Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Pensions Reform

Willie Penrose


75. Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the status of her plans for legislative changes in pension law; when amendments will be tabled to the Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registration Bill 2017; the reason for the delay of more than a year; and when the Bill will be progressed. [46879/18]

Bríd Smith


113. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection her plans for legislation that will offer CIÉ workers and other semi-State workers protection on their pension schemes; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [46892/18]

Bríd Smith


115. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection when she will introduce measures to offer workers in defined benefit pension schemes adequate protection; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [46891/18]

What is the status of plans to legislate for changes to pension law? When will the amendments be tabled to the Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registration Bill 2017? What is the reason for the delay of more than a year?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 75, 113 and 115 together.

The general scheme of the social welfare and pensions Bill 2017 - now the Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registration Bill 2017 - was published in May 2017 and contained a number of key measures relating to defined benefit pension schemes. It is intended that these measures will act to support existing provisions in the Pensions Act by providing for further protection for scheme members' benefits and enhance employer responsibilities for their schemes.

In July 2018, Government approval was obtained to draft additional provisions to be included in the Bill on Committee Stage, including provisions relating to defined benefit schemes. In developing these, it is essential to recognise the current pension landscape in Ireland in order that a balanced, proportionate approach is developed and that unintended negative consequences do not arise.

Under existing pensions law, there is no legislative obligation on the employer to make contributions to a scheme. The provisions of this Bill, however, will introduce a new regime into the Pensions Act 1990 that, among other things, will ensure that an employer cannot “walk away” at short notice from the pension scheme it is supporting by providing a 12-month notification, and will enable the Pensions Authority to make a funding obligation direction specifying payments to be made by a sponsoring employer to the pension scheme where no agreement is reached, within a specified time period, to resolve a funding deficit.

The defined benefit pension provisions are very technical and involve complex policy issues. It has been necessary to consult and obtain numerous legal advices from the Office of the Attorney General on various aspects of this policy to achieve a resilient solution. When these matters have been resolved and amendments approved by the Government, I will request an early date for Committee Stage.

Many of the provisions contained in the EU directive on institutions for occupational retirement provision, IORP II, will also support positive reform of the Irish occupational pensions sector. My officials, together with the Pensions Authority, are working on the transposition process to ensure the necessary amendments to existing laws, regulations or administrative provisions will be made to give full effect to the directive. I hope this clarifies the matter.

I thank the Minister for her reply. It is now a year and a half since the legislation was introduced. Deputies O'Dea and Brady and I have introduced Bills in this area. The one I am asking about is a distillation. Each of us had a Bill with more lofty objectives. The aim was to ensure the protection of workers who are being thrown sacrificial lambs, even with well-to-do employers running amok. The introduction of our Bills led to one company coming back from the brink and giving at least some employees protection.

There are important measures in the defined benefit scheme to ensure that employers do not disavow their obligations willy-nilly. This Bill was to offer some degree of protection to workers in defined benefit schemes but a year and a half has passed. I accept that the Attorney General's office is snowed under and the Minister has said there is a European dimension to it as well in respect of European legislative provisions that will enhance it, I hope, but can she give an indication of the likely time in 2019? Does she expect it to be in the first quarter of 2019?

I would love to be able to say I can but I cannot. The reason is that the amendments we are proposing are particularly technical and complex. The only thing I can guarantee is that I am as frustrated by the delay as the Deputy. Advancing this legislation is on our management board meeting agenda every week. It is near the top of my list and will certainly not go away until we get the date and the amendments we need accepted and brought back to the Cabinet. All I can say is that it is getting my full attention.

I appreciate that the Department must examine the balance and other such matters. We had a detailed discussion with ICTU and the various unions, including SIPTU and Unite. All the trade unions are of one voice on this. We want the legislative changes brought forward and the Pensions Act 1990 significantly amended. There will be funding obligations coming forward that will curtail the smart alec employers from walking away from their obligations. These people have significant funding and are not even insolvent employers. If they were, sometimes the employees would be in a better position, as with Waterford Glass. In this case, however, people who are very well off are making sure to enrich themselves and to give bigger shareholder payments and dividends, while throwing to the wolves the unfortunate workers who have contributed many years of their working lives. We want to ensure that does not happen. I urge the Minister to keep it at the top of her agenda.

Deputy Penrose and I are on the same page. I will keep in touch with him.

Question No. 76 replied to with Written Answers

Social Welfare Appeals Waiting Times

John Brady


77. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the wait time for processing appeals; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [46860/18]

Will the Minister outline the current waiting times for the appeals process across all social welfare payments?

All decisions taken by my Department's deciding officers and designated persons are appealable to the chief appeals officer. Approximately 85% of all claims are awarded in the first instance and just 1% are appealed annually. Nevertheless, my Department is concerned that these cases are dealt with as quickly as possible.

Significant efforts and resources have been devoted to reforming the appeal process in recent years. As a result, appeal processing times improved from 52.5 weeks for an oral hearing in 2011 to 26.4 weeks in 2017 and from 25.1 weeks for a summary decision in 2011 to 19.8 weeks in 2017. The most recent figures for the period January to October 2018 are 30.5 weeks for an oral hearing and 25.3 weeks for a summary decision.

