Local Improvement Scheme Funding

Ceisteanna (595)

Robert Troy

Ceist:

595. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development if further funding will be made available in 2019 to assist counties in carrying out local improvement scheme works in the coming months; and the level of funding he expects to be allocated to each county council in this regard. [7943/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Rural)

The Local Improvement Scheme, or LIS, is a programme for improvement works on small private or non-public roads in rural areas. The scheme is funded by my Department and is administered through the Local Authorities.

As the Deputy may be aware, there was no dedicated funding for this scheme for a number of years due to constraints on public expenditure. However, I was very conscious of the underlying demand for the scheme in rural areas throughout the country.

I reintroduced the LIS in September 2017 and allocated a total of €17.5 million to Local Authorities for LIS roads in 2017. In 2018, I allocated over €20 million for LIS roads in two phases, the second of which is currently being completed.

On 7th February 2019, I announced that I am making €10 million available in a new round of funding for LIS, and individual Local Authority allocations have been published on my Department's website.

I will be closely monitoring the scheme over the coming months and will make decisions regarding any further funding in due course.

Mobile Telephony Services

Ceisteanna (596)

Michael Moynihan

Ceist:

596. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the details supplied by Cork County Council on mobile phone black spots; the number of black spots identified; the steps being taken to address these black spots; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7964/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Rural)

In 2017, officials from my Department, the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment and a small number of Local Authorities met to examine the potential for mapping mobile phone blackspots in Ireland.

On foot of these meetings, an invitation was issued in late 2017 to all Local Authorities to provide data on 5-6 prioritised local blackspots.

Some Local Authorities provided details of more than the 5-6 blackspots requested. However, the intention was only to identify areas of immediate priority for the purposes of the exercise in question, rather than to compile a definitive list of blackspots across the country. Cork County Council identified 12 priority blackspots.

While the exercise was informative, it was not comprehensive. Of the thirty-one Local Authorities, only seventeen returned data to feed into the exercise. The majority of Local Authorities did not have the capacity to carry out technical testing. Furthermore, the methods used to collect the data varied.

Simultaneously, mobile network operators and infrastructure providers were increasing the number of mobile phone sites in service, as well as upgrading existing networks. As a consequence, the data that was collected in 2018 only represented a snapshot in time for certain areas and could not be interpreted as a definitive source of information regarding mobile phone blackspots. Nor would it be a fair reflection of the current situation, as network developments are taking place on an ongoing basis.

ComReg will shortly be publishing a national map of mobile phone coverage for 2G, 3G and 4G services. This map will show the quality of mobile phone coverage across the county and is a key deliverable of the Mobile Phone and Broadband Taskforce. My Department will continue to work with Local Authorities and telecommunications providers throughout 2019 to ensure that new infrastructure is targeted to the areas most in need.

Departmental Contracts Data

Ceisteanna (597)

Mattie McGrath

Ceist:

597. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development if his attention has been drawn to cost overruns on contracts within his Department with a value in excess of €10 million that came in more than 10% over budget in each of the years 2016 to 2018, inclusive, and to date in 2019; if so, the details of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8428/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Rural)

The Department of Rural and Community Development has not directly undertaken any capital projects since its establishment in July 2017.

The capital funding available to the Department is utilised at programme level to support local authorities and others in the delivery of individual capital projects. Such programmes include the Town and Village Renewal Scheme, Outdoor Recreation Infrastructure Scheme, CLÁR, Community Enhancement Programme, Libraries Capital Investment Programme, and the LEADER Programme. The projects involved are generally small in nature, and there are no capital projects funded under these schemes with a cost of €10 million or greater.

In general, an agreed maximum grant is agreed with the relevant sponsoring agency, which must then manage project costs and deliver the project within budget and in accordance with the provisions of the Public Spending Code.

Public Procurement Contracts Data

Ceisteanna (598)

Niall Collins

Ceist:

598. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the number of State contracts that were not awarded to the lowest tender or bid in each year since 2011 to date in his Department or bodies under the aegis of his Department; the reason the lowest tender or bid was not chosen; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8806/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Rural)

The question, as I understand it, relates to all tenders of €500,000 or over.

The Department of Rural and Community Development was established in July 2017, and to date has not awarded any contracts valued at €500,000 or above.

