Questions Nos. 624 and 625 answered with Question No. 616.

National Minimum Wage

Ceisteanna (626)

Michael Healy-Rae

Ceist:

626. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection her plans to put a trainee wage rate in place (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11510/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

Legislation governing the national minimum wage is set down in the National Minimum Wage Act 2000 and the National Minimum Wage (Low Pay Commission) Act 2015. These Acts provide for the setting of a national minimum wage (NMW) and also provide that in specified circumstances, such as younger workers and trainees, a reduced, sub-minimum rate may be applied.

In September 2015, the then Minister requested the Low Pay Commission to examine the appropriateness of the sub-minimum rates as provided for in the National Minimum Wage Act 2000 with regard, in particular, to their impact on youth unemployment rates and participation in education.

The Commission undertook a consultation process on this subject in line with its evidence based approach to making recommendations to Government and received 15 submissions in total. The Commission's final report was published on 20 February 2018.

Having examined all available evidence and submissions, and considered a range of options, the Commission recommended the abolition of training rates. The Commission had heard evidence in submissions of the training rates being paid in order to reduce wage costs rather than as part of a structured training programme. The Commission found that the lack of clear definitions around training rates left them open to abuse. In light of these considerations and the low usage of the training rates the Commission was of the view that training rates should be abolished. The Commission encouraged sectors to register for state approved apprenticeship programmes, which are under the remit of the Department of Education and Skills, if they felt that a period of structured training was required.

In its report the Commission also recommended simplifying the rates of minimum wage for those aged under 18 to 20 as follows:

- Employees under 18 would receive a minimum of 70% of the NMW

- Employees aged 18 would receive a minimum of 80% of the NMW

- Employees aged 19 would receive a minimum of 90% of the NMW

- Employees aged 20 and over would receive the full NMW.

These recommendations were accepted by Government and the amendments to make the necessary legislative changes to the National Minimum Wage Act 2000 were implemented via the Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2018. The changes came into effect on 4 March 2019.

The Low Pay Commission is an independent authoritative body on matters relating to the national minimum wage and I am confident that the Commission gave consideration to the impact of any recommendations it made in regard to training rates.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

EU Directives

Ceisteanna (627)

Noel Grealish

Ceist:

627. Deputy Noel Grealish asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection her views on the need for mediation between the Department of Finance and her Department over differences in the proposed transposition of the IORP II directive regarding a derogation for small single member pension schemes as was provided in the previous directive on this issue. [11770/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

I want to assure the Deputy that the IORP II Directive will be transposed into Irish law in accordance with the Government Decision of 9 January 2019. Government approved the approach of applying the requirements of the Directive to all funded occupational pension schemes to enhance pension scheme governance and the consumer protection of pensioners, members and future members. Responsibility for the transposition of the Directive lies with my Department.

The over-arching objective of IORP II Directive is to facilitate the development of occupational retirement savings in the EU. The transposition of the Directive will result in significant improvements to the regulation of funded occupational pension schemes in Ireland. Transposition will raise governance standards, improve trustee qualification and suitability, and increase supervision through enhanced powers for the Pensions Authority.

It had been suggested that single person pension schemes should be exempt from the application of IORP II rules on the basis that the scheme members are competent in the management of their own affairs and that the governance requirements are unduly onerous. However, the value of investments held in many schemes fell substantially during the financial crisis. This highlighted the need for stricter supervision and regulation of schemes, especially for small schemes investing in unregulated markets. Money saved for pension purposes should be properly protected to ensure that people have adequate income for their retirement years.

Pension policy comes within my remit and in carrying out this role I consult with the Minister for Finance on various matters. Given that the State incentivises and supports pension savings through tax relief, my officials consulted with Department of Finance officials on this transposition, where the merit of the principle of improved regulation and consumer protection for pension savers as provided for in the IORP II Directive was agreed.

The application of the Directive is prospective, not retrospective. This means that existing investments and borrowings can remain in place. After transposition all single member schemes, including Small Self-Administered Schemes, who are the only schemes currently allowed to borrow, will not be allowed to enter into new borrowing arrangements, except for short term and liquidity purposes. All of their future investments will have to be made in accordance with the investment rules in the Directive.