The time taken to process an appeal reflects a number of factors including that the appeals process is quasi-judicial and decisions have to be formally written up to a quasi-judicial standard because they are subject to review by the High Court. Accordingly, the desire to process appeals quickly must be balanced with the competing demand to ensure that decisions are consistent, of high quality and made in accordance with the legislative provisions and the general principles of fair procedures and natural justice.

A number of new appeals officers have joined the appeals office over the past 12 to 18 months to replace staff leaving on retirement. Given the complexity of the appeals process it takes some time for new staff to be trained up and develop expertise. This has led to longer processing times during this period.

The chief appeals officer has advised me that appeal processing times continue to be a priority for her office and that she expects processing times to improve as recently appointed staff develop the necessary experience and expertise to determine appeal decisions to the standard required.

An appellant can claim supplementary welfare allowance pending the outcome of his or her appeal.

I am looking at a reply I received to a parliamentary question last September and the appeal times are absolutely ludicrous and unacceptable. They vary from 17 to 64 weeks. A carer who appeals a decision, for example, must wait 29 weeks without a penny for a decision. A jobseeker must wait 37 weeks. That is ludicrous. I heard the Minister's response but what is going on in the appeals section? I accept her comments about new staff having to be trained to replace retiring staff, but that is only to tread water. What additional staff have been appointed to deal with this crisis in the appeals section?

I disagree with the Deputy's comment that they are without a penny. Nobody is forced to wait whatever length of time is involved, be it 17, 19 or 26 weeks, without a penny. That is what the supplementary welfare system is for. I encourage anybody who is waiting a lengthy period for an appeal decision to go to the local office where we will look after him or her financially. That is what we do. In addition to the continuous focus on improving appeal processing times, work is ongoing in the Department on a number of fronts in the context of improving the quality of first-instance decision-making, reducing the number of appeals being received and reducing the time taken in the Department to prepare the appeal submission. These include better information gathering at the initial claim stage, which hopefully leads to better outcomes and better decisions; better explanation of the reasons for any decision to make it easier for customers to understand the decisions we make and to reduce the number of unnecessary appeals; and a significant programme of training for decision makers on all aspects of their decision making functions.

Social welfare forms are consistently being monitored to ensure they capture sufficient information at the claims stage. In recent years, for example, improved claim forms were developed for the domiciliary care allowance application and that has caused the number of weeks people are waiting for the initial decision to reduce drastically. We did something similar recently in the case of the carer's allowance application with the Carers Association. Again, we expect it to yield a number of results for us. Everything we do is to try to improve the situation.

Some measures have been taken to deal with the crisis across the board. The Minister knows, however, that when somebody applies to the community welfare officer, the matter is at the officer's discretion, in the first instance, and, second, it is means tested. Not everyone will get a penny from the community welfare officer. That is not the solution to the failure within the Department to deal with this situation. Yes, forms have to be simplified but in the majority of cases it is not forms being filled incorrectly that leads to appeals. The Minister did not answer my question about additional staff. A key failure is that there are not enough staff to deal with the level of appeals. Perhaps she will answer that question. In addition, other means must be explored. What are the Minister's views on accelerating the appeals? She referred to simplifying forms and other measures. I would be interested in hearing about them.

First, the vast majority of schemes that are appealed are allowance schemes, all of which are means tested, so it is not fair to say on the one hand that I am expecting people to live without a penny and when I say that people do not have to wait but have the option of going to their social welfare office to then say they will be means tested. Most of these schemes are means tested anyway. People would not apply or qualify for them if their means were not within that realm.

Second, there are almost 6,000 people working in the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. I cannot answer the question about whether we have asked for more people in the appeals office. However, we have tried, particularly in the difficult economic circumstances in the last number of years, to do more with the people we have. In fairness, one can see the result in the fact that our appeal waiting times have come down drastically. The reasons are that we have improved efficiencies in how we collect our information, we have provided people with new forms to make it simpler and we have tried to help people to understand that they do not need to hold back some information for appeals because they expect that everything will be rejected in the first instance.

My main message is that, first, 85% of all applications that are made are found in the affirmative. In fact, the social welfare Bill tomorrow will provide for automating that to make it even faster for people. Second, nobody should be waiting without any money. If people are, they can go to their local community welfare office and we will look after them. We will continue to try to improve the turnaround level for decisions.

Pension Provisions

Clare Daly


78. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if correspondence has been issued to date outlining changes under the total contributions approach 2012 to the pensioners affected by contributory pension changes in 2012; and the reason for the delay in issuing this correspondence in view of the fact that the decision to address this issue was made on 23 January 2018. [46828/18]

Eugene Murphy


93. Deputy Eugene Murphy asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the number of persons who have already received correspondence in relation to the review of their pension entitlements due to the 2012 pension changes; the number that have yet to receive correspondence; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [46462/18]

John Curran


97. Deputy John Curran asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the number of pensioners who have been contacted regarding the interim total contributions approach pension by November 2018; when all pensioners will be contacted; when they will receive payments; the date from which payments will be calculated; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [46822/18]

John Brady


107. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the process in place to address the issue of the 2012 pension changes through the total contributions approach; the timeframe for the issuing of correspondence to those affected; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [46856/18]

Joan Collins


116. Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the reason correspondence reassessing the pension entitlements post-2012 were not issued by the end of October 2018 in view of commitments made by her in this regard. [46894/18]

The Minister will recall that this time last year we had considerable debate about a group of people who were adversely affected in the 2012 changes to the contributory State pension. The Minister then embarked on a process to amendment it. As of now - November 2018 - how many people have been contacted about this and where are we in the process for payments to those people?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 78, 93, 97, 107 and 116 together.

It is hard to believe that it has been nearly a year. We are getting old.

Pensioners born on or after the 1 September 1946 affected by the 2012 changes in rate bands, can have their contributory state pension entitlement calculated under an interim total contributions approach, TCA. The announced changes also provide for up to 20 years of home caring credits in the pension entitlement calculation for those who took time out of the workplace for parenting or caring duties.

Significant preparatory work was required to design and develop the new, necessary ICT system changes and the necessary legislative provisions to underpin these changes, as initiated last week in the Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registration Bill 2018.

The latest data I have identify approximately 79,000 pensioners to be reviewed, of whom just over 70,000 reside in Ireland. The first 11,000 information letters issued last week to Irish residents. I would expect and anticipate that the remainder will issue by the end of this week or early next week at the latest. The 8,000 pensioners who are resident outside of Ireland are expected to receive letters from us in December. The Department waited until we had access to end of month data before issuing letters as we wanted to capture as many of those pensioners as possible who will be entitled to a review.

The letter informs pensioners that the Department will contact them again directly with either the outcome of their individual review, where sufficient information is available to us, or to request further information regarding gaps in their social insurance records. It is not necessary for people to contact the Department on this matter in that we will do all the heavy lifting for them.

The examination of social insurance records is under way. Reviews and payments will commence in the first quarter of 2019. Where an increase is awarded, it was agreed by this Parliament last year that it will be backdated to 30 March 2018, or the person's 66th birthday if later and arrears paid. Pensioners who do not qualify for an increase as a result of this review will continue to receive their existing rate of pension.

I thank the Minister for her reply. As she said, it is a long time ago and much water has gone under the bridge. When we discussed the matter this time last year we were hopeful that by the end of the year people might have received payments but now it is to be in the first quarter of next year. I have some concerns that the letters are only going out. The Minister said that 11,000 letters had been issued to date. I am concerned that the Minister said the Department will do all the work. It will still be up to the individuals to be satisfied that the intended changes have actually been made and applied to them correctly. If they want to appeal the decision it would be some time down the road before those people might see their payments.

There were two real anomalies arising from the changes that occurred in 2012 that need to be addressed. Perhaps the Minister could comment on them. One relates to the period of time that some people were out of work due to caring and the averaging of contributions by moving to a total contributory system. The second issue has not been mentioned and it relates to the total number of contributions required to be eligible for consideration in the first instance. Prior to 2012, it was 260 contributions but in the change in 2012 it went to 520 contributions. Does the Minister's proposal recognise those people who had 260 contributions?

The Minister might find it surprising that I welcome the fact that 11,000 letters have issued as of last week. Hopefully, we will see multiples of that number this week. A total of 79,000 letters need to be issued prior to Christmas and 70,000 of those are to issue to people who currently live in the State. That is welcome news but it has been a long time coming. There are, however, still concerns. People have asked me what they need to do when they receive the letter. Do they need to request a review or does that kick in automatically? People need to be given assurance when the Minister says they do not need to do anything and that the review will automatically kick in.

There are other concerns with regard to the 20 years for caring duties. What do people need to do to satisfy that? I have asked questions on this matter on a number of occasions. People might not have the necessary correspondence or proof to satisfy the criteria. What exactly is the process around that and what do people need to do to satisfy the Department's criteria in that regard? I would appreciate some clarity on those points.

Peace has broken out.

It might not last long.

You may well be right on that.

I will get the Minister in the next round.

As soon as I say it, it will be over. To answer the Deputies' questions, the letter is quite lengthy and it explains exactly what needs to happen and who needs to do what. In the main, people will not have to do anything and I will explain why. I will answer Deputy Curran's questions first. It is 520 contributions because these people have already qualified for the new pension. However, they received a reduced rate because of the averaging.

I will now address the issue of gaps in a person's record. The balance of the letters will be sent out by the end of this week to all Irish residents, or the beginning of next week at the latest. As we have their records, we already know that in 65% to 70% of cases people are entitled to an uplift. We have already done a trawl of our internal systems to identify people who will get an uplift. They will be told they are getting an uplift, that the review is to be conducted, how much their new payment will be and when it will come into effect.

There is not a delay. It could not have been done without legislation being passed and I, along with other Deputies, will attempt to do that, starting tomorrow. We will automatically be able to tell the majority of people who have a full record on the system what their new entitlement will be. The people who will need to help us with the conducting of the review are those who have gaps in their contributions. Some people will be able to tell us the reason for the gaps. In many cases, it will be due to caring for children and we will already have the children's birth dates and PPS numbers but if we do not have them, we will ask for them. In other cases, the gaps will be due to people looking after wives, husbands, grandparent, aunts or some other loved one. It will literally be as easy as giving us the information. People need to be reassured that there is probably no legal way of proving a gap from 1977. We are, however, doing this collectively as a Parliament because it is the right thing to do, that is, to look after the people who were adversely affected by the changes in 2012. We are not going to further punish people by putting them through loads of hoops. We want to give these people the money they are entitled to.

