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Tuesday, 14 Dec 2021

Written Answers Nos. 435-451

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

Questions (435)

Carol Nolan

Question:

435. Deputy Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Social Protection if her attention has been drawn to the fact that 66% of live performers experienced a 90% to 100% income loss from their profession due to Covid-related restrictions, that 20% have been forced to take up employment outside the industry, that 56% are considering leaving the industry and that 45.8% are struggling to pay household bills; the measures she is putting in place to support this sector following the latest round of restrictions; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [61351/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

As the economy has reopened we have seen a huge reduction in the number of customers receiving the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) across all sectors including the arts and entertainment sector which fell by approximately 91% since the height of the pandemic in May 2020 when some 14,300 recipients were being supported by a PUP payment as with just under 1,300 recipients last week. The majority of workers who exited PUP returned to employment.

The PUP scheme, which closed for applications on 8th July 2021, has been re-opened again specifically to support workers who lose their employment as a direct result of the introduction of new public health restrictions effective from 7th December 2021, which mainly affects workers in the night-time economy including the live entertainment industry. Workers who lose their employment on or after Tuesday 7 December because of the effects of these restrictions are eligible to apply for PUP. This includes self-employed who lose their employment or experience a significant reduction in their income as a consequence of these latest restrictions.

As the current restrictions are targeted and limited in nature a sectoral approach is required. On 8th December, the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media announced a funding package of €50m to support the Live Performance Sector which includes €34 million funding for the Live Performance Support Scheme. The Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media is also examining how further supports can be provided to the broader events sector. In addition, the Minister for Finance also announced plans for an extension of support for businesses under the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme and the Covid Restrictions Support Scheme.

The situation will be kept under close review in accordance with public health advice on the progress in suppressing the Covid-19 virus and the impacts of restrictions on the labour market.

I trust that this clarifies the position.

Social Welfare Payments

Questions (436)

John McGuinness

Question:

436. Deputy John McGuinness asked the Minister for Social Protection if a maximum guardianship payment will be reinstated for a person (details supplied); and if all arrears due will be expedited. [61402/21]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

Guardian's payment is payable for a child between the ages of 18 and 22 if the child is attending a course of full time education.

Both of the children for whom the person concerned was receiving Guardian's Payment, are over age 18. In order to continue to receive payment, confirmation of attendance in full time education must be provided. Forms issued to the person concerned in early September, to be completed and stamped by the relevant school/college, confirming attendance. As no response was received, the forms were re-issued on 24/11/2021. To date the completed forms have not been received.

As soon as the completed and stamped forms are received, payment will be reinstated and any arrears due will be issued.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

State Pensions

Questions (437)

Brendan Smith

Question:

437. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Social Protection her plans to enable persons to buy voluntary contributions towards entitlement to a contributory old age pension if they do not have 520 paid contributions; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [61437/21]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

The purpose of the voluntary contribution scheme is to provide persons who were, but are no longer, compulsorily insured under social insurance with the opportunity to pay contributions directly to my Department. Voluntary contributions ensure continuity of social insurance for pension purposes during periods where former contributors are no longer insured as employed or self-employed contributors or are not in receipt of credited employment contributions.

The scheme’s entry criteria require applicants to have at least 520 social insurance contributions paid from either employment or self-employment. Furthermore, an application must be made within 60 months (5 years) from the end of the contribution year during which the applicant last paid a compulsory social insurance contribution or was last awarded a credited employment contribution.

I am satisfied that the voluntary contribution scheme is effective in providing those persons with a way to maintain their social insurance record for pension purposes. There are no plans at this time to change the qualifying conditions.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment

Questions (438)

Paul Murphy

Question:

438. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Social Protection if persons that lost their job due to Covid-19 restrictions before 6 December 2021 can apply for the reopened pandemic unemployment payment; and if they can transition from other unemployment payments, for example, jobseeker’s allowance if they signed on before the pandemic unemployment payment reopened. [61447/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

With effect from Tuesday 7th December the Government announced the introduction of a range of public health measures to further reduce the spread of Covid-19 and a limited re-opening of PUP specifically designed to support those workers who lose their employment as a direct result of the introduction of the new restrictions.

All workers, including the self-employed, who lose their employment on or after Tuesday 7 December because of the effects of the new public health restrictions are eligible to apply for PUP.

Customers who lost their employment prior to this date are eligible to apply for a jobseekers payment. Where they have sufficient PRSI social insurance contributions paid they may be eligible for Jobseeker's Benefit subject to satisfying the scheme conditions. Where they do not qualify for Jobseeker's Benefit, they may be eligible to apply for means tested Jobseeker's Allowance. The maximum weekly personal rate for a Jobseeker payment for a single person is €203; for a couple is €337.70 and for a couple with two children is €420.70.

