Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions)(No. 2) Bill 2010: Committee Stage

This meeting has been convened for the purpose of consideration by the committee of the Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions)(No. 2) Bill 2010, a Bill which was referred to the select committee on 1 December 2010. The arrangements for taking the Bill have been circulated.

I welcome the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív, and his officials. I am anxious to get the advice of members in the following regard. It is suggested that we consider the Bill until 1 p.m. with a break until 2 p.m., if necessary, and continue until we conclude Committee Stage. Is that agreed?

Perhaps we should have a cut-off point, because of the adverse weather conditions members may wish to be in a position to leave at some stage but I suspect we will finish our deliberations. The Bill is not that long.

I am supposed to leave at 1 o'clock because of the weather conditions but Deputy Durkan will take over from me, if necessary, but we might get our business done.

Is that okay?

Yes, we will aim to do that. If we keep contributions short-----

We will not be delaying the proceedings.

Is that in order with the Minister?

There are two votes due in the House this morning so we will have to suspend.

That is right.

That is on the Order of Business so we will have to leave.

Deputy Durkan could not miss his Thursday date nor would I want him to.

It is constitutional.

We proceed to consideration of the Bill. Apologies have been received from Deputy Jackie Healy-Rae.

SECTION 1

Amendments Nos. 1, 18 and 27 to 32, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 3, lines 28 and 29, to delete subsection (2) and substitute the following:

"(2) The Social Welfare Acts and Parts 1, 2 and 4, section 12 and Schedules 1 and 2 shall be read together as one.”.

These amendments provide for the transfer of the community welfare service of the Health Service Executive to the Department of Social Protection and also provide for technical amendments to the principal Act associated with this transfer. The Government decided in February 2006 to transfer the community welfare services of the Health Service Executive, which currently administers a supplementary welfare allowance, to my Department. This initiative has been mooted several times in the past, including in the report of the Commission on Social Welfare in 1986, the report of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities 1996 and the Commission on the Financial Management and Control of Systems in the Health Service 2003.

Since 2006 the Health Service Executive has been in negotiations with unions representing community welfare officers on the detailed implications of the transfer, including terms and conditions of employment. Recently, during talks under the auspices of the Labour Relations Commission, the unions agreed to the management offer to their members. This offer provides for the transfer of the full cohort of staff of the community welfare service to the Department of Social Protection with effect from 1 January 2011 on a secondment basis, initially for a period of nine months, until September 2011. During this period of secondment, staff will remain employees of the Health Service Executive and as such will retain their existing terms and conditions and will be represented by SIPTU and IMPACT. The unions and management side are committed to working together to resolve the outstanding industrial relations issues and ensure these dates are met, using the existing auspices of the LRC.

Legislation to enable the Department to administer the supplementary welfare allowance scheme was introduced to the Social Welfare and Pensions Acts 2007 and 2008. This legislation is subject to a commencement order. Legislation will be required also to provide for the transfer of community welfare staff, as civil servants, to the Department and, where relevant, of buildings to the Commissioners of Public Works. Committee Stage of the Bill will commence next Thursday.

How many community welfare officers will transfer to the Department of Social Protection? Will they remain in the health centres in which they are located or will they be located in new offices? I raised this issue at the committee meeting last week. Will the discretionary payments be at the same level or will they have to comply with legislation? It is very important for us to know that today because that is the whole point of having them. The Minister said he is in negotiations with the Labour Relations Commission in regard to the transfer. What is the up-to-date position?

There are some outstanding issues to be teased out when staff are seconded over the nine months. As the Deputy might remember, this has been going on for a long time and allowing for everything working according to plan, the secondment period will begin with effect from 1 January. There are some issues regarding grades as this involves interacting two different systems, the HSE, a semi-State system with the Department one. We need nine months to tease out the final issues. I do not have the numbers to hand.

The second issue concerns outreach services, which are the services to which I believe the Deputy was referring, as opposed to the services provided by centralised offices. Obviously in time they will be Department offices. It is my intention that the outreach element of services will continue to be delivered. That is a vital part of the services, which involves going out to the people rather than people coming into the office and having to travel long distances. The nature of the service is local.

There will be no change in any of the schemes we administer because of this change. It seems to be overlooked at times that the scheme is discretionary not because of the HSE but because our Department has made it a discretionary scheme. There is no intention to change that. Community welfare officers, CWOs, have asked me this question. I have said time and again that the social welfare system, as we know it, would be destroyed if we did not have the ability to make emergency payments and to pay supplementary welfare allowance as a fall-back payment based on need.

There is some concern about the change in terms of the grading of the staff moving over. I do not know if the Minister has the overall figures to hand. With the grading system being different in the HSE from that in the Civil Service, I understand CWOs will become either executive officers, EOs, or higher executive officers, HEOs. A few CWOs have contacted me expressing concern that the proposal on the table was that their conditions would not be as good as those they currently enjoy. It would be completely unacceptable if that was the case. Is the Minister prepared to give an undertaking here that nobody will suffer a loss of conditions with the transfer? It makes sense to bring the CWOs over to the Minister's Department but it would not be acceptable that somebody would suffer a deterioration in his or her conditions of employment.

There were talks recently under the auspices of the Labour Relations Commission and the unions have agreed to put a management offer to their members. There are issues outstanding. We want to resolve those with the use of the normal labour relations machinery. There are also implications for staff in the Department in that they have to be part of all this change and we want to ensure that everybody is in agreement on matters. The intention is to do everything by agreement. I understand there are issues, although they are not the ones the Deputy mentioned, around staff in acting up positions that need to be resolved. All these issues need to be teased out.

Having got agreement with the unions in principle, rather than concluding all the issues that need to be teased out and often they are not that simple to tease out, the proposal is to second staff which will give us nine months to get agreement on the finer issues. I would like all the issues to be resolved by agreement. In terms of staff operating in the Department, I hope that during the secondment period staff will be reassured about issues, not related to pay and conditions but to the work they do, and about the fact that there will not be any change in the fundamental role they play in terms of discretionary payments and their ability to do their jobs properly. There are two issues. The secondment period will resolve the second issue and we will then work our way through the finer issues of labour relations. I do not want to pre-empt those discussions. What has been done so far is that negotiations are taking place with the unions and they are recommending the arrangements. That is the ideal place we would like to go, particularly in the spirit of the Croke Park agreement.

Does the Minister accept, in principle, that people should not suffer a deterioration in their conditions?

Obviously, and that is one of the reasons for the extra time being provided. There were issues that were not resolved and we need to get those resolved in a satisfactory way. As the Deputy will appreciate, because we are marrying two systems that were not exactly the same, we have to make sure that the mesh does not create other consequential issues. The issues have to be teased out carefully. The best way of doing so is for people to sit down and work through them and come to a fair and equitable arrangement. The objective is that, with goodwill on both sides, a situation will be arrived at that is acceptable to the union and to the management side.

With regard to Deputy Ring's question, will the CWOs continue to work out of health centres?

The answer is "Yes" in terms of the health centres. Some of them are working in larger numbers in buildings in centralised offices. Obviously those will transfer to the Department because there is no point in having a building owned by the HSE but, effectively, being totally staffed by Department staff. On the other hand, a major issue, particularly in rural areas, is the outreach element of services delivered from health centres. The outreach element of the services is important because it means that people do not have to travel inordinate distances to access CWOs. In other words, accessibility must be a key provision.

Deputy Shortall was correct in what she said. The Minister does not seem to be certain whether the CWOs will or will not be operating from where they are now and I would have a concern about that. People should not have to travel long distances to access CWOs.

Another issue of concern relates to where the superintendent will be based. Some community welfare officers make decisions in cases and some of them are correct and in other cases we and the people concerned may be of the view there should be an appeals mechanism in place to enable them appeal the decision made. In the past people could make their case to the superintendent and, if they were unsuccessful, they could take it further and that system worked. Will that situation pertain now, or what will be the situation?

I do not envisage any significant change in those arrangements. The Deputy asked a specific question regarding buildings. Where community welfare officers, a superintendent and whoever are operating from a HSE building, that will be transferred over to the Department because it would be strange to have Department staff in a building that was not under the auspices of the OPW. On the other hand, staff in other areas delivering outreach services are using State facilities. This issue has been raised with me in a number of other cases recently. I am keen on the principle of those delivering State services sharing buildings, one-stop-shops and so on. Recently, for example, Teagasc provided a service in Galway in a privately rented building and I suggested that it should talk to Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs or Údarás na Gaeltacht to ascertain if they had a building and in that way we would be renting from ourselves as a State rather than renting private buildings. I do not want to hamstring ourselves on the buildings issue but, in principle, the architecture we have is that which should remain in place in terms of the service. If we are providing a service that is 80% or 90% a social welfare service, it would be better to provide that service from the Department of Social Protection.

I will finish on this point as I note Deputy Burton wants to speak. I am concerned about the delivery of services in rural Ireland. The Minister is well aware of the position in rural Ireland and how people find it difficult to access services, but at least there are health centres in most parts of rural Ireland.

Yes, that is what I said.

The Department would still use them for the delivery of services.

I said they would be used for the outreach element of the services. I am differentiating between the outreach and the central elements of services. In the case of CWOs and superintendents operating out of offices in Castlebar in County Mayo, over time if that service could be consolidated into one building from which the Department of Social Protection operates, that would be the obvious place to which to move those staff. On the other hand, if they were operating out of the health centre in Gob an Choire, Achill Sound, or wherever the health centre is there, we would not withdraw that service because the Department of Social Protection does not have a centre in Achill, if that answers the Deputy's question. The outreach element of the services there is incredibly important. It is provided in health centres and other centres and that must remain the position. It is an essential part of the services. This service goes to the people and within reason, we must continue to ensure it goes to them.

I presume community welfare officers will retain all their duties, including in respect of the clothing allowance, the dietary allowance and so on.

All those services will be retained and brought under the remit of the Department.

Will any of those services be moved to different sections in the Department?

The peculiar thing is that all those services are funded by my Department and come from my Vote. Most services provided by my Department are administered by departmental officials. Here we had a huge swathe of services totally funded by the Department, which set the rules, but where delivery was by a third party agency. What we are saying now is that the funder and deliverer of the service will be the same organisation, that is, the Department. Our argument is that it is much easier from a management point of view if one's own staff provide the services rather than staff of another agency.

On Deputy Shortall's question about moving around, if a vacancy or a promotional opportunity arises, the community welfare officer is perfectly entitled to apply for it. If that person applies and is successful, the vacancy created as a result would be filled by someone at the appropriate grade. Departmental staff could get these jobs and community welfare officers could progress along the career path. There is nothing to stop people doing that in the HSE anyway.

Is the Minister suggesting that once the changeover takes place, community welfare officers could be promoted to positions in the Department which are not within that service and that existing departmental staff could become superintendents?

Yes. They will all be civil servants.

Okay. I just wanted to clarify that.

Is the Minister saying the community welfare officers in Inchicore, Kilmainham, Ballyfermot, Crumlin and Drimnagh will remain in the health centres there and will not have to move anywhere else?

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 2 is consequential on amendments Nos. 19 and 20. Therefore, amendments Nos. 2, 19 and 20 will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 3, subsection (4), line 32, to delete "Section 4 and Part 3” and substitute the following:

"Sections 4, 11(1), 12 and 13 and Parts 3 and 4”.

The purpose of the partial capacity scheme is to address a critical limitation of the current social welfare code which categorises people with long-term illnesses or disabilities as fit for work or unfit for work. The focus within the welfare system on incapacity rather than capacity carries negative consequences for people with disabilities and their families who may be trapped in welfare dependency.