I am glad we are making the progress we are. It might be a bit slow but I take the point that the measure required the legislation. From the Minister's comments, I take it that a common sense approach will apply to persons who might not be able to supply documentary evidence for periods of missing contributions where they may have been caring for a parent or someone other than a child. That was my interpretation of what the Minister said she intended.

I am pleased to see the proposed legislation contains the provision for payments to be backdated to March 2018, which is what the Minister said in her reply. Unfortunately the legislation does not provide a payment or a commencement date. This is a matter for the Minister. I welcome the backdated payment is in the legislation.

I have one final concern. As there is a period of up to 20 years allowed in this measure for caring - I acknowledge this is an interim total contributions system - it indicates that it is being viewed over a 40 year working life cycle. I hope it does not mean this is the policy position in terms of our general pension as we go forward with regard to total contributions proper, rather than the interim measure.

I agree with Deputy Curran's point. It is a critical one and we will come back to that in other discussions and debates in the near future. I want a categorical assurance, as do many of the 79,000 people who are entitled to see their money restored to the rate it should be, that those backdated payments will be made in the first quarter of next year. Can the Minister give a categorical assurance to the people who are entitled to increases that they will get that money backdated in the first quarter of 2019?

My second point is where the criticism comes in, which is no surprise.

While there is retrospection up to 2018, many people have been impacted from 2012 up to now and the retrospection should go all the way back. I am critical of the fact that this is not the case as are organisations such as Age Action and the people who have been impacted since 2012. That is where the criticism is. This is a welcome first step but that is all it is. We need now to have it paid retrospectively to 2012.

Regarding Deputy Curran's question, 2012 does have the conditionality of a 40-year life span but it is because we have the 20 years of caring credits as opposed to what we would have historically had, which was a 30-year working average life span but only ten years of credits. That does not presuppose that this is what 2020 will look like. The public consultation has not been finished. I thank the Deputies who have made submissions to that. The outcome has not been determined. What the Deputy certainly cannot expect to have is 30 years and 20 years caring. If one goes up, the other goes up and if one goes down, the other goes down, which eventually will mean the same result. I would like to be as flexible as I can with regard to caring credits in the new system.

I can categorically give Deputy Brady a commitment that the back payments will be made from 30 March 2018 because €55 million is allocated in the budget this year to make sure the money is there for those people. I cannot give him a commencement date because I do not know how quickly the legislation will pass but, hopefully, it will pass. A new IT platform is also needed. We have a new interface screen on mywelfare.ie to interact with people in a much more friendly and interactive way. The new system will go live in January, I hope, but I cannot tell the Deputy it is going to be the second week in January, just in case.

Question No. 79 replied to with Written Answers.

Legislative Process

Willie Penrose


80. Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection when it is planned to introduce the Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017 in Seanad Éireann; and the amendments she plans to make to the Bill. [46881/18]

When does the Minister intend to introduce this Bill in the Seanad? We passed it in this House last July. The legislation is urgently needed.

I am pleased to confirm that the Bill is scheduled for Second Stage in the Seanad on 20 November and for Committee Stage on 28 November. I am currently considering a small number of amendments, some of which are drafting amendments or just technicalities to be brought forward on Committee Stage. I will clarify the position during the Second Stage debate. The Bill delivers on the commitment in A Programme for a Partnership Government to tackle the problems caused by the increased casualisation of work and to strengthen the regulations relating to precarious work. This is important legislation, the key objective of which is to improve the security and predictability of working hours for employees on insecure contracts and those working variable hours in all sectors of employment.

Good progress has been made over the past number of years, in the context of our economic recovery, to create new job opportunities, the majority of which are full-time positions. While this is great, we must remember those people who, not by choice, are in less secure arrangements and may not know from week to week what hours they are working. This makes it difficult for them to plan their lives outside work. The Bill will significantly improve the employment protections for all of those people. I want the Bill to complete its passage through the Oireachtas as quickly as possible in the current session. If we all work closely together, we will get this out of the Seanad and back into the Dáil and completed before Christmas so that we can deliver for the people who are in those precarious situations this year.

I thank the Minister and I am glad to see this important legislation will progress. We will all put our backs behind it to make sure it is accelerated and becomes law. I am aware that the Minister reviewed a number of aspects of the Bill as passed by the Dáil. Has she re-examined the various arguments made in the Dáil by Labour Party Deputies and colleagues in the other parties to deal with if-and-when contracts? If these rotten arrangements are not dealt with, they will become the weapon of choice for bad employers and that is the worry, even though there are thousands of good employers who work well with their employees.