The Department complies with the relevant Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER) procedures and guidance on procurement. The guidance provides for contracts to be awarded to the most economically advantageous tender, where this is decided upon objective grounds. This is equally applicable to all tenders and strictly related to the subject matter of the contract.

With respect to bodies under the aegis of my Department, we are currently collating that information and will respond directly to the Deputy when that process is complete.

Community Employment Schemes Supervisors

Ceisteanna (599)

Dara Calleary

Ceist:

599. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the position on pension claims by community employment scheme supervisors; the number of times the community employment departmental forum has met since January 2018; if her attention has been drawn to the Dáil Éireann motion of April 2018 supporting the claims of community employment scheme supervisors; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7661/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

CE supervisors and assistant supervisors made a claim, through their union representatives, for the allocation of Exchequer funding to implement a 2008 Labour Court recommendation relating to the provision of a pension scheme. Although this issue relates to CE supervisors and assistant supervisors, such individuals comprise just one small group within the wider community and voluntary sector.

I would like to clarify that CE supervisors are employees of private companies in the community and voluntary sector that receive state funding. They are not employees of my Department or public servants, and as such were not subject to pay reductions, pension contributions or the Pension-related Deduction (PRD) under the provisions of the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (FEMPI), which only applied to public servants. Supervisors pay a PRSI Class 'A' contribution towards the state contributory pension. This pension has a maximum personal rate payable of €12,695 per annum increasing to €12,956 in March.

While my Department funds wages and training costs in respect of CE participants and supervisors, it does not - and has not - provided provision for funding for CE supervisor pensions. Employers, including CE sponsoring organisations, are legally obliged to offer access to at least one Standard Personal Retirement Savings Account (PRSA) under the Pension (Amendment) Act 2002.

The motion called for the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to meet with unions with a view to addressing the issue of CE supervisors’ pension provision. The issue was examined by a Community Sector High-Level Forum, chaired by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. A number of Departments including my own Department were represented on this group, as were the unions and Pobal.

A detailed scoping exercise was carried out by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in 2017 in order to comprehensively examine and assess the full potential implications of providing such a pension scheme. A meeting of the Forum took place on Thursday, 23 November 2017, where the findings of this exercise were shared with members of the Forum. A follow-up meeting to deal with technical questions arising from the exercise took place on Friday, 15 December 2017.

This scoping exercise clearly highlighted that the provision of any such pension scheme presents very significant issues for the Exchequer, with a potential cost to the State of between €188 million per annum and €347 million depending on the size of the sector, which is difficult to ascertain.

It is important to note that this cost excludes any provision for immediate ex-gratia lump sum payment of pension as sought, which could, depending on the size of the sector, entail a further Exchequer cost of up to €318 million.

It continues to be the position that state organisations are not the employer of the particular employees concerned and that it is not for the State to provide funding for such pension scheme provision. These employees are, or were, employees of private companies notwithstanding the fact that the companies concerned are, or were, in receipt of State funding.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Working Family Payment Applications

Ceisteanna (600)

Tom Neville

Ceist:

600. Deputy Tom Neville asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the status of a working family payment application by a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7665/19]

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 03 October 2018.

Their application was referred to a local Social Welfare Officer (SWI) for further clarification. The relevant SWI has confirmed that the report will be completed shortly.

On receipt of the completed report from the SWI, their WFP application will be processed without delay and the person concerned will be notified of the decision.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Social Welfare Benefits

Ceisteanna (601, 614, 648)

Seán Sherlock

Ceist:

601. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the status of the convention on social security between Ireland and the United Kingdom. [7668/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Niamh Smyth

Ceist:

614. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if a matter (details supplied) regarding a carer's allowance post Brexit will be clarified; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7937/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

648. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the extent to which adequate provisions are being made to ensure that recipients of a social welfare payment continue to receive their entitlement uninterrupted in cases in which the entitlement is dependent on contributions in the UK and here, regardless of whether they are domiciled here or in the UK, with particular reference to the post-Brexit situation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8443/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 601, 614 and 648 together.

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 recently and the process required to ratify the agreement is ongoing. 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. We moved a motion on this matter in this House last Tuesday and I will be discussing it with the Select Committee on Thursday (21 February).

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) which serve the same purpose as the agreement I have just mentioned. These amendments are being introduced in line with the Government’s Brexit priority of maintaining the Common Travel Area. I will be discussing these provisions with the Joint Oireachtas Committee tomorrow (Wednesday 20 February).

