Maternity Leave

Ceisteanna (318)

Eamon Ryan

Ceist:

318. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if during maternity leave, there are protections for self-employed women; and the mechanisms in place for them to make earnings during this period. [5006/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

The Department of Justice and Equality has responsibility for maternity leave which is provided for in the 1994 and 2004 Maternity Protection Acts (as amended). The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection has responsibility for the associated social welfare payment of maternity benefit as provided for in the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005 (as amended).

Maternity benefit is a payment made for 26 weeks to employed and self-employed pregnant women who satisfy certain PRSI contribution conditions on their own insurance record. Payment is made for a period beginning not later than 2 weeks before the end of the expected week of confinement. The original scheme was introduced in 1970 and was extended to include self-employed women with effect from June 1997.

As the scheme is intended to provide income support to women who are on leave, from their employment or self-employment, pre and post-delivery of their baby, regulations provide that a woman shall be disqualified from receiving maternity benefit for a period during which she engages in any form of insurable employment or insurable self-employment.

Maternity leave arrangements for employees are governed by the Maternity Protection Acts 1994 and 2004 (as amended). In applying for maternity benefit, employees must have their maternity leave certified by their employer. Self-employed women certify their own leave for the purposes of the scheme and they can return to work whenever they chose.

This year it is estimated that there will be a weekly average of 20,000 recipients of maternity benefit at a cost of €264 million.

JobPath Programme

Ceisteanna (319)

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

319. Deputy Fergus O'Dowd asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection her views on issues raised by a person (details supplied) regarding JobPath; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5023/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

The core issue raised by the Deputy’s correspondent relates to my Department’s activation services and the Personal Progression Plan. The Deputy will be aware the primary goal of my Department’s activation and employment services is to move people from full or part time unemployment to full-time, sustainable employment. The Social Welfare (Consolidated) Act 2005, as amended, specifies that participation in activation meetings is mandatory and this obligation applies irrespective of whether the service is provided by my Department’s own case officers or those advisors employed by external contractors such as the Local Employment Services or the JobPath Service.

Participants with the JobPath service are not required to sign a contract with the JobPath companies but they are, in the same manner as all customers referred to any of the other Department’s activation services, requested to agree and sign a personal progression plan (PPP). The PPP is a joint agreement between the customer and their personal advisor and is an integral part of the activation process. The PPP includes an agreed schedule of job-focused activities, actions and targets, personalised to take account of the person’s specific qualifications and employment preferences. The contents of the PPP may change during the person’s engagement with the service as they develop new skills or experience which may broaden their employment preferences.

Failure to engage with the activation service as required may result in the jobseeker’s payment being reduced or temporarily suspended, .the process for sanctioning clients who do not engage with the JobPath activation process is exactly the same as the process for clients who fail to engage with the Department’s other activation services provided by Intreo Centres, Local Employment Services and Job Clubs.

It is important to say that all decisions regarding a person’s welfare entitlements while on JobPath are taken only by officials of my Department and not by the JobPath providers and my Department will investigate any specific complaint raised by a participant with the service.

My department, in January of this year, published a cohort performance report (available on welfare.ie) for the service, which showed that of the jobseekers who commenced with the service (in the four cohorts between July 2015 and June 2016) that 25% had obtained employment:18% full-time, 4% part–time and 3% self-employed.

The overall response of participants with JobPath to date has also been very positive. My Department published the results of an independent customer satisfaction survey which indicated that between 76% and 81% of customers were satisfied with the service provided and between 5% and 8% expressed dissatisfaction.

I trust this clarifies matters for the Deputy.

State Pension (Contributory)

Ceisteanna (320, 321, 322)

Clare Daly

Ceist:

320. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if her attention has been drawn to the fact that under the proposed total contributions approach to pensions, persons who retire after 2020 will face cuts of up to 44% in their pensions relative to current rates such as in examples (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5045/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Clare Daly

Ceist:

321. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if she is satisfied that the plan to substantially raise the bar of qualification for a full State contributory pension is a fair and equitable approach for persons retiring after 2020 with reference to the total contribution approach. [5046/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Clare Daly

Ceist:

322. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the effect that gaps in work years other than those spent caring or unemployed will have on pension entitlements when a total contributions approach to pensions is introduced. [5047/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 320 to 322, inclusive, together.

On the 23 January, the Government agreed to a proposal that will allow pensioners affected by the 2012 changes in rate bands to have their pension entitlement calculated by a new “Total Contributions Approach” (TCA) which will include up to 20 years of a new HomeCaring credit. Unlike the current Homemakers scheme, this credit will apply to periods both before and after 1994. This approach is expected to significantly benefit many people, particularly women, whose work history includes an extended period of time outside the paid workplace, while raising families or in a caring role. It will make it easier for such pensioners to qualify for a higher rate of the State Pension (contributory). The TCA will ensure that the totality of a person’s social insurance contributions - as opposed to the timing of them - determines a final pension outcome, and it also acknowledges, for the first time, the contribution made by home-carers in the period before 1994.