Transposition of the Directive is also a key part of the Government’s Roadmap for Pensions Reform 2018-2023. The Roadmap was launched by the Government in February 2018 and details specific measures that will modernise our pension system.

Officials in my Department, supported by the Pensions Authority, are managing the transposition process for this Directive. This is a substantial Directive and preparation of regulations to transpose it is at an advanced stage. Codes of practice will also be issued by the Pensions Authority. Furthermore, to ensure that trustees of schemes are informed of their obligations under the Directive, the Authority will also undertake a communication campaign on the implementation of the Directive. The emphasis of this engagement will be on providing sufficient support, time and information in order for industry and trustees to plan for and make the changes needed.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

EU Directives

Ceisteanna (628, 630)

Eamon Scanlon

Ceist:

628. Deputy Eamon Scanlon asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the way in which the EU working time directive is interpreted here; the statutory basis of the directive here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12154/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Eamon Scanlon

Ceist:

630. Deputy Eamon Scanlon asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the way in which the EU working time directive (details supplied) is interpreted here; the statutory basis of the directive here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12252/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 628 and 630 together.

The EU Working Time Directive 2003/88 of the European Parliament and Council concerning certain aspects of the organisation of working time, was a consolidation of Council Directive 93/104/EC and Directive 2000/34/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council. The aim of the Directive is to protect workers' health and safety by ensuring that working hours meet minimum standards applicable throughout the EU.

The original Directive 93/104 was transposed into Irish legislation by the Organisation of Working Time Act, 1997. The 2003 Directive made some changes in respect of a number of categories of work including doctors in training, mobile transport, offshore work, and workers on board seagoing fishing vessels. These were transposed by sectoral regulations as follows:

- European Communities (Organisation of Working Time) (Activities of Doctors in Training) Regulations 2004,

- Organisation of Working Time (Inclusion of Transport Activities) Regulations 2004,

- Organisation of Working Time (Inclusion of Offshore Work) Regulations 2004,

- European Communities (Workers on Board Sea-going Fishing Vessels) (Organisation of Working Time) Regulations 2003.

Questions of interpretation are a matter for the Workplace Relations Commission, which adjudicates on complaints under the Organisation of Working Time Act and has an enforcement role in terms of its application. The Labour Court hears cases on appeal from a Workplace Relations Commission adjudicator's decision, and decisions of the Labour Court in such appeals can be enforced by the District Court.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Social Insurance

Question No. 630 answered with Question No. 628.

Ceisteanna (629)

Pearse Doherty

Ceist:

629. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the estimated cost of increasing the level at which the higher rate of employer PRSI commences at to €452.20 a week; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12156/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

The National Training Fund Levy (NTFL), collected alongside Employer PRSI for Classes A and H, increased by 0.1% from 0.8% to 0.9% from 1 January 2019. This means that Employer rates (combined PRSI and NTFL) for Classes A and H increased by 0.1% from 1 January 2019.

Currently, Class A employers pay PRSI at the rate of 8.7% where weekly earnings are between €38 and €386. Once weekly earnings exceed €386, the rate of employer PRSI is 10.95%.

The estimated cost to the Social Insurance Fund of raising the weekly 8.7% threshold to €425.20 and the estimated number of employments impacted by such a change are set out in the following table -

Thresholds:

Higher rate threshold

€425.20

Cost

€21.7 million

Employments affected

86,002

These estimates are based on the latest available data and reflect macro-economic indicators for 2019. It should be noted that the estimates do not take possible changes in employer behaviour arising from changing rate thresholds into account.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Question No. 630 answered with Question No. 628.

Departmental Records

Ceisteanna (631)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

631. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if all issues related to identity have been resolved in the case of a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11484/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

My Department has advised that it has been difficult to locate the individual's records on the basis of the information provided. If the Deputy can provide more details in relation to this person to my officials, further enquiries will be made.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Social Welfare Appeals Data

Ceisteanna (632)

John Brady

Ceist:

632. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the waiting times for appeal for all social welfare payments in tabular form. [11513/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

The average appeal processing times for 2018 and to date in 2019 are outlined in the following tables.

