I propose to take Questions Nos. 78, 100 and 104 together.
Since late September 2018, my Department has been examining the social insurance records of approximately 90,000 pensioners, born on or after 1 September 1946, who have a reduced rate State pension contributory entitlement on post Budget 2012 rate-bands. These payments are being reviewed under a new Total Contributions Approach (TCA) to pension calculation which includes provision for homecaring periods. My Department has already written to these pensioners to explain the process.
I have this week signed the necessary regulations, which together provisions in the Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registrations Act 2018, allows the increased payments to be made on foot of the reviews. The Department has already started issuing the outcome of reviews and the first increased payments will start to issue next week, in line with my previous commitments to this House. These increased payments will include arrears to the 30th March 2018, or the pensioner’s 66th birthday if later than that. Where pension rates do not increase as a result of this review, they will continue to be paid at their existing rate of entitlement. No one will be worse off as a result of this review.
Where possible, my Department will use information already held to assist in the reviews. In some, but not all, cases additional information is required from pensioners about unexplained gaps in their social insurance record to complete their review. In January, almost 24,000 requests for additional information were issued. These requests included details on how to provide the required information using the Department’s online services. Provision has been made for those who do not have access to a personal computer, or the internet, by providing a dedicated telephone number to request paper forms which will issue over the next two weeks. I am aware that some pensioners have reported difficulties accessing the online service and this is being examined as a matter of urgency.
I want to assure the Deputies that regardless of when a person’s review is processed, if they are due an increase their weekly rate will be adjusted without delay and arrears paid, backdated to 30 March 2018, or the person’s 66th birthday if later. Where a pension rate does not increase as a result of this review, the person will continue to receive their existing rate of payment. No one will be worse off as a result of this review. Given the numbers involved, it will take my Department a number of months to complete the reviews. Around 120 additional temporary staff have been recruited to help with this work.
I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputies.