Written Answers. - Social Welfare Benefits.

Joe Walsh

Ceist:

542 Mr. J. Walsh asked the Minister for Social Welfare if concessions will be made for old age pensioners who are currently in receipt of free schemes to retain these schemes if a son or daughter returns home due to unforeseen circumstances, such as unmarried mothers. [16516/96]

Joe Walsh

Ceist:

552 Mr. J. Walsh asked the Minister for Social Welfare if he will extend the free travel scheme to all permanently severely handicapped persons under 16 years of age. [16762/96]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 542 and 552 together.

Free travel is available to all persons in the State aged 66 years, or over, and also to certain disabled people under the age of 66. The other free schemes are available to people, usually aged 66 or over, who are in receipt of a welfare type payment and who are either living alone or who otherwise satisfy the living alone condition. In addition, widows between the age of 60 and 65 whose late husbands had entitlement to the free schemes retain that entitlement notwithstanding their age.

Last July, the free schemes of telephone rental allowance, electricity allowance and colour television licence were extended to low income pensioners who did not previously qualify because they did not get a social welfare pension.

Applicants for these schemes are deemed to satisfy the living alone condition if they are residing alone or only with certain excepted people, for example, dependent spouses or children. The extension of the residence condition to allow for the inclusion of other categories in the household, such as non-dependent children, would have substantial cost implications which would have to be considered in a budgetary context.

Certain incapacitated people who are medically unfit to travel alone may be eligible for a companion free travel pass. This pass allows the holder to have a person over age 16 accompany him or her free of charge when travelling. Last July, the free travel companion pass was extended to blind and visually impaired children. This measure is of particular benefit to children attending special schools and who have to commute on a daily or weekly basis, by allowing them have a person of their choice travel free with them on their journey.
However, the question of extending the free travel scheme in general to include all permanently severely handicapped persons under 16 years of age would have cost implications which, again, would have to be examined in a budgetary context and in the light of the resources available.

Joe Walsh

Ceist:

543 Mr. J. Walsh asked the Minister for Social Welfare the reason persons who had reached the age 63 years on the introduction of the self-employed PRSI in 1988 and who could not accumulate 156 contributions before reaching the age of 66 to qualify for widow's-widower's pensions, are not entitled to receive a refund of all of their contributions rather than 53 per cent. [16517/96]

Self employed persons became insured under the social insurance system with effect from 6 April 1988, the commencement of the 1988-89 contribution year. Contributions at the class S rate are payable by this group and provide cover for old age (contributory) and widow's, widower's and orphan's pensions.

Refunds of the old age (contributory) pension element of the class S contribution, i.e. 53 per cent, under the Social Welfare (Contributions) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations, 1990 [S.I. No. 264 of 1990], may be made to those who fail to qualify for a pension, either contributory or non contributory, and who satisfy the relevant conditions governing refunds.

However, there is no provision in the legislation for refund of the widow's or widower's contributory pension element as entitlement can be based on either the applicant's own or their late spouse's social insurance record. Accordingly the fact that a person was over 63 in 1988 would not necessarily mean that they could not qualify for a widow's or widower's contributory pension.

Joe Walsh

Ceist:

545 Mr. J. Walsh asked the Minister for Social Welfare if he has satisfied himself that the transfer of the disabled person's maintenance allowance from the health boards to his Department is going smoothly; and his views on whether sufficient information has been published regarding the new disability allowance, particularly for those involved in the transfer. [16602/96]

The work required to ensure the smooth transfer of the disabled person's maintenance allowance scheme from the health boards to my Department is continuing and arrangements are currently being finalised for the takeover on 2 October. I am confident that the scheme, to be renamed disability allowance, will provide a streamlined and efficient service to people with disabilities and that the transfer will take place with the minimum inconvenience to recipients of the allowance.

As part of the arrangements for the transfer, a comprehensive information and communications strategy was devised to ensure that all persons currently in receipt of the allowance and other interested parties would be kept informed of the process and the new arrangements.

A letter was issued by the health boards in June to persons in receipt of disabled person's maintenance allowance advising them of the transfer. This was followed in mid-July by a detailed letter from this Department outlining the transfer arrangements including the payment method, the post office of payment nominated for the person and the weekly payment amount. This letter offered persons the opportunity to change the post office of payment if the nominated office was unsuitable and to appoint a person to collect the payment on their behalf if they were unable to do so.
A fact sheet was also produced outlining the principal implications of the transfer and this issued to a wide audience including all TDs, relevant departmental and health board staff, organisations representing people with disabilities and community information centres.
National organisations representing people with disabilities were also consulted during the transfer process and a number of meetings were held to keep them informed of arrangements and to obtain their views on issues and matters of concern.
A further letter issued to persons in receipt of disabled person's maintenance allowance on 18 September to remind them of the transfer and of their post office of payment. A media campaign has also commenced to inform people of the new arrangements and this will cover both national and local press and radio. A freephone number is now available to provide assistance with queries and this has been notified to each client and is listed in the advertising material. A comprehensive information leaflet outlining the provisions of the scheme will be available at social welfare offices from October.
I am satisfied that this communications strategy has been effective in providing information and reassurance to people regarding the new arrangements.