All claim decisions taken by the Department’s Deciding Officers and Designated Persons are appealable to the Chief Appeals Officer. In any year about 85% of all claims are awarded by the Department and just 1% are appealed.

Nevertheless, the Department is concerned that these cases are dealt with as quickly as possible.

Accordingly, a number of new Appeals Officers have joined the Appeals Office over the past 12-18 months, to replace staff leaving on retirement. Given the complexity of the appeals process it takes some time for new staff to be trained up and develop expertise and this has led to somewhat longer processing times during this period. The Chief Appeals Officer has advised me that appeal processing times continue to be a priority for her Office.

Significant efforts and resources have been devoted to reforming the appeal process in recent years. As a result, appeal processing times in respect of all schemes improved between 2011 and 2017 from 52.5 weeks for an oral hearing in 2011 to 26.4 weeks in 2017 and from 25.1 weeks for a summary decision in 2011 to 19.8 weeks in 2017. The corresponding processing times for the year 2018 were 30.0 weeks for an oral hearing and 24.8 weeks for a summary decision.

The time taken to process an appeal reflects a number of factors including that the appeals process is a quasi-judicial process with appeals officers being required to decide all appeals on a ‘de-novo’ basis. In addition, appeals decisions are themselves subject to review by the High Court and decisions have to be formally written up to quasi-judicial standards. Other factors that influence appeals processing times include the quality of the initial decision – in this respect the Department has changed the decisions process in respect of medical schemes, in order to provide more information to the claimant. I expect that this will help to reduce the number of appeals over time.

Finally, where a claimant has been refused a social welfare payment, regardless of the scheme involved, and is appealing that decision, if their means are insufficient to meet their needs it is open to them to apply for supplementary welfare allowance in the interim.

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.

Appeal Processing Times by Scheme 1 January 2018 – 31 December 2018

-

Average processing times (weeks)Summary Decisions

Average processing times (weeks)Oral Hearings

Blind Person’s Pension

33.7

27.7

Carer’s Allowance

24.3

28.4

Carer’s Benefit

22.2

25.6

Child Benefit

36.1

42.7

Disability Allowance

17.1

23.8

Illness Benefit

30.7

36.5

Partial Capacity Benefit

32.6

32.8

Domiciliary Care Allowance

31.6

36.2

Deserted Wife’s Allowance

70.6 (1 case)

Nil

Deserted Wife’s Benefit

28.7

69.1 (5 cases)

Farm Assist

44.0

47.8

Bereavement Grant

36.1

Nil

Death Benefit (Pension)

31.5

Nil

Working Family Payment *

29.4

40.1

Invalidity Pension

24.7

30.2

Liable Relatives

44.0

30.7

Maternity Benefit

30.4

30.7

Paternity Benefit

32.7

23.0

One Parent Family Payment

31.7

37.0

State Pension (Contributory)

39.9

50.2

State Pension (Non-Contributory)

32.2

43.0

Occupational Injury Benefit

36.0

50.7

Disablement Pension

34.3

34.6

OIB-Medical Care

17.5

Nil

Incapacity Supplement

38.7

29.7

Guardian's Payment (Contributory)

29.8

28.9

Guardian's Payment (Non-Contributory)

25.5

29.6

Jobseeker's Allowance (Means)

31.9

36.8

Jobseeker's Allowance (Payments)

25.2

31.4

BTW Family Dividend

30.8

Nil

Jobseeker's Transitional

30.1

28.5

Recoverable Benefits & Assistance

34.9

Nil

Pre-Retirement Allowance

64.0 (1 case)

29.9

Jobseeker's Benefit

25.1

28.5

Carer’s Support Grant

28.0

31.9

Insurability of Employment

53.0

63.9

Supplementary Welfare Allowance

20.7

29.1

Widow/Widower's Pension (Contributory)