I hope that this clarifies the position for the Deputy.

Social Welfare Appeals

Questions (439)

Brendan Griffin

Question:

439. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Social Protection if a decision has been made on the review of a decision on a disability allowance application in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Kerry; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [61517/21]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

Based on the evidence supplied in support of this person’s application, her application for disability allowance (DA) was disallowed on the grounds that the medical qualifying condition was not satisfied. The person in question was notified in writing of this decision on 26 October 2021.

They requested a review of the decision by a deciding officer (DO) and submitted additional medical evidence for consideration. Following a review the original decision was upheld and the person concerned was notified of this decision on 7 December 2021.

The person in question has requested an appeal with the independent Social Welfare Appeals Office (SWAO). All the relevant papers were submitted to the SWAO by my department on 9 December 2021. The SWAO will be in touch with them in due course in relation to the progress of the appeal.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Social Welfare Benefits

Questions (440)

Réada Cronin

Question:

440. Deputy Réada Cronin asked the Minister for Social Protection if her Department will assist in the case of a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [61534/21]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

The rate of Illness Benefit payable in individual cases is determined by reference to the applicant's weekly average earnings in the relevant tax year and there is no discretion available to increase the rate in instances involving particular types of illness.

If the person concerned is experiencing difficulties meeting his financial commitments he should contact the Department's representative, formerly known as a Community Welfare Officer, at his local Intreo Centre so that an assessment of his circumstances can be carried out to determine whether he might qualify for assistance under the terms of the Supplementary Welfare Allowance Scheme.

I trust this clarifies the position for the Deputy.

Disability Services

Questions (441)

Violet-Anne Wynne

Question:

441. Deputy Violet-Anne Wynne asked the Minister for Social Protection if Ability Programme funding will be made available through budget 2022; the services offered through the Ability Programme that were funded until July 2021 that will continue in 2022; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [61613/21]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

The Ability Programme was introduced in June 2018 for a three-year period and was a pre-activation programme for young people with disabilities. The funding for the programme amounted to approximately €16 million over the three-year period and was co-funded by the EU and the Irish Exchequer under the EU's ESF Programme for Employability, Inclusion and Learning (PEIL) Operational Programme 2014-2020.

The aim of the Ability Programme was to help bring young people with disabilities who are not work-ready closer to the labour market through engagement in training and personal development activities, to be followed by an incremental exposure to work. The programme was delivered by 27 community and voluntary organisations from around the country, selected on foot of a competitive process.

The projects funded were designed to assist young people in their transition from school to further education and employment. Pobal was contracted by my Department to manage the programme. At the end of the programme, some 2,173 young people with disabilities aged between 15 and 29 years were supported over the 3 year period, which represented 82% of the overall programme target.

The Ability Programme was due to conclude at the end of June. However, funding for the programme was extended by two months to the end of August 2021. This additional period was to allow organisations extra time to transition and support participants appropriately.

On 30 July, I announced over €7.5 million in funding under the Dormant Accounts Action Plan 2021 to support initiatives under the heading of "Measures to Support Employment, Education and Training Outcomes for People with a Disability”. Projects were selected following a competitive process organised by Pobal that evaluated applications against a number of predefined criteria. A funding package for 45 projects nationwide is now in place and designed to support people with disabilities to improve their employment skills, advance their education or start their own business. The 45 projects being funded are expected to benefit almost 2,300 participants and include the 27 former Ability Programme organisations. The delivery period for these projects is from 1 September 2021 to 31 December 2022.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Tax and Social Welfare Codes

Question No. 443 answered with Question No. 442.

Questions (442, 443, 446)

Brian Stanley

Question:

442. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Social Protection if her Department is of the view that the 1997 Revenue Commissioners courier sector tax agreement which was discontinued in 2019 was in keeping with her Department’s factors for determining the employment status of courier workers (details supplied). [61639/21]

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Brian Stanley

Question:

443. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Social Protection the number of test cases that were undertaken prior to her Department’s establishment of criteria in 1995 to determine the formal insurability and employment status of courier workers. [61640/21]

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Brian Stanley

Question:

446. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Social Protection the reason her Department did not amend the 1995 determining factors for employment status of courier drivers following the outcome of a Supreme Court case (details supplied). [61643/21]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 442, 443 and 446 together.

The concept of a ‘test case’ has been misinterpreted over the years.

