controlled and considered manner. The need for exceptional measures has diminished as more and more employees close their PUP claims to return to work. To that end, the process of transitioning persons in receipt of the PUP to standard Jobseeker schemes commenced in October 2021. The person concerned does not qualify for Jobseekers Benefit Self-Employed as she has no qualifying PRSI record in 2019 which forms the Governing Contribution Year for claims made in 2021. The person concerned applied for and was awarded Jobseekers Allowance, which is a means tested payment. Payment was awarded at a weekly rate of €164 as the person has an occupational pension of €39 which must be taken into account in the calculation of any entitlement to Jobseekers Allowance.

The Benefit Payment for 65 year olds was introduced in line with the Programme for Government commitment, to provide a benefit payment for people who are aged 65 and who are required to retire, or who chose to retire, without a requirement to sign on, engage in activation measures or be available for and genuinely seeking work.

To be eligible for the payment a person must satisfy all the qualifying conditions of the scheme. The Governing Contribution Year is the second last complete tax year, for example, for a claim in 2022 the PRSI record from 2020 is used to establish eligibility.

The attribution of contributions in respect of periods impacted by the pandemic is intended to ensure that persons entitled to and in receipt of certain Covid-19 income supports, including PUP, will not be disadvantaged in accessing social insurance benefits in the future.

The legislation underpinning the measure makes provision for the Minister for Social Protection, with the consent of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and having considered certain matters set out in the legislation, to prescribe the number of self-employment contributions to be attributed to a self-employed contributor.

A self-employed contributor has a period of time following the end of the contribution year to remit and pay his or her social insurance liability for that contribution year. For example, self-employed contributors have until the end of October 2021 to file their self-assessment tax returns for 2020, including the payment of social insurance contributions where they are liable to do so for that year.

Once data on the social insurance returns made by self-employed workers in respect of 2020 are available towards the end of this year or early in 2022, I and my colleague the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform will be in a position to prescribe, as appropriate, the number of self-employment contributions required to protect the social insurance entitlements of self-employed workers who were in receipt of the pandemic unemployment payment in 2020 and who were not in a position to discharge their social insurance liability for that year.

In the event that the person concerned does not have a liability to pay self-employment contributions in respect of the 2020 year, they may be entitled to attributed contributions as set out above. On that basis, the person may qualify for the Benefit Payment for 65-year olds once all the other eligibility criteria for the scheme are met.

I trust that this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Departmental Reports

Questions (430)

Holly Cairns

Question:

430. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will immediately publish a report (details supplied). [61240/21]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

The Cost of Disability in Ireland report was published on Tuesday 7 December and is available on the Government website.

Social Welfare Payments

Questions (431)

Brendan Griffin

Question:

431. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Social Protection when a working family payment will be reinstated to a person (details supplied) in County Kerry; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [61257/21]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

Working Family Payment (WFP) is an in work supplementary payment which provides additional financial support to employees on low earnings with children. Should a WFP recipient become ill during a WFP award period and qualifies for Illness Benefit (IB) or Occupational Injuries Benefit, WFP is only payable for 6 weeks in conjunction with either benefit. If their IB claim extends for more than 6 weeks, the WFP claim is stopped until either the WFP claimant resumes paid employment and submits a final medical certificate to the Department or until the WFP award period expires (whichever is the earlier)

The person concerned had an active (open) IB claim with effect from 4 October 2021.

An officer wrote to the person concerned on 26 November 2021, advising them that their WFP payment had been stopped as they had an active IB claim for over 6 weeks.

The person's IB claim was subsequently closed and their employment resumption details were submitted. Following their employment resumption on 18 October 2021, the person's WFP payment was reinstated from 2 December 2021.

A weekly payment and any arrears owing will have issued to their nominated financial account on 9 December 2021.

The person concerned was notified in writing of this decision on 7 December 2021.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Personal Public Service Numbers

Questions (432)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

432. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social Protection when a PPS number will issue in the case of a person (details supplied) who appears to have applied twice; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [61272/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

A Personal Public Service (PPS) Number is a unique reference number that helps a person access social welfare benefits and public services in Ireland. If applying for a PPS Number to take up employment, a person must have a signed offer of employment from an employer confirming when the job is due to start or when it started. This letter should be on company headed paper with the employer’s contact details and employer/company registered number. A person does not need a PPS Number if they are looking for work or for an employer to make an offer of employment.

