Brexit Preparations

Ceisteanna (608)

Lisa Chambers

Ceist:

608. Deputy Lisa Chambers asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the scheme by scheme analysis of social insurance schemes and reciprocal arrangements between the UK and Ireland and the impact of Brexit on same which has not as yet been completed; when it will be completed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5042/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

The Government and the EU remain committed to securing a negotiated Brexit outcome. We have been planning for all Brexit scenarios but in light of uncertainties in London and the Brexit deadline of 29 March, the Government decided at its meeting of 11 December that immediate priority must now be given to preparations for a no deal Brexit and that Government Departments and state agencies should urgently take forward work on that basis.

The Contingency Action Plan which the Government published on 19 December sets out in comprehensive terms, the challenges to be faced and the actions taken and planned by the Government across key sectors in the event of a no deal Brexit scenario.

My key area of interest is the impact of Brexit on the current reciprocal arrangements for social insurance schemes, social assistance schemes and child benefit under the Common Travel Area between Ireland and the UK, including Northern Ireland.

Last year, I met with the then UK Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and we agreed the objective of ensuring that the reciprocity of social welfare rights and entitlements, which currently exist for Irish and UK citizens moving within Ireland and between Ireland and Britain under the Common Travel Area, are safeguarded and maintained.

Because of the unique nature of the Common Travel Area and the specific rights which it provides and will continue to provide for Irish and British citizens in each other’s countries, it was agreed that we would formalise the pre-existing Common Travel Area arrangements in a documented agreement. That agreement was signed last week. Under the terms of the agreement all existing arrangements with regard to recognition of, and access to, social insurance entitlements will be maintained in both jurisdictions. This means that the rights of Irish citizens domiciled in Ireland to benefit from social insurance contributions made when working in the UK and to access social insurance payments if resident in the UK are protected.

In addition the General Scheme of the Miscellaneous Provisions (Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union on 29 March 2019) Bill which the Government published on 24 January 2019 is part of a framework of wider planning and preparations for the possibility of a no deal Brexit, which the Government still hopes can be avoided.

Part 11 of the General Scheme sets out proposed amendments to the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act 2015 (as amended). These amendments are being introduced in line with the Government’s Brexit priority of maintaining the Common Travel Area.

The amendments give the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection powers to make regulations with regard to a number of issues such as: the treatment of events of facts in the UK as they relate to claims and payments; taking account of social insurance contributions for the purposes of determining eligibility for social insurance payments; the avoidance of multiple payments; arrangements regarding frontier workers; and the appropriate the exchange of information with the proper authorities in the UK (in accordance with the provisions of the GDPR).

Pensions Reform

Ceisteanna (609)

James Browne

Ceist:

609. Deputy James Browne asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection her views on the problem facing persons who must retire from their private employer two years before the pensionable age; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5048/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

It is well known that people are living for much longer. This is very positive. As a result of this demographic change, the number of State pension recipients is increasing year on year. This has significant implications for the future costs of State pension provision which are currently increasing by approximately €1 billion every 5 years. The purpose of changes to the State pension age is to make the pension system more sustainable in the context of increasing life expectancy. This sustainability is vital, if the current workers, who fund State pension payments through their PRSI, are to receive a pension themselves when they reach retirement age. Therefore, the Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2011 provided that State pension age will be increased gradually to 68 years. This began in January 2014 with the abolition of the State pension (transition) which was available to people aged 65 who satisfied the qualifying conditions. This measure standardised the State pension age for all at 66 years. This will increase to 67 in 2021 and to 68 in 2028.

In most cases, it is hoped that workers will continue to work up to State pension age. Where this is not possible and a person exits the workforce before reaching State pension age they may apply for either the jobseeker’s benefit or jobseeker’s allowance schemes. Jobseeker’s payments are currently paid to eligible jobseekers aged 18 to 66 years.