The majority of people who take up long-term disability payment are very unlikely to return to work. This is entirely understandable in the case of those who have no residual work capacity but, as Deputies will know, a significant proportion of claimants of long-term illness benefit and invalidity pension have partial capacity to work. As the OECD commented recently, disability benefit systems can have a disabling affect on people steering them into welfare dependency and labour market exclusion.

We are going to move from measuring people's disability to measuring their ability. If one is on one of these payments and one wants to take up employment, a medical assessment of one's ability will be carried out and we will adjust the personal payment. It will not have any affect on adult or child dependant allowances. We will adjust a person's payment in line with what we believe is that person's ability and he or she can work as many hours and earn as much money as he or she wants.

For short-term rehabilitative training or work, the existing arrangement of the exemption will apply. If one takes this up and subsequently loses the job, gives it up or feels unable for it, one will be able to return to one's full invalidity pension. The current arrangement where we give people an exemption for one year and they look for another year and we say they are either in or out is very unfair because many have a partial capacity to work. In such a situation, the hours constraint can be an unnecessary impediment to people who might want to work longer hours. We should measure people's ability and say they need some support and are free to go to work. As I said, there is the safety net. If one falls back in, one gets back one's full payment.

I welcome this in principle and I hope it works. This is a different scheme from the previous one where people looked for an exemption. Will that scheme still be available?

For short term-----

This is for the long term. Will it be voluntary?

Who will conduct the medical assessment? That will be the big issue. What are the different categories of capacity for work? How will this impact on the payments? Will it be 70%, 50%, 30% or 20%? If the person's capacity changes, can it be reviewed? If a person's condition worsens, can it be increased, decreased or whatever the case may be? For how long will this partial capacity be paid?

The person who wishes to take up an employment opportunity will be required to undertake a partial capacity assessment by the Department medical assessor and the rate will be adjusted. We discussed the domiciliary care allowance the other day and the idea of asking in the chief medical officer. He has done much work and is very experienced on classifying ability, disability and so on. The reduction payment rates will be applied to the personal rate only. If one has an adult or child dependant, it will not affect the rate one gets for them.

An employment capacity of less than 25% will mean 75% incapacity. In other words, someone who has a severe disability will continue to receive a full rate payment. A person assessed as between 25% and 55% employment capacity would have a reduction in the weekly rate of €50.40. A person assessed as between 50% and 80% would have a reduction in the weekly rate of approximately 50%, which is about €100. Approximately one quarter or one half goes.

A person will only apply for this if he or she has an offer of employment as there would be no point otherwise. One will continue to get one's child dependant allowance and so on. The system will work on that basis. If it is less than 80%, one will get no personal rate but I understand one will get the child and adult dependant allowance.

If it is less than what?

If it is less than 20%. Let us consider the issue of capacity. There is no personal rate for those with 0% to 20% disability, a half rate applies in respect of those with 21% to 50% disability, those with 51% to 75% disability receive three quarters of the rate and those with 76% disability or greater obtain the full rate.

Is the scheme voluntary?

Absolutely. If someone loses his or her job, he or she will get his or her full payment back.

On the other question the Deputy posed, there will be a time duration on both sides. When a person is examined and assessed, he or she is given the derogation for one or two years. Thereafter, he or she will be reassessed. If there has been a deterioration, the payment could be increased, whereas if there has been an improvement, the payment might be reduced. In many cases, the level of disability either remains the same or deteriorates. There are not too many instances where people with permanent disabilities become what I would term "totally enabled". That was the idea with the old system. People underwent rehabilitation therapy, were suddenly deemed 100% fit for work and were then meant to either compete in the labour market or go on invalidity pension. The position in this regard was unsatisfactory.

Many individuals have permanent disabilities which are likely to become worse. It is unlikely that these people's circumstances will improve significantly and, therefore, they require permanent support from the State. However, they can work. Some cases may involve mental disability but where there is a purely physical disability involved, working will not, in itself, cure such a disability. However, a person's well-being will certainly improve if he or she is capable of and wants to work. People wanting to work is the important aspect.

Will people be allowed to earn as much money as possible?

They can earn as much as possible and work for as many hours as they desire.

Will the personal payment from the Department of Social Protection be exempt from tax?

No, I do not believe so. Invalidity pension is already taxable.

I have an open mind on this matter. From where did the proposal come? Are there similar schemes in operation elsewhere from which the Department drew inspiration?

It is difficult to assess whether a person's capacity is 25%, 75% or whatever. It all depends on the type of work involved. A person could have a 75% capacity for doing very light work but might only have a 25% capacity for heavier work. It will, therefore, prove difficult to make assessments. What are the implications for staff with regard to the assessment process? I presume medical officers will make assessments. Given that an entirely new approach will be involved, will these people be provided with additional training? In many cases, it is possible to predict the progress of someone's physical disability. Some disabilities become progressively worse in a relatively short period, while the rate of progression in other cases is much slower. In the area of mental health, there would be peaks and troughs with regard to a person's ability. How will this be dealt with in the context of the assessment?

What does the Minister regard as being short term? If a person wants to remain on an existing scheme, what constitutes a short term? If the new scheme does not work for a person and if he or she wishes to revert to his or her original payment, will there be delays involved? There are delays with regard to processing claims at present. Will people be stuck on schemes which are not suitable to their needs while they await medical assessment? If the scheme is voluntary, what is the incentive for people to take it up?

We are referring to people who are on illness benefits for over six months and to those in receipt of invalidity pension. Many of these individuals are anxious to work and therein lies the incentive. A large number of those who are already in receipt of the derogation are coming to the end of their time and want to remain on the scheme. These people are in no man's land because they cannot obtain the full derogation on a continual basis. Many of the members have written to me about such individuals. On the other hand, they do not, as the Deputy pointed out, possess sufficient capacity or ability to take up full commercial employment to sustain themselves. As a result, they are faced with a Hobson's choice as to whether they should go back on invalidity pension on a full-time basis or to leave the system entirely and receive no payment.

I understand that what we are doing here is part of an international approach focused on ability being the measure which applies and on encouraging people to use their abilities, rather than classifying individuals as being disabled and stating that they cannot engage in work. It represents a general move toward trying to facilitate people in achieving whatever they desire. I stress that the scheme is completely voluntary in nature.

When the scheme was first mooted, like the Deputy I was extremely wary about it. I informed my officials in the spring that they should take their time in respect of it. I am not saying that I was responsible for initiating the scheme - I was not - but I wanted to assess whether it would be good or bad and whether we could operate it. When I considered the various issues involved, I reached the conclusion that, properly operated, this scheme represents a fantastic opportunity for many people who feel trapped and who are completely dependent on social welfare payments. These individuals feel they are disconnected from society and from the workplace. Many of those to whom I refer believe they have the capacity to work but they cannot do so without support from the State.

The Deputy inquired with regard to people reverting to their original payments if they do not continue with the scheme. If a person presents his or her P45, this is a clear indication that he or she is no longer working and he or she should then have his or her full payment restored. The waiting period should not be too lengthy.

There is no doubt that there are challenges involved. That is why we are limiting the scheme to those on invalidity pension and long-term illness benefits. There is no question that an additional burden will be imposed and this will have to be dealt with by the Department. I am of the view that this scheme will open up new possibilities. One of the difficulties with the current system is that it operates on an almost winner-takes-all basis. People either enter the system fully and then become trapped or they are rejected. What is being attempted will allow us, over time, to nuance payments so they will fit better with people's individual requirements.

I have given this matter a great deal of consideration. If one compares what is envisaged to that which currently exists - that is, a person gets the derogation for one or two years and then returns to the system - the new scheme will allow people to continue as they are on an ongoing basis but subject to periodic review. The idea is to encourage people, if they so desire, to engage in work. The second aspect is that people will not be constrained in terms of the hours they work or the amount they receive in wages. That is important because it will create stability in people's lives.

I accept the Deputy's point regarding the assessment of physical disability. In certain ways, such disabilities are easier to measure. As the Deputy will be aware, in the context of assessing a person for illness benefit, invalidity pension, and so on, endless arguments arise not only regarding the nature of the illness or ailment but in respect of whether it affects that person's ability to work. I continually come across cases where the person involved, who has a very low level of educational attainment, should be paid invalidity pension. However, the same person might be able to function if he or she had a high educational attainment and was working in an office and, therefore, if one's skills are in physical work and one has a serious physical ability, it might put one out of a job that one could do if one was working in an office. Even in the present assessment of illness benefit, account has to be taken of people's training, skills and the work they have done or are likely to secure. The same assessment has to be conducted for partial capacity and that is key to invalidity pensions and illness benefit. They are all connected to one's ability to work and not simply to the condition one has.

Mental illness is tricky to measure for eligibility for illness benefit and invalidity pension but this gives us opportunities. It is important that medical evidence is provided and that the Department assesses it in a fair and equitable manner taking into account the ups and downs of mental illness. I fully accept that people who have mental illnesses have good times and bad times. It has to be taken as a mean and it must be sustainable and, therefore, in such circumstances, one cannot expect people to be under too much pressure.

If people on the scheme lose their job, which is possible in the present climate, and they hope to return to employment, what payment do they receive?

I presume they go back on the invalidity payment and when they get a new job, they are assessed again or I presume if they get a job three weeks later, their previous assessment will be accepted and they will be put back on the payment. People can only do this once or twice and we will have to examine the regulations. However, a person within reason should be facilitated if he or she loses a job and needs a payment because he or she might not get a new job for six months or a year. We should continue to facilitate people within reason.

It is cumbersome for the person who wants to work half a week and then loses the job. He or she has to go back on the invalidity payment and then apply for the partial incapacity scheme if he or she has an opportunity to work. There is a great deal of interaction with the Department.

Yes, but what other way can this be done? If somebody is being given a long-term rolling payment because of incapacity and that is to be graded according to the disability and he or she was without work, he or she would have to be reinstated. However, that is a simple reinstatement of the existing invalidity pension. He or she will be on the invalidity pension or illness benefit all the time and, therefore, the full payment will be reinstated. Every week we have people on jobseeker's allowance and jobseeker's benefit who go on and off the payment for a day or two and we manage to control that through the maintenance section and this is no more complicated.

But the payment remains the same. If someone is in the labour market trying to secure an alternative job, there should be a facility for a full rate payment under this scheme.

One is still on the same payment, invalidity pension, but one is only paid a partial rate. All that happens is one stays on the same scheme and one gets the full rate.

I understand. I thought this was the new scheme.

We are tailoring illness benefit and invalidity pension payments to people's requirements. Under the same scheme, they will get part of the individual rate if they are working but if they stop working, we will give them the full rate. We do not expect people, like those on the dole, to be in and out every second week because that would be too cumbersome. However, if a person has worked for a year, lost a job and is out of work for six or eight weeks, it is reasonable for us to put him or her back on the full payment on the same scheme and then take him or her off once he or she starts work again.

This is not a new payment.

No. There will be regulations that will give us an opportunity to develop secondary legislation that can be tweaked without primary legislation in the future to make this work. We live in a world where we are suspicious of what people are doing but I assure the committee I would not have gone along with this if I did not think it would facilitate many people doing what they wanted. People who have underlying disabilities want to participate in the workforce and I want to facilitate that.

A number of schemes operated by FÁS and my Department help people with disabilities into employment through employability centres around the country and so on. There is also a scheme through which FÁS pays employers. I attended a meeting recently where it was stated that everything relating to disability schemes will be brought together in one Department to facilitate these people. The dissemination of information on all the options has not been as good as it should be. I had a meeting a few weeks ago and it was agreed a simple leaflet would be prepared to outline the options for those with a disability who want to work and the options for employers in order that they can be paid to take on employees with long-term disabilities. This is important.

Amendment agreed to
Section 1, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 2

Amendment No. 3 is consequential on amendment No. 6 and, therefore, both will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 4, between lines 1 and 2, to insert the following:

" "Act of 2006" means the Social Welfare Law Reform and Pensions Act 2006;".

These are technical amendments to provide for the definition of the Social Welfare Law Reform and Pensions Act 2006 as "the Act of 2006".

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 4 is consequential on amendment No. 21 and, therefore, both will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 4, between lines 6 and 7, to insert the following:

" "Commissioners" means the Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland;".

Amendment agreed to.
Section 2, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 3
Amendment No. 5 not moved.

I move amendment No. 6:

In page 4, subsection (1), lines 11 and 12, to delete "Social Welfare Law Reform and Pensions Act 2006" and substitute "Act of 2006".

Amendment agreed to.
Section 3, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 4

I move amendment No. 7:

In page 5, line 7, after "amended" to insert the following:

", for a period of 2 years from the passing of this Act, and in respect only of such sample or pilot cases as are prescribed by the Minister,".

When changes were proposed earlier this year, we were informed that a system would be introduced using voice recognition to identify whether a claimant was in or out of the country and so on. I am all in favour of using technology to streamline services but I am concerned about the proposal that claimants can send a text message to sign on. Given there is so much pressure on budgets and on staff, I am a little concerned that control standards might slip and, for that reason, I suggest the Minister's proposals should be piloted and he should come back to us within two years to get the go-ahead to extend it. It is a safeguard. We need to remain vigilant due to the pressure on budgets and the potential for fraud. Given this is such a new proposal, I am sceptical about it and for that reason, the Minister should tread carefully.

There are two parts to this and the other part has resulted in no debate whatsoever. We were to bring in an electronic signature pad. This is an enabling section to allow us to use secure electronic means and to prevent people from challenging us if we do so.

The second consideration is the technology we might examine. The first technology is simple. Instead of people signing physically in front of an officer, they would sign on an electronic signature pad. In other words, they would have signed their names previously and they would physically sign their names on a electronic pad and if the signatures tallied, we would accept them as being the valid person who has signed. If the signature did not tally, the person would have to go to an officer, produce identification and sign manually and the process would be done in the old fashioned way. I am told it is not as easy as one would think to forge another person's signature on an electronic signature pad.

What are the advantages of that?

If there was a queue of 100 people outside a building waiting to access an officer at a hatch, the officer would have to note that each person signs his or her name for the benefit.

Therefore, it would mean that an officer would not have to be there ensuring they did that.

No, the people would sign their names on an electronic pad. If it is not the valid person, that person would not be able to sign that valid person's signature because it is difficult to forge another person's signature accurately. If a person signs on the electronic pad and the system is not satisfied the valid person has signed because it does not recognise the signature as being correct because the person has signed his or her name a different way - I can envisage problems arising in Gaeltacht areas with people forgetting whether they signed their names in Irish or English - it will refuse the person and he or she will then have to queue.

The purpose of using electronic systems in any service is to achieve the benefit that is derived from having an ATM machine. An ATM machine will allow a customer to withdraw money without, as one would have had to do 30 years ago, physically having to go to a bank and requesting the money over the counter. It is considered that the system is sufficiently secure and that the advantages far outweigh the staff costs involved in making the service available by means of human interaction in every case. That is the first system we want to run at least as a pilot project.

The second is a system involving phones but it is not a texting system. The system will involve a person receiving an automatic phone call from the Department whereby one will be asked a random selection of questions. This voluntary scheme has voice recognition and it will be run on a pilot basis. The system will have a recording of the person's voice. This is sensitive electronic equipment. If the system notes the person contacted is not the valid person, the call will be automatically switched off. Unless the valid person answers, the system will not work. The system will ask random questions. One could not have a prerecording of one's voice on one's phone to answer the questions posed because one would not know the sequence of questions that would be posed. If the answers given do not match the questions posed, the system will switch off and the person will be sent for. This system will establish that the person contacted is in the country and if that person is the valid person.

A person might say that he or she was working on a building site, which might be true, but if rumours we hear are true, many people are reputed to take the appropriate one day or half day off a month to go and sign on, although I am not saying that happens. This is not a deterrent either to working and drawing benefit. This system is worth operating on a trial basis. We cannot operate any such systems even on a trial basis without certification of a right to use electronic methods, as we propose here. This is an enabling measure. I fully agree with the Deputy that we must be careful in trying out this system. We do not want to waste a great deal of money until we are fairly sure this system works and delivers what we want it to deliver, which is to free up staff for more important work.

Are either of those systems operated anywhere else?

I understand the voice system is not operated elsewhere. We are at the cutting edge in initiating it, but it is to be operated on a trial basis and it is only when the findings of that have been evaluated in terms of proof that a decision will be made on it which could have wider implications. We are at the front line with this system but someone has to go first.

What is the extent of the trial the Minister is proposing?

It would be fairly limited at the beginning to ensure it works.

I find this difficult to accept because in recent years the Department has been trying to collect PPS numbers, for example, on rent supplement forms. It took it three years to ensure a box to be ticked was inserted on that form, which is difficult to understand. Given that the technology is at that very early stage in the Department, it is difficult to accept that the Minister would be in a position to operate this type of technology satisfactorily at a safe level. I am very sceptical about it. For that reason I propose we operate it for a two year period as a pilot project with a small sample and that the Minister would revert to us and let us know the findings on it.

I propose to suspend the meeting as a vote has been called in the Dáil.

Can we complete this matter?

Yes. That is what I am trying to do.

This system will not be rolled out on a widespread basis unless it works. Part of what is proposed is to use any electronic means to improve the position and part of that involves the use of electronic signature pads. As Deputy Shortall will appreciate, that is a much easier aspect to control because people go to social welfare offices to sign their names and if a signature does not match, then the facility will not work.

I am not saying that the Minister should not try it on a pilot basis but there should be limits on it. I am pressing the amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Sitting suspended at 11.07 p.m. and resumed at 11.35 p.m.

Amendments Nos. 9 to 11, inclusive, are related to amendment No. 8 and, therefore, all will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 8:

In page 5, line 32, to delete "declarations" and substitute "a declaration".

The purpose of the amendments is to ensure declarations of unemployment given in electronic form have the same legal standing in court proceedings as declarations given in written form. The amendments also provide for textual amendments to the Bill as published. I accept Deputy Shortall's comments about piloting this proposal. We need to be careful. If it does not work, there is no point flogging a dead horse.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 9:

In page 5, line 39, to delete "declarations" and substitute "a declaration".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 10:

In page 6, lines 3 and 4, to delete "make declarations" and substitute "make a declaration".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 11:

In page 6, to delete lines 8 to 52 and in page 7, to delete lines 1 and 2 and substitute the following:

"(a) a certificate signed by an officer of the Minister, authorised by the Minister in that behalf, stating—

(i) that he or she has examined the record relating to the proving of unemployment and the making of a declaration for that purpose by the person by means of the electronic communication in the prescribed manner,

(ii) that a record of that electronic communication has been made, and

(iii) the date on which that electronic communication was made,

shall be admissible in evidence in any proceedings (whether civil or criminal) before a court and shall be evidence of those facts unless the contrary is proved in any such proceedings, and

(b) it shall be presumed, unless the contrary is proved in any such proceedings, that—

(i) a declaration that purports to have been made by a person by means of an electronic communication, was made by that person,

(ii) a declaration which purports to have been made by a person by means of an electronic communication in respect of a particular period, was made in respect of that period,

(iii) any equipment used to make the electronic communication operated effectively, and

(iv) the method of electronic communication used for the purpose of making a declaration operated effectively.

(2) Any declaration made by means of an electronic communication in accordance with this Act shall be deemed to be a declaration made in the prescribed manner under section 62 or 141.

(3) Any declaration made by means of an electronic communication in accordance with this Act shall be deemed to be a statement or representation for the purposes of section 251.

(4) A document purporting to be a certificate referred to in subsection (1)(a) shall be deemed to be such a certificate and to have been signed by the person purporting to have signed it and to have been signed in accordance with an authorisation referred to in subsection (1)(a) unless the contrary is proved.”.”.

Amendment agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 4, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

I am concerned about this proposal for signing on. I am more concerned having read the Sunday newspapers. Have the departmental officials signed up to this or will there be more union disputes? Fingerprinting equipment costing more than €20 million is lying idle in Garda headquarters and this was intended to help the Minister and his Department identify whether people are legally in the State and not defrauding the State of social welfare payments. I have great concerns about the Minister's proposal and I will not support it.

He referred to ATM machines but they are not safe or foolproof. I attended a wedding in Portugal last year and I only used my card once. The next thing it was used in Holland and €2,500 was taken out of my account. I am concerned about electronic signing in and I will oppose it on all Stages of the legislation. It is not right. The Minister's predecessor, Deputy Hanafin, said she wanted people to sign in physically and be accountable. I am concerned about the measure in question in this section because it is too open to fraud. It frightens me. We are not ready for electronic signing in, even at this stage. We will not know whether people are in or out of the country. I am concerned about it and I will oppose it.

It is the Deputy's call if he wants to rush to oppose the section. He should recall that all this is not specific to mobile telephony. The much simpler idea, which the Deputy is blocking, is the idea of a signing pad within the employment exchange where one must physically attend. Rather than having queues of people at the hatch, all that would be necessary would be to sign the pad and for the signature to match up. That would be quite basic technology and if the signature did not match up, the person would have to go to the hatch. If a system such as this relieved the queues and the time staff need to put in to attend to them, it would seem reasonable to choose that option. These people would be preselected and would not be selected if they were high risk claimants. What we seek here is the enabling power to use electronic means to identify people in order that if there is a challenge in the courts, the system will stand up to that. The ruling out of all electronic systems, whatever the doubt one might have about the mobile telephony system, would constrain the Department and require it to use labour intensive means to ensure people physically sign in.

The change made by the former Minister, Deputy Hanafin, was simple and was a good idea, namely, that all new applicants should physically collect their payment at the post office. One of the big changes in this regard is the public services card and this is another piece of gadgetry for which we have had to provide through legislation. The card will be of great use to those in the post offices to ensure the right claimant is collecting the payment, which must be collected weekly in person. The introduction of the card will prevent what people alleged was happening, for which there is no evidence on any scale, that people outside the jurisdiction were collecting welfare payments.

I respect the Deputy's right to oppose any section of the Bill, but what he is trying to stop is the use of any electronic means and not just the specific use of one piece of technology. I believe that technology is worth a try and that any technology that will free up staff and make a greater saving compared with the risk is worthwhile. Having visited many employment social welfare offices and looked at the situation and what we do objectively, I believe the most effective control when properly organised is for the claimant to collect the payment using the public services card. One could question whether signing in serves any great purpose because currently it is on a predetermined date. The new technology would not work from a predetermined date and could catch people any day. Many people would argue it is easy enough for people to organise their lives to be free on the one day per month on which they must sign in and that all the time and effort the Department spends on it does not provide a gain. That said, I would be reluctant to do away with that system without careful consideration. Having witnessed the amount of time taken for signing on in welfare offices, however, I agree it is inordinate and disproportionate to the benefit we get from it.

What concerns me is the significant fraud that exists, as evidenced by the significant savings made in the Department last year. I am not convinced the new system will work and am concerned that people working in the black economy can sign on and make themselves available on whatever day required to collect their payment. I do not believe we are ready for this new system.

The Minister did not comment on the fingerprinting system that was to be at Garda headquarters. When will that be up and running? If that were operational, it might be possible to consider the Minister's proposal. We have expensive equipment lying idle, which has cost the State some €20 million. It has been in place since 2006 but has not yet been used because staff want extra funding to implement it. I am concerned about the proposed system and am not happy about it because the Minister has not convinced me.

What about the signature pads?

I have no problem with those, provided people must come in and sign them.

The Deputy would prevent that by opposing the section.