Deputy Smyth specifically asked about payments for carers from my Department. There will be no change to the qualifying conditions for such payments arising from Brexit.

I hope this clarifies the position.

Social Welfare Benefits

Ceisteanna (602)

Niamh Smyth

Ceist:

602. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the payment options available to a person (details supplied) in respect of a life-long illness. [7676/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

Invalidity pension (IP) is a payment for people who are permanently incapable of work because of illness or incapacity and who satisfy the pay-related social insurance (PRSI) contribution conditions.

The Department received a claim for IP from the lady concerned on 30 October 2018.  Her claim was disallowed on the grounds that the contribution conditions for the scheme were not satisfied.  She was notified on 14 January 2019 of this decision, the reasons for it and of her right of review and appeal.

The lady concerned requested a review of this decision and following a review of all the information available a deciding officer has confirmed the original decision to disallow the claim on the grounds that the contribution conditions are not satisfied.  She was notified on 15 February 2019 of the outcome of the review.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Pension Provisions

Ceisteanna (603, 604)

Michael McGrath

Ceist:

603. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the number of successful matches the host mailing service in her Department has made in the time since the revised protocol was put into place in October 2013 between pension scheme providers and beneficiaries; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7714/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Michael McGrath

Ceist:

604. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if enquiries from persons in relation to tracing unclaimed pension entitlements come under her aegis; if such enquiries are responded to by her Department; if the host mailing service and associated efforts are limited solely to enquiries from pension scheme administrators; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7715/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 603 and 604 together.

The Department had an arrangement with pension companies where a person's pension had matured and the company had been unable to contact the person.

The pension company provided a letter with the person's details and where the Department held a more recent address, the letter was forwarded on to the person at that address. This enabled the person concerned to contact the pension administrator if they so wished. The Department did not provide any information to the pension administrator.

As persons contacted in this way would have made contact with the pension companies themselves and not with the Department, it is not possible to state how many persons benefited from this.

The Department has suspended the provision of this service pending the receipt of legal advice on the application of the provisions of the General Data Protection Regulation. I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Community Employment Schemes Operation

Ceisteanna (605)

Maureen O'Sullivan

Ceist:

605. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if a community employment scheme will be extended for another year in the case of a person (details supplied). [7721/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

Community employment (CE) is the largest employment programme administered by my Department. It aims to enhance the employability and mobility of disadvantaged and unemployed persons by providing work experience and training opportunities for them within their communities. In addition, it helps long-term unemployed people to re-enter the active workforce by breaking their experience of unemployment through a return to work routine.

One of the Government’s primary strategies is to tackle unemployment. To date, policy and actions have been effective in reducing long-term unemployment and these continue to focus on supporting the long-term unemployed. The Pathways to Work 2016-2020 strategy prioritises long-term unemployed people by engaging systematically with this group and through employment and training programmes such as CE.

My officials will examine the case raised by the Deputy and revert in due course.

I trust that this clarifies the matter.

State Pension (Contributory) Eligibility

Ceisteanna (606)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

606. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection further to Parliamentary Question No. 606 of 5 February 2019, the other avenues the person can explore to increase their pension (details supplied). [7725/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

According to the records of my Department, the person concerned has a total of 835 full-rate paid and credited contributions from 1962 to 2011, inclusive. This results in an assessed yearly average of 17 contributions, which qualifies the person for a state pension (contributory) rate of 75%, based on their Irish record. As the person was born before 1 September 1946, their entitlement was not affected by the Budget 2012 changes. The person's eligibility for an EU pro-rata pension was also examined, based on their combined Irish and UK social insurance records.

As the person was already entitled to receive a higher, maximum rate increase for qualified adult payment on their spouse's state pension (contributory), this more financially beneficial payment continued. This rate is equivalent to approximately 90% of the maximum rate of state pension (contributory).

It is open to the person concerned to apply for a means-tested state pension (non-contributory) in their own right. The maximum personal rate of state pension (non-contributory) is currently €232 per week, which is approximately 95% of the maximum rate of contributory pension. Entitlement to state pension (non-contributory) is subject to a joint means test. Items which count as means include cash income, including foreign pensions, the value of any property (excluding the couple’s own home) and the value of any savings and investments which a person or their spouse may have. In order to qualify for the state pension (non-contributory), the applicant must be habitually resident in the State.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Comprehensive Employment Strategy for People with Disabilities

Ceisteanna (607)

Michael McGrath

Ceist:

607. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the supports available to prospective employers that may wish to employ young adult school leavers with a diagnosis such as ASD; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7793/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

Through the Comprehensive Employment Strategy, the Government recognises the importance to people with disabilities of participation in employment.  As part of the strategy, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection (DEASP) is committed to improving employment outcomes and removing barriers to employment for persons with a disability.