Jobseekers Benefit is payable subject to the person satisfying the general scheme conditions. This entitlement is normally paid for 9 months (234 days) for people with 260 or more PRSI contributions paid and for 6 months (156 days) for people with fewer than 260 PRSI contributions paid. Arrangements are in place to provide that jobseekers whose benefit expires in their 65th year can generally continue to be paid benefit up until pensionable age (66 years) provided they satisfy the necessary contribution conditions. The jobseekers schemes are kept under review and any further changes, including entitlement beyond the 66th year, will be considered in that context.

It is important to note that there is no legally mandated retirement age in the State, and the age at which employees retire is a matter for the contract of employment between them and their employers. While such a contract may have been entered into with a retirement date of 65, in the context of the previous State pension arrangements, there is no legal impediment to the employer and employee agreeing to increase the duration of employment for one or more years, if both parties wish to do so. In this regard, the Workplace Relations Commission has produced a Code of Practice on Longer Working and the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) has published guidance material for employers on the use of fixed-term contracts beyond normal retirement age.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Social Welfare Overpayments

Ceisteanna (610)

Jackie Cahill

Ceist:

610. Deputy Jackie Cahill asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if moneys owed to a person (details supplied) will be investigated in view of the fact that there are no assets to be distributed from the estate; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5088/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

The solicitor for the person named above has returned an Inland Revenue Affidavit (IRA) which includes an estate to be finalised.

The Department is obliged to recoup any debt owing to it and the method of recovery, and negotiations regarding the amount recoverable, are dealt with under the Department’s code of practice.

The Department is currently investigating the circumstances around the debt owed in this case and will contact the next of kin when this investigation is complete.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

State Pension (Contributory)

Ceisteanna (611)

Michael Healy-Rae

Ceist:

611. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if a matter concerning a request for a review of a contributory pension by a person (details supplied) will be examined; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5149/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

Since the end of September 2018, my Department has been examining the social insurance records of pensioners born on or after 1 September 1946 who were awarded state pension (contributory) on reduced post Budget 2012 rate bands. Information letters were issued to these pensioners explaining that my Department will contact them again to either inform them about the outcome of their review or to request further information in order to complete their review. All of the claims involved will be individually examined, starting with those aged 71 or over. Due to the numbers involved, the process will take a number of months to complete.

Where possible, my Department will use information already held to assist in these reviews. Additional information is being requested from pensioners in relation to unexplained gaps in their social insurance record, if required to complete their review. These information requests also explain how to access my Department’s on-line service to provide the relevant information. This is the quickest and easiest way to provide the requested information. It is expected that the first review outcomes will be notified during Quarter 1 2019.

An information request issued to the person concerned on 11 January 2019. The person, using the dedicated telephone number, stated they would not be able to complete an online application. A form will be sent to the person concerned when the forms become available at the end of February.

Regardless of when a review is completed, where a pensioner qualifies for an increase, their rate will be adjusted without delay and arrears backdated to March 2018, or their 66th birthday if later. If a pensioner does not qualify for an increase, they will continue to receive their existing rate of payment. No personal pension entitlement rates will be reduced as a result of this review.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Invalidity Pension Applications

Ceisteanna (612)

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

612. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if it is policy not to issue the name of the deciding officer when issuing decisions regarding invalidity pension applications; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5151/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

Deciding Officers (DOs) are appointed under social welfare legislation to decide, among other things, whether or not a person is entitled to a statutory payment such as invalidity pension. When a DO has reached a decision, it is recorded in writing and the notification of the decision which issues to the customer includes the name of the DO.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the deputy.

JobPath Programme

Ceisteanna (613)

John Brady

Ceist:

613. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection when the econometric evaluation of JobPath will be published. [5158/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

My Department is currently working closely with the OECD to finalise a detailed econometric review of JobPath to gauge its effectiveness as means of labour activation for the long-term unemployed. This work is in its final stages and it is intended that it will be published once completed.

JobPath Programme

Ceisteanna (614)

John Brady

Ceist:

614. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection her views on a matter regarding JobPath providers (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5163/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

There are no barriers to the way by which jobseekers can source employment. The JobPath service helps and supports their clients to identify and pursue suitable job opportunities themselves and the personal adviser will provide any appropriate support that the person may require, from preparing their CV and assisting with the job application to financial assistance for clothing or transport costs at interview stage or in the first days of employment.

