Question No. 221 withdrawn.

Mortgage Interest Supplement Scheme Expenditure

Questions Nos. 223 and 224 withdrawn.

Ceisteanna (222)

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

222. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will indicate the amount of funding that has been set aside to provide for mortgage interest supplement to home owners who are participating in the MARP process; the amount that has been drawn down since the introduction of the requirement on home owners to have engaged in the MARP process for a year; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11940/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

The original purpose of the mortgage interest supplement scheme was to provide short-term support to eligible people who are unable to meet their mortgage interest repayments in respect of a house which is their sole place of residence. The supplement assists with the interest portion of the mortgage repayments only. There are currently approximately 8,900 people in receipt of mortgage interest supplement for which the Government has provided €17.9 million for in 2014.

Since June 2012, to ensure that those who were in mortgage difficulty engaged with their lender under the Mortgage Arrears Resolution Process (MARP) and avail of its forbearance arrangements, mortgage interest supplement has not been payable until applicants had agreed with their lender and complied with an alternative payment arrangement for a cumulative period of not less than 12 months. The expenditure on the scheme was some €55 million and provisionally €35 million in 2012 and 2013 respectively, in line with a reduction in the numbers of customers in receipt of the supplement from 18,700 in January 2012 to 9,800 in December 2013.

The Government’s strategy to assist those in mortgage difficulty is built around the following measures, as recommended in the 2011 Interdepartmental Mortgage Arrears Working Group (Keane Group), in four main distinct areas:

- Lenders providing sustainable and durable resolution options to their borrowers.

- A social housing response (Mortgage to Rent).

- Comprehensive advice to borrowers.

- Personal Insolvency Reform.

In the context of the overall strategy, the continued payment of mortgage interest supplement does little to assist recipients in improving the long term difficulty in addressing their mortgage problem and provides little incentive for the lender to provide sustainable solutions. The Keane Group’s over-arching theme was that the mortgage interest supplement is not an appropriate long term support and should become a time bound payment with an appropriate exit strategy to be formulated for the recipient.

As part of the fiscal adjustment required for Budget 2014, provision was made for the discontinuation of entitlement to mortgage interest supplement for all new applicants from 1 January 2014. Existing customers are not affected by this measure and may retain entitlement to the scheme over the next four year period. It is expected that during this four year period, existing customers would no longer require this support through sustainable solutions being put in place, securing employment or exit strategies sponsored by the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government, namely the Mortgage to Rent scheme.

Questions Nos. 223 and 224 withdrawn.

Employment Support Services

Question No. 226 withdrawn.

Ceisteanna (225)

Michael P. Kitt

Ceist:

225. Deputy Michael P. Kitt asked the Minister for Social Protection the number of persons taken on in each local authority under the Gateway scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12219/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

Gateway was introduced by the Department to deliver on the policy objectives set out in Pathways to Work and is designed to bridge the gap between unemployment and re-entering the workforce. Responsibility for delivery of this initiative rests with individual county and/or city councils. Gateway has a target to provide for 3,000 placements focusing on those who have been unemployed for 24 months or more.

Progress on the roll-out has been slower than anticipated with delays, in the main, related to the ongoing staff restructuring processes of county and city councils, the ongoing engagement with stakeholders, particularly Trade Unions, and operational matters relating to securing resources, identifying work and supervisory cover, as well as Garda vetting. As of Friday, 7 March, 69 participants were work on Gateway across four local authority areas. The following table details the allocation of the 3,000 places and the breakdown of the numbers filled to date.

Allocation and places filled on Gateway

Local Authority

LA Target based on LA bands

Places Filled (week ending 7 March 2014)

Carlow County Council

55

-

Cavan County Council

55

-

Clare County Council

80

-

Cork City Council

110

-

Cork County Council

215

-

Donegal County Council

80

-

Fingal County Council

215

10

Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council

110

-

Dublin City Council

295

-

Galway City Council

55

-

Galway County Council

80

-

Kerry County Council

80

-

Kildare County Council

110

-

Kilkenny County Council

80

-

Laois County Council

55

-

Leitrim County Council

55

-

Limerick Local Authorities

110

46

Longford County Council

55

-

Louth County Council

80

9

Mayo County Council

80

-

Meath County Council

110

-

Monaghan County Council

55

-

Offaly County Council

55

-

Roscommon County Council

55

-

Sligo County Council

55

-

South Dublin County Council

215

-

Tipperary Local Authorities

80

10

Waterford Local Authorities

80

-

Westmeath County Council

80

-

Wexford County Council

80

-

Wicklow County Council

80

-

Total

3000

69

Question No. 226 withdrawn.