There are elements of the proposed legislation that are welcome and many of them were drawn from the proposals of my colleague, Senator Ged Nash, which he put forward to the Government in late 2015. It seems that for most workers trapped on if-and-when contracts, their work will continue to be treated as casual. This will deny them access to important provisions because they will not be classified as employees in the first place. For example, if-and-when workers will not be able to request to be placed on an appropriate band of hours to better reflect the reality of the hours they work, as other workers can. Has the Minister given any thought to that?

Yes, we have given it loads of thought. Each of the main elements of this Bill will improve the employment protections for people on if-and-when contracts. The banded hours provision, for example, will apply to somebody on such a contract so that if they have worked an average number of hours over the previous 12-month reference period, they will be entitled to be placed on the band of hours that reflects the realities of those hours that have been worked. The amendments to the terms of the Terms of Employment (Information) Act 1994 will require employers to inform their employees including those on if-and-when arrangements by the fifth day of commencing employment what the employer reasonably expects the normal length of the working day and the working week to be. Employers will also be required to state the expected duration of their contract and whether that contract is fixed or temporary. Employees on if-and-when contracts will also benefit from the new minimum compensation provisions. Where they are given notice of hours of work but do not receive those hours, they will have to be given their two hours' compensation in lieu of the work they have not been given. Finally, employees on if-and-when contracts will also benefit from the anti-penalisation provisions in order that if an employer penalises them for exercising their rights under this Act, they will be entitled to pursue the matter through the WRC.

There is an urgent need for these provisions, giving hope and dignity to a cohort of workers who need to be brought in from the cold and given some hope for the future. We in the Labour Party have certainly not changed our policy or views on if-and-when contracts. My colleague, Senator Ged Nash, will table amendments to the legislation in the Seanad to address this problem. Particularly, he will propose an amendment providing that where a period of employment has to be calculated, casual work should be included in the calculation if the casual worker was employed on a regular or systematic basis and if during the period of service the worker has a reasonable expectation of ongoing employment by the same employer. That is important. The law must have regard to the basic facts of working life such as whether the employee was offered work regularly, whether the employee generally accepted work when it was offered and whether there was a pattern or system to the work offered each week even if the amount of work offered might have varied. Those are important components and indicia of a situation that should be comprehended and captured within the Bill. That is the one amendment that I can signal already that Senator Nash will be proposing.

I have not seen the amendment but I have spoken to the Senator and I will disagree with what he is attempting to do. The Senator Nash wants us to ban if-and-when contracts but there are so many industries in this country, government being one of them, that simply could not live without such contracts. I do not want to make life difficult for industry in carrying on its normal business but we will not tolerate a situation where people who are working on if-and-when contracts do not have the same employment protections as everybody else. I am prepared to move a bit this way if Labour Party Members are prepared to move a bit that way. I cannot countenance banning them even if all the Deputies and Senators gang up on me because there would be a significant backlash but perhaps we can try to achieve the same thing, which is to provide protections in law for the people who are currently working in those circumstances. We might have a win-win situation.

It is like the dance. We should come up a good bit of the way and the Minister might go and meet us.

Question No. 81 replied to with Written Answers.

Child Maintenance Payments

John Brady


82. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if she is engaging in work regarding child maintenance payments; the process in place for seeking such maintenance; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [46857/18]

I want to ask about child maintenance payments and whether the Minister has examined the area. What are her intentions in this respect?

I have to be careful that I do not say something different from what I said ten minutes ago. There is a review going on within our Department. The Deputy will be aware from conversations we have had here previously that I was not happy with some of the aspects that I discovered when I came to this portfolio, particularly in respect of people who are under threat of domestic violence. We have made those changes. That allowed me to stick my nose into this section and say, "Hang on a second, what are we doing here?" We have conducted a review over the past couple of months but, before finalising what we should do, manners would dictate that we should sit down with the people in the Department of Justice and Equality who have responsibility for this. I need to question whether we should have a liable relatives division in our Department. That does not mean it needs to go. It either needs to be beefed up to do what everybody wants it to do or it needs to become the responsibility of some other Department. I will not countenance people being disenfranchised because of a condition of application to schemes regarding what they are currently entitled to for the sustainable minimum living standards of themselves and their children.

There is a crossover between the Departments of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and Justice and Equality. The Minister said earlier that she will meet officials in the Department of Justice and Equality this month, which I welcome.

The Minister stated that she carried out a review. It would be helpful if details of that review could be circulated to Members.

The Minister will be aware of the current set-up regarding child maintenance. Predominantly, it is the mother who is affected. If she does not receive a payment, by and large she has to go to the District Court to chase it up. Yesterday, I spoke to a mother who told me it had cost her €9,000 in legal fees to try to get child maintenance payments. Does the Minister agree it is wrong that they should have to go to court? There are so many difficulties there. People are afraid and feel intimidated going into a court setting. That needs to be eliminated.

I thank the Deputy.

I published a proposal for a stand-alone child maintenance service.

I thank the Deputy. Time is up.

I sent it to the Minister. I would like to get her views on introducing something similar to what is in place in Britain. Would the Minister consider rolling that out?