Some other examples of why a person may need a PPS Number are:

- to apply for a social welfare payment

- to access medical services

- to apply for or exchange a driver’s licence

- to access other public services

- to register for a course in a school or college

The person concerned applied for a PPS Number on 23 September 2021. The application was returned to the person concerned on 18 October 2021 for evidence of why a PPS Number was required. When the person did not respond by the 9 November 2021, the application automatically expired.The person concerned applied again on 18 November 2021 stating the PPS Number was required for employment purposes. The person concerned was subsequently asked to provide a signed letter from an employer confirming the offer of employment. It is open to the person concerned to submit the requested documentation and the application will be processed.I trust this clarifies the matter.

Social Welfare Schemes

Questions (433)

Catherine Murphy

Question:

433. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Social Protection the estimated cost to increase the amount of income disregarded in respect of the farm assist scheme from 30% to 45%. [61275/21]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

The Farm Assist Scheme is a means tested support for farmers on low incomes who satisfy the scheme’s statutory conditions including a means test. Recipients retain the advantages of Jobseeker's allowance such as the retention of secondary benefits and access to activation programmes. The 2021 Further Revised Estimate provides for expenditure of €61.7 million on the scheme.

The means test is flexible to allow for significant fluctuations from one year to the next. Virtually all income is included in the means test but it is assessed in different ways and certain disregards apply. Payments received under the Rural Environmental Protection Scheme (REPS), the Agri-Environmental Options Scheme (AEOS), the National Parks and Wildlife Service Farm Plan Scheme (NPWS) and the Green Low-Carbon Agri-Environment Scheme (GLAS) attract a disregard of €2,540, with 50% of the balance assessed as means.

There are annual disregards for dependent children; €254 for each of the first two children and €381 for the third and other children. Remaining farm income and income from off-farm self-employment is then assessed at 70%. In line with other means tested social welfare schemes, the first €20,000 of capital is not assessed.

On 29th November I announced the publication of the Social Welfare Bill which will enact Budget 2022 measures. Included in this Budget Bill is provision for an extensive expansion to the list of Agri- Environmental schemes which will qualify towards the disregard of €2,540. The measure will support the Government’s climate change agenda and will act as an incentive to farmers to participate in the schemes.

The approximate estimated annual cost of increasing the income disregard from 30% to 45% would be €4.3 million. This estimated cost is for a full year and based on current numbers of farm assist recipients.

As part of Budget 2022 I secured an increase of €5 per week in the personal rate for Farm Assist which will increase to €208 and proportionate increases for adult and child dependents will also apply. These increases will be paid from 3 January 2022.

Any changes to the means test for the Farm Assist scheme would have to be considered in a budgetary context and within the scope of the overall resources available for welfare improvements.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Pension Provisions

Questions (434)

Danny Healy-Rae

Question:

434. Deputy Danny Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will address a matter (details supplied) regarding occupational pensions; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [61317/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

The Pensions Commission was established in November 2020 to examine the sustainability of the State Pension system and the Social Insurance Fund, in fulfilment of a Programme for Government commitment. The Commission was an independent body comprised of knowledgeable and experienced academics, pension experts, members of civil society and representatives of workers and employers. The Commission has completed its work and its report was published on 7th October 2021. The Commission's Report, its Technical Sub-Committee's working papers, and submissions made to the Commission are available on the Commission’s website, pensionscommission.gov.ie.

The Commission’s Report is a comprehensive report that takes account of an assessment of various analyses of population, labour force and expenditure projections; an examination of international approaches; and responses to an extensive consultation process. It has unambiguously established that the current State Pension system is not sustainable into the future and that changes are needed, and it has set out a wide range of recommendations in this regard - including measures to increase Social Insurance Fund (PRSI) income.

The report has been referred to the Joint Committee on Social Protection, Community and Rural Development and the Islands and to the Commission for Taxation and Welfare for their views. I understand that both the Chair of the Commission, Ms. Josephine Feehily and the Chair of its Technical Sub-Committee, Ms. Roma Burke met with the Joint Committee on 17th November 2021. Officials from my Department also attended this meeting.

In the interests both of older people and of future generations of older people, the Government intends to consider the comprehensive and far reaching recommendations in the Commission’s Report very carefully and holistically. My officials will work over the coming months to examine each of the recommendations. They will consult across Government through the Cabinet Committee system.

I think it is really important that we complete that work before reaching conclusions. I intend to bring a recommended response and implementation plan to Government by the end of March 2022.

The State Pension is the bedrock of the pension system in Ireland. It is extremely effective at ensuring that our pensioners do not experience poverty. This Government is committed to ensuring that this remains the case for current pensioners, those nearing State Pension age and today’s young workers including those who are only starting their careers.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

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