The Government is making this TCA option available to people earlier than planned to deal with the anomaly that has existed in the yearly averaging approach since its introduction in 1961, i.e., that two people with the same number of contributions could get paid different pensions because of differences in the length of time over which those contributions were made.

Those who are less likely to benefit from this TCA model are people with lower numbers of paid social insurance contributions, who have no significant homemaking/caring periods. However, it should be understood that no current pensioner will have a reduced rate of payment as a result of this announcement. Anyone who is not better off as a result of this proposal will remain on their existing rate of payment.

The TCA model of pensions calculation was first announced in the National Pensions Framework in 2010, as was the proposal to assess all new pensioners under this approach from around 2020. Officials in my Department have been working on the introduction of a TCA since 2015. The recent Actuarial Review of the Social Insurance Fund has been used to explore the costs of various options and to inform the design of the Total Contributions Approach. This Review was recently completed and published. The Department is now considering the costings produced. Later this year, it will publish a paper on the full TCA model to be introduced from around 2020 onwards. It will then engage in a public consultation on it. This consultation will be a key input to the design of the final structure of the TCA model, which will include the number of years required for a maximum rate of pension, and the treatment of credited contributions and homemaking periods, to be submitted to Government later this year. Subsequent to this, legislation will be introduced to the Oireachtas.

Therefore, it is not possible to extrapolate what a person’s pension may be subsequent to the introduction of the full TCA on the basis of the measures announced by the Government on 23 January 2018. Whether someone reaching pension age in 2020 or beyond will receive a higher or lower pension under the full TCA model will depend on a number of factors, including the final design of the scheme, and their own circumstances. The Deputy refers to “gaps in work years other than those spent caring or unemployed”, and these will include people who were in receipt of other payments such as Jobseekers or Illness Benefit, which also may attract credited contributions. People who were in receipt of an Invalidity Pension, or a Widows Contributory Pension, at the time they reach State pension age will generally receive a contributory pension at the maximum rate.

It should be noted that the examples the Deputy gives, e.g. where someone worked only 10 years, and have no other credited contributions (e.g. from periods on jobseekers benefit), nor home-caring periods (pre-1994 or post-1994), and yet are dependent upon the Irish State pension are highly unrepresentative of those on lower rate bands. Reckonable PRSI contributions can be awarded from ages 16 to 65 inclusive, or 50 full years. Most adults would have been engaged in some activity for most of that time that either attracted PRSI coverage, or which will attract HomeCaring Credits. Very few would have been resident all that time, but would have 40 years where they were neither covered for PRSI nor engaged in home caring.

People who spent time working abroad might be expected to have entitlements from their time spent in those countries, which may be co-ordinated under EU regulations or bilateral agreements, which can result in a more advantageous outcome for that pensioner. For example, the TCA will not benefit someone who arrives in Ireland in their early 50s, who can currently receive a full Irish pension for 10 years work, despite having significant additional pension entitlements accrued in another country over the previous 30 years. As in most countries, such Irish contributions will attract a partial contributory pension, proportionate to their contributions, and they will cease attracting higher pensions than those who may have contributed far more into the system. However, most will have significant contributions in another country which will attract a second pension from there,

While it is true that time spent in full-time education may result in several years when they did not pay into the Social Insurance Fund, a person has 50 years to build up their contributions record, and few if any people will study so many years, without part-time work attracting PRSI, that they will be unable to work up at least 40 years contributions.

People who have a lower State pension (contributory) entitlement can apply for and may qualify for a higher State pension (non-contributory) of up to 95% of the maximum contributory rate. This is a means-tested payment, but over 70% qualify at the maximum rate due to generous income disregards. If someone spent most of their working life not in employment and in receipt of social welfare payments, this will generally mean their income will increase by over €40 per week upon reaching State pension age.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Córas Iompair Éireann

Ceisteanna (323)

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

323. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if her attention has been drawn to problems with the Córas Iompair Éireann, CIÉ, pension schemes; and the steps she will take to address the issues which relates to the pensions of nearly 10,000 members. [5054/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

Córas Iompair Éireann (CIÉ) is a State body under the aegis of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. Therefore, I am not in a position to comment on the matter raised by the Deputy.

Accordingly, queries in respect of this matter should be referred to the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport for a reply to the issues he has raised.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

State Pension (Contributory)

Ceisteanna (324)

Niamh Smyth

Ceist:

324. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if the pension entitlements of a person (details supplied) will be reviewed; the entitlement of the person; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5071/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

The person concerned is currently in receipt of a reduced rate widow(er)/survivor’s contributory pension, with effect from 17 July 1979, based on their own insurance record.