In 1995 the Social Welfare Appeals Office considered an appeal against a Departmental Deciding Officer determination that a person working as a courier, was in the particular circumstances of the case, employed rather than self-employed. The Appeals Office determined on appeal that the worker was in fact self-employed. In reaching this determination the Appeals Officer set out a number of criteria that informed the decision and that could then be used on a case by case basis when deciding whether a worker was employed or self-employed. It is not the case that the determination by the Appeals Officer was used to classify all people working as couriers as self-employed.

While Deciding Officers in my Department have regard to the findings of the Appeals Office, they are required to assess each new case on an individual basis, considering all of the terms and conditions of the particular employment. Accordingly, subsequent to the 1995 Appeals Office decision, and taking account of the criteria set out in that decision, Scope Section has found some couriers to be employees and others to be self-employed.

In the years following the decision of the Appeals Officer in 1995, the evolving case law of the time clarified and expanded the criteria that should be applied in determining questions of employment status. These criteria were codified into the first Code of Practice, published in 2001. This Code was devised by the Employment Status Group, involving trade union and employer representatives, under the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness and has been recently updated following consultation with the same groups.

The outcome of any case with respect to a worker in a particular occupation or sector is not applied to an occupation or entire sector. All workers are entitled to a determination of their status on an individual basis with each application for a determination subject to decision on its own merits taking account of the criteria set out in the Code of Practice.

The criteria used for deciding the insurability of couriers are the same criteria used for deciding the insurability of individuals in all other sectors. This criteria is set out clearly in the Code of Practice on Determining Employment Status and it is based on case law set down by the Courts. The Henry Denny case (Henry Denny & Sons (Ireland) Ltd v Minister for Social Welfare [1997] IESC 9), to which the Deputy refers, is one of many High Court and Supreme Court cases which are instructive in employment status cases. Decisions made by my Department are guided by the case law as it evolves. For this reason, an indicative list of key Court decisions is contained at page 33 of the Code of Practice.

In relation to the Revenue Tax Briefing of 1997 referred to by the Deputy, it is important to emphasise the distinction between the remits of my Department and that of the Office of the Revenue Commissioners. While I understand that the Revenue Commissioners has had regard to the criteria first identified in 1995 and subsequently expanded and codified in 2001 (updated in the past year), the Revenue Commissioners make decisions on tax matters under statutory powers granted to them and are required to act independently of Government in the exercise of their functions.

My Department has the statutory power to determine which social insurance class applies to an individual. The Revenue Commissioners do not make decisions regarding social insurance status, only tax matters. Equally, decisions of my Department as to PRSI insurability do not affect tax liability.

I encourage any worker who has doubts about their social insurance classification to apply to Scope Section by e-mailing: scope@welfare.ie, phoning: +353 (0)1 673 2585 (9am-5pm) or writing to:

Scope Section

Department of Social Protection

Áras Mhic Dhiarmada

Store Street

Dublin 1

D01 WY03

I trust this clarifies matters for the Deputy.

Question No. 443 answered with Question No. 442.

Tax and Social Welfare Codes

Question No. 445 answered with Question No. 444.

Question No. 446 answered with Question No. 442.

Question No. 447 answered with Question No. 444.

Questions (444, 445, 447)

Brian Stanley

Question:

444. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Social Protection the specific legal basis for an appeals officer in 1995 to establish a set of criteria in relation to determining the employment status of a group and class of workers specifically in relation to establishing a set of criteria to determine the employment status of courier workers. [61641/21]

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Brian Stanley

Question:

445. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Social Protection the reasoning of her Department for each of the three factors established by her Department in 1995 with regard to the determination of employment status of courier drivers (details supplied). [61642/21]

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Brian Stanley

Question:

447. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Social Protection if a statement (details supplied) by the Secretary General of the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs in a letter to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Public Accounts in September 2000 represents an accurate account of her Department’s actions. [61644/21]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 444, 445 and 447 together.

The role of the Social Welfare Appeals Office is to determine appeals against decisions of Deciding Officers and/or Designated Persons of the Department of Social Protection. The legislation currently governing the appeals process is contained in Chapters 2, 3 and 4 of Part 10 of the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005 and the Social Welfare (Appeals) Regulations, 1998 (S.I. No. 108 of 1998).

Section 300(2) of the 2005 Act gives statutory power to Deciding Officers of the Department to determine questions relating to the insurability of employment for social insurance purposes. All such determinations/ decisions can be appealed under the provisions of Section 311 of the 2005 Act to an Appeals Officer. The equivalent provisions in relation to a decision made by an Appeals Officer in 1995 were Sections 247(2) and 257 of the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act 1993 respectively.