Joe Walsh

Ceist:

546 Mr. J. Walsh asked the Minister for Social Welfare if he will consider easing the qualifying conditions in relation to treatment benefits in order to allow eligibility for all persons who have 39 weeks PRSI paid and 39 weeks PRSI paid or credited in the previous contribution year. [16603/96]

The PRSI contribution conditions relating to entitlement to treatment benefit vary depending on the age of the insured person. Persons aged under 21 must have at least 39 weeks PRSI paid since first starting work in order to qualify while persons aged from 21 to 24 must have at least 39 weeks PRSI paid since first starting work and 39 weeks PRSI paid or credited in the relevant tax year of which a minimum of 13 weeks must be paid contributions.

In the case of persons aged from 25 to 65, the requirement is that they have at least 260 weeks PRSI paid since first starting work and 39 weeks PRSI paid or credited in the relevant tax year of which a minimum of 13 weeks must be paid contributions.

Finally, persons aged 66 or over are required to have at least 260 weeks PRSI paid since first starting work and 39 weeks PRSI paid or credited in either of the last two tax years before reaching age 66 of which a minimum of 13 weeks must be paid contributions.

The PRSI contribution conditions for treatment benefit are generally in line with those applying to other contributory benefit schemes. These conditions are necessary to ensure the continuing viability of the scheme by directing limited resources towards those in greatest need, including dependent spouses of insured workers. They also ensure a realistic relationship between entitlement to benefit and a continuing or recent attachment to the workforce through an active PRSI contribution record. While I have no plans to change these contribution conditions, the conditions of all schemes are kept under constant review.

Joe Walsh

Ceist:

547 Mr. J. Walsh asked the Minister for Social Welfare if he has satisfied himself that all matters relating to the introduction of the new one parent family payment are in place for its anticipated introduction in January 1997; and when further information will be made available in this regard. [16604/96]

As I have outlined previously, the new one-parent family payment will be introduced from January next. This new payment will merge the existing lone parent's allowance and deserted wife's benefit schemes, bringing about full equality between men and women and removing the concept of "desertion" from the social welfare code.

Arrangements for the introduction of the new payment are well in hand. Regulations to give effect to the provisions relating to the new payment as outlined in the 1996 Social Welfare Act, are being prepared at present and will be ready shortly. My Department will also be issuing an information leaflet on the new payment later in the year. My Department's aim is to assist lone parents in taking up employment and the new payment is designed to make employment a more feasible option for lone parents.

Seamus Brennan

Ceist:

548 Mr. S. Brennan asked the Minister for Social Welfare the reason the birth of twins is not considered a multiple birth for child benefit purposes in the same way as triplets who are eligible for double child benefit; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the recently introduced once-off payment of £200 for twins is of minor benefit and does nothing for the parents of twins born prior to its introduction; the comparative numbers and costs of each type of multiple births currently covered by the extra child benefit, along with the projected number and cost of extending the extra child benefit to parents of twins; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16634/96]

Tony Gregory

Ceist:

555 Mr. Gregory asked the Minister for Social Welfare the monthly child benefits/allowances paid to families with triplets and twins; the reason for the inequity involved; and the plans, if any, he has to provide a more equitable allowance to families with twins. [16825/96]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 548 and 555 together.

Child benefit is payable in respect of all children up to age 16 and up to age 19 in respect of children who are in full-time education or are physically or mentally handicapped. Child benefit is payable at double the normal rate for each child where three or more children are born together.

Child benefit is currently being paid at double the normal rate in respect of 140 sets of triplets and six sets of quadruplets, at an annual cost of almost £170,000.

Child benefit is payable to some 12,500 sets of twins and the estimated additional annual cost of paying the benefit at double the normal rate in respect of twins is in the region of £9 million.

A special once-off grant of £300 is payable on the birth of triplets and £400 where four or more children are born together. These arrangements were extended to include the birth of twins in 1993 when the grant of £200 was introduced. In recognition of the significant additional costs involved for parents of twins, I made provision in the 1996 budget for an increase in the grant payable on the birth of twins from £200 to £500 and for the introduction of a new grant of £500 which is payable on the twins reaching the ages of four and 12 years. The improved arrangements for the payment of grants in respect of twins were brought into effect from 1 January 1996. To date some 1,400 sets of twins have benefited at a cost of almost £700,000.

In addition to the improved grants, the monthly rates of child benefit have been increased to £29 for the first two children and to £34 for the third and subsequent children. When taken together with the increases provided for in the 1995 budget, these rates represent an increase of 45 per cent in the rate payable for the first two children and 36 per cent in the higher rate payable in respect of other children. Any further improvements in child benefit must be considered in the light of available resources and within a budgetary context.