Tuesday, 31 January 2006

Ceisteanna (296, 297, 298, 299, 300, 301, 302)

Willie Penrose

Ceist:

401 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the importance of child dependant allowance for families depending upon social welfare; if in this context the failure to increase same since 1994 is the correct policy and course of action; if a commitment will be given to review same in view of commitments for 2006 to 2007; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2811/06]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Family)

My Department provides child income support in a number of ways. The principal support is child benefit, a universal payment which is neutral vis-à-vis the employment status of the child’s parents and does not contribute to poverty traps. Since 1997, the monthly rates of child benefit have increased by €111.91 at the lower rate and €135.48 at the higher rate, increases of 293.8% and 273.6% respectively. From April 2006, child benefit rates will be €150 per month for each of the first two children and €185 per month for the third and each subsequent child. Child benefit is paid to over 547,540 families in respect of approximately 1,060,740 children.

A second child income support is child dependant allowance, paid in addition to weekly social welfare payments in respect of over 255,737 children at full rate and over 83,577 at half rate.

In addition, my Department provides cash support by way of weekly payments to families at work on low pay, through the family income supplement scheme. A number of improvements have been made to the scheme over the years, including assessment of entitlement on the basis of net rather than gross income and progressive increases in the income thresholds, making it easier for lower income households to qualify for payment. As a result, there are currently over 17,448 families receiving a weekly FIS payment, reaching nearly 33,956 children. This is the highest number of FIS recipients in the history of the scheme.

Child poverty is clearly a complex area requiring co-ordinated action across a range of Government services and income support payments. The development of income supports which can make the most effective contribution to child poverty lies within my Department's responsibilities and a series of budgets have increased considerably in real terms the level of resources which are going to families with children.

While the range of income and other supports has made very significant contributions, a key issue arises as to whether this level of resources is best used to address poverty among those families. While the solutions to the problem of child poverty cover a wide range of measures, including income supports and services, I am committed to reviewing the role of child income supports in this regard. This includes examining the feasibility of merging the family income supplement and child dependant allowance into a second tier child income support taking account of an examination being carried out in this area by the National Economic and Social Council.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

402 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the reason a person (details supplied) in County Mayo was refused the carer’s allowance; if their claim will be reviewed in view of the recent EU directive on immigrant workers and the habitual residency clause being illegal; and when their claim will be approved and awarded. [2844/06]

Amharc ar fhreagra

As detailed in the reply to Parliamentary Questions Nos. 165 of 23 November 2005 and 138 of 1 December 2005, the person concerned applied for carer's allowance in respect of two carers on 4 October 2005. The principal conditions for receipt of the allowance are that full-time care and attention is required and being provided and that the means test that applies are satisfied. Additionally, the requirement to be habitually resident in Ireland was introduced as a qualifying condition for certain social assistance schemes including carer's allowance with effect from 1 May 2004.

All applicants regardless of nationality are required to be habitually resident in the State in order to qualify for carer's allowance. The basis for the restriction contained in the new rules is the applicant's habitual residence. The restriction is not based on citizenship, nationality, immigration status or any other factor. The question of what is a person's habitual residence is decided in accordance with European Court of Justice case law, which sets out the grounds for assessing individual claims.

Each case received for a determination on the habitual residence condition is dealt with in its own right and a decision is based on application of the guidelines to the particular individual circumstances of each case. Any applicant who disagrees with the decision of a deciding officer has the right to appeal to the social welfare appeals office.

There has been no change in legislation relating to the habitual residence condition. A circular issued in November 2005 clarifying the position regarding the application of the habitual residence condition to supplementary welfare allowance. This was incorrectly reported in some areas of the media as a change in legislation.

Having examined all the facts in the case raised by the Deputy, a deciding officer decided that the person does not satisfy the habitual residence condition on the grounds that she has not been continuously resident in the State or in the common travel area for the last two years. Furthermore, it is not clear that she intends to reside in the State permanently from now on and she has maintained substantial links abroad by retaining property in the United States of America. She was notified of this decision, the reason for it and the right to an appeal on 21 November 2005.