I cannot make a distinction as both are part of the same section. I intend to oppose the provision I am opposed to.

Will the Minister confirm there will be photographic identification on the public services card?

Yes, there will be.

When is that expected to be rolled out and how soon will it be up and running?

I understand that late this month the first cards will be ready and the roll-out will begin next year. It will take a long time for a complete roll-out.

Will all of them have photos on them?

They will have a photo and a microchip and PIN number. It is similar security to a passport. The card is fine and can have all the features one wants. We must allow, however, that there are two ways to use the card. I can go in with my card and show it, and if the office does not have the matching technology, the person to whom I have handed it can examine the card, see it has not been forged and identify me from the photograph. If the person has the matching technology, the card can be swiped and the electronic technology can check whether the photograph matches the person presenting, which would be more accurate than visual identification.

How does that work?

It is like at the airport. Normally when one hands in one's passport at the airport, the officer just looks at it and checks whether the photo looks like the passenger. There is technology available which allows people to scan the photos to check whether they match the passenger.

Is the Minister saying that technology will be available?

No, but it could be used to verify photos. The card just has a photograph.

What system will operate with the card?

It is a chip and PIN card that will work just like a passport does.

Okay, but one does not claim money with a passport. Will the Minister explain what will happen?

I am looking at all angles. The person has a card and the card states it belongs to the person who is named on the card. What determines whether an officer thinks the person holding the card is the same person as the one in the photograph on the card is a visual inspection of the person.

Will that be done?

One could go further if one had major doubts and have a photograph taken of the person and compare it electronically with the photo on the card, but that system would not be disseminated to every post office in the country. We could not do that.

What will happen when the new system is introduced in the new year?

People will get their cards with their photograph embedded in it and with chip and PIN technology that is similar to that in a passport.

Okay. What happens then? Does the person then go to the post office and swipe the card?

Do they then enter their PIN number?

Yes, if the technology is available at the post office.

Assuming the technology is available, must they enter their PIN number?

Yes, they will have to use their PIN number.

What must the post office staff check with regard to the claimant? Obviously, the card must be swiped and the PIN number entered. What else is required?

Obviously, the claimant must look like the person on the card.

Must that check be done always?

Yes, that is understood. In the beginning we may not necessarily have the technology everywhere for swiping, so some verification might be needed as in-----

What is the plan for rolling out the technology? When and where will it start?

It will begin in January and continue throughout the year.

How will it begin? Will it begin with machines being installed in all the post offices?

First we must install the machines to take the photographs and issue the cards and must require the claimants to come forward for that. This will be done automatically for people getting a new card and PPS number. For the major cohort of existing claimants, however, we must set up facilities throughout the country to provide for them to have their photographs taken, etc. that all comply with the system. This is being rolled out currently.

Following that, a machine that recognises the card must be installed in post offices.

What I am saying is that the new cards, even if post offices do not have a machine that can read them, are still far more accurate than any of the previous cards we have had because the photograph on them cannot be falsified. Therefore, a visual inspection of the card and of the person presenting the card that satisfies the officer the presenter is the person in question is adequate to suggest it is the proper card. Once one is satisfied that Éamon Ó Cuív is the person and it is Éamon Ó Cuív's photograph, then it is the proper card. I could not take Michael Ring's card, take out his photograph and put Éamon Ó Cuív's picture on it because it is embossed and it is not possible to do that.

What would stop Deputy Shortall taking my card and just swiping it for me?

No, because I would know that Deputy Shortall does not look like Deputy Ring.

But one is swiping it into a-----

No, one is not swiping into a machine. One has to have a person there. For instance, the Garda check at the airport will always check the photograph. The issue of concern is whether a person has falsified the passport but it is very difficult to falsify a modern passport compared with an older passport which had a stick-on photograph. The security features on the modern passport mean it cannot be falsified. The Garda security will do a visual inspection of the person and the passport photograph and decide the two are the same.

When does the Minister expect the system to be fully operating so that everyone has a card with a photo identification and every post office has a swipe machine?

Three million cards will have to be issued to people. I think it will take more than a year to have everyone registered. There are some very low risk groups, such as pensioners. All the new numbers will be issued with a card. The free travel pass will be attached to the card in future and the card will become the free travel pass. I believe there will be a significant demand and people will want to get the card. One of the problems will be to ensure everyone seeks the card. Those who need the card will seek the card as opposed to those who do not use the card. I do not think I have ever used my PPS card as I have never interacted with social welfare with identification.

Is the figure of 3 million all adults?

The card is a chip and PIN card with regard to its security features. I am not sure whether everyone will be issued with a PIN number. I can clarify that for the Deputy. It contains a photograph and a signature but it is a secure card and it is not open to falsification.

Will they have to be swiped in a machine?

My understanding is that in certain cases they will need to be swiped to avail of services but in other cases it will be just a visual inspection.

When the scheme is fully up and running is it the intention that every post office would have a swipe machine?

That will take a long time.

Is that the intention?

I presume over time as this rolls out, but we have to put the card in place first.

I do not think that is the right approach. We have had umpteen examples in this country of technology being introduced and being found to be completely and utterly inadequate. Perhaps the most glaring example was the electronic voting machines. It is important we get this right. It is a very expensive scheme. What is the estimated total cost?

I can provide the Deputy with a detailed brief on the scheme. The technical systems will cost approximately €1.5 million to €2 million and it will cost approximately €24 million for a population of 3 million. At the moment, when a person needs to engage with my Department, we have no proper system of identification.

No one is arguing with that. My point is if there is going to be something like €26 million spent on a new system, we want to be pretty sure it will work and do the job it is intended to do.

Of course it is. I have a sample card to show the Deputy. The card has a lady's name and photograph. If I go in to claim a payment, that card is practically impossible to use to defraud, unlike anything available today. For the first time, the social services card carries a photograph. For instance, if Deputy Michael Ring purports to be that lady, I think we will know very quickly by visual inspection that he is not that lady and, therefore, no dice. Up to now, if he came in with a PPS card, we would not know because even though the card shows a girl's name, we would not know because it has no photograph. This new card has a secure photo ID and this in itself is a significant step forward. It means that anyone interacting with the system will have this card and so long as the person in the photograph is the person presenting, one can be satisfied that is the genuine person. The only thing that could possibly fool the system is a case of identical twins or two other people who look exactly alike and whom it is not possible to differentiate by visual inspection.

I am sure the former Ministers for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Noel Dempsey and former Deputy Martin Cullen, both said that electronic voting was impossible to defraud. All those assurances were given. The Minister told me this was a chip and PIN system.

Yes, it is a chip and PIN system. I am not saying it has a PIN number but it is a chip and PIN system.

How can it be a chip and PIN system if there is no PIN number?

It is a technical term. I will supply the Deputy with the details of the card.

This does not exactly inspire confidence.

The public service card will have a multiple protection mechanism to prevent and detect tampering with the physical card and its contents. We are not giving the full details because we do not wish to tempt anyone but they will be to the highest current international standards. The internal fraud prevention and detection incorporates photographic identification and signature and introduces important control benefits.

I suggest that the committee be provided with a full briefing on the card from the technical people.

Certainly. It is meant to be an identity card.

Question put and declared carried.
Sections 5 and 6 agreed to.
SECTION 7

I move amendment No. 12:

In page 8, line 12, after "number" to insert "and a tax clearance certificate".

This amendment relates to the payment of rent supplement. More than €500 million is paid to private landlords annually. Concern has been identified by the Committee of Public Accounts that the Department of Social Protection has traditionally wiped its hands of any responsibility for ensuring the people receiving this large amount of public money are tax compliant. An efficient system for ensuring this compliance is still not in place.

The Minister is making some stab at it in this section but, in my view, his proposal is inadequate. As a minimum, he should require landlords to be tax compliant if they are to receive rent supplement from the State. Anyone who wants to do any work for the State or even do grant work for the local authority, such as bathroom conversions, is required to produce a tax clearance certificate. There is no excuse, in my view, for not requiring landlords to produce a tax clearance certificate. This should be a basic requirement and my amendment proposes this. The amendment proposes that any landlord who is paid by the State is required to be tax compliant.

I do not propose to accept the amendment, but I have considerable sympathy.

That is not good enough. Why does the Minister not accept it?

A number of issues would need to be addressed before accepting it. The first step is what we are doing, which is to get the Revenue number. Two main issues would need to be addressed. First, the Department's relationship is with the tenant and not the landlord, which is a fundamental issue. In the current amendment, that took quite a bit of work to address. Second, seeking tax clearance involves considerable extra bureaucracy. I believe this is a significant step forward. By virtue of having a PPS number for every landlord, it will be very simple for us to provide all that information to the Revenue and for it to check it is getting a record of every tenancy. One of the requirements is that a landlord with five tenancies will be required to give the number five times. We will know of each tenancy and it is not a kind of bulk thing. Given the issues that would remain outstanding, it is not for this Bill but if I am around in the future, it is certainly something I would consider.

That is just not good enough. The Minister has responsibility now to deal with this and he is suggesting that he will gradually work his way through it. Why does he not just deal with it and stop dragging his heels?

That is because----

Just a second, Minister.

The Department's performance has been abysmal in this area. Has he looked at what has happened in recent years? Has he considered, for example, the report the Committee of Public Accounts prepared on it? Has he looked at the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General? The Department has ignored the issue completely and his predecessors did not see themselves as having any responsibility to the taxpayer to ensure landlords were tax compliant. When landlords were asked previously to supply their PPS numbers and Revenue went about matching that PPS number to landlords' tax identities, I believe it matched approximately one third of them. A huge number of PPS numbers given were falsified. Is the Minister aware that happened? He should be aware and if he is, he should not just take the easy approach he proposes to take. There is no argument for not requiring landlords to produce tax clearance certificates and the Minister is being remiss in his responsibility to the taxpayer by not requiring that.

The Minister made the point that the rent supplement is paid to the tenant in the majority of cases. The next amendment deals with that. He knows that Threshold and other groups have been lobbying for years to try to get the payments made directly from the Department to the landlord and cutting out all this nonsense of how to get around the Department's responsibility to the tenant. The way to do it is to make the payments directly to the landlord. Later I will outline many reasons this makes sense for the State in terms of saving money. I cannot imagine any defence for not doing this and I propose to press the amendment.

When I became Minister for Social Protection I raised the issue of the PPS numbers. Funnily enough, some of the groups the Deputy mentioned were opposed to insisting on getting a PPS number.

That is because insisting on getting a number does not work.

Some of the groups were very reluctant to go as far as I propose, which is to insist on getting a PPS number because they felt it might discommode tenants and put them under pressure. Having weighed up the issue, I believe they were wrong and that as the Deputy has said, it is vital we would get a PPS number for every landlord, but that is not the unanimous view of all the different housing groups I have met which represent the tenant side.

Looking at the totality of the issue and given all the issues that would need to be resolved, it would not be possible to have introduced an amendment such as the one the Deputy proposes by Christmas of this year. What we are doing is an essential first step. Obviously, it would be a serious offence for someone to falsify the number and that would need to be dealt with.

They have been falsified on a widespread basis and they know no action can be taken.

Since I became Minister for Social Protection, I have taken the view that regardless of what happened before I came in - I cannot speak for that - it is vital to get a correct number. Obviously a landlord is now breaking the law by not providing the correct number. Up to now there was no legal obligation to provide the number and therefore it was not possible to take sanction against a person who provided the wrong number, including providing no number.

Will the Minister now devote stretched departmental resources to chasing people's PPS numbers?

They have to provide them or otherwise-----

Or otherwise what?

-----they will be subject to the fact that we will not continue with the tenancy.

How will the Department know if the number is valid?

We pass all these numbers on to the Revenue.

How long will it take for Revenue to check?

