Social Welfare Benefits

Ceisteanna (707)

Louise O'Reilly

Ceist:

707. Deputy Louise O'Reilly asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the way in which a person who is estranged from his or her spouse or partner for reasons of domestic violence can access dental benefit on the basis of his or her spouse's PRSI contributions without having to contact him or her; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [10012/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

A person can qualify for treatment benefit in two ways, either using their own PRSI record if they have the required contributions or by using their spouse’s/partner’s record if they are financially dependent on their spouse or partner.

Where a person is applying for the treatment benefit based on their spouse’s/partner’s PRSI record, they are required to complete an eligibility check form DE2, available from the service provider they intend to use or directly from the Department. To ensure data protection compliance (including the upcoming General Data Protection Regulation legislation) the Department seeks the written consent of both parties to their data being used to make the necessary enquires in order to check the applicants entitlement to the benefit.

The “qualified” spouse/partner is not asked to consent to their spouse getting the treatment, but is asked to consent to the use of their PPSN by the Department, so that their PRSI record can be checked to potentially qualify their dependant spouse/partner. Where a dependent spouse/partner indicates to the Department that they do not wish to, or are not in a position to ask their spouse/partner to sign the form the Department can still proceed to determine eligibility. A protocol is in place to cover cases of domestic violence and is in operation in relation to all schemes and services of the Department.

Tús Programme

Ceisteanna (708)

Pearse Doherty

Ceist:

708. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if her attention has been drawn to the concerns expressed by a number of community and voluntary organisations responsible for the implementation of the community work placement scheme Tús in relation to plans to reduce the number of placements available in future in view of reduced unemployment figures and the changing jobs market; if consideration will be given to proposals to maintain the number of placement places available in regions in which demand for the scheme remains consistent and in which the local labour market has remained relatively unchanged; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [10123/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

Tús is one of a range of supports provided by my Department to cater for long-term unemployed jobseekers and those most distant from the labour market. It provides part-time temporary work in local communities, as a stepping-stone back to employment. However, it is important to note that these placements are not full-time sustainable jobs and are designed to break the cycle of unemployment and maintain work readiness, thereby improving a person’s opportunities of returning to the labour market or getting a job for the first time. The scheme commenced operation in 2011 as a response to the high level of unemployment and the large numbers on the Live Register at that time. There are 47 Local Development Companies (LDCs), as well as Údarás na Gaeltachta, involved in the delivery of the Tús programme - known as Implementing bodies (IBs).

The Deputy will appreciate that the reduction in the unemployment rate is a factor in recruitment to all programmes. Long-term unemployment is expected to fall further this year in line with the continuing forecasted fall in overall unemployment.

The Deputy will appreciate that given the welcome improvements in the labour market in recent years with reducing numbers of long-term unemployed on the Live Register, which is the target cohort for Tús, it is proving difficult to fill the number of places available nationwide. However, changes were introduced recently to the selection criteria for Tús which should broaden the availability of Tús to a greater number of people on the live register. This includes an increase in the percentage of assisted referrals from 20% to 30%, as well as permitting someone who has had a break of up to 30 days on the Live Register in the past 12 months to be considered eligible for Tús selection.

In the five years since the end of December 2012, there has been a 48% fall in the numbers on the Live Register who are more than 1 year unemployed. In this context the Department is currently engaging with the Irish Local Development Network – the representative body for the IBs.

The Department keeps all aspects of its activation programmes under review to ensure the best outcomes for participants and communities.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Telephone Support Allowance

Ceisteanna (709)

John Brady

Ceist:

709. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the estimated cost of reforming the telephone support allowance payment in order that it is available to persons in receipt of the living alone allowance or the fuel allowance; the number of additional persons who would qualify for the payment if that change was made; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [10127/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

The new weekly Telephone Support Allowance (TSA) of €2.50 will be paid from June 2018. People in receipt of the Living Alone Allowance and also Fuel Allowance will automatically qualify for the TSA. It is expected that approximately 124,000 customers will qualify for the scheme at a cost of €16.14 million in 2018.

If recipients of either fuel allowance or the living alone allowance were allowed to receive the TSA it would result in an additional 412,518 people qualifying for the payment. This would increase the overall annual cost of the scheme to €69.77 million, an increase of €53.63 million.

