Ceisteanna — Questions. Oral Answers. - Social Welfare Payments.


asked the Minister for Social Welfare if she is aware of the chaos surrounding social welfare payments following the implementation of the equality legislation, as made clear from a media report (details supplied); whether the delays in payments are unacceptable; and if she will outline her plans, if any, to remedy the situation.

The equality of treatment provisions and the alleviating measures were complex, particularly in cases where two payments were being made to a family both of which required adjustment. The particular case referred to in the article was further complicated by the fact that one of the payments was what is known as a split payment, that is to say, shared between the husband and wife. All payments due were issued last week to the person concerned.

In general, the position is that the equal treatment dependency arrangements came into effect in the week beginning 17 November last and there was no delay in making the necessary adjustments in the vast majority of the affected cases. Furthermore, the further alleviating measures which were announced on 26 November were put into effect last week and claimants were also paid the arrears covering the period since the equal treatment measures took effect.

It is inevitable that in an operation of this size and complexity a small number of cases will give rise to problems resulting in delays. The administrative requirements involved sending out some 200,000 questionnaires to persons receiving payments and reviewing the entitlements of all those affected. However, everything is being done to deal as quickly as possible with any cases where there may still be difficulty. I would emphasise that the article in question did not talk about chaos surrounding social welfare payments, but referred simply to one case.

Is the Minister aware that because of the crazy way in which she and the Government attempted to implement the equality directive and then had to do a succession of political gymnastics and U-turns to extricate themselves from political problems, many families who should not have been affected by the directive suffered a huge cut in their social welfare payments so that many cannot buy necessities such as food and clothing? Is the Minister also aware that there seem to be some 5,000 people who have lost their free electricity this year?

The Deputy may have a short answer.

Because of the method of implementation of the equality directive I am sure many more will be cut off. These non-cash benefits are essential for families.

I do not know what the Deputy is talking about. The Deputy in his question did not mention electricity being cut off. I thought we had covered the whole question of the other benefits, in an earlier question today.

Five thousand people were cut off from free electricity.

The vast majority of people affected by the equality directive are now fully in payment. There are a small number of complicated cases which are still being finalised and these will be cleared as quickly as possible. The article on which the Deputy based his question, in which he uses the phrase "chaos surrounding social welfare payments" referred to one single case which has been fully dealt with. I would remind the Deputy that last May, 46,000 married women who had been discriminated against under the social welfare system were at last given justice, something that his party failed to do when they were in Government. The Fianna Fáil Government did not have the courage to face up to the challenges.

That concludes Question Time.