That is done regularly and there are already data.

How long will it take Revenue to check out the numbers?

They are all automatic so it will just put it into the computer and match the number.

What happens if they do not match?

Obviously the person who gave us the number is breaking the law.

What will the Department do then?

The tenancy is no longer valid.

The Department will devote a considerable amount of time to dealing with that when it could be done much more neatly.

A person could send in someone else's tax clearance certificate just as easily.

They do that all the time.

That does not solve the Deputy's problem. Given the time constraint and all the issues that would need negotiation, it would not have been possible between last April and now to go further than we are going. It is a significant first step and people can build on this basic building block I have put in place.

It is not a significant first step. I will bet any money that another committee will be back here in 12 months' time talking about how we can ensure landlords are tax compliant because the Minister's proposal will not work. I cannot understand his reticence in moving to ensure landlords are tax compliant. He has said he could not have put everything in place to introduce a new system by Christmas. It does not need to be in by then as he knows perfectly well. He could provide for it in the legislation, move to make the necessary arrangements and then commence the section at that point.

As the Deputy will find if she ever gets into this position, it takes time to put all the different parts of the jigsaw in place.

I am not denying that.

If the Deputy is trying to imply that in some way I am soft on people who are not complying with paying their tax-----

The Minister is being so if this is all he is prepared to do.

I am not. I am taking the first step to insist on the PPS number being given. The only one that is valid is the correct PPS number of the person. With the data matching we have with the Revenue, the Revenue will very quickly be able to ascertain whether a person is making the appropriate declarations on income from rental sources.

I hear what the Deputy is saying on general tax compliance and whether a person should be able to get a rental payment indirectly from the Department. That raises other issues that would need to be examined in full. Legally we are not paying the landlord, which is a valid point. That issue should and will be considered in the future. Regardless of what the Deputy thinks, the time constraints did not allow for all the legal and other issues it raises to be resolved by now. It took considerable work to get this far. Many issues were raised in the Office of the Attorney General and there were many difficulties with it. This very important first step is in place in the Bill.

The Minister has been in the job long enough to tackle the issue.

I have not been there that long.

It has been well flagged by the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Committee of Public Accounts. The Minister knows there is a glaring gap in the information system and he could have moved to tackle it this time.

When the Deputy gets to this side of the House, if she ever does, I think she will find that-----

It is regrettable that he did not do so. He should have been more proactive in this area.

I was hugely proactive.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 13:

In page 11, between lines 10 and 11, to insert the following subsection:

"(4) A payment of rent supplement under the Principal Act shall be made directly to the landlord and not to the tenant.".

This amendment could have been grouped with the last amendment as the subject matter of both amendments is related. The big problem with rent supplement is that it is not directly paid to the landlord. That raises all kinds of difficulties. I refer, for example, to the lack of tax compliance, which we have just been talking about. Tenants sometimes pocket these moneys. Landlords often demand illegal top-up payments. Quite often, the State does not get the best value for the money it is spending in this regard. If payments were made directly to landlords, it would be possible to negotiate with them and drive down the rents being sought. Some 50% of the rental market is taken up with rent supplement. It is playing a part in increasing rent levels and therefore distorting the market to an extent. It seems incredible that there is no provision for the State to decide, across the board, to cut the rents of 50% of the market. The Minister has suggested that cannot be done because it would affect tenants.

The reductions in the level of rent supplement in the last two budgets have not caused rents to go down. The decreases resulted in tenants having to pay more, thereby impoverishing themselves. Many of those who depend on rent supplement are paid the lowest levels of income and live in poor quality accommodation. They are often quite vulnerable. As the Minister is aware, they are not in a position to negotiate with their landlords. The cuts that have taken place over the past two budgets have had a direct impact on the individual tenants, rather than the landlords. This amendment is necessary to make the system more streamlined and, most of all, to make savings for the State. It would eliminate all the illegal activity in the rent supplement system. It makes absolute sense that payments should be made directly to landlords. That is why I propose this amendment.

I do not propose to accept this amendment. Rent supplement is administered on behalf of the Department by the HSE as part of the supplementary welfare allowance scheme. The purpose of rent supplement is to provide short-term income support to eligible people living in private rented accommodation whose means are insufficient to meet their accommodation costs and who do not have accommodation available to them from any other source. The tenant makes an application for rent supplement. The Department's relationship is with the tenant in all cases. The payment made to the tenant is the property of the tenant. It is provided specifically for the benefit of the tenant, to assist him or her with accommodation needs. As with other social welfare payments, a recipient of rent supplement may nominate an agent to receive payment on his or her behalf. There are almost 97,000 rent supplements in payment. Some 20% of rent supplement payments are paid to a person other than the recipient. These payments can be made to the landlord, an agent of the landlord or another person designated by the recipient, such as a sibling.

Under the current arrangements, even with direct payment landlords still have to collect a tenant contribution of a minimum of €104 a month towards rent. The amount of rent supplement payable depends on the tenant's income. In some cases, tenants only pay the minimum contribution. In other cases, the tenant makes an additional contribution to the rent, based on his or her financial circumstances. For example, if a person has a part-time income and receives just 10% of his or her rent directly from the State, the landlord will receive 10% directly and have to collect 90% from the tenant. The efficiency of the scheme would be significantly affected if this arrangement were changed. For example, community welfare officers would potentially have to create a formal relationship with some 97,000 additional clients - the landlords. Greater complexity and significant resources would be necessitated to deal with a new set of third parties. Community welfare officers would be drawn into disputes between landlords and tenants. There may be financial and control implications in cases where a tenant moves address and neither the landlord nor the tenant informs the Department. Similarly, where a tenant is no longer eligible for rent supplement and the Department ceases paying the landlord, the Department may find itself involved in eviction proceedings.

The supplementary welfare allowance scheme, which includes the rent supplement scheme, has a clear role to play in providing support to individuals and families and alleviating poverty and social exclusion. The scheme is designed to enable immediate and flexible assistance to be provided. The advantage of the current arrangements for the payment of rent supplement, particularly in the short term, is that it gives recipients a degree of flexibility in terms of location. They have the freedom to move to a different location. At the same time, they can seek an alternative long-term housing solution from the local authority.

Even if the payment were assigned to the landlord, the landlord would have to collect the balance. If the full amount due to the landlord was paid to him or her by the community welfare officer under the supplementary welfare scheme, it would not deal with this problem. As the Deputy said, some landlords are allegedly demanding money over and above that which they are entitled to claim. I cannot understand how paying the landlord part of the payment would stop that from happening. In all cases, the tenant would still have to make some payment to the landlord. Landlords are not allowed to charge more. It is clearly wrong and illegal. The Deputy's proposal would not deal with that. I understand that the opposite is happening in some cases. One hears stories of landlords accepting the amount minus the local contribution. They are not bothering to collect the rest of the money from the tenant. That is not meant to happen either. In such circumstances, obviously, the landlord has given the wrong sum for the rent. If the Deputy knows of any cases-----

It is widespread. The Minister should not stick his head in the sand.

-----where landlords are looking for top-up payments, she should report it immediately to the appropriate authorities because it is illegal.

As there is a vote in the Dail, I propose to suspend the meeting.

The Minister is like an ostrich.

Sitting suspended at 12.20 p.m. and resumed at 12.40 p.m.

This morning we indicated we may take a break at 1 p.m. I will leave the decision to members and the Minister. Deputy Shortall was in possession.

Whatever about the theory of rent supplement being a short-term scheme, it has developed into something entirely different. On the issue of savings, approximately €7 million is lost annually through deposits. This money could be saved immediately if the payment was made directly to the landlord. Such a change would also make it much easier to tackle anti-social activity by tenants. The principle of direct payment has been established under the successful residential accommodation scheme, RAS. There is no reason not to accept the proposal.

Does the Minister wish to have a final word on the matter?

I thought I had the final word on the amendment.

Should I not allow the Minister to have a final word, as is customary?

The difference between the RAS and the rent supplement scheme is that the relationship is with the landlord and relates to locally authority approved accommodation. Local authorities have the resources to operate in the manner sought by the Deputy but our system does not operate in such a manner because the scheme is short term in nature.

My position is not far from that of the Deputy. I share her belief that rent supplement should not be provided in the long term. I am engaging with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and, through it, with local authorities to ensure the scheme fulfils its original function of serving as a temporary arrangement to facilitate people in securing temporary accommodation of their choice, subject to certain criteria.

Questions were asked about numbers and so forth. The obligation on landlords to provide a PPS number only came into force on 28 October 2008. The full year date file for 2008 sent to Revenue contained 107,000 records. However, only 4,285 of these records were in respect of tenancies registered after 28 October 2008 where a PPS was requested. Of these, 3,373, or 79% of the records, also had the relevant landlord PPS or tax reference number recorded.

The 2009 data are being validated by the Health Service Executive and will be returned to the Revenue Commissioners in the coming weeks. Revenue has advised that, following enhancement of its automated matching process, it successfully identified the landlord PPS numbers in an average of 72% of rent supplement records for the years 2002-08. When the 2009 file is forwarded to the Revenue Commissioners in the coming weeks, it will contain the landlord PPS number where it has been provided.

I do not propose to read the full details in respect of the records. In 2008, the number of matched records was 75,836 with a matched value of €305 million, while the number of unmatched records was 31,390 with an unmatched value of €121 million. The total number of records was 107,000. To provide anything other than a correct PPS number is illegal. I stress that we expect there to be a perfect match.

Revenue has further advised that in 2007 it undertook compliance checks to test if rents being paid by the Department of Social and Family Affairs were being declared to Revenue. A sample of 215 cases was chosen from a number of categories and gross rents declared on the income tax returns were cross-referenced with the amounts on the Department's file. All cases of discrepancies underwent further investigation. The sample, in the case of larger cases, was 50 and the compliance rate was 88%. The sample of unmatched cases was 115 and the compliance rate was 95%. There appears, therefore, from the checks to be a high level of compliance.

A tax clearance certificate does not prove that rent has been declared because certificates are post factum and a person may receive a tax clearance certificate and not declare all income. Data matching is the only effective way of ensuring that rent earned is declared. We need greater automation in the system of data matching. The Department’s computer systems have been upgraded for the purpose of matching its data with Revenue data.

The Minister's contribution supports my point. We are in the last month of 2010 yet the 2009 figures have not yet been validated.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendment No. 14 is out of order.

Amendment No. 14 not moved.

I move amendment No. 15:

In page 11, between lines 10 and 11, to insert the following subsection:

"(4) A payment of rent supplement under the Principal Act shall be suspended where the Minister has reasonable grounds to believe that the tenant has engaged in anti-social activity.".

Amendment No. 14 proposed to address the issue of non-resident landlords who currently escape the tax net. There is a ridiculous practice whereby, in theory, tenants are supposed to withhold 20% of their rent payment for the purpose of the payment of taxes by a non-resident landlord. The purpose of the amendment was to ensure non-resident landlords paid a withholding tax. Owing to the ridiculous rules of this House, which prevent Members from tabling amendments that result in either a charge on the Exchequer or on taxpayers, my amendment has been ruled out of order. It is madness and indicative of the arcane nature of many of the rules of the House that a proposal that would have resulted in savings for the State has been ruled out of order.

On amendment No. 15, if a properly functioning rent supplement system were in place, it would be possible to deal with anti-social activity on the part of some tenants. All Members know how difficult it is to address problems associated with anti-social activity by tenants in receipt of rent supplement. The issue in terms of local authority tenants is a lot more satisfactory in so far as the legislation is in place to enable local authorities to address anti-social activity. There is no such provision in the rent supplement system.