The DEASP supports for people with disabilities have been designed to enable persons with a disability to achieve their employment ambitions by focusing on the individual person’s ability and capacity rather than taking an approach that focuses on a particular type of disability.

The Department engages regularly with employers to highlight the benefits of employing people with disabilities and the Department promotes workplace supports for people with disabilities on an ongoing basis. For instance, the Employer Information Pack (which is available on the Department’s website at (http://www.welfare.ie/en/downloads/employerpack.pdf) contains information on supports available to people with disabilities and employers.  The range of supports and services available to employers are also regularly highlighted at, for example, “road shows” and Job Fairs directed at both employers and potential employees.

The Department provides a range of work-related supports for employers who recruit and employ people with disabilities. These include:

- The Wage Subsidy Scheme, which is a financial incentive (subsidy) available to private sector employers designed to encourage the employment of people with disabilities.

- The Reasonable Accommodation Fund, which assists employers to take appropriate measures to enable a person with a disability / impairment to have access to or retain employment by providing a range of grants.  These grants and supports include the Workplace Equipment Adaptation Grant, the Personal Reader Grant, the Job Interview Interpreter Grant and the Employee Retention Grant.

- The EmployAbility service, which is a specialist service (delivered under contract on behalf of the department).  The EmployAbility service supports both people with disabilities and their employers through job coach support both pre employment and in employment.

In addition to the above and in recognition of the challenges faced by persons with disabilities during their transition period between school (and other settings) and employment / further education, the Department introduced the ‘Ability’ programme in 2018.  The ‘Ability’ programme provides funding (via Pobal) to 27 organisations to support young people (aged 15-29) with disabilities during their individual transition into employment or further education/training through the provision of a range of person-centred supports.  The programme has been designed to support some 2,600 young people with disabilities over a three-year period.  Details of the services being provided under the ‘Ability’ umbrella are available on the Pobal website at https://www.pobal.ie/programmes/ability-programme/.

I trust this clarifies the issue for the Deputy.

JobPath Programme

Ceisteanna (608)

Paul Kehoe

Ceist:

608. Deputy Paul Kehoe asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if consideration has been given to exempting persons (details supplied) in receipt of jobseeker's allowance from participation in JobPath in view of the circumstances; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7812/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

Retained fire-fighters who are otherwise unemployed are entitled to a jobseeker’s payment in respect of days that they are engaged in fire-fighting or training, subject to the usual qualification conditions in relation to means or social insurance contributions. They are also required to satisfy the statutory conditions for the receipt of a jobseeker’s payment of being available for and genuinely seeking full-time work.

Taking account of the unusual circumstances of retained fire personnel, the Social Welfare and Pensions (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2013 carried amendments to both jobseeker’s benefit and jobseeker’s allowance that put the treatment of retained fire fighters on a legislative basis.

These amendments were introduced with particular regard to the vital service provided by this group, particularly in rural communities where the fire service is almost exclusively staffed by retained personnel.

The legislation now provides that, when a retained fire fighter is on call, this will not result in a disallowance for a jobseeker’s payment on grounds of availability.

However, all retained firefighters in receipt of a Jobseeker’s payment must engage with my Department’s activation processes, including those delivered through JobPath. Customers referred to activation services who are retained fire-fighters will have all activities including meetings with their personal advisor scheduled around their firefighter commitments and the case officer will be flexible in the provision of the service in that respect.

Activation is intended to be a positive experience tailored to the individual needs and circumstances of the jobseeker, with the aim of his / her progressing to suitable, sustainable full-time employment.

Illness Benefit Appeals

Ceisteanna (609)

Eamon Scanlon

Ceist:

609. Deputy Eamon Scanlon asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the status of an illness benefit appeal by a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7818/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

The Social Welfare Appeals Office has advised me that an appeal by the person concerned was referred on 8th January 2019 to an Appeals Officer who will make a summary decision on the appeal based on the documentary evidence presented or, if required, hold an oral hearing.

