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 assist 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.
I hope this information is useful to the Deputy.