I propose in the amendment that we should give the power to withhold payment of rent supplement in the event of a tenant engaging in anti-social activity. That is reasonable. It would help to ensure proper behaviour on the part of tenants in receipt of considerable amounts of taxpayers' money in rent supplement. It would also equalise the situation between rent supplement tenants and local authority tenants. For that reason I urge the Minister to accept the amendment.

Existing legislation provides the Health Service Executive with the authority to refuse, suspend or terminate payment of rent supplement in the case of a person who has been required to deliver up possession of a dwelling provided by a housing authority or an approved body where the reason for that requirement includes anti-social behaviour or the interests of good estate management.

If a landlord is dissatisfied with a tenant owing to anti-social behaviour, he or she has the normal recourse of the Private Residential Tenancies Board, PRTB, or the Garda. There are enough powers in place. I do not know what the answer is to all the challenges that exist. I accept there are neighbours from hell. I know all about them from listening to people. On the other hand, people have to live somewhere. There are powers to deal with the issue under a number of headings but it is a very tricky issue in its broadest sense.

I accept what the Minister says, that people must live somewhere, but if they are provided with the vast bulk of their rent by the State, conditions should attach.

There are conditions.

The minimum conditions should include that they behave themselves, respect the property and their neighbours.

Those principles have been accepted for local authority tenants. It is possible to take action against the minority of tenants who engage in anti-social activity. The same could be the case with tenants receiving rent supplement if the Minister had a will to ensure it happened.

Earlier the Minister referred to cases where rent supplement can be denied where tenants are evicted from local authority housing. That is true in those circumstances but it does not help the situation where a person in receipt of rent supplement engages in anti-social activity. A community welfare officer should have the right to refuse to continue to provide rent supplement if the tenant insists on engaging in anti-social activity in the community. To suggest that the PRTB can deal with this is nonsense. We all know the long delays that exist in that regard. Such cases then get caught up in the courts. It is a straightforward issue. If a substantial sum of money is being provided to a tenant weekly or monthly, conditions should be attached to that and there should be an expectation that people who are housed by the State would behave themselves and respect their neighbours. That is the purpose of the amendment.

I agree with Deputy Shortall about the direct payment to the landlord. It should be done and the Government should move on that immediately.

On the tax clearance certificate, it is very important that these people are paying their taxes in the State or outside it. I agree with what Deputy Shortall said about the amendment that was ruled out of order. There should be a withholding tax for such people. They should pay the same contributions as people who live in this country. It is up to them to get their tax affairs in order in the State. It is not up to me or the Minister to do that.

I am on the policing board in County Mayo. Like all my colleagues we must attend a number of such meetings. This issue has arisen in every area where I have attended meetings. Two things must happen. In future, when people seek rent allowance from community welfare officers, a check should be carried out in cases where they have moved from a property, whether it is inside or outside the jurisdiction, inside the county, outside the county, or in another country. Checks should be carried out to ensure they are no longer in receipt of rent allowance from a previous allocation to ensure people are not being paid rent allowance in more than one place at a time. I am aware of one case where a person got it in both Dublin and Mayo.

In some cases the level of anti-social behaviour was outrageous. It is wrong that local authorities and community welfare officers do not make checks. In one situation a woman was dying of cancer and tenants disrupted her family life but no one was prepared to do anything about it. The State is handing out money in rent allowance to the person responsible for such behaviour. The Minister said people must live somewhere. They have to live the same as everyone else. If people want rent allowance and to live in a house, they must behave like everyone else. The laws are in place but the local authorities and the Garda are not dealing with the issue. It is left to residents to deal with the matter, as happened in my area. The situation was dealt with. In fairness, the Garda supported the residents because it was known the problem was serious and that the woman affected was very sick. If a person is getting rent allowance, it should be subject to certain criteria. Such people must live like everyone else. We accept they must be provided with accommodation but they must behave themselves.

This is the most serious issue facing the private sector. People were buying houses for the past 20 years which led to the current problem with the economy. They were renting out the houses and they did not care who was living in them once they got their payment. They do not look after the houses, cut the grass, clean them up or paint them. They hand them over to tenants who do not behave themselves and the people who own their houses and could not move were caught on either side of such tenants. Something must be done. The Minister should accept the amendment. It is a good one. He might wish to return to it on Report Stage but it should be introduced to address the problem. Something must be done. It is the one issue that comes up in the policing fora in Ballina and Westport and with the county council. People want to know what they can do about the anti-social behaviour of certain tenants.

I support the sentiments expressed in the amendment tabled by Deputy Shortall and what Deputy Ring said. The problem is much more serious than the Minister seems to appreciate. Tenants in certain situations are making life a living hell for their neighbours. They have no responsibility to anyone. The landlord may have no responsibility and he may refuse to take any action. It is irresponsible of the State to support that kind of situation, to give carte blanche to what is clearly undermining society in a particular area. All one needs is three or four such tenants in a block of houses to ruin life for everyone else.

In one case with which I am familiar the Garda had to provide protection to the neighbour of an unruly tenant who deliberately went out of his way to intimidate his neighbours at every opportunity. The Garda had to escort the neighbours to and from their houses. It is crazy stuff that we should be at this juncture. Under the legislation, community welfare officers are due to come under the jurisdiction of the Department of Social Protection. It is time to jump ahead of the posse instead of running around in circles as has been the case.

We fully accept that people need rent supplement. They readily apply for it and are glad to get it. We strongly support the need to have applications dealt with quickly, efficiently and effectively. We also strongly support the need to ensure the poor unfortunate applicant is not hanging on for months waiting for approval, up to six months in some cases, as has happened in the past year. We must also draw the line that where a tenancy is being abused, to the merriment of the people who are the beneficiaries - admittedly a minority - it must be addressed as a matter of urgency.

It is all very fine to say that certain amendments are not acceptable because they involve a charge on the Exchequer. Money is at stake in the context of this amendment, from the point of view of the Exchequer and the taxpayers' expectations of what they are paying their taxes for. I strongly urge the Minister to accept the amendment. One will always get much advice from various sections in the Department as to why one should not do that. There is a natural tendency for officials to do this. This should be changed but there is a combined wisdom that refuses to do so because it is easier not to take it on. A time comes, however, when one has to bite the bullet and be done with it.

Despite what Deputy Shortall believes about the tax clearance issue and PPS numbers, this was as far as I could get in the timescale available. The issue is worthy of consideration in the next part of the long process of putting in place the total reform of the supplementary welfare allowance and also, in consultation with my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, of having greater integration at policy level between the supplementary welfare allowance scheme, the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, and the local authorities. We are committed to going back to the point where rent allowance is a temporary scheme and get away from the idea that people can be on it for years.

On the direct payment to a landlord, are Members suggesting a tenant should not have the right to receive a payment if he or she so wanted? The current system allows the tenant to decide. For example, it would be very easy for a landlord to work out a single tenant's income because he or she would know what proportion of the payment was paid directly.

All the landlord has to do is look at the guidelines for the payment of rent supplement to know what the tenant is earning.

Deputy Shortall is wrong. On a rent of €100, for example, the State could be paying €90 or as little €76 of it. If the €100 was a direct payment to the landlord, the landlord will not know if the Department contributed a major or a minor part of that. The tenant has a right to privacy. Many issues would arise if the tenant was forced into allowing the payment directly to the landlord.

I will examine the withholding of tax. I do not believe, however, we can do anything about it in the time available. It is a valid point and in principle I have no objection to the proposal. I thank the Deputies for the suggestion.

I am in the process of trying to reform the social housing element in the social welfare system. This amendment has several weaknesses. For example, it only refers to the tenant, not the tenant's family or partners. In other words, the neighbour from hell may not be the tenant but his or her partner. While I accept the basic thrust of the Deputies' arguments in this respect, I do not have the time between now and Report Stage to deal with this issue in a fair and balanced way. I will, however, ensure further work on it is done and it is prioritised in the work on reforming the rent supplement system.

The Minister is talking in the long term which may not necessarily apply to him.

He needs to go now.

When Deputy Shortall is in my place, she can introduce it.

I look forward to that.

I will be working until the last day I am in office.

I will not spend ten years talking about doing it, however.

I have always taken the view in life that none of us can be certain about tomorrow but we have to plan as if we will be there for the long term. If I thought I might not be here tomorrow, then there would be no point in doing anything in life.

As long as I am in this office, I will keep working on this matter. I will leave a good legacy of work in hand to whoever comes after me.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Section 7 agreed to.
SECTION 8

Amendments Nos. 16 and 17 are cognate and will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 16:

In page 11, line 16, to delete "where required,".

This amendment relates to fraudulent applications for PPS numbers. A person applying for a PPS number must provide various proofs of identity. This should apply to people outside of the State who may be claiming State benefits.

A fingerprint machine costing €20 million now lies idle in Garda headquarters. It was to be used to identify people outside the State defrauding the benefit system. Will the Minister work with the Minister for Justice and Law Reform on getting this machine online? The union problems that exist should be resolved. Every euro saved is a euro less that the Government will have to find. People feel there is much social welfare fraud taking place, particularly with people outside of the State.

Amendment No. 16 aims to ensure the same rules apply to benefit recipients inside as well as outside the State.

Section 262(3) of the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005 requires that a photograph and a signature be submitted for any customer registering for a PPS number. This does not align with lower levels of authentication such as for birth registrations and the allocation of PPS numbers via non-face to face channels such as non-resident, deceased or probate cases. Obviously, it is not practicable to ask for a signature in a case involving a deceased person.

I am talking about people outside the State.

This is a technical matter. We accept everyone must have a photograph and a signature when applying for a PPS number. There are probate cases, however, where a deceased person cannot provide a photograph or a signature. Not insisting on the photo and signature gives us a little out on this one because a dead person cannot give us their signature or photograph.

Is the Minister sure?

Yes, I am bloody sure.

Is the Minister really sure?

I would love if the people in Mayo could tell me how to get around that one.

Will the Minister comment on the fingerprinting machine?

I shall certainly take up the issue being raised by the Deputy, as it is very serious. As we are discussing identification and all the rest, I hope to have the first card at the end of the month, and am satisfied that this will be an enormous step forward. For example, a Bus Éireann inspector told me recently that people were swapping invalidity passes and other free passes and travelling on the buses around the country. Unlike in Dublin no photograph is required.

I have looked into this matter in considerable detail and I am satisfied that the card is a major step forward, way ahead of anything we have had up to now in terms of authentication within the system. If one swipes the card one gets all the details regarding the person. Another advantage, as the system is being rolled out, is this. If a person goes in to a social welfare office and the officials there are satisfied as to his or her identity, they can swipe the data and give people access to the personal files of the individual concerned. This could be extended in time as regards free travel and the HSE using it as proof of identity for giving access to medical records and so on. The card does not hold the details. The system holds the details, but the card is the key to the system.

I can get a briefing for Deputies, which I believe would be worthwhile, on how this would work, the roll-out details and so on. We shall have the technical people in to give a detailed briefing.

I am somewhat worried at some of the things the Minister said. The Data Protection Act is there for a purpose. We, as Members of the Oireachtas, are subject to the Data Protection Act. If we make representations to the Revenue Commissioners, for example, they will not talk to us unless we get a letter. There is nothing in the law that says that, but it is, nonetheless, a new dimension that has taken over the lives of public representatives.

What worries me about what the Minister has just said relates to the amount of personal data that will be maintained and can be made available to a variety of people.

The Deputy has got it wrong.

I have not got it wrong. I am worried about to whom the information will be made available.

I am concerned for a number of reasons. If a card is lost with all this information on it-----

There is no information on the card. I need to say this, because the Deputy is going off on a-----

The Chair has no real control over where people go. Perhaps the Deputy might ask a question and I shall get the Minister to reply.