The Social Welfare Appeals Office functions independently of the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection and of the Department and is responsible for determining appeals against decisions in relation to social welfare entitlements.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Back to Work Allowance Payments

Ceisteanna (610)

Thomas Byrne

Ceist:

610. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the reason a back-to-work enterprise allowance was ceased for a person (details supplied). [7841/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

This person concerned was awarded Back to Work Enterprise Allowance (BTWEA) from 6th August 2018. Following the six-month BTWEA review the case officer disallowed the claim stating that there is little evidence provided of activity and no evidence of incoming work. The case officer also noted that there is no business bank account, no evidence of invoicing or receipts in respect of income generated since its establishment in 2018.

Should the person concerned wish to discuss his case in greater detail, or should he have additional information to support his application, he should contact my office to arrange an appointment.

I trust that this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

State Pension (Contributory)

Ceisteanna (611)

Tom Neville

Ceist:

611. Deputy Tom Neville asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if she will address a matter regarding the case of a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7884/19]

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 three 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 to 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 cannot, at this stage, pre-empt the Government decision as to what the final detail of that model will be. I can confirm, however, that the model will include provision for homecaring periods.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Illness Benefit Waiting Times

Ceisteanna (612)

Bríd Smith

Ceist:

612. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection her plans to address issues with the six-day waiting period for claimants entitlement to sick pay while absent due to sickness from work (details supplied). [7892/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

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. When the current waiting day arrangements for illness benefit were changed in 2014 to six days from the previous three, the then projected full-year annual savings of extending the number of waiting days was €22 million per year.

In the many instances where occupational sick pay arrangements were in place, employees in effect continued to receive their income from employers. For those who did not have access to this but needed financial support during waiting days because they had no other income, they could claim supplementary welfare allowance from my Department.

My Department regularly reviews its supports and payments schemes to ensure that they continue to meet their objectives. Given the cost implications, any change to the current arrangements would have to be considered in a budgetary context.

Wage Subsidy Scheme

Question No. 614 answered with Question No. 601.

Ceisteanna (613)

Joe Carey

Ceist:

613. Deputy Joe Carey asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the rationale behind the wage subsidy scheme having an entry point of a minimum of 21 hours' work per week; if consideration was given to those persons with a disability who are not in a position to work the minimum number of hours per week but could work for a shorter period in a week; if there has been exceptions in the administration of the scheme to allow a person to work for less than 21 hours per week and the employer being eligible to avail of the wage subsidy scheme; if the scheme will be reviewed to enable those who are not in a position to work the minimum 21 hours to do so on a case-by-case basis in conjunction with the local Intreo office and employer; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7896/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

The rationale in relation to the Wage Subsidy Scheme (WSS) having a minimum of 21 subsidised hours is to increase the likelihood of people with disabilities obtaining and sustaining employment in the open labour market. It does this by providing financial incentives to private sector employers.

To receive a wage subsidy, the private sector employer must offer employment to a person with a disability to work for at least 21 hours per week and the subsidy is payable for a maximum of 39 hours a week. Employment contracts offered must be for a minimum of six months' duration and the employee should be subject to and have the same rights as per the conditions of employment as any of the employer's other employees.  There are no exceptions made for an employer to avail of a wage subsidy for an employee working less than 21 hours per week.

Through the Comprehensive Employment Strategy, the Government recognises the importance for people with disabilities of participation in employment.  As part of the strategy, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection (DEASP) is committed to improving employment outcomes and removing barriers to employment for persons with disabilities.

The DEASP supports have been designed to enable people with a disability to achieve their employment ambitions by focusing on the individual’s ability and capacity. The Department offers a range of supports to people with disabilities who may not be in a position to, or wish to, work full-time.  Some of these supports include:

- The Department’s INTREO service is available to any person with a disability who wishes to avail of the service. People with a disability may, on a voluntary basis, seek an appointment with an employment supports case officer to discuss their employment ambitions and develop a personal progression plan.  Staff in Intreo offices have undertaken training to better support persons with disabilities who want to pursue further education, training or work opportunities.

- EmployAbility is a specialist service (delivered under a contract arrangement in 23 locations around the country on behalf of DEASP) which works with the Department’s Intreo and Local Employment Services.  EmployAbility participants are people with a disability who are able to work a minimum of eight hours per week and who need the support of a job coach to obtain employment in the open labour market.