The person’s entitlement to state pension (contributory) was examined on 10 February 2017. According to the records of my Department, the person concerned has a social insurance record of 1,637 reckonable contributions and credits, based on an assessed yearly average of 33 contributions, covering their working life from date of entry into insurable employment in July 1969 to end 2016. The person concerned has no recorded contributions for the tax years 1978/79 to 1987/88 inclusive or 1989/90 to 1992/93 and has a number of partially complete years. This affects their overall yearly average and, consequently, their rate of weekly pension entitlement. The person was notified of their state pension (contributory) entitlement on 10 February 2017 and informed that they were better off to remain on their existing payment which would become payable at the increased ‘over age 66’ rate with effect from their 66th birthday. Attached to that letter was a copy of their contribution record, as held by my Department upon which their entitlement was calculated.

Additional information regarding unrecorded contributions has since been provided by the person concerned and their state pension (contributory) entitlement is being re-examined. On completion, the outcome of that review will be notified to the person concerned without delay. Any change to the person’ insurance record based on the additional information provided will not affect the persons existing rate of entitlement, as social insurance paid after the death of their spouse is not reckonable for widow(er)/survivor’s pension purposes.

The Deputy will be aware that the Government recently announced proposals that pensioners who qualified for state pension (contributory) since September 2012, and whose rate of entitlement was impacted by the 2012 rate band changes, may apply for a review to have their entitlement considered under a new Total Contribution Approach (TCA). It will take some time to draft and pass the necessary legislation, and then develop the systems and procedures necessary to administer the new pension entitlement option. Accordingly, it is not necessary for any person to contact the Department about their situation. Instead, the Department expects to start issuing invitations to these pensioners from Quarter 4 2018 to apply for a review under the new pension eligibility arrangements, and to notify any periods spent caring for which HomeCaring credits may be due. Review applicants will be notified of the outcome of their review and any applicable higher rate of entitlement will be paid to them. Such payments are expected to commence from Q1 2019. Where an increase is awarded, it will be backdated to 30 March 2018.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Social Insurance Payments

Ceisteanna (325)

Michael Healy-Rae

Ceist:

325. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection her views on a matter (details supplied) regarding PRSI contributions; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5083/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

The person referred to by the Deputy was a public servant. Under social welfare legislation any additional employment undertaken by an individual employed in the public or civil service and who pays the modified rate of PRSI is specified as being subsidiary employment only and not as the principal means of livelihood.

The social insurance record for this individual shows a full record of contributions paid at the modified rate during the period in question.

Therefore, the additional employment undertaken is this case is considered to be subsidiary in nature and the correct class of PRSI is class J. Such employment is insurable for occupational injury benefit only.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Disability Allowance Applications

Ceisteanna (326)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Ceist:

326. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection when a decision will be made in respect of a disability allowance application by a person (details supplied) in County Galway; the reason for the delay in making a decision on this application; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5084/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

I confirm that an application from this lady for disability allowance (DA) was received by the Department on 19 October 2017.

The processing time for individual disability allowance claims may vary in accordance with their relative complexity in terms of the three main qualifying criteria, the person’s circumstances and the information they provide in support of their claim.

The application has been referred to a Social Welfare Inspector (SWI) for a report on the person’s means and circumstances. Once the SWI has submitted his/her report to DA section, a decision will be made on the application and this lady will be notified directly of the outcome.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Invalidity Pension Applications

Ceisteanna (327)

John McGuinness

Ceist:

327. Deputy John McGuinness asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if an invalidity pension will be approved in the case of a person (details supplied). [5086/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

Invalidity pension (IP) is a payment for people who are permanently incapable of work because of illness or incapacity and who satisfy the pay related social insurance (PRSI) contribution conditions.

The department received a claim for IP for the gentleman concerned on 1 December 2017. The Deciding Officer is satisfied that the medical conditions for the scheme are satisfied. The gentleman in question has recently claimed an increase for a qualified adult (IQA) and eligibility for the IQA and an increase for a qualified child (IQC) is being assessed. His IP claim will be finalised as quickly as possible and he will be notified directly of the outcome.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Córas Iompair Éireann

Ceisteanna (328, 329)

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

328. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if her attention has been drawn to the fact that Córas Iompair Éireann submitted severely flawed funding submissions to the Pensions Authority that do not fully reflect the reality of the situation with the current and future funding of the defined benefit pensions of up to 10,000 members of the CIÉ pension scheme. [5093/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

329. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection her plans to investigate if the election process to the CIÉ pension fund management committee was in compliance with regulations. [5095/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 328 and 329 together.

Scheme trustees have duties and responsibilities under trust law, under other relevant legislation and under the Pensions Act, 1990, as amended. The duties of pension scheme trustees include administering the trust in accordance with the law and the terms of the trust deed and rules. Consequently any decisions made by corporate or individual trustees of an occupational pension scheme are governed by the relevant legislation. The provisions of the Pensions Act are enforced through the supervision of the Pensions Authority.

Although the Pensions Authority is under the aegis of my Department, it regulates pension schemes entirely independently of my Department. Therefore, I am not in a position to comment on the matters raised by the Deputy.

If scheme members or Deputies have concerns about the CIÉ pension scheme they should address queries directly to the Pensions Authority.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.