35.0

32.8

Widow/Widower's Pension (Non-Contributory)

28.4

25.7

Widowed Parent Grant

45.1

43.7

All Appeals

24.8

30.0

* Previously called Family Income Supplement

Appeal Processing Times by Scheme 1 January 2019– 28 February 2019

-

Average processing times (weeks)Summary Decisions

Average processing times (weeks)Oral Hearings

Blind Person’s Pension

19.6

Nil

Carer’s Allowance

26.3

27.8

Carer’s Benefit

27.9

18.1

Child Benefit

33.4

48.7

Disability Allowance

17.0

21.8

Illness Benefit

36.5

35.3

Partial Capacity Benefit

37.8

Nil

Domiciliary Care Allowance

30.2

33.4

Deserted Wife’s Allowance

20.4

Nil

Deserted Wife’s Benefit

91.7 (1 case)

30.4

Farm Assist

26.9

27.6

Bereavement Grant

39.7

Nil

Working Family Payment *

30.5

32.9

Invalidity Pension

27.4

29.3

Liable Relatives

25.9

Nil

Maternity Benefit

36.2

Nil

Paternity Benefit

31.5

Nil

One Parent Family Payment

34.5

27.4

State Pension (Contributory)

36.4

41.8

State Pension (Non-Contributory)

40.2

39.9

Occupational Injury Benefit

32.3

63.5

Disablement Pension

30.3

34.1

Incapacity Supplement

Nil

39.3

Guardian's Payment (Contributory)

19.2

Nil

Guardian's Payment (Non-Con)

19.7

Nil

Jobseeker's Allowance (Means)

31.0

37.8

Jobseeker's Allowance (Payments)

24.8

32.5

BTW Family Dividend

30.6

Nil

Jobseeker's Transitional

32.5

40.2

Recoverable Benefits & Assistance

40.9

Nil

Jobseeker's Benefit

25.3

24.7

Carer’s Support Grant

26.3

34.0

Insurability of Employment

76.3 (7 cases)

96.6 (10 cases)**

Supplementary Welfare Allowance

20.9

24.3

Widow/Widower's Pension (Contributory)

38.0

36.2

Widow/Widower's Pension (Non-Contributory)

24.4

Nil

All Appeals

25.0

28.7

* Previously called Family Income Supplement

** Includes the finalisation of 2 exceptionally long-running cases

Local Employment Service

Ceisteanna (633)

John Brady

Ceist:

633. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the work undertaken on the future of the local employment service; and the initial work being carried out in respect of the service in its current form. [11514/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

My Department oversees the procurement process for the Local Employment Services (LES).

In looking to the future of the contracted public employment service, my Department commissioned Indecon to conduct a review of the Local Employment Services and Job Clubs. LES and Job Club providers were aware of the Indecon review and were consulted during the review process. This review was published in January and my Department hosted an information session with representatives of all the LES and Job Clubs in attendance on 25 January.

The process of procuring contracted public employment services for 2020 and beyond is still in its early stages and my officials are working to design a procurement model that will balance the need for value for money for taxpayers with the importance of preserving high-quality labour activation services. No final decisions have been made in this regard but my Department will continue to engage with relevant stakeholders.

Community Services Programme

Ceisteanna (634)

John Brady

Ceist:

634. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection her plans to make changes to or end a community employment scheme (details supplied) in view of plans for development at the scheme location; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11515/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

The scheme that the Deputy is referring to is a Community Services Programme. This is therefore not a matter for this Department and is proper to the Department of Rural and Community Development. The Deputy should raise this matter with my colleague, the Minister for Rural and Community Development.

Brexit Issues

Ceisteanna (635)

John Brady

Ceist:

635. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if all those in receipt of the winter fuel payment from the UK will continue to receive the payment in circumstances in which they are not in receipt of the fuel allowance post Brexit as per the convention on social security between Ireland and the UK; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11516/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

The Fuel Allowance Scheme represents a contribution towards a person's normal heating expenses. It is means tested and is paid only to customers who are getting a qualifying payment, either a State Pension or a means-assessed payment. The rate of fuel allowance is €22.50 per week or €630.00 annually. Currently the fuel season is 28 weeks, and the allowance can be paid weekly or in two lump sums of €315 each, being at the start of the fuel season in October and at the midway point in January.