I have not finished, and I am entitled to speak. I am worried about it and I would like the Minister to clarify exactly what is being proposed. The Minister refers to the extent of the information that will be made available to the individual, only. Unfortunately, such information that was supposed to be for an individual only has been made available to many other people in recent years. I want to know whether this is in compliance with the Data Protection Act.

The card has on it only the date of birth, PPS number, photograph and so on. Essentially, it is just an identity card and does not hold any information about the individual apart from that. However, if a person presents it in a social welfare office, the officials will have to presume that he or she is the individual to whom the card refers. There will be a photograph on the card to authenticate such a claim. That is much more secure that the way people's details are being accessed at the moment, is it not?

At that point they swipe the card, and being satisfied as the identity of the client they can access the details and deal with the request. At the moment if one wants to access one's medical details from the HSE, how do the people dealing with the request confirm one's identity? If one has the card they can confirm the identity. Then it is a matter of them swiping the card and accessing their own files. Such information would not be on the card per se but rather is within the system, and this amounts to a double check. We are still some way off, but it is possible in the future, for example, for someone’s medical records to be readily accessed if he or she has been involved in an accident, say, many miles from home to check on allergies, medication and so on after being admitted to an accident and emergency department. In the event they can use the card to identify the individual and then get the file. In this way before a file is accessed this will enable people to be absolutely sure they are dealing with the individual whose name is on the card.

On a point of order, we either need to take a break soon for lunch or else wrap up quickly.

I am in the members' hands.

I shall not delay the proceedings other than to say I am still concerned, and I should like an opportunity to return to this again. For instance, why were we able to deal with issues such as this in the past? Was it because we did not know the people? Has the system grown so amorphous that it is now a question of numbers only and names and numbers. I recall when the community welfare officers knew all the people and where they lived.

That is not the way it is now.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Amendment No. 17 not moved.
Section 8 agreed to.
Sections 9 and 10 agreed to.
NEW SECTIONS

I move amendment No. 18:

In page 13, before section 11, but in Part 2, to insert the following new section

11.—(1) The Principal Act is amended in the manner specified in Schedule 2*.

(2) Schedule 1 to the Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2008 is amended by—

(a)substituting the following paragraph for paragraph (c) of the amendment to section 200 of the Principal Act set out in column (2) of that Schedule opposite the mention of section 200 in column (1):

"(c) In subsection (3), substitute ‘by a designated person’ for ‘by the Executive’.”,

(b) substituting the following amendment for the amendment to sections 206 and 207 of the Principal Act:

"

Provision affected

Amendment

(1)

(2)

Section 207

Repeal this section.

",

and

(c) substituting the following subparagraph for subparagraph (ii) of paragraph (a) of the amendment to section 300 of the Principal Act set out in column (2) of that Schedule opposite the mention of section 300 in column (1):

"(ii) substitute the following for paragraph (b):

‘(b) Part 3 (social assistance), being a question other than one relating to supplementary welfare allowance (unless it relates to a category of claim specified in subsection (3A) or section 195, 200, 201, 202, 203, 204 or 205),’.”.

(3) The amendments (effected by subsection (2)) to Schedule 1 to the Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2008 are deemed to have been included in each of those provisions with effect from the passing of the Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2008 and each of those provisions (amended by subsection (2)) shall come into operation in accordance with section 1(6) of that Act.”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 19:

In page 13, before section 11, but in Part 2, to insert the following new section:

12.—(1) Part 2 of the Principal Act is amended by inserting the following Chapter after Chapter 8:

"CHAPTER 8A

Partial Capacity Benefit

46A.—(1) Subject to this Act, a person shall be entitled to partial capacity benefit where the person—

(a) has applied for that benefit,

(b) is assessed by a medical assessor as having a profound restriction on his or her capacity for work in relation to the capacity for work of a person of the same age who has no restriction on his or her capacity for work,

(c) on the day immediately before the day for which benefit is claimed—

(i) was in receipt of—

(I) illness benefit for at least 26 weeks in a period of interruption of employment,

or

(II) invalidity pension,

or

(ii) other than in the case of a person to whom section 46C(3)(a)(ii) applies, has exhausted the period of entitlement to partial capacity benefit provided for

in section 46C or regulations made under that section,

and

(d) is under pensionable age.

(2) For the purposes of—

(a) the assessment required under subsection (1)(b), the Minister may prescribe the conditions for which a person shall be assessed as having a profound restriction on his or her capacity for work in relation to the capacity for work of a person of the same age who has no restriction on his or her capacity for work, and

(b) the assessment referred to in subsection (4), the Minister may prescribe the conditions for which a person shall be assessed as having a mild restriction on his or her capacity for work in relation to the capacity for work of a person of the same age who has no restriction on his or her capacity for work.

(3) Notwithstanding subsection (1), where subsection (1)(b) is not satisfied a person may, subject to subsections (4) and (5), be entitled to partial capacity benefit.

(4) A person who is assessed by a medical assessor as having a mild restriction on his or her capacity for work in relation to the capacity for work of a person of the same age who has no restriction on his or her capacity for work shall not be entitled to partial capacity benefit.

(5) Where partial capacity benefit is provided pursuant to subsection (3)—

(a) the rate of that benefit shall be payable at a rate, or rates, less than that provided for in section 46B(1)(a), and

(b) the Minister may prescribe the reduced rate or rates.

(6) Regulations made by the Minister for the purposes of subsection (5) shall provide for the reduced rate, or rates, of partial capacity benefit pursuant to subsection (3), and the reductions in the rate, or rates, of partial capacity benefit shall relate to the extent to which subsection (1)(b) is not satisfied, but

such reduction shall not affect any entitlement to an increase in respect of a qualified adult or qualified children or an increase where the beneficiary is ordinarily resident on an island.

(7) Where a person qualifies for partial capacity benefit by virtue of subsection (1)(c)(i)(I), each day for which that benefit is paid shall be—

(a) treated as a day of incapacity for work, and

(b) deemed to be a day for which illness benefit is paid for the purposes of Chapter 8.

(8) In this Chapter, ‘medical assessor' means an officer of the Minister who is a registered medical practitioner.

46B.—(1) Subject to this Act, the weekly rate of partial capacity benefit payable shall—

(a) in the case of a person to whom section 46A(1)(c)(i) applies, be the weekly rate of illness benefit or invalidity pension that was being paid to that person on the day immediately before the day for which partial capacity benefit is awarded, including any increase in that benefit or pension, where payable, and

(b) in the case of a person to whom section 46A(1)(c)(ii) applies, be prescribed in regulations.

(2) Notwithstanding subsection (1)—

(a) any change in circumstances that would have resulted in a variation in the rate of illness benefit or invalidity pension payable, if that person had continued receiving the said benefit or pension, or

(b) any general variation in the weekly rates of benefits, pensions, allowances or supplements under this Act, shall have similar effect in relation to the rate of partial capacity benefit payable in that case.

(3) For the purposes of subsection (2) a change in circumstances shall include a situation where a person, who initially qualifies for partial capacity benefit by virtue of section 46A(1)(c)(i)(I), subsequently continues to qualify for partial capacity benefit by virtue of being deemed to satisfy the qualifying conditions for invalidity pension in accordance with section 46C(3)(b).

(4) Subsections (2) and (3) shall apply to the weekly rate prescribed in regulations under subsection (1)(b), and the regulations may provide for a change in circumstances referred to in subsections (2) and (3) and a general variation referred to in subsection (2).

46C.—(1) Subject to this Chapter, partial capacity benefit shall be paid for a maximum period of 156 weeks.

(2) Subject to subsection (3), where partial capacity benefit is paid in accordance with regulations made under section 46A(6), the Minister may by regulations provide that partial capacity benefit shall be paid for a period, or periods, less than that specified in subsection (1) and the duration of such lesser period, or periods, shall relate to the extent to which section 46A(1)(b) is not satisfied.

(3) Notwithstanding subsections (1) and (2), where a person qualifies for partial capacity benefit by virtue of section 46A(1)(c) (i)(I)—

(a) the duration of partial capacity benefit shall be limited to—

(i) the period specified in subsection (1) or in regulations made under subsection (2) as appropriate to the circumstances, or

(ii) the remaining period of entitlement to illness benefit in the period of interruption of employment concerned that would have been paid if the person had continued to claim illness benefit, whichever is the shorter period, and

(b) subject to subsection (4), payment of partial capacity benefit may continue beyond the period specified in paragraph (a)(ii) where immediately on the termination of the entitlement of the person entitled to partial capacity benefit under paragraph (a)(ii) the person is deemed to satisfy the qualifying conditions for invalidity pension.

(4) Where a person is paid partial capacity benefit for a period referred to in subsection (3)(a)(ii) and such payment is continued in accordance with subsection (3)(b), the total period for which partial capacity benefit shall be paid under paragraphs (a)(ii) and

(b) of subsection (3) shall not exceed 156 weeks or such lesser period as may be provided for in regulations under subsection (2).

46D.—(1) The Minister may make regulations to provide for—

(a) disqualifying a person for receiving partial capacity benefit where the person fails without good cause to—

(i) attend for, or submit to, any medical or other examination or treatment,

(ii) comply with medical advice and instructions provided by a registered medical practitioner that relates to his or her incapacity, and

(iii) make himself or herself available to meet with an officer of the Minister in respect of his or her claim for partial capacity benefit, and

(b) subject to subsection (2), the circumstances and conditions in which a person may relinquish entitlement to partial capacity benefit and subsequently reclaim that benefit.

(2) Where a person has been paid partial capacity benefit and the person relinquishes entitlement to that benefit and subsequently reclaims that benefit, the total duration for which that benefit shall be paid in respect of both the period prior to the relinquishment and the period in which it is reclaimed shall not exceed 156 weeks or such lesser period as may be provided for in regulations under section 46C(2).".

(2) The Principal Act is amended—

(a) in section 39(1) (amended by section 4 of, and Schedule 1 to, the Act of 2006), by inserting the following paragraph after paragraph (a):

"(aa) partial capacity benefit,”,

(b) in section 46 by—

(i) substituting the following subsection for subsection (1A) (inserted by section 5 of the Act of 2007):

"(1A) Subject to subsection (1B), a person in receipt of or entitled to illness benefit shall not engage in work.",

and

(ii) inserting the following new subsection after subsection (1A):

"(1B) A person shall not be disqualified for receipt of illness benefit while engaging in such class or classes of employment or training and

subject to such circumstances and conditions as may be prescribed.",

and

(c) in section 118 by inserting the following subsection after subsection (3) (amended by section 16 of the Act of 2007):

"(3A) Subject to subsection (4), a person in receipt of or entitled to

invalidity pension shall not engage in work.".".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 20:

In page 13, before section 11, but in Part 2, to insert the following new

section:

13.—Section 91 of the Principal Act is amended by—

(a) substituting the following subsection for subsection (1A) (inserted by section 11 of the Act of 2007):

"(1A) Subject to subsection (1B), a person in receipt of or entitled to injury benefit or an increase of disablement benefit under section 77 shall not engage in work.",

and

(b) by inserting the following new subsection after subsection (1A):

"(1B) A person shall not be disqualified for receipt of injury benefit or an increase of disablement benefit under section 77 while engaging in such class or classes of employment or training and subject to such circumstances and conditions as may be prescribed.".".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 21:

In page 13, to delete lines 42 and 43.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 11, as amended, agreed to.
NEW SECTION

I move amendment No. 22:

In page 13, before section 12, to insert the following new section:

12.—The Minister shall, within 3 months of enactment of this Act, publish a strategy on how he or she will reform the practices of An Foras to assist people to

get back to work.".

We are all very concerned about the changeover from FÁS to the Department of Social Protection. We want to ensure that this is working while being happy to wait three months to see what progress the Government has made in this regard. There is a good deal of public concern and we want to see what is happening with the changeover of staff. Customers, that is people who are unemployed, are frustrated at the fact that there is not a one-stop-shop to facilitate them in social welfare offices. We want to see these people being interviewed on a regular basis so that they may be assisted in any way possible, to try and get back into the workplace.