I am advised that in October 2000, the then Secretary General of the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs in correspondence to the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee made reference to a number of representative ‘test cases’ in the courier sector that were selected in 1993/1994 for investigation and formal decision as some couriers considered themselves self-employed while others regarded themselves as employees. I am further advised that these cases were not selected to determine the employment status of all workers in that sector but rather to identify criteria that could be used by Deciding Officers and Appeals Officers for the purpose of assessing each case on an individual basis and to improve the quality and consistency of decision making in relation to the determination of whether an individual was employed or self-employed. Depending on the circumstances of the particular case, as assessed by reference to these criteria, an individual decision would be made in the case.

In one particular case which I understand has become known as the ‘1995 decision’ the Scope section of the Department determined that the courier was employed under a contract of service – i.e. an employee – and insurable at class A PRSI. This decision was appealed by both the worker and the company to the Social Welfare Appeals Office. Following an oral hearing, the Appeals Officer’s decision in July 1995 was that, on balance, the worker was operating under a contract for services and, therefore, was deemed to be self-employed. The Appeals Officer considered the following were critical factors in reaching the decision; lack of (company) control, no requirement to provide personal service, being able to enlist help of others (substitution) and refuse jobs, ability to do work for other companies and flexibility in the hours of attendance. The evidence adduced at the oral hearing included that the worker provided his own vehicle and equipment, was responsible for expenses, including tax, insurance and maintenance and payment was made on the basis of rate per job.

The Secretary General in his correspondence of October 2000 outlined that the Appeals Officer’s decision established the criteria that were generally accepted as relevant for consideration when determining the employment status of workers in that sector.

It is my understanding that this approach was a precursor to the subsequent development on a tripartite basis of the Code of Practice for Determining Employment or Self-Employment Status of Individuals under the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness in 2001. The Code was subsequently updated in 2007 under the Towards 2016 Social Partnership Agreement with a further update in this past year.

Therefore, since 2001, the criteria used for deciding insurability status are set out in the Code of Practice on Determining Employment Status. The Code was updated further this year by an interdepartmental working group comprising my Department, the Revenue Commissioners and the Workplace Relations Commission. I published the revised Code on 21 July 2021.

Accordingly, neither the ‘1995 decision’ nor any other decision is used by the Scope Section of the Department or the Social Welfare Appeals Office as a precedent and they do not form any part of the deliberations in such cases. Cases are determined on a case by case basis having regard to the Code of Practice and the case law from the Courts.

Question No. 445 answered with Question No. 444.
Question No. 446 answered with Question No. 442.
Question No. 447 answered with Question No. 444.

Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment

Questions (448)

Alan Kelly

Question:

448. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Minister for Social Protection the reason access to the pandemic unemployment payment has been refused for a musician (details supplied); if she will address this matter given the significant loss of future income due to Covid-19 restrictions; the eligibility criteria for a musician to get the payment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [61661/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

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. The scheme closed to new applications on 8 July 2021.

Following the announcement of the introduction of a range of public health measures with effect from Tuesday 7 December 2021 to help to reduce the spread of Covid-19, the Government has decided to reopen for a limited period the PUP to support people who lose employment arising from the new restrictions.

These measures will have a particular impact on sectors such as hospitality, the night-time economy, and the arts and entertainment sectors.

A self-employed person whose income from self-employment ceased or reduced since 7 December 2021 due to the introduction of the public health restrictions announced on that date is eligible to receive the PUP. This includes musicians.

The person concerned was in receipt of the Part-Time Job Incentive Scheme for the Self-Employed (PTSE). The scheme is available to self-employed people who were in receipt of the PUP or a Jobseeker’s payment in the week immediately prior to their application and are returning to or increasing their self-employment for up to a maximum of 24 hours per week. The person concerned re-applied for the PUP following the introduction of public health measures from 7 December 2021 and the resulting impact on their self-employment. Their application has been processed and awarded. However, as the person had failed to take steps to close their existing claim for PTSE, this stopped their PUP claim and a communication issued to the customer advising them of that. The matter has now been addressed and I am pleased to inform the Deputy that payment of the PUP has issued to the person.

I trust that this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Social Welfare Payments

Questions (449)

Paul Murphy

Question:

449. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will address a matter in relation to a disability welfare payment (details supplied). [61694/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

Disability Allowance is one of a range of means-tested social assistance payments operated by my Department. Social welfare legislation provides that the means test takes account of the income and assets of the person (and spouse / partner, if applicable), applying for the relevant scheme.