I understand that the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) Winter Fuel Payment (WFP) is an annual tax-free payment made to eligible people to help towards their winter heating costs. It is a lump sum payment between £100 stg and £300 stg and in most cases it is paid automatically between November and December, to qualified persons. I also understand that as of winter 2012/13, people who live in the EEA or Switzerland who have “a genuine and sufficient link” to the UK are potentially eligible to receive the WFP, regardless of whether they previously had entitlement to it whilst living in the UK. This change occurred, following the 2011 European Court of Justice ruling (the ‘Stewart Case’). Prior to that, only people who had an entitlement to WFP before moving from the United Kingdom were eligible.

Post-Brexit, including in the event of a no-deal Brexit, Irish and British citizens will continue to enjoy the right to travel, live, and work between the UK and Ireland in the same manner as before. This is because of a long-standing arrangement known as the Common Travel Area (CTA).

Under the CTA, Irish and British citizens can move freely and reside in either jurisdiction and enjoy associated rights and entitlements, including access to employment, healthcare, education, social benefits, and the right to vote in certain elections. The CTA pre-dates Irish and UK membership of the EU and is not dependent on it. Both the Government of Ireland and the UK Government have committed to maintaining the CTA in all circumstances.

As part of that commitment, the Government has entered into a Convention on Social Security with the Government of the United Kingdom replicates the current arrangements that apply to the coordination of social security benefits between the two jurisdictions post-Brexit. There is no provision in the Convention which will change the existing practices in relation to fuel or other payments. Existing arrangements will continue.

School Meals Programme

Ceisteanna (636, 637, 638, 639, 640, 641)

Denise Mitchell

Ceist:

636. Deputy Denise Mitchell asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the number of schools in receipt of the school meals programme; the number that do not have DEIS status; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11559/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Denise Mitchell

Ceist:

637. Deputy Denise Mitchell asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the cost of extending the school meals programme to cover the cost of kitchen equipment, facilities or staff costs for those current recipients; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11560/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Denise Mitchell

Ceist:

638. Deputy Denise Mitchell asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the cost of developing a pilot for the school meals programme to youth services, early years settings and after-school programmes to address the issue of food poverty for children and young persons availing of those services; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11561/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Denise Mitchell

Ceist:

639. Deputy Denise Mitchell asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the consideration that has been given to extending the school meals programme to youth services, early years settings and after-school programmes; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11562/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Denise Mitchell

Ceist:

640. Deputy Denise Mitchell asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the cost of extending the school meals programme to cover schools that do not have DEIS status but that would otherwise have disadvantaged status under the Pobal HP deprivation index; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11563/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Denise Mitchell

Ceist:

641. Deputy Denise Mitchell asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the qualifying criteria for the school meals programme; if these have been reviewed or will be reviewed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11564/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 636 to 641, inclusive, together.

The school meals programme provides funding towards the provision of food to some 1,580 schools and organisations benefitting 250,000 children at a total cost of €57.6 million in 2019 representing an increase of €3.6 million over the previous year. The objective of the scheme is to provide regular, nutritious food to children who are unable, due to lack of good quality food, to take full advantage of the education provided to them. The programme is an important component of policies to encourage school attendance and extra educational achievement.

In recent years entry to the School Meals Scheme has been confined to DEIS schools in addition to schools identified as having levels of concentrated disadvantage that would benefit from access to the School Meals Programme. In the 2017/2018 academic year there were 1,214 schools benefitting from the scheme; 367 of these schools do not have DEIS status.

Participation in the scheme is entirely voluntary with the onus being on the individual eligible schools to make an application. Schools and organisations must reapply for funding in advance of each school year and are required to submit detailed records at the end of the school year. Funding is based on a rate of payment per meal, per child, per day. The maximum rates of payment and examples of food to be provided are contained in the following tabular statement.