Employment Support Services

Ceisteanna (227)

Jim Daly

Ceist:

227. Deputy Jim Daly asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will confirm that any successful applicants for the wage subsidy scheme will no longer require the employee with a disability to terminate his or her entitlement to welfare payments, that is, disability allowance, jobseeker's payment; her plans to apply this retrospectively to jobseekers with a disability already on the wage subsidy scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11535/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

The wage subsidy scheme (WSS) was formally launched in 2005 and was one the employment support schemes for people with disabilities which transferred to the Department from FÁS in 2012. The scheme is aimed at employers with a view to incentivising the employment of people with disabilities in the open labour market. The WSS is payable where the employee works a minimum of 21 hours per week, and the employer must apply the same conditions of employment as for other employees – including minimum wage, PRSI, PAYE and annual leave requirements. The scheme is not statutorily-based and the operational guidelines require employees to surrender their primary social welfare payment if they take up employment for which the employer will receive a payment under WSS.

However, the legislation governing disability allowance (DA) allows claimants to avail of an earnings disregard (up to €120 per week without affecting their DA payment) if they take up employment (certified to be of a rehabilitative nature) and in practice, the WSS operational guidelines are not taken into consideration, so DA remains in payment. I should state that the Department is carrying out a comprehensive review of the employment support schemes which transferred from FÁS with a view to ensuring that the range of measures in place is fit for purpose – to facilitate and support people with disabilities to avail of employment opportunities.

Social Insurance

Ceisteanna (228)

Áine Collins

Ceist:

228. Deputy Áine Collins asked the Minister for Social Protection if there are plans to address the issue which has arisen from budget 2014, where persons who take up a Tús scheme, due to the €20 extra to help with costs, now find themselves in a higher PRSI contribution bracket, and are financially worse off for taking up the scheme. [11540/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

The Budget changes which apply to PRSI have impacted on all employees who are paying an A class PRSI contribution and earning more than €352, including those on Tús. The majority of Tús participants earn €352 or less and there will be no change as the 0% rate of Employees PRSI that applies. As the Deputy will be aware, taxation procedures are primarily a matter for the Revenue Commissioners. However my Department continues to encourage Implementing Bodies to highlight the benefits of Tús and to explore all avenues in an effort to allow the participants effected to remain on the scheme. The work experience gained on Tús will greatly enhance the opportunity for participants to gain employment and exit the Live Register.

Domiciliary Care Allowance Eligibility

Ceisteanna (229)

Michael Healy-Rae

Ceist:

229. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Social Protection the position regarding domiciliary care allowance in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Limerick; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11552/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

The age limit for receipt of domiciliary care allowance (DCA) is 16 years. The person concerned stopped receiving DCA payments when the child reached the age of 16 years in July 2013. A letter issued in March 2013 advising that payment of the allowance was due to end in July 2013 and that the child could apply for disability allowance in his own right.

Illness Benefit Appeals

Ceisteanna (230)

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

230. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Social Protection the reason a person (details supplied) in Dublin 8 is awaiting a decision since May 2013 on their appeal for long-term illness benefit. [11572/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

I am advised by the Social Welfare Appeals Office that an Appeals Officer has considered both the illness benefit and disability allowance appeals of the person concerned. Having fully examined both appeals the Appeals Officer has decided to disallow the illness benefit appeal and has decided to allow the disability allowance appeal. Both appeals were decided by way of summary decision and the person concerned has been informed of the Appeals Officer decision in both instances. The Social Welfare Appeals Office functions independently of the Minister for Social Protection and of the Department and is responsible for determining appeals against decisions in relation to social welfare entitlements.

Social Welfare Offices

Ceisteanna (231)

Dara Calleary

Ceist:

231. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Social Protection her plans for the roll-out of Intreo offices in County Mayo; the services that will be available at each Intreo location in the county; the roll-out schedule for the remaining offices; the proposed opening hours of each office; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11576/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

There are currently four Intreo centres in operation in County Mayo – Achill, Belmullet, Castlebar and Ballina. The standard opening hours in an Intreo centre are 9.15 to 17.00 Monday to Thursday and 9.15 to 16.30 on Fridays. These opening hours are in operation in Castlebar and Ballina Intreo centres. The opening hours in the smaller centres in Achill and Belmullet are 9.30 to 13.00 and 14.00 to 16.30 Monday to Wednesday and Fridays and 10.30 to 13.00 and 14.00 to 16.30 on Thursdays.

