Internal Audits

Ceisteanna (330)

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

330. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if her Department has completed an external quality assurance assessment of its internal audit function as required by the Institute of Internal Auditors standards that were introduced in 2012 (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5110/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

In accordance with the standards of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Standards & Ethics of the Institute of Internal Auditors, an external quality assurance assessment of the Internal Audit function of my Department was successfully completed in December 2015.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Carer's Benefit Applications

Ceisteanna (331)

Thomas Byrne

Ceist:

331. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the waiting time to process a carer's benefit application; and if she is satisfied with the level of staffing in the carer's benefit department. [5119/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

My Department is committed to providing a quality service to all its customers. This includes ensuring that applications are processed and that decisions on entitlement are made as quickly as possible.

Before a decision can be made on entitlement to carer’s benefit (CARB), evidence must be provided in respect of the care recipient’s care requirement, the level of care the carer provides, the carer’s hours of employment and their PRSI record. In general, social welfare schemes with a number of complex qualifying conditions can take longer to process. This is compounded if the documentary evidence provided at initial application stage is incomplete or insufficient; this is often the case with CARB applications.

The average processing times for CARB applications has improved in the latter half of 2017. At the end of December 2017, the average waiting time for new CARB applications was 10 weeks with 615 CARB applications awaiting decision. The staffing needs of the area are regularly reviewed, having regard to workloads and the competing demands arising, to ensure that the best use is made of all available resources.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Money Advice and Budgeting Service

Ceisteanna (332)

Thomas Pringle

Ceist:

332. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection her views on the latest developments regarding the restructuring of the existing 51 local MABS companies into eight regional companies by the Citizens Information Board, CIB, in view of the recommendation by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Social Protection and Dáil Éireann against the restructuring; if her attention has been drawn to the representative deficit in place now that CIB does not recognise MABS NMF as the representative body for MABS boards; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5120/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

The Citizens Information Board (CIB) is a statutory body established by the Oireachtas. In addition to its own statutory responsibilities in relation to information and advocacy service provision, it has statutory responsibility for the countrywide networks of Citizens Information Services (CIS) and the Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS).

In February 2017, the Board of CIB decided to change its governance arrangements from ninety three individual service delivery companies to an eight region model. The new model will comprise sixteen new regional companies, with one CIS and one MABS company in each of the eight regions.

The governance structure is a matter for the Board of CIB. The Board is clear that this change is necessary so that CIB, and the delivery services it funds, adequately meet the requirements of the Code of Practice for the Governance of State Bodies and the compliance requirements of the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General, given the significant level of taxpayers money involved. CIB has been allocated €57.410 million to fund its activities and that of its service delivery partners for 2018.

The changes are being made at local company board level only. The valuable work carried out by employees and volunteers working in CIS services and employees of MABS services will continue as heretofore. The staff and boards throughout the CIS and MABS networks have been assured by CIB that there will be no change to the terms and conditions of staff, no diminution of service and no closure of service delivery points.

Following a request by the Joint Oireachtas Committee (JOC) on Employment Affairs and Social Protection, CIB’s Executive commissioned a Cost Benefit Analysis on the new regional, sixteen company board model. The Report, which is published on CIB’s website, was provided to the JOC on 21st September 2017 and indicates strong support for the decision of the Board to proceed to implement the new governance arrangements.

It is the stated intention of CIB to continue to provide information and support throughout the transitional period. As the restructuring process progresses, all CIS and MABS services will be requested to commence gathering the information required to facilitate what is known as the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employees) (TUPE) process for employees and the transfer of business assets/liabilities. In this regard, information sessions have been organised for Chairpersons of local services, providing opportunities for Chairpersons to seek clarifications on the process of transfer to the new regional companies and wind up of the existing companies.

MABS National Management Forum (NMF) was established as a representative body for the 51 local MABS management companies. It represents the interests of the boards of local MABS companies, as employers. MABS NMF has not recognised the union of MABS staff and there are no agreed collective bargaining arrangements in place.

