Wednesday, 10 March 2004

Ceisteanna (156, 157)

Jerry Cowley

Ceist:

224 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the situation regarding the older Irish born emigrants, some of whom have been away from Ireland for 30, 40 and 50 years, who now seek to return here via the safe home programme and are likely to require top up to the income they will be receiving from social funds; if these returning emigrants will be affected by the recently announced changes in the social welfare system designed to impede welfare tourism from the ten new accession countries; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7961/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Family)

My Department provides an annual grant to the Safe Home programme to publish a monthly newsletter to our emigrants in Britain keeping them up to date on all available social services in Ireland. I have also increased the funding available for emigrant advice and information from €127,000 to €427,000 in 2003. The "Returning to Ireland" booklet published in partnership with the voluntary agency Emigrant Advice is one such initiative. This increased funding is in line with the recommendations of the task force on emigration policy published in 2002 and has gone into direct information services to our emigrants.

The new measures which the Government has decided to put in place will restrict access to certain social welfare payments by introducing a habitual residence test which will act as an additional condition to be satisfied by a person claiming a social assistance payment or child benefit. A person will have to establish a degree of permanence to be considered habitually resident in the State. The term "habitual residence" is well known in other jurisdictions and in EU legislation and has been clarified in EU court judgments. It is intended to convey a degree of permanence in the person's residence. Clearly the duration and continuity of their residence would be important factors and also their intentions.

The factors, as set down by EU case law, to be considered in determining whether a person satisfies the habitual residence test would include: length and continuity of residence; employment prospects; reasons for coming to Ireland; future intentions; centre of interest, for example, family, home, connections. People who have resided in the common travel area, that is, the United Kingdom, Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, will be regarded as habitually resident for the purpose of the new test.

With regard to Irish emigrants returning from abroad, it is expected that the vast majority will be able to prove habitual residence without difficulty because of, for example, their strong family ties with this country, previous residence in the State and so forth. It is quite possible that in other cases people in this situation will qualify for social insurance based entitlements, for example, contributory pensions, if they have been working in another EU member state or in a country with which Ireland has a bilateral social security agreement.

Mary Upton

Ceist:

225 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if she will review the practice of awarding reduced rates of increases in the budget to contributory pensioners who are not on full rate pensions. [7962/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

In order to qualify for the maximum rate of the old age contributory pension a person must, among other qualifying conditions, achieve a yearly average of at least 48 contributions paid or credited on their social insurance record. Reduced pensions are paid to those with yearly averages as low as ten contributions and arrangements are also in place for the payment ofpro rata pensions to those with mixed rate insurance records or contributions from different countries.

Reduced rate or pro rata pensions are paid at a fixed percentage of the full rate payment and to ensure that the differential between the various rates is maintained, budget increases are also applied on a pro rata basis. A person receiving a payment of 50% of the maximum rate, for example, receives 50% of any budget increase applied to the full rate pension.

Applying the full budgetary increase to those with reduced payments would erode the differentials which exist and which are intended to reflect the level of contribution which a person has made to the social insurance fund. It would also mean that those on reduced rate pensions would, on an ongoing basis, benefit disproportionately from budget increases. There are no plans to change existing arrangements in this regard.