The Deputy sent me the proposal some months ago. I thank him for sending it and I did read it. However, the matter does not fall within my remit. Much as I stick my nose into stuff that is none of my business, this definitely is not my business. My Department exists to support people. However, I agree with one thing. The former partner of the lady who paid €9,000 should be ashamed. Every parent has a responsibility towards his or her children. We should not need to bring someone - man or woman - to court to bear that responsibility. We have a system that does not seem to be working and nobody is really satisfied with it because it infringes on the ability of our Department to give people who are most vulnerable the support they need to have a minimum standard of living. We need to sit around a table to decide whether we are in or out, whether the Department of Justice and Equality is in or out, or whether we collaboratively do something that actually provides a straightforward mechanism. Perhaps it could be something like in the United Kingdom with attachment orders against wages or social welfare payments.

I have discovered that if there is an attachment order against a social welfare payment, we would just have to increase the social welfare of the person, meaning that again the State pays. We need to tease these things out so that the State does not end up on the hook and taking over the responsibility from errant parents.

As the Minister may be aware, in 2017 the UN made a recommendation that endorses my proposal for a child maintenance service. I accept that is not necessarily the responsibility of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection but that of the Department of Justice and Equality. I have sat down with officials from the Department and they have said it is not on their radar. It needs to be on their radar and it needs to come from the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection with responsibility for lone parents to put the pressure on. I welcome the meeting later in the month. That needs to be a core element of the discussion on child maintenance.

The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection has responsibility. Why does she still include child maintenance when assessing means for social welfare payments? The Minister will be aware that child maintenance is seen as a means of helping lift children out of poverty. She has responsibility for that. Does she see it as a payment for the household or as a payment for the child?

I thank the Deputy.

It is totally wrong for child maintenance to be considered in assessing means for social welfare payments. That is her responsibility. The Department of Justice and Equality-----

The Deputy has made his point; now let us hear the Minister.

----- is responsible in other areas, but that is her responsibility.

I take some solace in knowing the Deputy thinks that I have more influence in the Department of Justice and Equality than he does.

It is a Government colleague.

I know what he would like to see; I am somewhere in between. We will have that meeting with the Department of Justice and Equality later this month. I will come back to the Deputy and we will have a conversation on how best to progress it. I am aware of the UN recommendation.

The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection has generous disregards with regard to maintenance. Income is income into a household. Why would the State give the same money that is already coming into a household for a child a second time? The Deputy cannot discount that is there; there certainly is a disregard for it. The Deputy cannot discount that somebody is bearing the financial responsibility towards their child. It would be errant for the State to make a payment twice. We can certainly have a conversation about the Deputy's belief that it should be a higher payment. That is a different discussion. However, he cannot discount. We are talking about ensuring that people are bearing their responsibilities for looking after their own children. The Deputy wants us to say, "Don't worry about them doing it. It's grand. We'll give you extra money anyway." I do not agree with that.

Question No. 83 replied to with Written Answers

State Pension (Contributory)

Martin Heydon


84. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the timeline for reviews of post-2012 contributory pensions; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [46756/18]

Aindrias Moynihan


89. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if she will report on the preparation works being carried out, including additional staff, needed to implement measures for correcting the post-2012 contributory pensions issues; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [46877/18]

Mary Butler


120. Deputy Mary Butler asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the position regarding persons who have had anomalies in their pensions due to the way pension contributions have been calculated since the changes in 2012; the number of persons who have been contacted to date; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [46861/18]

I welcome that the process to restore post-2012 contributory pensions has started with some of the 79,000 letters now being sent out. When does the Minister expect all those letters to be sent? I ask her to update us on the timeline for the review? How long does she expect it to take? When does she hope the entire review process will be completed?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 84, 89 and 120 together.

Pensioners born on or after 1 September 1946 and affected by the 2012 changes in rate bands can have their State pension (contributory) entitlement calculated under an interim total-contributions approach. The announced changes also provide for up to 20 years of home-caring credits in the pension-entitlement calculation, for those who took time out of the workplace for parenting or caring duties.

Significant preparatory work was required to design and develop the necessary IT system changes and the necessary legislative provisions to underpin these changes, as published in the Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registration Bill last week.

The most recent data, which became available at the end of October, identified approximately 79,000 pensioners to be reviewed under this new system. Of these, over 70,000 reside in Ireland. The first 11,000 information letters issued last week to Irish residents. I expect the remainder to issue by the end of this week or early next week at the latest. More than 8,000 pensioners resident outside of Ireland are expected to receive letters in December.

The letter informs pensioners that my Department will contact them again directly with either the outcome of their individual review, where sufficient information is available to make a decision for them, or to request further information regarding gaps in their social insurance record. However, it is not necessary for anyone to contact the Department on this matter; we will do the contacting of the recipients.

Over 60 temporary staff have been recruited to examine the social insurance records of these pensioners. This phase is expected to continue to the end of the year. Following further recruitment planned for January 2019, reviews and payments will commence in the first quarter of next year. It will take my Department a number of months to work through the reviews and the payments.

Where an increase is awarded, it will be paid immediately and backdated to 30 March 2018, or the person's 66th birthday, if later, and arrears will be paid. Pensioners who do not qualify for an increase will continue to receive their existing rate of entitlement.

