The means test for Carer's Allowance is one of the most generous means tests in the social welfare system, most notably with regard to spouse’s earnings. Since April 2008, the income disregard has been €332.50 per week for a single person and €665 per week for a couple. This means that a couple can earn in the region of €37,500 and qualify for the maximum rate of Carer's Allowance. A half-rate Carer's Allowance is also payable with other welfare payments.
The conditions attached to payments of Carer’s Allowance are consistent with the overall conditions that apply to social assistance payments generally. This system of social assistance supports provides payments based on an income need with the means test playing the critical role in determining whether or not an income need arises as a consequence of a particular contingency – be that illness, disability, unemployment or caring. Carer's Allowance acts as an income support for those who cannot earn an income in the open labour market due to their caring responsibilities. The continued application of the means test not only ensures that the recipient has a verifiable income need but that resources are targeted to those with greatest need.
Deductions included for Carer's Allowance include PRSI, union dues, superannuation (pension contributions) and travel expenses. This is in line with most social assistance payments. The proposal by the Deputy to assess means on net disposable income minus family expenses could potentially include taking account of costs such as mortgage repayments, dependent children, college fees, Fair Deal contributions, medical costs, etc. Any such change to include other costs and deductions in the calculation of income would have significant budgetary implications and would give rise to inconsistencies in how means tests are applied across schemes. It would also significantly increase the complexity of the means assessment and inevitably prolong the assessment process.
The formula for assessing means from capital (savings, shares and property) for Carer’s Allowance whereby the first €20,000 of capital is disregarded is line with most social assistance schemes. The assessment of capital reflects an expectation that people with reasonable amounts of capital and property are in a position to use that capital, or to realise the value of the property, to support themselves without having to rely solely on a means-tested welfare payment.
The matter of making the payment exempt from tax is a matter for the Revenue Commissioners.
In assessing weekly family income for Working Family Payment (WFP) purposes, most weekly social welfare payments are assessed. Budget 2012 contained a measure which provided for the assessment of Carer’s Benefit and Carer’s Allowance payments in determining entitlement to WFP. This measure brought the treatment of these two payments for WFP purposes into line with the treatment of all other primary social welfare payments. It also provided for a more consistent approach to the concurrent payment of WFP with other social welfare payments. Moreover, while this measure reduced a person’s secondary payment (WFP) it did so without affecting their primary payment, in this case Carer’s Benefit and Carer’s Allowance, therefore targeting available resources at those in most need.
For Working Family Payment purposes, any combination of hours that reaches 38 hours each fortnight is acceptable. A person can combine their weekly hours with their spouse, civil partner, cohabitant's hours to meet the condition. Therefore a carer’s working hours can be taken into account for WFP purposes. To take into account the hours worked by a carer for WFP purposes and to not assess the income into the household generated by those hours would be inequitable in terms of how income from all other earnings is assessed.
Finally, as of end of July 2019, there were 82,015 people in receipt of Carer's Allowance. The projected expenditure on Carer's Allowance in 2019 is almost €840 million. Any changes to qualifying criteria for these schemes, including income disregards, would have to be considered in an overall budgetary context.
I hope this clarifies the position for the Deputy.