Written Answers. - Social Welfare Benefits.

Ceist:

138 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs the numbers of social welfare claimants in each major category whose benefits are transferred directly to bank accounts; the number who are or will be in the postdraft system; and the reason some lone parent claimants maintain that they lose a week's benefit during the bank transfer process. [20462/00]

Pensions and other long-term social welfare payments have traditionally been paid by pension order book at post offices. Short-term payments are generally paid by cheque or, in the case of unemployed payments, at post offices by post draft and electronic information transfer. Payment can also be made, at the person's choice direct to bank accounts through electronic fund transfer.

The number of customers in each major category whose chosen payment method is electronic fund transfer direct to their accounts and the numbers who are paid at post offices by postdraft and electronic information transfer on 31 August 2000 are shown in the table following.

Until April 2000 the vast majority, 95%, of weekly payments made to lone parents were by way of personalised payable order book. The remaining 5% had opted to collect their payment through the postdraft/EIT arrangements by using their social welfare services card. This enabled them to avail of the household budgeting facility whereby deductions can be made from weekly payments in respect of costs for local authority rent, ESB and telephone charges.

The option of payment by electronic fund transfer was extended to lone parents in April 2000 both to extend the choices available and as a response to requests for payment in this way.

There is no loss of benefit when a beneficiary switches to electronic fund transfer payments, but as a result of the different payment cycle which applies for technical reasons, electronic fund transfer payments are a week later as compared to PPO book payments. Most beneficiaries who opt to be paid by electronic fund transfer do so at new claim stage so there is no interruption of the flow of payments once the claim is allowed. Where an existing beneficiary opts to switch to electronic fund transfer, the different payment cycle will mean that the next payment will be in two weeks rather than in one weeks time, so there is an interruption in payment for one week.

The question of aligning payment frequencies is under active consideration but due to other pressing demands on the available resources it may not be possible to accommodate this change for some time.

TABLE

Electronic Fund Transfer and EIT Payments

EFT

Postdraft/EIT

Old Age

39,184

Illness

19,329

2,940

Child benefit

117,723

Other Family Pyts(incl. lone parents)

21,824

7,063

Unemployment

11,409

110,986

Miscellaneous

39,989

19,154

All Schemes

249,458

140,143

Liz McManus

Ceist:

139 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs the plans he has to bring child benefit and carer's benefit increases into line with general welfare increases in early April 2001 and subsequently in January 2002. [20498/00]

Since this Government took office, increases in weekly social welfare rates have been brought forward by six weeks from mid-June to the beginning of May. Next year, the implementation date for social welfare increases will be brought forward further to coincide with the start of the tax year in April. This trend will continue in 2002, when the effective payment date of social welfare increases will be brought forward to January in line with the change of the tax year to the calendar year.

The new social insurance carer's benefit will be introduced with effect from 26 October 2000. The effective payment dates of increases which apply to other weekly social welfare payments will likewise apply in respect of future increases to this new scheme.

In the case of child benefit, the effective payment date of the increase co-incides with the start of the school year in September and the increased financial burden on parents at this time. In addition, approximately 40% of children are in families who are in receipt of weekly social welfare payments. These families, who consist of the families in greatest financial need, will benefit from receiving an increase in their social welfare weekly payments progressively earlier in the next two years.

Families with children will also benefit from the Government's commitment in the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness, to substantially increase the payment of child benefit over the period of the programme. Whereas the effective date of child benefit increases has not been brought forward, this year's significant increases in monthly rates ie £8 for first and second child and £10 for subsequent children will result in gains in real terms for families.

Question No. 140 with Question No. 135; Question No. 141 with Question No. 114 and Question No. 142 with Question No. 116.