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Social Welfare Benefits.

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 17 October 2006

Tuesday, 17 October 2006

Ceisteanna (346, 347, 348, 349, 350, 351, 352)

Ned O'Keeffe

Ceist:

426 Mr. N. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the fact that a person (details supplied) in County Cork, whose disability allowance has been increased, has had their rent subsidy reduced; if his attention has further been drawn to the fact that this person suffers from cystic fibrosis and requires good, hygienic accommodation on medical grounds; if he will arrange to have this case examined and have the full rent subsidy restored; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33013/06]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Family)

The supplementary welfare allowance scheme is administered on my behalf by the Community Welfare Division of the Health Service Executive. The Executive has advised that following a routine review of the person's entitlement, the rent supplement payable to the person concerned was reduced from EUR 95 per week to EUR 59.30 per week and that this is the appropriate maximum amount payable. The Executive also advised that in assessing the means of the person concerned, the maximum income disregard of EUR 120 per week has been applied. As a result, his income after paying rent is EUR 272.80 per week.

Rent supplements are subject to a limit on the amount of rent that an applicant for rent supplement may incur. Notwithstanding these limits, under existing arrangements the Health Service Executive may, in certain circumstances, as an exceptional measure award rent supplement in cases where the tenant's rent is above the relevant limit. The Executive has advised that it has done so on the basis of the health of the person concerned.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

427 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the position in relation to the application for disability allowance in the case of a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33212/06]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Qualification for Disability Allowance depends on an applicant passing a medical examination and a means test. An applicant must be found to have an injury, disease, illness or physical or mental disability that has continued or may be expected to continue for at least one year.

The applicant concerned was examined by a Medical Assessor of my Department on 5th September 2006 and in the light of that examination was found to be not substantially restricted in undertaking work by reason of a disability, which is likely to continue for at least a year. The applicant has been advised of his right of appeal to the Social Welfare Appeals Office.

Pat Carey

Ceist:

428 Mr. Carey asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will address the anomaly in relation to the eligibility to the free fuel allowance created by his decision to introduce a new €100 a week earnings allowance for non-contributory pensioners which allows them to boost their income through employment by up to €5,200 per year whereas a contributory pensioner with a private pension of under €100 per week is not entitled to a free fuel allowance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33282/06]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

429 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs when the threshold for secondary sources of income used to decide eligibility for fuel schemes was last changed; and the value it would now be at if it had been indexed in line with the contributory old age pension. [33283/06]

Amharc ar fhreagra

I propose to take Questions Nos. 428 and 429 together.

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 end-September to mid-April and are not intended to meet the full cost of heating.

Budget 2006 provided for an increase in the rate of fuel allowance of €5.00 from €9.00 to €14.00 (€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 €125.1m).

Eligibility to the fuel allowance scheme is subject to means and other conditions. The main conditions that apply to the fuel allowance scheme are that a person must be in receipt of a qualifying payment, must satisfy a means test and must either be living alone or with a qualifying dependant.

People who already qualify for means-tested pensions or allowances such as state pension (non-contributory), long-term jobseeker's 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. From 29th September 2006 persons in receipt of state pension (non contributory) can also augment their income by up to €100 (or €5,200 annually) in earnings per week from insurable employment and still maintain their pension entitlements in addition to their entitlement to fuel allowance. This new disregard, relating to earnings from employment, is intended as an incentive to facilitate state pension (non-contributory) recipients who wish to continue working or to re-enter the workforce.

In the case of contributory pensions such as state pension (contributory), state pension (transition) and invalidity pensions, which are not means tested, earnings from insurable employment and/or occupational pensions are normally regarded as means for the purpose of determining an individual's entitlement to a fuel allowance. A person may have a combined household income of up to €51 per week over and above the maximum rate of state pension (contributory) or savings/investments of up to €46,000, and still qualify for fuel allowance. This income limit was increased to €51 per week with effect from 1 June 2005.

The overall limit for entitlement to fuel allowance increases automatically with annual increases in the basic pension payment. In addition to the fuel allowance, some 340,000 pensioner and other households qualify for electricity or gas allowances through the household benefits package, payable towards their heating, light and cooking costs throughout the year, at an overall cost of €119 million in 2006.

While any changes in the means rules for the scheme, such as an increase in the means disregard for contributory pensioners, would have cost implications and would have to be considered in the context of the Budget. I intend to keep the support scheme under regular review.