Nutrition Standards for School Meals were published in September 2017 under the auspices of Healthy Ireland, Safefood and the HSE. The Standards are mandatory from the 2018/2019 funding year and organisations will be required to provide evidence of full compliance with them as part of the application and inspection processes.

As part of Budget 2019, it was announced that DEASP would commence a pilot scheme from September 2019, providing Hot School Meals in 36 schools for an estimated 7,200 children at a cost of €1 million for 2019 and €2.5 million in a full year. The premise of the pilot is to take account of the fact that the majority of schools don't have kitchen/canteen facilities and that the food be prepared off-site in such instances. Issues relating to capital expenditure within schools is a matter for the Department of Education and Skills. The focus on the pilot will be on primary schools and currently there are no plans to extend it to youth services, early years settings and after-school programmes.

I trust that this clarifies the position.

Tabular Statement - School Meals Food Clubs Rates of Payment

Meal

Max Rate of Payment (per child per day)

Minimum number of food items

Examples f Food to be Provided

Breakfast/Snack

€0.60

2 items

1 serving of wholemeal/wholegrain cereal or bread PLUS 1 serving of fruit OR 1 serving of milk, yogurt or cheese

Lunch

€1.40

1 substantial item + 1 small item + a drink

Wholemeal/wholegrain sandwich or roll containing 1 serving meat, poultry, egg or cheese and 1 serving salad PLUS 1 serving fruit PLUS a drink (e.g. water, milk, unsweetened juice)

Dinner

€1.90

Hot meal + drink

1 serving meat, poultry, egg, beans PLUS 1 serving potatoes, pasta or rice PLUS 2 servings vegetables/fruit PLUS a drink (Milk, Water, Unsweetened Juice)

Blind Person's Pension Eligibility

Ceisteanna (642)

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

642. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the reason the blind pension is not paid after a recipient reaches 66 years of age even though the recipient can receive it up to that date in addition to another social welfare payment; her plans to review this policy; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11597/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

Blind Pension (BP) is a means-tested payment for blind and visually impaired people between the ages of 18 and 66 who are habitually resident in Ireland. According to section 161A(a) of the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005 (as amended), a person shall be entitled to BP where the person has attained the age of 18 years but has not attained pensionable age. The payment is made up of a personal rate and extra amounts for a qualified adult and any child dependents.

The payment is administered by my Department, which contacts all BP recipients three months in advance of their 66th birthday in order to inform them that their BP payment will cease and invite them to apply for either the means-tested State Pension Non Contributory (SPNC) or the State Pension Contributory (SPC).

BP claimants would be expected to be financially better off on SPC or SPNC when 66 years or over as the weekly rate of pension is higher than for BP. As SPC is not a means-tested payment, a person can receive payment of SPC and continue to work or have other income. For those who wish to engage in work or self-employment, the earnings disregard for SPNC is also higher at €200 per week for both the claimant and their spouse.

On SPNC the first €30 of calculated means is disregarded whereas the first €7.60 is disregarded on BP.

Persons in receipt of the SPC or SPNC may also qualify for half rate Carer's Allowance.

Therefore in no case would it be expected that a claimant over 66 years of age would be financially better off on BP than on SPNC or on SPC. Any changes to the eligibility criteria for BP would have to be considered in the overall budgetary context.

Jobseeker's Payments

Ceisteanna (643)

John Brady

Ceist:

643. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection her plans to extend the length of time jobseeker's payments will be paid to two years for those obliged to retire by contract at 65 years of age early in 2020 and who will not qualify for a pension until they are 67 years of age; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11626/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

The Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2011 provided that State pension age will be increased gradually to 68 years from its current age of 66. The first increase to 67 years of age will be in 2021 and the second to 68 years of age in 2028. The purpose of these changes is to make the pension system more sustainable in the context of increasing life expectancy. This has significant implications for the future costs of State pension provision which are currently increasing by roughly €1 billion every 5 years.

There is no statutory 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.