Individual MABS companies engaging with the TUPE process are and will continue to be supported by CIB. On establishment, CIB will support the eight new MABS regional companies to promptly put in place an Employer/Union Forum.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Pension Provisions

Ceisteanna (333)

Charlie McConalogue

Ceist:

333. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if the entitlements of State contributory pension recipients who were self-employed and in receipt of farm assist payments prior to 2007 will be reviewed; the estimated cost of granting a credit to those self-employed farm assist recipients who were not permitted to make PRSI class S contributions prior to 2007 to ensure low-income farmers in receipt can avail of full pension entitlements; the number of persons this PRSI issue relates to; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5171/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

The farm assist scheme was introduced in 1999 to provide income support for low income farmers. It replaced the former smallholders’ unemployment assistance payment. In line with the then existing arrangements for unemployment assistance (including smallholders) and pre-retirement allowance, the income of farm assist recipients was exempt from class S PRSI for self-employed workers. Recipients of farm assist who had previously paid class S social insurance had the option of paying voluntary contributions to maintain their social insurance record, including their entitlement to State pension contributory, provided they satisfied the qualifying conditions.

Since 1st January 2007, the exemption from class S PRSI has been removed and those receiving jobseeker’s allowance and farm assist are subject to class S PRSI as self-employed contributors on their self-employed income, provided their annual income is €5,000 or more.

Currently PRSI credited contributions (credits) are only awarded to former employees, to cover gaps in social insurance where they are not in a position to pay PRSI such as during periods of unemployment, illness, etc. Self-employed workers do not qualify for credits.

In the absence of exact numbers of farm assistant recipients with annual income in excess of the income threshold for paying class S PRSI prior to 2007 (i.e. €3,174 pa), it is not possible to estimate the numbers of persons affected. Determining the cost to the Social Insurance Fund of awarding credits to the self-employed when calculating pension entitlement would require consideration of a number of factors including the age of the individual, the number of credits awarded and other social insurance contributions paid by that individual, and it is similarly not possible to estimate.

Pension Provisions

Ceisteanna (334)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

334. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if a full review of pension entitlements will be arranged for a person (details supplied) in respect of whom details of previous employment were supplied some time ago with regard to the determination of the person's entitlement to a higher rate of contributory old age pension; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5187/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

The person concerned is in receipt of a reduced rate state pension (contributory) with effect from their 66th birthday, based on an assessed yearly average of 19 contributions, covering their working life from 1962 to 2010. According to the records of my Department, the person concerned has a social insurance record of 919 reckonable contributions and credits, and is in receipt of the correct rate of contributory pension based on this social insurance record.

The person has no recorded contributions for the tax years 1969 to 1997/8 inclusive, and has fewer than the full rate of 52 contributions for a number of years during their contribution history. This affects their overall yearly average and, consequently, their rate of weekly pension entitlement.

The person was notified in writing of their pension award on 3 May 2011. Attached to that letter was a copy of their contribution record, as held by my Department and upon which their pension entitlement was calculated. The person has been requested on a number of occasions to provide details of any unrecorded periods of employment or self employment. No response has been received to date.

If the person concerned considers that they hold additional information which may impact on their pension eligibility, they should submit the details without delay to enable my Department to have the matter investigated.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Household Benefits Scheme

Ceisteanna (335)

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

335. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the steps she is taking to ensure that more companies other than just a company (details supplied) are allowed to deduct the free electricity allowance from their customers' bills; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5230/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

The electricity allowance is still given to customers as a monthly monetary credit on a customer’s electricity bill where they have a domestic account with Electric Ireland. This dates back to a time when its predecessor (ESB) was the only electricity supplier available.

My Department has been approached by some of the other electricity providers regarding the possibility of crediting the electricity allowance onto their customer’s bills, similar to Electric Ireland arrangement. However, providing the necessary secure ICT systems would prove costly both for each of the suppliers and the Department. Maintaining computerised links and accounts with the many companies now operating in the energy market would also place a substantial administrative burden on the Department.

Customers who want to purchase their electricity needs from other providers are given a cash payment. This allows them to easily switch to a company which best meets their individual electricity needs, giving them value for money. They can also draw down any remaining credit balance when switching provider. There are currently in excess of 123,000 customers on these cash payment arrangements.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Social Welfare Benefits Data

Ceisteanna (336)

Niall Collins

Ceist:

336. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the number of recipients of family income support by county in each of the years 2011 to 2017 in tabular form. [5245/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

Working Family Payment (WFP) Section was unable to provide the data requested for year 2011. WFP Section informed the Deputy’s constituency office in advance of answering this Parliamentary Question (PQ) and it was confirmed the Deputy accepted the revised data figures.