The primary objective of the TSA is to allow the most vulnerable people access to personal alarms or phones for security. The allowance will also encourage social contact and assist in the prevention of social isolation for those living alone.

The criteria for the TSA are framed in order to direct the limited resources available to my Department in as targeted a manner as possible. Fuel Allowance is a means tested payment ensuring that the TSA payment goes only to people on low income who live alone.

Accordingly, I have no plans at this time to change the criteria for the TLA as suggested by the Deputy.

Any decision to do so would considerably increase the overall cost of the scheme and would have to be considered in the context of overall budgetary negotiations.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Departmental Staff

Ceisteanna (710)

Pearse Doherty

Ceist:

710. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the status of an employment transfer application by a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [10182/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

Transfers between locations of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection are managed in accordance with protocols agreed between the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the relevant staff unions. Where exceptional circumstances are advanced to deviate from the normal processes in this regard these are examined on a case-by-case basis, which includes consideration both of the case made and of the interests of other staff members.

The person referred to has not been reached on any transfer list held by the Department. A request was previously received to transfer him on an exceptional basis, but following full consideration of the case this was not agreed to. From March 2018 transfers between the two locations referred to will be managed by the new Civil Service Mobility Portal and it will be open to the person in question to apply for transfer using the terms of that scheme.

Carer's Allowance Eligibility

Ceisteanna (711)

Pearse Doherty

Ceist:

711. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection when a determination will be made in respect of a carer's allowance application by a person (details supplied) in County Donegal; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [10183/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

An application for Carer's allowance (CA) was received from the person concerned on 6 September 2017. CA is a means-tested social assistance payment made to a person who is habitually resident in the State and who is providing full-time care and attention to a person who has such a disability that they require that level of care.

The evidence submitted in support of this application was examined and the deciding officer decided that although a certain level of care was being provided the level involved did not amount to full-time care.

The person concerned was notified on 16 January 2018 of this decision, the reason for it and of her right of review and appeal.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Question No. 712 answered with Question No. 54.

Rental Accommodation Standards

Question No. 715 answered with Question No. 54.

Ceisteanna (713, 714, 718)

Gerry Adams

Ceist:

713. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if in a case in which a tenant goes to the Residential Tenancy Board regarding housing conditions and the matter subsequently goes to adjudication or tribunal, he will instruct the Board to immediately notify the relevant county council and request that payments to the landlord be suspended pending the outcome of this process. [9384/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Gerry Adams

Ceist:

714. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if additional powers will be given to the Residential Tenancy Board through its procedures to compel landlords to rectify housing conditions when it makes determination orders; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9385/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Gerry Adams

Ceist:

718. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if he will instruct local authorities to immediately cease housing assistance payments after the period to appeal the inspection has passed; and if fines can be issued on a weekly basis until the outstanding matters are rectified in the event of a building failing an engineer's inspection. [10225/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 713, 714 and 718 together.

A tenant can take a case against their landlord regarding standard and maintenance of a dwelling. They must first write a letter to their landlord, outlining the issues and giving them a reasonable period in which to rectify the situation. If the problem persists after the letter has been sent, the tenant may take a case against the landlord through the Residential Tenancies Board.

Disputes that involve alleged breaches of minimum standards include the following:

- Allegations of breach of landlord obligations pursuant to Section 12 (1) (b) in which a landlord of a dwelling is obliged to carry out all such repairs necessary to ensure that a dwelling complies with the standards for housing and repairs and replacements of fittings necessary to ensure the dwelling is to a standard comparable to the condition at the commencement of the tenancy and in compliance with any such standards for the time being prescribed;

- Allegations of breach of tenant obligations, pursuant to Section 16 of the Act, to ensure that no act or omission by the tenant results in a breach of landlord obligations (and, in particular, the landlord’s obligations under section 18 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1992), to notify the landlord or his agent of any defects that need to be repaired and allow the landlord or a person acting on his behalf reasonable access to carry out such repairs.

Section 86(1)(a) of the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 provides that tenants must continue to pay rent, pending the determination of a dispute that has been referred to the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB). It is important that a tenant must continue to pay their rent in full until the tenancy ends and while any RTB dispute is ongoing. Further information on the RTB's dispute resolution process can be found at the following link:

https://www.rtb.ie/dispute-resolution/dispute-resolution/dispute-resolution-process-faqs .