The means assessment reflects the fact that there is an expectation that people with reasonable amounts of income or capital are in a position to use these resources to support themselves so that social welfare expenditure can be directed towards those who need it most. Where an individual is renting part of their family home, the cash value of the rental income is assessed. However, such rental income is reduced by a range of deductions.

These include:

- a proportion of any mortgage interest paid by the claimant on the part of the property rented;

- a 15% deduction for voids (i.e. periods when the accommodation is vacant between lettings); and,

- if the rooms let are furnished, a 5% deduction for wear and tear.

The Deputy will be aware that I have made significant changes to means tests over the last two Budgets. I will continue to keep the issue of means assessments under review, including the issue raised by the Deputy, and will bring forward any further changes in the context of future Budgets.

Flexible Work Practices

Questions (450)

Catherine Murphy

Question:

450. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will provide a schedule of remote working options available for officials of her Department. [61702/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

Civil Service departments and offices have been working in line with Government Covid-19 guidance, which provides for home working to continue where possible. As an essential service, staff in my Department have continued, throughout the pandemic, to work both on site in office premises and remotely to deliver for our customers across our nationwide network of offices.

The number of staff who are working remotely at any one time across all business areas of the Department is approximately 3,300 or 50% of the total staffing number and has remained relatively constant through the Covid-19 restrictions. Overall, since the onset of Covid-19, the range of working options have been full-time remote working, full-time office attendance and blended working i.e. a mixture of home and office working.

The Government has confirmed its support of blended working in the Civil Service and, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is developing an overarching central framework to support consistency of implementation of blended working across the Civil Service.

This framework will inform the development of organisation-level blended working policies tailored to the specific requirements of each Department/Office, whilst ensuring a consistency of approach across key policy areas. In conjunction with this framework an application process is also currently being developed to allow staff to apply for blended working into the future.

In line with this approach, it is intended, subject to business needs and individual suitability, to make blended working part of the way that my Department will work on a more permanent basis, continuing to offer remote working, blended working and office-based working options.

To this end, my Department will develop a blended working policy based on the framework being developed by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and will aim to implement this policy in the first quarter of 2022, subject to prevailing public health guidance.

Flexible Work Practices

Questions (451, 453)

Catherine Murphy

Question:

451. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Social Protection the way in which some and or all staff of her Department remote into their online systems; and if on-site laptops and or desktop computers are required to be powered on at all times to facilitate remote working. [61703/21]

View answer

Catherine Murphy

Question:

453. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Social Protection the reason electricity costs incurred by her Department in 2020 were higher than other years in view of the fact that officials were required to work remotely. [61705/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 451 and 453 together.

Electricity costs in my Department were higher in 2020 because of the impact of Covid 19 on work practices and adherence to public health guidance. Compared with other Government Departments, the Department of Social Protection has required on site attendance of an average of 50% of staff and has provided access to all public offices, including the network of Intreo Offices across the country.

Increased energy costs during 2020 can be accounted for by:

- The cost of electricity and gas increased in the period 2019-2021.

- The use of four additional buildings to facilitate temporary staff recruited to manage the unprecedented administrative demand of processing the Pandemic Unemployment Payment. Given the requirements for social distancing and attendance levels in existing buildings, this additional accommodation was necessary.

- in order to facilitate social distancing, some offices of the Department operated shift attendance and weekend attendance and buildings required to be heated, lit and ventilated for longer periods.

- The ventilation systems were operated for extended periods in all buildings in accordance with public health advice.

- Although 50% of staff have worked largely off site since the commencement of the pandemic, the utility costs of office occupation were largely fixed, with staff distributed throughout buildings to maintain social distancing.

- Despite the fact that on average 50% of staff worked on site, remote access was required to facilitate the remaining staff working offsite in the majority of cases. For security and other reasons, a remote access protocol was used which required desktop PCs to be maintained in a powered on position (remote PCs were simply used as a screen rather than having access to data and systems directly).

During 2020 almost two-thirds of staff who were working from home were remotely accessing PCs which had to remain switched on in the office; this was approximately 1,800 PCs. Since then the Department has been rolling out secure laptops to staff to eliminate this requirement and currently about 250 staff are remotely accessing office PCs.

The target of reduction in energy usage for the public sector over the period 2009-2020 was set at 33% and, notwithstanding the increase in usage last year, this Department has exceeded this target, achieving an overall 42% saving in energy usage.

In June 2021, my Department was awarded ISO Certification in energy management and is the first Government Department to achieve this standard. My Department will continue to prioritise energy management within an overall framework of our initiatives for a Greener Department and to implement the actions in this regard in the recently published Climate Action Plan.

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