Joan Burton

Ceist:

430 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the changes he is making in respect of single parents and lone parents payments; the deadline for these changes; the options which are available to lone parents and single parents who may be affected by the changes particularly single parents and lone parents whose children are approaching adult age; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33386/06]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Joan Burton

Ceist:

431 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his proposals to abolish or reform the cohabiting rule for single parents and lone parents in receipt of social welfare income; the changes implemented; the changes he proposed to implement; the date of the implementation of the proposed changes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33387/06]

Amharc ar fhreagra

I propose to take Questions Nos. 430 and 431 together.

The Government discussion paper, "Proposals for Supporting Lone Parents", which I launched in March of this year, put forward proposals for the expanded availability and range of education and training opportunities for lone parents; the extension of the National Employment Action Plan to focus on lone parents; focused provision of childcare; improved information services for lone parents and the introduction of a new social assistance payment for low income families with young children.

The new social assistance payment, currently being developed by officials in my Department will have the long term aim of assisting people to achieve financial independence through supporting them to enter employment – for it is employment that offers one of the most important routes out of poverty.

The new payment would introduce an element of conditionality to the receipt of the payment in the sense that payment would be conditional on activation and engagement by the recipient. Activation as referred to in the proposal, is positive in nature; it encompasses interview/advice meetings and access to education and training, thus providing people with the skills to enable them to achieve financial independence and a better life for themselves and their children. These supports would also be available to many older women at risk of poverty who are currently categorised as qualified adult dependants of husbands in receipt of social welfare income.

The discussion paper suggests that activation measures would commence when the child reaches the age of 5. Concerns have been expressed in submissions and at meetings that this could exclude lone parents from accessing supports earlier should they so wish. This matter is being further examined. While conditions are being suggested for receipt of payment, it is proposed that supports would be offered in a structured and systematic manner to the persons concerned. It is only in this context that continuing payment would be made conditional on engagement. The discussion paper also proposes the abolition of the cohabitation rule which currently prevents someone from receiving the one parent family payment if they are cohabiting with a partner.

A 5 year transitional period is proposed for the introduction of the new payment. Those currently in receipt of the one parent family payment would continue to receive that payment during this 5 year period, regardless of the age of their children. Those with qualifying children could opt to receive the new payment and benefit from the support and activation opportunities available under that payment.

Activation advice and supports would be offered to recipients during this period. After 5 years, those with children below the specified age would move to the proposed new scheme, those with no children under the specified age and still in need of income support, would move to the jobseekers allowance or another appropriate welfare payment. New applicants would immediately be placed onto the new scheme.

I fully realise that any proposed new payment cannot be introduced without co-ordinated supports and services being put in place by other Departments and Agencies. This is why the Government has instructed the Senior Officials Group on Social Inclusion to draw up an implementation plan to progress the non-income recommendations in the report.

Although the formal consultation process on the Government discussion paper has concluded, my officials continue to be in contact with lone parents' representative groups, whose views continue to feed in to the development of the proposals.

Once I am convinced that we have reached conclusions that are equitable, with a fully workable implementation strategy, it is my intention to bring forward proposals for legislation.

Joan Burton

Ceist:

432 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the average waiting time for the processing of new single parent and lone parent applications; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that in some cases in Dublin 15 young mothers are waiting for seven months and more for their payments to be processed causing significant hardship and confusion; the reason for the delay; if his Department have a maximum standard period for sorting out straightforward client applications; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33388/06]

Amharc ar fhreagra

The one-parent family payment is a means tested payment intended to assist a lone parent who is bringing up a child or children without the support of a partner. There is a number of statutory conditions that must be met by a lone parent to qualify for the payment. He or she must have the main care and charge of at least one child, must not be cohabiting, must, if earning, have gross earnings of less than €375.00 per week and must satisfy a means test.

In addition, in appropriate cases, it is necessary to establish that efforts have been made to obtain maintenance from the former spouse or partner before a decision on the application can be made. Most applications require a home visit from an Inspector. A large majority of one parent applicants are in receipt of another social welfare payment while their claim is being processed.

Based on the most recent data, some 70% of one-parent family claims are processed within 9 weeks and 90% of claims are processed within 18 weeks. In the Dublin North region, 63% of claims are processed within 9 weeks and the time taken to clear 90% of claims is 21 weeks.

Particular difficulties have been experienced in the Dublin 15 area where the average time taken to award 90% of one parent family payment claims is 38 weeks. These difficulties are due to a number of factors, including the high claim volumes in the area for both unemployment and one parent schemes exacerbated by staff movement and illness.

Following a recent review, of the situation additional staff, including inspectors, are being assigned to address the higher workload. It is expected that all staff vacancies will be filled within the next month. In the meantime an extra inspector has been assigned on a temporary basis to assist in clearing the backlog. My Department will closely monitor progress on improving service in the area. I am assured that the steps taken will significantly improve service delivery in the area.

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