Minimum standards for rental accommodation are prescribed in the Housing (Standards for Rented Houses) Regulations 2017. They specify requirements in relation to a range of matters, such as structural repair, sanitary facilities, heating, ventilation, natural light and safety of gas, oil and electrical supply. All landlords have a legal obligation to ensure that their rented properties comply with these Regulations. Responsibility for enforcement of the Regulations rests with the relevant local authority.

Under Section 34 of Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1992, any person who by act or omission contravenes the Housing (Standards for Rented Houses) Regulations 2017, fails to comply with an improvement notice, or re-lets a house in breach of a prohibition notice, shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable, on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding €5,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or both. If the contravention, failure to comply or re-letting is continued after conviction, the person shall be guilty of a further offence on every day on which the contravention, failure to comply or re-letting continues and for each such offence shall be liable, on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding €400 per day.

The Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) is underpinned by the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2014. Under section 41 of the 2014 Act, local authorities are required to commence the inspection process within 8 months of the commencement of HAP support being provided in relation to a particular dwelling, if not already inspected within the previous 12 months. HAP may be provided on a property which is the subject of a subsisting improvement notice under section 18A of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1992. HAP shall not be, or shall cease to be, provided on a property which is the subject of proceedings or a prohibition notice under section 18B of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1992. Where a prohibition notice has come into effect, HAP may continue to be paid for 13 weeks from the date of HAP commencing or the notice coming into force, as appropriate.

Question No. 716 answered with Question No. 72.

Question No. 715 answered with Question No. 54.

Local Authority Members

Question No. 718 answered with Question No. 713.

Ceisteanna (717)

Eoin Ó Broin

Ceist:

717. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the estimated cost to the Exchequer in a full financial year of increasing the representational allowance for local councillors from €16,565 to €25,000. [9532/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

The Representational Payment for local authority elected members recognises the work that councillors volunteer to undertake when they stand for election and subsequently serve their community. The amount of the Representational Payment is linked to the basic salary of a Senator under Regulation 6(3) of the Local Government (Representational Payment for Members) Regulations 2001.

With effect from 1 January 2018, the Representational Payment was increased to €16,891 per annum in line with an increase to the basic amount of a Senator's salary from that same date following the implementation of the Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020. The Representational Payment will be further increased during the term of the Agreement in proportion to further increases to the basic amount of a Senator's salary.

Increasing the Representational Payment from its current level of €16,891 to €25,000 per annum for all 949 elected members of local authorities would cost approximately €7.7m but could only be provided for by way of new regulations made under section 142 of the Local Government Act 2001, as amended, and would require the consent of the Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform. The cost of any such increase would fall to be met by individual local authorities.

Question No. 718 answered with Question No. 713.

Freedom of Information Data

Ceisteanna (719)

Stephen Donnelly

Ceist:

719. Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the number of freedom of information requests his Department has received in the past eight years; the number of which were accepted without further escalation and not accepted respectively; the number requested which were not accepted that were escalated to the Information Commissioner; the number of which the Information Commissioner ruled in favour of the person requesting the freedom of information; the number of which the Information Commissioner ruled against his department; the number his department appealed to the High Court; the number the High Court ruled against his department in favour of the applicant; the number which were then brought to the Court of Appeal by his department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9294/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

The number of Freedom of Information requests received by my Department in the past eight years is detailed in the table. All requests received are accepted and processed. Freedom of Information requests may be granted, part-granted, refused, transferred or withdrawn. Where a requestor is dissatisfied with a decision, they may seek an internal review. Where the requestor is dissatisfied with the outcome of the internal review, they may appeal to the OIC. The numbers appealed to the Office of the Information Commissioner in each of the years is also detailed in the table. The Office of the Information Commissioner has, following review, found in favour of 14 cases, overturned 5 cases and varied the decision in 2 cases. My Department has not appealed any OIC decisions to the High Court or the Court of Appeal.

No. of FOI Requests Received

No of FOI appeals accepted by the OIC

Number of Department decisions affirmed

Number of Department decisions overturned

Number of Department decisions varied

2010

145

figures not recorded

figures not recorded

figures not recorded

figures not recorded

2011

99

figures not recorded

figures not recorded

figures not recorded

figures not recorded

2012

184

2

1

1

0

2013

98

3

2

1

0

2014

180

2

1

0

1

2015

395

3

2

1

0

2016

393

9

6

2

1

2017

351

2

2

0

0