Illness benefit is a short term payment made to insured people who are unable to work due to illness. The payment is funded by the social insurance fund (SIF) through the payment of PRSI contributions by workers and employers and, in the event of a shortfall between contributions received and benefits paid, the Exchequer. The fund is central to Ireland’s system of social protection and the Government needs to ensure that it can provide adequate and sustainable social insurance pensions and benefits for a growing and ageing population.
Current arrangements provide that payment of illness benefit begins from the seventh day of the illness. No payment is made for the first six days, known as “waiting days”.
Waiting days have been a long standing feature of the social insurance system and are a feature of similar social security schemes in many other countries. In other countries the waiting period can be greater than that which applies in Ireland and is often accompanied by a requirement for the employer to pay what is known as statutory sick pay during this waiting period. In Ireland many employers pay sick pay during this period without any statutory obligation to do so. Where employees do not have an occupational sick pay scheme they can avail of the supplementary welfare scheme during the waiting period.
In 2014 when the current waiting day arrangements for illness benefit were changed six days from the previous three, it was projected that the full-year annual savings would amount to €22 million per year.
My Department regularly reviews its supports and payments schemes to ensure that they continue to meet their objectives. There are no plans at present to change the number of waiting days for illness benefit. Given the cost implications, any change to the current arrangements would have to be considered in a budgetary context.