It is expected that a fifth Intreo centre will open in Westport before the end of this year, once accommodation issues there are resolved. Opening hours in this centre will be decided closer to the launch date. In the meanwhile, income support services to unemployed customers will continue to be provided through the Social Welfare local office in Prospect Avenue and the Community Welfare Service clinic will remain in James’ Street. In addition the Social Welfare branch offices in Ballinrobe, Claremorris and Swinford continue to provide the same service as heretofore.

The delivery of the Intreo services comprises of a number of elements, the main elements being:

i. The integration of the various welfare decisions making processes to speed up the decision making and minimise recourse to supplementary welfare payments.

ii. The introduction of a profiling process to capture the unique characteristics and service requirements of each jobseeker. Profiling enables the Department to target resources effectively to an individual’s needs.

iii. The implementation of a systematic group activation engagement and one to one process based on client’s profiles.

iv. The delivery of integrated services from a ‘one-stop-shop’ office location rather than multiple locations serving the same community.

Community Welfare Services

Ceisteanna (232)

Dara Calleary

Ceist:

232. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Social Protection the rationale for the centralisation of 25 community welfare offices in County Mayo into five locations; if her attention has been drawn to the hardship this may cause; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11577/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

One of the primary aims in the transfer of the Community Welfare Service (CWS) from the Health Service Executive to the Department on 1 October 2011 was to provide a streamlined and consistent service to customers. As part of this process and to support the Department’s activation commitments under the Pathways to Work Programme and the development of Intreo services nationally, it has been necessary to review the administration of all its services across its remit including the CWS.

The Pathways to Work Programme represents a significant reform in the social welfare system and highlighted the need for the Department to focus its resources on the provision of opportunities, supports and assistance to people on the live register by intensifying the Department’s level of engagement with people who are unemployed and in particular those who are, or become, long term unemployed. The new Intreo service offers practical, tailored employment services and supports for jobseekers, a model which is currently being rolled out across the country. It is in this context that the Department took a decision to rebalance resources across the Department’s range of activities including the relocation of some staff to main centres, primarily Intreo offices, which will provide a full range of services, including the CWS and these will, in general, be available in one location.

In the instance where the community welfare service has been re-structured, alternative arrangements have been put in place to ensure that customers are provided with on-going access to the supports provided by the service. All affected customers have been written to advising them of the dedicated email addresses and phone lines that have been set up allowing in many cases, for customer queries to be processed without having to attend a clinic. In addition, customers have also been advised of the new postal addresses of the Intreo offices and the clinic opening hours. In the event that a face to face meeting is still necessary, but the customer is unable to travel to the public clinic, for example due to illness, an officer will arrange a visit to the customer’s home.

The relocation of services coincides with greater integration between the community welfare service and other locally based staff of the Department. This process is being enhanced by the recent roll-out of a full Intreo service to Achill, Belmullet, Castlebar and Ballina and to Westport later this year. This roll-out has resulted in the frequency of available public clinics being increased to 5 days per week in Castlebar and Ballina, 3 days per week in Westport, and 2 days per week in Belmullet. In addition, the number of staff available in these offices will be increased, giving customers improved access to services.

The Department is continuously reviewing the staffing needs for all areas of its business, to ensure that the best possible use is made of available resources with a view to providing an efficient service to those who rely on the schemes operated by the Department and that the services provided are reconstituted, where necessary, to meet the changing needs of Irish society.

Invalidity Pension Appeals

Ceisteanna (233)

Michael Healy-Rae

Ceist:

233. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Social Protection the position regarding an invalidity pension appeal in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Kerry; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11579/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

The Social Welfare Appeals Office has advised me that an appeal by the person concerned was referred to an Appeals Officer on 3 February 2014, who will make a summary decision on the appeal based on the documentary evidence presented or, if required, hold an oral hearing. The Social Welfare Appeals Office functions independently of the Minister for Social Protection and of the Department and is responsible for determining appeals against decisions on social welfare entitlements.

Back to Education Allowance Appeals

Ceisteanna (234)

Kevin Humphreys

Ceist:

234. Deputy Kevin Humphreys asked the Minister for Social Protection further to Parliamentary Question No. 373 of 18 February 2014, the reason the person concerned was initially informed by a social protection office that they could intermit their back to education allowance payment and resume it at a later date for a semester, which led them to take a break at that time; if in view of this she will arrange for the person to be granted BTEA for this semester; the mechanisms of appeal that are open to this person; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11596/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

In August 2013 the person concerned attended her Social Welfare Local Office and was advised that she should submit her back to education allowance (BTEA) application 2 weeks before the start of her course. At no time did she state her intentions regarding the course, i.e. that she planned to partake in a single semester only. In January 2014 she submitted her application and the Deciding Officer subsequently informed her that her application could not be approved. The reason for this is that a single semester is not considered to be full-time education as set out in the operational guidelines for BTEA. This scheme is designed to support a person for study for the full academic year rather than on a modular or semester basis. Given the nature of BTEA, no provision is made to allow a person to complete an individual semester of a full-time course.

Following a comprehensive review of this case, there are no records that the person concerned was informed by any officer of the Department that she could intermit her back to education allowance payment and resume it at a later date for a semester. Only general advice regarding the application process is given by staff to applicants; confirmation is not given as to whether or not a person qualifies for BTEA. The BTEA guidelines provide that any person who is not satisfied with a decision may request in writing a review by an officer of the relevant Social Welfare Local Office enclosing new evidence in support of the review. BTEA is a non-statutory scheme and as such decisions cannot be appealed to the Social Welfare Appeals Office.

Carer's Allowance Appeals

Questions Nos. 236 and 237 withdrawn.

Ceisteanna (235)

John McGuinness

Ceist:

235. Deputy John McGuinness asked the Minister for Social Protection if an appeal against the decision not to pay carer's allowance for a period to a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny will be reversed based on the details submitted; and if an early decision will be made. [11621/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

The Social Welfare Appeals Office has advised me that an appeal by the person concerned was referred to an Appeals Officer on 4 March 2014, who will make a summary decision on the appeal based on the documentary evidence presented or, if required, hold an oral hearing. The Social Welfare Appeals Office functions independently of the Minister for Social Protection and of the Department and is responsible for determining appeals against decisions on social welfare entitlements.

Questions Nos. 236 and 237 withdrawn.

Carer's Allowance Appeals

Ceisteanna (238)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

238. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social Protection the progress to date in the determination of an application for carer's allowance in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11676/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

The Social Welfare Appeals Office has advised me that the appeal from the person concerned was referred to an Appeals Officer who has decided to convene an oral hearing in this case. Every effort will be made to hear the case as quickly as possible and the appellant will be informed when arrangements for the oral hearing have been made. The Social Welfare Appeals Office functions independently of the Minister for Social Protection and of the Department and is responsible for determining appeals against decisions in relation to social welfare entitlements.

Pension Provisions

Ceisteanna (239)

Eric J. Byrne

Ceist:

239. Deputy Eric Byrne asked the Minister for Social Protection the benefits and payments due to a community employment supervisor working for the past 20 consecutive years if he or she was to retire or be made redundant; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11692/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

Employment under the Community Employment Scheme is currently insurable under the Social Welfare Acts for all social welfare benefits and pensions. Community Employment (CE) Supervisors pay PRSI at the standard A1 rate. If a CE Supervisor reaches State Pension age and has 520 weekly full-rate PRSI contributions (10 years contributions), they would be due the full State Pension. If a CE Supervisor was made redundant by their employer (the CE Sponsoring organisation), and qualified for a payment under the Redundancy Payments Acts 1967-2007, the Supervisor would be entitled to statutory redundancy at a rate of two weeks’ pay per year of service, plus a further week’s pay (subject to an earnings limit of €600 per week).

The Department is also continuing to honour an agreement between FÁS and the relevant trade unions for the payment of enhanced redundancy where the CE Supervisor’s redundancy situation arises because the Department is amalgamating two or more CE schemes (due to realignment or unviability). This enhanced redundancy agreement does not apply where the CE Sponsor is the instigator of the redundancy situation (e.g. no longer wanting to run the CE scheme, closure due to Company Registration Office strike-off, etc.)

Rent Supplement Scheme Appeals

Ceisteanna (240)

Patrick Nulty

Ceist:

240. Deputy Patrick Nulty asked the Minister for Social Protection when a person (details supplied) in Dublin 15 will have their rent supplement payment restored; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11723/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

The Social Welfare Appeals Office has advised me that an appeal by the person concerned was registered in that office on 6 February 2014. It is a statutory requirement of the appeals process that the relevant Departmental papers and comments by the Deciding Officer on the grounds of appeal be sought. When these papers have been received from the Department, the appeal in question will be referred to an Appeals Officer who will make a summary decision on the appeal based on the documentary evidence presented or, if required, hold an oral hearing. The Social Welfare Appeals Office functions independently of the Minister for Social Protection and of the Department and is responsible for determining appeals against decisions on social welfare entitlements.