The JobPath providers are required to offer in-work support to the person for up to twelve months while they remain in employment. This includes scheduled contact with the person as well as ad-hoc contact should they need immediate support or advice, this may be particularly important for those in temporary or part-time employment to provide the specific support needed to progress to more sustainable permanent employment.

A person is not under any obligation to provide employment or employer details to the JobPath provider but, if they wish to do so and avail of the in-employment support offered, all information will be treated confidentially.

The primary purpose of the activation services provided by my Department, including the JobPath service is to assist and support jobseekers to look for and sustain full time employment. It is worth noting that, of the approximately 206k persons who have been referred to the JobPath service to date, 52% have been unemployed for more than 3 years. This service offers people who have been long term unemployed intensive one-to one support from a personal adviser.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

JobPath Programme

Ceisteanna (615)

Lisa Chambers

Ceist:

615. Deputy Lisa Chambers asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection her plans for JobPath and its future; her further plans to disband the service; if so, when; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5178/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

My Department oversees the overall procurement process for JobPath.

In this context, my Department is continually engaged in ensuring all contracted public employment services are fit for purpose. No formal tendering process for 2020 is currently underway and no final decisions have been made in this regard.

My Department will continue to consult with the relevant stakeholders to ensure that any future contracted public employment service gives the best possible service for those who wish to return to the labour market.

Working Family Payment Applications

Ceisteanna (616)

Pearse Doherty

Ceist:

616. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection when a working family payment application by a person (details supplied) in County Donegal will be processed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5198/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

Working Family Payment (WFP) is an in-work payment which provides additional income support to employees on low earnings with children.

An application for WFP was received from the person concerned on 28 November 2018.

The Department wrote to the applicant on 30 January 2019 to request further details.

On receipt of the requested details, the application will be processed without delay and they will be notified of the outcome.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Carer's Allowance Applications

Ceisteanna (617)

Michael Healy-Rae

Ceist:

617. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the status of an application for a carer's allowance by a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5242/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

Carer's allowance (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 child or an adult who has such a disability that as a result they require that level of care.

There is no record in my Department of a claim for CA having been made by the person concerned. If they wish to make an application, they should complete and return the application form (CR1) that I have arranged to issue to them.

Only on receipt of a fully completed application form can entitlement to CA be determined.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Working Family Payment Applications

Ceisteanna (618)

Clare Daly

Ceist:

618. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if the case of a person (details supplied) will be re-examined taking into consideration the up to date information they submitted; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5278/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

Working Family Payment (WFP) is an in-work payment which provides additional income support to employees on low earnings with children.

WFP applications are processed based on information declared by an applicant and their employer at the time of application in accordance with the governing social welfare legislation. This legislation provides that, once WFP is awarded, the rate remains the same for a 52 week period regardless of changes in working hours or in income or earnings.

A completed WFP application (WFP 1) was received from the person concerned on 16 November 2018. The applicant commenced employment with their current employer on 08 October 2018. Accordingly, they were awarded WFP on 07 December 2018 with effect from 11 October 2018 to 09 October 2019. This decision was based on the information declared by the applicant and their employer at the time of application.

The person concerned advised the Department in December that their working hours had reduced and sought a review of the decision. A Deciding Officer (DO) carried out a review of this case on 11 January 2019 and decided that this decision was correct and in accordance with the governing legislation.

The person concerned has been advised of their right of appeal to the independent Social Welfare Appeals Office.

I trust the matter is clarified for the Deputy.

State Pensions

Ceisteanna (619)

Willie O'Dea

Ceist:

619. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection her plans to address the situation of those that are forced to retire at 65 years of age but cannot now receive their entitlement to a State pension until aged 67; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5282/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

It is well known that people are living for much longer. This is very positive. As a result of this demographic change, the number of State pension recipients is increasing year on year. This has significant implications for the future costs of State pension provision which are currently increasing by approximately €1 billion every 5 years.