Working Family Payment (WFP) formerly known as Family Income Supplement (FIS) is a weekly tax-free payment for employees on low earnings with children. This payment effectively preserves the incentive to take up or remain in employment in circumstances where the employee might only be marginally better off than if s/he were claiming other social welfare payments. WFP provides an important policy instrument in reducing child poverty in working households as well as improving incentives to work. There has been a steady growth both in the number of families supported by WFP over recent years and associated expenditure with numbers in receipt of WFP rising from 26,000 families with 56,000 children in 2009 to 57,745 families and 129,274 children by the end of 2017.

Increased awareness of WFP as a consequence of the Department’s information strategy for the scheme and significant improvements in customer service and processing times for WFP customers have contributed to the increased numbers.

The number of FIS recipients by county from 2012 - 2017 is as follows:

FIS Recipients

County

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

Antrim

1

1

1

1

1

1

Armagh

4

11

14

16

15

16

Carlow

584

744

859

920

984

991

Cavan

710

965

1,153

1,234

1,267

1,292

Clare

763

1,028

1,181

1,280

1,313

1,278

Cork

3,372

4,683

5,354

6,039

6,110

6,017

Derry

7

14

13

23

20

20

Donegal

1,564

2,048

2,307

2,511

2,676

2,857

Down

29

40

42

40

35

43

Dublin

7,397

10,281

11,917

13,351

13,569

13,509

Fermanagh

23

35

29

30

28

27

Galway

1,535

2,090

2,357

2,675

2,761

2,654

Kerry

972

1,326

1,433

1,592

1,717

1,734

Kildare

1,356

1,873

2,205

2,386

2,388

2,443

Kilkenny

514

696

798

899

980

1,014

Laois

557

766

870

967

1,046

1,093

Leitrim

214

291

339

395

383

402

Limerick

1,377

1,889

2,095

2,350

2,463

2,496

Longford

446

604

666

721

801

795

Louth

1,159

1,647

1,872

2,084

2,193

2,191

Mayo

992

1,366

1,486

1,568

1,626

1,573

Meath

1,191

1,725

2,044

2,285

2,311

2,264

Monaghan

631

842

956

1,073

1,132

1,127

Offaly

637

868

935

1,049

1,085

1,118

Roscommon

480

609

665

723

708

752

Sligo

479

594

674

748

761

767

Tipperary

1,353

1,785

1,969

2,175

2,171

2,176

Tyrone

11

17

16

15

14

16

Waterford

1,011

1,409

1,641

1,810

1,828

1,872

Westmeath

766

983

1,094

1,224

1,247

1,312

Wexford

1,395

1,851

2,029

2,273

2,447

2,417

Wicklow

770

1,073

1,282

1,442

1,478

1,468

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Apprenticeship Data

Ceisteanna (337)

Niall Collins

Ceist:

337. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the number of persons enrolled in apprenticeships in her Department and State agencies under her remit by gender in tabular form; and if she will list each such apprenticeship. [5256/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

The issue raised is a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Education and Skills. I understand that his Department will be replying back to the Deputy directly.

Fire Service Staff

Ceisteanna (338)

Michael Healy-Rae

Ceist:

338. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government his views on a matter (details supplied) regarding the mandatory retirement age for firefighters; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5032/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

International research indicates that the retirement age of 55 is the optimum age to ensure that fire-fighters are capable of satisfactorily performing the tasks expected of them. The retirement age of 55 years of age was introduced because of health and safety considerations related to the job. Since the enactment of the Health, Safety and Welfare at Work Act 1989, underpinned by subsequent legislation, each fire authority, as an employer, has a statutory duty to avoid placing employees at risk.

A full time firefighter is statutorily required to retire at age 55 under the Public Service Superannuation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2004. This retirement age is set at 55 due to the physically demanding nature of the fire-fighter role.

The retirement age for retained fire fighters is 55 with an extended period to age 58 subject to a formal application process including a compulsory medical assessment.

A collective agreement was reached between the Local Government Management Services Board and the trade unions involved (SIPTU and ATGWU) in November 2002. This collective agreement provided, inter alia, for the appointment of an Expert Group which in turn would advise as to the retirement age for retained firefighters. The Expert Group's Report on Retirement Age recommended that the retirement age for retained firefighters remain at 55, with provision for an annual extension, subject to medical assessment, up to 58 years of age. Following the report of the Expert Group published in April 2003, a circular was issued by my Department in November 2003 setting out the age requirements in relation to retained firefighters in line with the Expert Report.