Jobseeker’s payments are paid to eligible jobseekers aged 18 to 66 years. Any person who retires before reaching State pension age may apply for either jobseeker’s benefit (JB), a social insurance contribution based income support or means tested jobseeker’s allowance (JA), subject to them satisfying the rules of the schemes. Recipients may continue to get a jobseeker’s payment if they find part-time or casual work but they must be unemployed for at least 4 days out of 7.

JB 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 by Government having regard to the scope of the overall resources available for welfare improvements at that time.

Jobseeker's Allowance

Ceisteanna (644)

Niall Collins

Ceist:

644. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if the claim of a person (details supplied) will be reviewed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11627/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

As part of a Jobseeker's Allowance (JA) Self-Employed review project, the Social Welfare Inspector (SWI) requested the person concerned's income and expenditure details for the previous two years and sent their findings to the Deciding Officer (DO). The DO used this information to reassess means, and concluded that he was in receipt of income that was in excess of the JA rate applicable to their circumstances and disallowed the claim. The person concerned provided additional information and requested a review of the decision. The DO concluded there was no basis for a review and communicated this to the person concerned on the 30 January 2019. The person concerned may submit an appeal to the Appeals Office.

The person concerned met with a Community Welfare Officer (CWO) on 1 February 2019 but no application for assistance under Supplementary Welfare Allowance (SWA) has been recorded. He can submit an application for SWA providing the required supporting documentation to assist a Designated Person (DP) in making their decision.

I trust this clarifies matters for the deputy.

Departmental Staff

Ceisteanna (645)

Imelda Munster

Ceist:

645. Deputy Imelda Munster asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection her plans for the appointment of a new community welfare officer for Ardee, County Louth; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11630/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

The Department of Employment Affairs seeks to provide comprehensive income and employment support services to residents in County Louth, though our Intreo Centres in Dundalk and Drogheda, and the Branch Office in Ardee. Some concern has been expressed about the future delivery of community welfare services in Ardee following the retirement of the community welfare officer. I can assure the public that arrangements have been made to ensure the continuation of the service.

I trust that this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Departmental Offices

Ceisteanna (646)

Imelda Munster

Ceist:

646. Deputy Imelda Munster asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the steps that have been taken to source alternative accommodation for the community welfare service in Dunleer, County Louth, which was closed due to health and safety concerns in March 2018; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11631/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

The Department operated an outreach Community Welfare Services (CWS) clinic from HSE premises in Dunleer County Louth each Wednesday from 10am to 12 noon. An average of 7 customers attended, but most of these were enquiries that resulted in less than 1 payment a week.

Other claims for Dunleer, such as Jobseeker and One Parent Family Payment, were dealt with by Drogheda Intreo Centre, with some outlying areas dealt with by Ardee Branch Office.

On 21 March 2018, the HSE building manager informed my Department that the condition of the building had rapidly deteriorated and now posed a serious Health & Safety risk to customers and staff. The HSE stated that it did not intend to renovate the premises as no HSE staff were located there.

In light of the Health and Safety risks, my Department had no option but to close the clinic in Dunleer with immediate effect. Customers were directed to the Drogheda Intreo Centre which is 15 km away and on a main bus route. The CWS service in Drogheda is available every day of the week. If a customer is unable to visit the Drogheda office, arrangements are made to conduct a home visit.

The current service is operating well. Customers from Dunleer have access to a service in Drogheda throughout the week and are not confined to a half-day clinic once a week. Most enquires can be dealt with over the phone, saving customers the inconvenience of travelling. Any customers who have a difficulty getting to the office in Drogheda are facilitated with a home visit.

Enquiries were made of my Department’s Facilities Management Unit and the OPW to ascertain whether it was possible to secure alternative accommodation. Potential locations were examined, but all would have required a long lead-in time for the completion of negotiations, planning permissions and necessary alterations to render them suitable. There would also have been cost implications.

Under these circumstances, the use of alternative premises in Dunleer to provide a half-day clinic once a week would not improve service to customers.

I trust that this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.