The purpose of changes to the State pension age is to make the pension system more sustainable in the context of increasing life expectancy. This sustainability is vital, if the current workers, who fund State pension payments through their PRSI, are to receive a pension themselves when they reach retirement age. Therefore, the Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2011 provided that State pension age will be increased gradually to 68 years. This began in January 2014 with the abolition of the State pension (transition) which was available to people aged 65 who satisfied the qualifying conditions. This measure standardised the State pension age for all at 66 years. This will increase to 67 in 2021 and to 68 in 2028.

In most cases, it is hoped that workers will continue to work up to State pension age. Where this is not possible and a person exits the workforce before reaching State pension age they may apply for either the jobseeker’s benefit or jobseeker’s allowance schemes. Jobseeker’s payments are currently paid to eligible jobseekers aged 18 to 66 years.

Jobseekers Benefit is payable subject to the person satisfying the general scheme conditions. This entitlement is normally paid for 9 months (234 days) for people with 260 or more PRSI contributions paid and for 6 months (156 days) for people with fewer than 260 PRSI contributions paid. Arrangements are in place to provide that jobseekers whose benefit expires in their 65th year can generally continue to be paid benefit up until pensionable age (66 years) provided they satisfy the necessary contribution conditions. The jobseekers schemes are kept under review and any further changes, including entitlement beyond the 66th year, will be considered in that context.

It is important to note that there is no legally mandated retirement age in the State, and the age at which employees retire is a matter for the contract of employment between them and their employers. While such a contract may have been entered into with a retirement date of 65, in the context of the previous State pension arrangements, there is no legal impediment to the employer and employee agreeing to increase the duration of employment for one or more years, if both parties wish to do so. In this regard, the Workplace Relations Commission has produced a Code of Practice on Longer Working and the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) has published guidance material for employers on the use of fixed-term contracts beyond normal retirement age.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

State Pensions

Ceisteanna (620)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Ceist:

620. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if a person who reached State pension age before 2012 can avail of the new home care credits and TCA if it would be more beneficial to them; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5284/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

In January last year I announced a new Total Contributions Approach (TCA) to calculating the entitlement of pensioners who reached state pension age from September 2012 (i.e., those born on or after 1 September 1946). 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. The TCA will ensure that the totality of a person’s social insurance contributions - as opposed to the timing of them - determines their final pension outcome. The HomeCaring Periods can be claimed for any year in which they occurred - they are not limited to years since 1994.

People whose pensions were decided under the 2000-2012 ratebands were subject to a significantly more generous regime than those who qualified before or afterwards, as a Yearly Average of only 20 contributions per year (out of a maximum of 49) could attract a 98% pension. The effect of those changes, as it impacted upon those new pensioners since 2012, will be familiar to anyone who followed the debate on this matter over the last 6 years. If pre-2012 pensioners were also allowed avail of HomeCaring Credits, their arrangements, as a group, would continue to be significantly more generous than those of post-2012 pensioners. There would also be a very significant cost which would be expected to be of the order of several hundred millions of euros each year. This in turn could significantly impact funds for future pension increases with consequential implications for pensioner poverty.

For those with insufficient contributions to meet the requirements for a State pension (contributory), they may qualify for a means tested State pension (non-contributory), the maximum personal rate for which is €232 (over 95% of the maximum rate of the contributory pension). This rate of payment does not include rent allowance, household benefits or fuel allowance. Alternatively, if their spouse is a State pensioner and they have significant household means, their most beneficial payment may be an Increase for a Qualified Adult, based on their personal means, and amounting up to 90% of a full contributory pension.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Jobseeker's Allowance Eligibility

Ceisteanna (621)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Ceist:

621. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if payment into an AVC pension scheme is an allowable deduction from a spouse's income in the assessment of means for the jobseeker's allowance scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5416/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

Jobseeker’s Allowance is a means tested social assistance scheme operated by my Department. For means testing purposes, account is taken of the income and assets of both the claimant and his or her spouse or partner, including the earnings of the spouse.

Where a claimant or their spouse or partner has earnings from insurable employment, earnings less PRSI contributions, pension contributions and trade union subscriptions are assessed as means. In this regard, payment into an AVC pension scheme is an allowable deduction from a spouse's earnings.