At present they go in and may be called back again in six or seven months. Fine Gael wants to see such people being interviewed on a regular basis and given every assistance to try to get them retrained and back into the workplace. My reason for tabling this amendment is that we want a report before the Dáil every three months, to be able to see what is happening in relation to the changeover.

The spirit of it is fine. Foras Áiseanna Saothair will not exist as it will be part of the Department. The plans the Deputy mentions should be in the statement of strategy. It will be under one Department and there will be no more FÁS. The Deputy is referring to the employment service at FÁS. That will be an integral part of the Department. The Department will integrate this with its existing work with job facilitators. Therefore, the way to approach this would be through an amendment to the statement of strategy of the Department, which will outline how we will implement this. I cannot disagree with where the Deputy wants to go. That is exactly the purpose of all this change. A person goes in and gets a quick, comprehensive and attractive service that assists him or her through training, work and education, and that has been my mantra since I came into the Department.

The Government announced last week, as part of its four year plan, that there will be extra activation places available. That is important.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 12 agreed to.
Section 13 agreed to.
SECTION 14

Amendments Nos. 23 to 26, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 23:

In page 15, lines 14 to 17, to delete subsection (1) and substitute the following:

"(1) The Minister for Education and Skills may, with the consent of the Minister, designate by instrument in writing any contract or commitment (express or implied) entered into by An Foras before the designation for transfer to the Minister.".

These are technical amendments relating to the transfer of FÁS to the Department and allowing me to appoint different transfer days for different purposes and different provisions.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 24:

In page 15, subsection (4), lines 29 and 30, to delete paragraph (b) and substitute the following:

"(b) For the purposes of paragraph (a), the Minister may appoint different transfer days for different purposes and different provisions.”.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 14, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 15

I move amendment No. 25:

In page 16, subsection (6), lines 7 and 8, to delete paragraph (b) and substitute the following:

"(b) For the purposes of paragraph (a), the Minister may appoint different transfer days for different purposes and different provisions.”.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 15, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 16

I move amendment No. 26:

In page 17, subsection (13), lines 28 to 30, to delete paragraph (b) and substitute the following:

"(b) For the purposes of paragraph (a), the Minister may appoint different appointment days in respect of different classes of person designated under this section.”.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 16, as amended, agreed to.
Sections 17 and 18 agreed to.
NEW SECTIONS

I move amendment No. 27:

In page 19, before the Schedule, to insert the following new section:

"PART 4*

TRANSFER OF CERTAIN EMPLOYEES, PROPERTY, ETC. OF HEALTH SERVICE EXECUTIVE

19.—(1) The Executive may, with the consent of the Minister and the Minister for Health and Children, designate by instrument in writing any contract or commitment (express or implied) entered into by the Executive before the designation for transfer to the Minister.

(2) All rights and liabilities arising by virtue of any contract or commitment so designated shall, on the transfer day, stand transferred to the Minister.

(3) Every right and liability transferred by subsection (2) may, on and after the transfer day, be sued on, recovered or enforced by or against the Minister in the name of the Minister and it shall not be necessary for the Minister to give notice to the person whose right or liability is transferred by that subsection of such transfer.

(4) (a) The Minister shall, by order, appoint a day (in this section referred to as the “transfer day”) for the purposes of this section.

(b) For the purposes of paragraph (a), the Minister may appoint different transfer days for different purposes and different provisions.”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 28:

In page 19, before the Schedule, to insert the following new section:

20.—(1) For the purposes of this section, the Executive may, with the consent of the Minister and the Minister for Health and Children, designate by instrument in writing lands that immediately before being so designated were vested in the Executive.

(2) On the transfer day all lands designated under subsection (1) and all rights, powers and privileges relating to or connected with such lands shall, without any conveyance or assignment, stand vested in the Commissioners.

(3) For the purposes of this section, the Executive may, with the consent of the Minister and the Minister for Health and Children, designate in writing property other than land, including choses-in-action, that immediately before being so designated was the property of the Executive.

(4) All property other than land, including choses-in-action, designated under subsection (3) shall, on the transfer day, stand vested in the Minister without any assignment.

(5) Every chose-in-action vested in the Minister by virtue of this section may, on and after the transfer day, be sued upon, recovered or enforced by the Minister in the name of the Minister and it shall not be necessary for the Minister to give notice to any person bound by the chose-in-action of the transfer effected by that subsection.

(6) (a) The Minister shall, by order, appoint a day (in this section referred to as the “transfer day”) for the purposes of this section.

(b) For the purposes of paragraph (a), the Minister may appoint different transfer days for different purposes and different provisions.”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 29:

In page 19, before the Schedule, to insert the following new section:

21.—(1) The Minister may, with the consent of the Executive and the Minister for Health and Children, designate a person who, immediately before the designation, is an employee of the Executive (other than a fixed-term employee) for appointment to an unestablished position in the Civil Service.

(2) A person designated under subsection (1) shall, on the appointment day, stand appointed to such unestablished position in the Civil Service as is specified in the designation.

(3) The Minister may, with the consent of the Executive and the Minister for Health and Children, designate a person who, immediately before the designation, is a fixed-term employee of the Executive for appointment to an unestablished position in the Civil Service for the period remaining unexpired under the contract of employment under which he or she was employed by the Executive.

(4) A person designated under subsection (3) shall, on the appointment day, stand appointed to such unestablished position in the Civil Service as is specified in the designation for the period remaining unexpired under the contract of employment under which he or she was employed by the Executive.

(5) A designation under this section shall be in writing.

(6) Save in accordance with a collective agreement negotiated with any recognised trade union or staff association concerned, a person appointed under this section shall not, on the appointment day, be brought to less beneficial conditions of remuneration than the conditions of remuneration to which he or she was subject immediately before the appointment day.

(7) The previous service with the Executive of a person appointed under this section shall be reckonable for the purposes of, but subject to, any exceptions or exclusions in:

(a) the Redundancy Payments Acts 1967 to 2007;

(b) the Protection of Employees (Part-Time Work) Act 2001;

(c) the Act of 2003;

(d) the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997;

(e) the Terms of Employment (Information) Acts 1994 and 2001;

(f) the Minimum Notice and Terms of Employment Acts 1973 to 2005;

(g) the Unfair Dismissals Acts 1977 to 2007;

(h) the Maternity Protection Acts 1994 and 2004;

(i) the Parental Leave Acts 1998 and 2006;

(j) the Adoptive Leave Acts 1995 and 2005;

(k) the Carer’s Leave Act 2001.

(8) The rules of a superannuation scheme, or superannuation schemes, that at the appointment day govern benefits applicable to or in respect of a person appointed under this section shall continue to apply to or in respect of that person after the appointment day, save in accordance with a collective agreement with a recognised trade union or staff association and the approval of the Minister for Finance.

(9) Where the rules of a superannuation scheme, or superannuation schemes, referred to in subsection (8) provide for the exercise of discretion, the Minister for Finance shall, on and after the appointment day, exercise any such discretion.

(10) The pension payments and other superannuation liabilities of the Executive in respect of its former employees who have been appointed under this section become, on the appointment day, the liabilities of the Minister for Finance.

(11) A person appointed under this section shall undertake such duties as the Minister may from time to time direct.

(12) A person appointed under this section shall be subject to and employed in accordance with the Civil Service Regulation Acts 1956 to 2005 and the Ethics in Public Office Acts 1995 and 2001.

(13) (a) The Minister shall, by order, appoint a day (in this section referred to as the “appointment day”) for the purposes of this section.

(b) For the purposes of paragraph (a), the Minister may appoint different appointment days in respect of different classes of person designated under this section.

(14) In this section:

"Act of 2003" means the Protection of Employees (Fixed-Term Work) Act 2003;

"Act of 2004" means the Public Service Management (Recruitment and Appointments) Act 2004;

"Civil Service" has the meaning assigned to it by the Act of 2004;

"contract of employment" has the meaning assigned to it by the Act of 2003;

"fixed-term employee" has the meaning assigned to it by the Act of 2003;

"recognised trade union or staff association" means a trade union or staff association recognised by the Minister for the purposes of negotiations which are concerned with the remuneration or conditions of employment, or the working conditions of employees;

"unestablished position" has the meaning assigned to it by the Act of 2004.".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 30:

In page 19, before the Schedule, to insert the following new section:

22.—Section 208 of the Principal Act is amended—

(a) in subsection (1), by substituting “Subject to subsection (4), all property” for “All property”,

(b) in subsection (2), by substituting “Subject to subsection (4), every chose-in- action” for “Every chose-in-action”,

(c) in subsection (3), by substituting “Subject to subsection (4), every bond” for “Every bond”, and

(d) by inserting the following subsection after subsection (3):

"(4) This section shall not apply to any property, chose-in-action, bond, guarantee or other security of a continuing character that is designated and transferred under Part 4* of the Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions)(No. 2) Act 2010.”.”.

Amendment agreed to.
Schedule agreed to.
NEW SCHEDULE

I move amendment No. 31:

In page 19, after line 26, to insert the following new schedule:

SCHEDULE 2

AMENDMENTS RELATING TO SUPPLEMENTARY WELFARE ALLOWANCE

No.

Provision affected

Amendment

(1)

(2)

(3)

1

Section 198(3F)

Substitute “a designated person” for “the Executive”

2

Section 198(4A)(a) and(b)

Substitute “a designated person” for “the Executive”

3

Section 198(4B)

Substitute “a designated person” for “the Executive”

4

Section 198(4B)(b)(i)

Substitute “a designated person” for “the Executive”

5

Section 198(5B)

Substitute “a designated person” for “the Executive”

6

Section 198(9)

Substitute “a designated person” for “the Executive”

7

Section 198A

Substitute “a designated person” for “the Executive”in each place it occurs

8

Section 198B(b)

Substitute “a designated person” for “the Executive”

9

Section 241(1A)

Substitute “a designated person” for “the Executive”

Amendment agreed to.
TITLE

I move amendment No. 32:

In page 3, to delete lines 13 to 22 and substitute the following:

"TRANSFER OF CERTAIN ASSETS, LIABILITIES, PROPERTY AND STAFF OF AN FORAS ÁISEANNA SAOTHAIR, TO PROVIDE FOR THE CONTINUANCE OF CERTAIN SCHEMES PROVIDED BY AN FORAS ÁISEANNA SAOTHAIR AND FOR THE PROVISION BY THE MINISTER FOR SOCIAL PROTECTION OF THOSE SCHEMES; TO PROVIDE FOR

THE TRANSFER OF CERTAIN ASSETS, LIABILITIES, PROPERTY AND EMPLOYEES OF THE HEALTH SERVICE EXECUTIVE; TO AMEND THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE (THEFT AND FRAUD OFFENCES) ACT 2001; AND

TO PROVIDE FOR RELATED MATTERS.".

Amendment agreed to.
Title, as amended, agreed to.

I indicated on Second Stage that changes in social welfare legislation, arising from the provisions of the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010, would be introduced on Committee Stage of the Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) (No.2) Bill 2010. These will now be introduced on Report Stage of this Bill, as drafting work on these amendments is ongoing. There are also possible Report Stage amendments relating to the minimum wage. The Government has indicated that we intend to introduce an internship programme and we might have to introduce amendments on Report Stage in respect of this programme. I might also introduce amendments on Report Stage to assist pension schemes.

Is the amendment to the minimum wage to provide for a reduction in the minimum wage?

Yes. There is no certainty that I will, but there might be such a change.

That is a real back door way of doing it.

I am not saying it will happen, but there might be a change.

I thank the Minister and his officials. I also acknowledge the co-operation of members.