Under social welfare legislation, decisions with regard to claims must be made by deciding officers and appeals officers. These officers are statutorily appointed and I have no role in regard to making such decisions.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

403 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if the child dependant allowance will be awarded to a person in receipt of social welfare in respect of their 19 year old student daughter, in view of the fact that the student daughter is in receipt of the one-parent family allowance in her own right. [2925/06]

Amharc ar fhreagra

The award of the one-parent family payment recognises the recipient as head of a distinct family unit. Payment of a child dependant increase in respect of the same person would be inconsistent with that principle. In addition, social welfare legislation provides that where a person may qualify for more than one payment, the one that is more beneficial is put into payment. In the scenario outlined in the Deputy's question the one-parent family payment is more beneficial than the child dependant allowance.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

404 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the reason a person (details supplied) in County Mayo has been refused unemployment assistance by the habitual residence section; and if this case will be reviewed. [2955/06]

Amharc ar fhreagra

The requirement to be habitually resident in Ireland was introduced as a qualifying condition for certain social assistance schemes and child benefit with effect from 1 May 2004. The basis for the restriction contained in the new rules is the applicant's habitual residence. The restriction is not based on citizenship, nationality, immigration status or any other factor. The question of what is a person's habitual residence is decided in accordance with European Court of Justice case law, which sets out the grounds for assessing individual claims.

Each case received for a determination on the habitual residence condition is dealt with in its own right and a decision is based on application of the guidelines to the particular individual circumstances of each case. A person who has supplied proof of residence in the common travel area for a period of two years or more and who intends to settle here will satisfy the habitual residence condition. The common travel area includes Ireland, Great Britain, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.

The person concerned made an application for unemployment assistance in August 2005. When making his claim for unemployment assistance, he stated that he had lived in Northern Ireland for a period of four years until September 2004. His case was referred to the habitual residence unit of my Department for a determination on his habitual residence in the State. In November 2005, he was requested to submit evidence of his residence in Northern Ireland for the period from November 2003 to September 2004.

As the person concerned did not provide the requested information, his application for unemployment assistance was disallowed in January 2006 because he had failed to furnish evidence that he had lived in the common travel area. Accordingly, he was notified of the deciding officer's decision and was advised of his right of review and appeal. It is open to him to submit the requested proof of residence and his case will then be reviewed.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

405 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs when rent supplement will be awarded to a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2982/06]

Amharc ar fhreagra

The supplementary welfare allowance scheme, which includes rent supplement, is administered on my behalf by the community welfare division of the Health Service Executive. Neither I nor my Department has any function in relation to decisions on individual claims.

The Dublin and mid-Leinster area of the executive has advised that the person concerned has been awarded a rent supplement from 1 December 2005 at a rate of €794.80 per month. The first payment for rent supplement issued to the person concerned on 21 December 2005.

Seamus Kirk

Ceist:

406 Mr. Kirk asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if the fuel allowance will be reviewed with a view to including people in receipt of small occupational pensions as eligible applicants; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3255/06]

Amharc ar fhreagra

The aim of the national fuel scheme is to assist householders on long-term social welfare or health service executive payments with meeting the cost of their additional heating needs during the winter season. Fuel allowances are paid for 29 weeks from the end of September to mid-April and are not intended to meet the full cost of heating.

Eligibility is subject to means. People who already qualify for means-tested pensions or allowances such as old age, non-contributory, pension, long-term unemployment assistance or one-parent family payment do not have to undergo a further means test to qualify for fuel allowance. The majority of people who receive fuel allowances qualify because they satisfy the relevant means test for their primary weekly payment.

In the case of contributory pensions such as old age contributory, retirement and invalidity pensions, which are not means tested, a person may have a combined household income of up to €51 per week, or savings or investments of up to €46,000, over and above the maximum contributory pension rate used for reference purposes, and still qualify for fuel allowance. In this way, the fuel allowance income limits increase each season in line with the increases in this reference pension rate.

The 2006 budget provided for an increase in the rate of fuel allowance of €5 from €9 to €14, or €17.90 in designated smokeless areas. Some 274,000 customers, 151,000 with basic fuel allowance and 123,000 with smokeless supplement, will benefit in 2006 at an estimated cost of €125.1 million.

Any changes in the means rules or other conditions of the scheme would have significant cost implications and would have to be considered in the context of the budget and in the light of the resources available to me for improvements in social welfare generally.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

407 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the outcome of an oral hearing for unemployment assistance for a person (details supplied) in County Mayo. [3289/06]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Following an oral hearing, an appeals officer disallowed the unemployment benefit claim of the person concerned on the grounds that he is not genuinely seeking work. The appeals officer was not satisfied that the person concerned has made sustained efforts to seek employment. He was notified accordingly on 20 January 2006. The appeals officer's decision is final in the absence of new facts or fresh evidence. The person concerned has made an application for farm assist and his file is currently with the social welfare inspector for investigation. When a decision is made, the person concerned will be notified of the outcome.

Under social welfare legislation decisions in respect of claims must be made by deciding officers and appeals officers. These officers are statutorily appointed and I have no role in regard to making such decisions.