If the Deputy is aware of any particular case regarding this issue, I would ask that he bring it to the attention of my officials.

Social Insurance Payments

Ceisteanna (622)

Michael McGrath

Ceist:

622. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the number of hours per week a PAYE employee must work in order to receive a full class A PRSI stamp; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5423/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

People within PRSI Class A are those in industrial, commercial and service-type employment who are employed under a contract of service with reckonable pay of €38 or more per week from all employments, and Civil and Public Servants recruited from 6 April 1995.

Currently, there is no set number of hours per week that must be worked.

Until 1991 the threshold for access to social insurance was based on hours worked – 18 hours.

From April 1991 onwards, the person was insurable at the Class A rate of PRSI if their income equalled or exceeded £25 per week. This threshold was increased to £30 per week from April 1994 and upon conversion to Euro the £30 threshold became €38.

Therefore, based on the current minimum hourly rate of €9.80, an employee working under 4 hours per week gains access to the full range of social insurance benefits.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

State Pension (Contributory) Eligibility

Ceisteanna (623)

Michael McGrath

Ceist:

623. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the status of her plans to implement a total contributions approach in relation to the State pension (contributory); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5424/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

The Government intends to introduce a Total Contributions Approach (TCA) to establishing the level of entitlement for all new state pension contributory claims from 2020 onwards (TCA2020).

I launched a public consultation on the design of the full TCA to be introduced from 2020 on the 28th of May to which a wide variety of stakeholder groups were invited. A number of workshops were also held on the day to elicit views and feedback. All Oireachtas members were invited to a detailed briefing in Leinster House by my officials shortly afterwards. The consultation was open for over 3 months and the Department received almost 300 responses from individuals and organisations. Those submissions outlined the views of respondents on a number of issues, including the number of years required for a full pension, as intended as part of the consultation process.

I have recently been provided with an analysis of the views submitted in the consultation. Having considered this analysis, I intend bring a proposal to Government shortly, setting out the details of the scheme. When the Government has agreed the approach to be taken, I will initiate the work required to introduce this reform.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Partial Capacity Benefit Scheme Applications

Ceisteanna (624)

Paul Kehoe

Ceist:

624. Deputy Paul Kehoe asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the status of a partial capacity benefit application by a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5460/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

Partial Capacity Benefit allows a person who has been in receipt of Illness Benefit for six months and who may not have full capacity for work, to return to employment and continue to receive a partial or full payment from the Department.

The personal rate of payment is based on the assessment of the restriction on capacity for work i.e. moderate, severe or profound, where a person retains 50%, 75%, or 100% of their payment respectively.

The Partial Capacity Benefit claim from the person concerned was received on the 16th January 2019 and is currently being processed. The person concerned will be notified as soon as a decision has been made on his claim.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the deputy.

Pensions Reform

Ceisteanna (625)

Charlie McConalogue

Ceist:

625. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection further to Parliamentary Question No. 1303 of 7 September 2018, the position regarding the proposed legislation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5475/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

Since the end of September 2018, my Department has been examining the social insurance records of pensioners born on or after 1 September 1946 who were awarded state pension (contributory) on reduced post Budget 2012 rate bands. This work includes new claimants who were awarded reduced rate state pension (contributory) since the Government decision.

The required primary legislative provisions are contained in the Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registration Act 2018, enacted on 24 December 2018. Accompanying regulations will be introduced shortly which will allow certain decisions under the new arrangements to be made.

Over 100 temporary staff have been recruited to separately process the pension reviews. In some cases, additional information about gap periods in social insurance records is required from claimants who have been, or are about to be, awarded a reduced rate state pension (contributory). Given the number of pensioners to be reviewed this work will take a number of months to complete.

It is expected that the additional process to assess HomeCaring Period entitlement (including requesting additional information in some cases) and the calculation under this Total Contributions Approach (the 'aggregated contribution method') will be integrated into the existing claim decision process for all new claimants in Quarter 2, 2019.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.