Currently, PRSI credited contributions (credits) are awarded to former employees to cover gaps in social insurance where they are not in a position to pay PRSI contributions, for example during periods of unemployment or illness. Self-employed workers do not qualify for credits.
The Farm Assist scheme was introduced in 1999 to provide income support for low income farmers. It replaced the former Smallholders’ Unemployment Assistance payment. In line with the then existing arrangements for Unemployment Assistance (including Smallholders' Unemployment Assistance) and Pre-retirement Allowance, the non-welfare income of Farm Assist recipients was exempt from the payment of Class S PRSI for self-employed workers.
Recipients of Farm Assist who had previously paid Class S social insurance contributions had the option of paying voluntary contributions to maintain their social insurance record, provided they satisfied the qualifying conditions to do so. Since 1st January 2007, the exemption from Class S PRSI has been removed and those self-employed persons receiving Jobseeker’s Allowance or Farm Assist are subject to Class S PRSI as self-employed contributors on their self-employed income, provided their annual income is €5,000 or more.
Any self-employed person, including farmers, with an annual income less than €5,000 can pay voluntary contributions to maintain their social insurance record for pensions purposes, once qualified to do so.
A person aged 66 or over with insufficient PRSI contributions to qualify for a full rate State Pension (Contributory) may claim a State Pension (Non-Contributory) if they have an income need. The current maximum weekly personal rate is €237, which is over 95% of the maximum State Pension (Contributory) rate. While it is means-tested, there are very significant disregards which are to the benefit of claimants, and a significant majority of such pensioners are paid at the full rate.
I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.