That is very informative. We have discussed this in the House previously. It is an issue of major concern to the people affected and communicating the information to them properly is key. Those letters as they arrive this week and next week will be very much welcomed. I ask the Minister to confirm if the 79,000 covers everybody who is in receipt of a post-2012 pension.

I am sure this project is a logistical nightmare. How many staff are working on these reviews? Does the Minister hope to be able to gather all the information from the time spent caring from the Department's records or does she envisage the Department will need to go back? Will the pensioners be given the opportunity or be expected to provide information themselves? I know the Minister has said that initially the Department does not need that information back. What happens in the case where somebody does not get a letter? Do they have a means to be able to contact the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection to inform it that they believe they should have got a letter?

The information letters will issue to approximately 79,000 contributory pensioners. We have identified them because they are receiving less than 100% of a pension since the changes were made in 2012. The first 11,000 information letters issued last week and the remainder will issue this week or next week at the latest. People do not need to do anything for us because in the main we can already tell from our records whether they are entitled to an increase. For the vast majority of people, probably between 65% and 70% of the people who are due to get letters, we will know between now and Christmas whether they are entitled to an increase because of the records already in situ.

We will be inviting those people who have gaps to log onto mywelfare.ie to fill in those gaps for us. For example, a lady may have taken out ten years in the 1970s or 1980s to look after her children, but we may not have a record of her children. There are many reasons why people might have been out of the system caring. Heretofore it would only have been looking after children. This particular caring credit could relate to an elderly relative, for example a parent, an uncle or an aunt.

Where there are gaps in our records, we will invite people to fill in the gaps and then we will conduct the review. Anybody who is due the increase will get the increase backdated in quarter one next year. Anybody who is not due an increase will remain on the payment they are on.

I thank the Minister. I am also mindful of the fact that when this is reported in the media, females are probably discussed but between 25% and 30% of those affected are male, many of whom left the country in the 1980s to work in England when there was no employment here. They sent pay packets home but had that break in contributions. They are as badly affected. At the end of the process, if somebody feels they were entitled to an increase but the Department has adjudicated they are not, will there be an appeals mechanism or will there be some way for them to argue that point?

People who left the country to go to work in another country can avail of the credits. If there is a reciprocal arrangement between the country the person went to work in and Ireland, he or she can arrange for his or her credits to be included on his or her record. The gaps can only be filled in this system by caring credits. People who went to work, say, in London will not be able to come home and say they were missing. They have to know who they were caring for and the period of time they were caring. They can give us that information on a bona fides basis. There are some people who will not be able to prove that in 1974 they were doing something but we will accept their bona fides. As with everything, there is an appeals process. If a person does not feel we have been satisfied about the gaps in their records, they can sit down with us. I hope that during the review process over the next couple of months and through the interactive website we have established, mywelfare.ie, they will be able to provide us with all of the information and we will go and check it out. If there are any anomalies, we will talk to people. The ultimate aim of the Parliament was to recognise there were people who were getting less of a pension than they should have as a result of the rate changes made in 2012. We want to rectify it from 30 March next year which is what we will do.

Brexit Issues

Willie O'Dea


85. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the steps she has taken to minimise the impact of Brexit on the current reciprocal arrangements for social insurance schemes, social assistance schemes and child benefit between Ireland and the United Kingdom; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [46809/18]

I submitted the question because, as the Minister will be aware, approximately 135,000 Irish residents are in receipt of a British pension. Approximately 35,000 people in Britain are getting an Irish pension. I want to ensure the arrangements to pay pensions on both sides will continue seamlessly despite the decision of the UK to leave the EU.

I thank the Deputy for raising this, particularly on the day when we may have a deal. It is important to note that the social security arrangements between the UK and the EU 27 have not changed. The future operation of arrangements will be determined as part of the complex process of negotiating the UK’s exit from the EU. My key area of concern is the impact of Brexit on the current reciprocal arrangements for social insurance schemes, social assistance schemes and child benefit between Ireland and the UK, including Northern Ireland.

The maintenance of the common travel area arrangements is one of the Government’s four Brexit priorities. The importance of maintaining the common travel area was acknowledged in Prime Minister May’s letter of 29 March 2017, which triggered Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union, the joint EU-UK progress report agreed at the European Council on 15 December 2017 and the protocol to the draft withdrawal agreement published by the Commission on 28 February 2018. It has also been acknowledged in the technical paper issued by the UK Government on 13 September 2018.

I met the UK Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the Right Honourable Esther McVey, on Monday 23 April 2018, along with all of her officials. I emphasised my objective of ensuring that the reciprocity of social welfare rights and entitlements, which currently exists for Irish and UK citizens moving within Ireland and between Ireland and Britain under the common travel area, are safeguarded and maintained. I am happy that we have a broad agreement to preserve the status quo in that regard.

I have a dedicated team in my Department which is conducting a deep analysis of scenarios on a scheme-by-scheme basis and contingency planning is ongoing for all outcomes, including a no-deal or worst-case outcome, which hopefully we will not require.