In general, any changes proposed by either management or unions are negotiated using the established Industrial Relations processes. In this regard, the matter of increasing the retirement age for firefighters was included as part of recent discussions on a wide range of issues at the Workplace Relations Commission, between the Local Government Management Agency (representing the employers) and SIPTU.

I understand that these discussions are at a preliminary stage and therefore I am unable to give an indication as to when these discussions will be completed or the likely outcome.

Mortgage Lending

Ceisteanna (339)

Michael McGrath

Ceist:

339. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the position regarding the application of the Central Bank's loan-to-income rules in the new Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme for first-time buyers announced recently. [5237/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

Local authorities have an exemption from retail credit firm status under the Markets in Financial Instruments and Miscellaneous Provision Act 2007 as local authorities provide housing finance for public purposes and at a rate more favourable than that available commercially. Therefore, the Central Bank’s macro prudential lending regulations do not apply to local authority mortgage lending.

The purpose of the fixed rate Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan is to deliver affordability and sustainability through certainty of repayments. The new mortgage arrangements regularise local authority lending with the prudent and cautious lending rules of the Central Bank. Borrowers are required to have a 10% deposit; evidence of savings; and must be capable of repaying the mortgage in accordance with a robust credit policy.

The unique aspect of this new mortgage offering is the fixed interest rate over the full lifetime of the borrowing. This means that risks normally associated with interest rate changes are eliminated. Borrowers therefore have absolute certainty of their repayments for terms of up to 25 or 30 years. Moreover, the local authority as lender has much more certainty of the borrowers’ capacity to repay the debt over the lifetime of the loan.

The long term fixed rate offering obviates the need for stress testing as the repayments are fixed for the life of the loan. Rather than a Loan to Income (LTI) limit, a maximum permissible Net Disposable Income (NDI) ratio of 35% is used which more accurately reflects the benefit of the low fixed rate available for the full life of the loan.

The credit and income assessments which underpin the loan are firmly based on a borrower’s capacity to repay the loan. Likewise, the assessments take account of borrowers’ outgoings and household commitments. Together with the certainty of the amount that a mortgage repayment will be over the entire term of the mortgage, this means that borrowers are in a much more secure position than would be the case in a variable rate position, or if assessment was singularly linked to a multiple of income. They can also take comfort from the position that they are making monthly (affordable) repayments on the capital element of their mortgage – increasing their equity stake in their home.

Local Authority Assets

Ceisteanna (340)

Maureen O'Sullivan

Ceist:

340. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if he has engaged with Dublin City Council regarding the best use of the lands at a location (details supplied). [4987/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

I understand that site is under the control of Dublin City Council and as such its development or disposal is a matter, in the first instance, for the Council, including its elected members.

In this regard, I understand that Dublin City Council is considering disposal of this site, by way of a development agreement, to support the transformation of the area. In carrying out its examination of the best use of the site, the Council is taking into account the views of the local community and the sensitivities associated with the site in question. Any such plans will, of course, be subject to the Council's elected members' agreement.

Home Loan Scheme

Ceisteanna (341)

Thomas Pringle

Ceist:

341. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the amount of funding being made available to Donegal County Council for the home loan scheme; the estimated number of persons that will qualify in County Donegal for the scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5005/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

Following a review of the two existing local authority home loan schemes, the House Purchase Loan and the Home Choice Loan, I am introducing from today, 1 February 2018, a new loan offering, known as the Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan. The new loan will enable credit worthy first time buyers to access sustainable mortgage lending to purchase new or second-hand properties in a suitable price range. The low rate of fixed interest associated with the Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan provides first time buyers with access to mortgage finance that they may not otherwise have been able to afford at a higher interest rate. Full details of the loan's eligibility criteria and other information is available from the dedicated Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan website, http://rebuildingirelandhomeloan.ie/.

The Housing Finance Agency (HFA) has raised €200 million from a variety of sources on a fixed rate basis for periods out to thirty years maturity. Based on the pricing achieved, local authorities can offer a first tranche of fixed rate annuity finance to eligible borrowers at rates of 2.0% and 2.25% per annum, for twenty five and thirty years respectively, up to an aggregate maximum of €200 million.

The funding is not allocated to individual local authorities but rather will be drawn down by local authorities from the HFA to match-fund their lending, on a first come first served basis under the Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan. Further tranches of loan finance will be secured by the HFA, as necessary. It is not possible to estimate the number of fixed rate loan applications per local authority under this loan.