- Partial Capacity Benefit (PCB) is designed for people who are in receipt of Invalidity Pension or Illness Benefit (for at least six months) and who have some capacity for work.  There is no restriction on participant earnings or the number of hours they can work.

The Department’s employment support schemes for people with disabilities, including the WSS, are kept under review to ensure that they meet their policy objectives. Any potential changes to these schemes can only be considered as part of the wider Budget and estimates process.

Question No. 614 answered with Question No. 601.

State Pension (Contributory)

Ceisteanna (615)

Eamon Scanlon

Ceist:

615. Deputy Eamon Scanlon asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection when a paper application form inviting pensioners to fill in gaps in their records will issue; when pension increases and back payment will issue; if she will address the difficulties being experienced on the MyWelfare.ie website; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7948/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

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.

Last week I signed the necessary regulations, which together with provisions in the Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registrations Act 2018, allow the increased payments to be made on foot of the reviews.  My Department has already started issuing the outcome of reviews and the first increased payments will start to issue this week.  These increased payments will include arrears to the 30 March 2018, or the pensioner’s 66th birthday if later than that.  Where pension rates do not increase as a result of this review, payments will continue to be made 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, with a dedicated telephone number provided to support and assist pensioners making their applications.  Provision has also been made for those who do not have access to a personal computer, or the Internet, who can use the dedicated line to request paper forms, which will issue to them over the next two weeks.

Given the numbers involved, it will take my Department a number of months to complete the reviews, and approximately 120 additional temporary staff have been recruited to help with this work.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

State Pension (Contributory)

Ceisteanna (616)

Alan Kelly

Ceist:

616. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection when the difficulties being experienced on the website MyWelfare.ie will be resolved; and when a paper application form inviting pensioners to fill in gaps in their records will be issued. [7959/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

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.

Last week I signed the necessary regulations, which together with provisions in the Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registrations Act 2018, allow the increased payments to be made on foot of the reviews.  My Department has already started issuing the outcome of reviews, and the first increased payments will start to issue this week.  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, payments will continue to be made 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, with a dedicated telephone number provided to support and assist pensioners making their applications.  Provision has also been made for those who do not have access to a personal computer, or the internet, who can use the dedicated line 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.

Given the numbers involved, it will take my Department a number of months to complete the reviews, and approximately 120 additional temporary staff have been recruited to help with this work.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

State Pension (Contributory)

Ceisteanna (617)

Jackie Cahill

Ceist:

617. Deputy Jackie Cahill asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if she will address the concerns being raised by members of a group (details supplied) about when the pension increases and back payments will be issued; if she will address the difficulties being experienced on the website MyWelfare.ie; when a paper application form inviting pensioners to fill in gaps in their records will be sent; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7970/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

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.

Last week I signed the necessary regulations, which together with provisions in the Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registrations Act 2018, allow the increased payments to be made on foot of the reviews.  My Department has already started issuing the outcome of reviews, and the first increased payments will start to issue this week.  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, payments will continue to be made 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, with a dedicated telephone number provided to support and assist pensioners making their applications.  Provision has also been made for those who do not have access to a personal computer, or the Internet, who can use the dedicated line to request paper forms, which will issue from this week.

Given the numbers involved, it will take my Department a number of months to complete the reviews, and approximately 120 additional temporary staff have been recruited to help with this work.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Disability Allowance Applications

Ceisteanna (618)

Tom Neville

Ceist:

618. Deputy Tom Neville asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the status of a disability allowance for a person (details supplied). [8001/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

Following a successful appeal, this gentleman has been awarded disability allowance (DA) with effect from 11 July 2018, when he sent in his application.

The first payment will be made by his chosen payment method on 27 February 2019. Arrears of payment due will issue as soon as possible.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

State Pension (Contributory)

Ceisteanna (619)

Clare Daly

Ceist:

619. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection when the paper application forms will issue to pensioners to allow them to fill in details of gaps in their PRSI records and apply for home care credits. [8017/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

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.

Last week I signed the necessary regulations, which together provisions in the Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registrations Act 2018, allow the increased payments to be made on foot of the reviews. My Department has already started issuing the outcome of reviews, and the first increased payments will start to issue this week.  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 to them from this week.

Given the numbers involved, it will take my Department a number of months to complete the reviews, and approximately 120 additional temporary staff have been recruited to help with this work.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.