I accept the Minister's point about people's intentions but is she aware of a report published today which was presented by a joint human rights committee set up under the Good Friday Agreement and concluded that the common travel area would benefit from greater legal certainty to ensure the smooth operation of reciprocal rights after Brexit? It also stated the common travel area is not underpinned by a single legal agreement but by a hotchpotch of laws. Does the Minister agree the common travel area would benefit from greater legal certainty? What steps is the Minister taking to ensure greater legal certainty is provided? Will whatever provisions are necessary be in place by 29 March?

I have a dedicated team in the Department. They have been working for almost a year on each individual scheme that has reciprocal rights between Great Britain, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to ascertain what exactly we need to do to maintain those reciprocal arrangements. I read the report with interest and was curious as to why it came out this morning but that is the nature of it. It stated that we require greater legal certainty regarding the articulation of the common travel area. It is untrue to say it does not exist in legislation. It exists in much legislation. It would be more ideal if it existed in just one Act. We will need to move to put some sort of an agreement together. That is what is being worked on. I suggest it will be finalised long before 29 March but I will keep the Deputy posted and let him know.

The Minister referred to the analysis being conducted in her Department and the study being done on various scenarios including a no-deal scenario. Is it possible for the Minister to share that analysis with the House? We are all getting queries on this matter. We all need to reassure people who are coming to us. Can the Minister confirm that the present seamless reciprocal arrangements will continue after Brexit regardless of what happens with Brexit, deal or no deal?

Once the outcome of the analysis is complete and the negotiations are complete, I will be happy to share the analysis with the House but the outcome will probably be evident at that stage because the ambition of both Esther McVey and I is continuity of the existing arrangements. The only reason the Deputy would be surprised is if something goes askew on that and we do not have it but then we will all be very surprised. She and I have exactly the same ambition. There are long-standing relationships between the people of Ireland and the people of the UK. We share common ground in tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of human capital. We will ensure the reciprocal arrangements that exist between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, particularly on child benefit and all the social insurance and assistance schemes we have, are enshrined into the future. Until it is done, it is not done so I cannot give the Deputy much more information until it is complete, other than our ambition.

Questions Nos. 86 to 88, inclusive, replied to with Written Answers.
Question No. 89 answered with Question No. 84.
Questions Nos. 90 to 92, inclusive, replied to with Written Answers.
Question No. 93 answered with Question No. 78.
Question No. 94 replied to with Written Answers.

Jobseeker's Allowance Payments

Richard Boyd Barrett


95. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if she will re-examine the issue of the reduced rates of jobseeker's allowance for those under 26 years of age with an aim to restoring them to the standard rate; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [46888/18]

Willie O'Dea


108. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection her plans to equalise the rates of jobseeker's payments for those under 26 years of age; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [46810/18]

Has the Minister plans to equalise the rate of jobseeker's payments for those aged under 26?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 95 and 108 together. I do not think we have ever reached this number of questions.

In line with EU and OECD jurisdictions, reduced rates for young jobseekers were introduced from 2009 on a phased basis to tackle high youth unemployment. These measures guard against the development of long-term welfare dependency by providing young jobseekers with a strong financial incentive to engage in education or training or to take up employment. If a young jobseeker in receipt of the reduced jobseeker’s allowance rate participates on an education or training programme, he or she receives the maximum rate of jobseeker's allowance of €198.

Age-related reduced rates do not apply to jobseekers with a qualified child, those transferring directly to jobseekers allowance from disability allowance and 18 to 24 year olds who were in the care of the Child and Family Agency during the 12 months before they reached 18 years of age.

The youth employment support scheme, which I launched in September, is a work experience scheme for long-term unemployed jobseekers aged 18 to 24 or who face significant and particular employment barriers. Participants will receive a minimum of €229.20 per week or a weekly top-up of €22.50 if they have dependants.

To date, these policies have been effective in reducing both youth and long-term unemployment numbers on our live register, which is exceptionally welcome. For example, the most recent data show that Irish youth unemployment has fallen from a peak of 31.2% in 2012 to just under 12% in October 2018. There has been a significant drop in the number of Irish youths who are unemployed.

Irish youth unemployment, which was at 23% in 2012, has fallen well below the EU average of 14.9%.

While the drop in youth unemployment is welcome, it is not solely due to this measure. There was a time before 2009 when, on turning 18, claimants were paid a rate of social welfare, namely, jobseeker's allowance, that was equivalent to what everybody else got. That was changed, initially in 2009 by a Government which was led by Fianna Fáil and of which I remember being a member. I remember well the arguments to and fro and the rationale that was advanced, but it did not achieve what was forecast. While in other countries, such as the UK, there was a differential between people of different ages, I do not think that the objectives were achieved, insofar as I can recall them being outlined during the debate around the Cabinet table. Circumstances have since changed dramatically. What is the rationale for maintaining this distinction?

Dare I say that the Deputy is questioning his own decision from 2009, for which the rationale remains exactly the same today. We do not want our young people aged between 18 and 24 to be sitting at home watching "Judge Judy". Rather, we want them in education, training or employment opportunities, which is exactly what this measure has achieved. Anybody who is at home on a reduced rate, aside from the people I described who have dependent children, have every opportunity to earn either €198 per week by entertaining employment, training or education opportunities, or by going on the recently launched youth employment support scheme, which will, I hope, give them long-term attachment to a workforce and a long-term job.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.