Child Maintenance Payments

Ceisteanna (48)

John Brady

Ceist:

48. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the action she plans to take following the passing of the motion on child maintenance by Dáil Éireann in October 2019; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50253/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

A range of measures were put in place by the Government to support children and families, including lone parents, in Budget 2020.  These include: 

- Payment of a 100% Christmas Bonus in December 2019 to recipients of a long-term Social Welfare payment, including One-Parent Family Payment.

- Extension of the Hot School Meals scheme from September 2020 to 35,000 additional schoolchildren.

- €3 increase for qualified child dependants aged 12 and over in all weekly payments.

- €2 increase for qualified child dependants up to age 12 in all weekly payments.

- Increase in the Working Family Payment threshold by €10 per week for families with 1, 2 or 3 children, benefitting some 55,000 families, at a cost of €19 million from January 2020.

- Increases in the earnings disregard for working lone parents receiving One-Parent Family Payment or Jobseeker’s Transition Payment by €15 to €165 per week from January 2020, benefitting some 16,900 families.

The Family Law Acts place a legal obligation on parents to maintain their children.  In cases where the family unit has broken down these obligations continue to apply.  Relevant maintenance payments can be arranged either directly between the parties themselves, or with the assistance of supports from the Department of Justice and Equality, such as the Family Mediation Service and the Legal Aid Board, or ultimately through the Courts. 

As part of Budget 2020, €150,000 was allocated to my Department to examine international best practice in relation to maintenance payments by liable relatives and on how Ireland can achieve better outcomes in a proactive manner for families.  This allocation will be used to support a judge-led group which will provide recommendations as to how to make concrete and practical improvements in this complex area.

Preparatory work for the establishment of the judge-led group is underway and I expect that it will be in place early in the new year.

Carer's Allowance Waiting Times

Ceisteanna (49)

Joan Collins

Ceist:

49. Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the steps taken to reduce the waiting times to process carer’s allowance applications in view of the fact that it appears the waiting times have gone up recently; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50355/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

My Department is committed to providing a quality service to all its customers, ensuring that applications are processed and that decisions on entitlement are made as quickly as possible.

Processing times vary across schemes, depending on the different qualification criteria.  Schemes that require a high level of documentary evidence from the customer, particularly in the case of illness / caring-related schemes, can take longer to process.  Means-tested payments also require more detailed investigation and possible interaction with the applicant, thereby lengthening the decision making process.

I wish to reassure the Deputy that claim processing is kept under active review, with particular attention focused on Carers Allowance.  This included, since September, the assignment of additional staff to assist with processing new applications for Carers Allowance, coupled with the implementation of a new business process.  We have also increased the complement of medical assessors.  Although there is much work still to be done these steps are now yielding results and have had a positive outcome in reducing claim processing times. 

The time taken to process Carers Allowance (CA) applications has reduced over recent months.  During October the average time taken to award a CA claim was 10 weeks this compares with an average of 17 weeks in 2018 and is the lowest level in 10 years.  I understand that 10 weeks may still seem a long period to decide a claim however the complexity of the scheme, which is dependent on multiple conditionalities across two beneficiaries - the carer and the person in receipt of care - is such that these types of claim will always take longer to decide.  Nevertheless we will continue our efforts to further improve the service.

I can assure the Deputy of my Department's commitment to providing a quality service to all its customers.

JobPath Programme

Ceisteanna (50)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

50. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if she has carried out an audit on the companies that have been running JobPath in advance of their contracts being reviewed for 2020; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50369/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

JobPath is an employment activation service which supports jobseekers to secure and sustain full-time paid employment.  Following the completion of a rigorous public procurement process, two companies were selected to provide the JobPath service - Turas Nua and Seetec.

The terms of the contracts signed with the companies provide for two consecutive phases: phase one entailed four years of client referrals, while phase two entailed a ‘run off’ period during which time no additional clients were to be referred.  The contract includes an option to extend the term of referrals for a period no greater than two years.

My Department monitors all aspects of the JobPath providers’ performance.  This includes operating a robust inspection system, to monitor compliance with the service level agreement and the contract, including the suitability and standard of accommodation, staffing levels, Irish language compliance, customer service and customer feedback. 

To ensure that services are being delivered satisfactorily from the customers’ perspective, my Department has commissioned regular Customer Satisfaction Surveys.  The results indicate that the experience of customers has been consistently positive.  The econometric review of JobPath undertaken by my Department in partnership with the OECD, clearly shows that JobPath participants secure more employment and also remain in employment longer than those jobseekers who secured employment without JobPath and their weekly earnings are 17% higher.  The combined effect is to improve outcomes by  37% compared to non-participants.  As the Deputy may be aware, a detailed report from the Comptroller and Auditor General made no recommendations in regard to how the service is governed and found that the JobPath service is delivering in accordance with all aspects of the contract with my Department.  

As the contracts continue to be delivered in a satisfactory manner and in recognition for the need to retain important activation capacity, particularly in the context of Brexit uncertainty, my Department extended phase one of the contracts for a further twelve months until the end of 2020, which will enable referrals to continue throughout next year.

Live Register Data

Ceisteanna (51)

Willie Penrose

Ceist:

51. Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the number of persons on the live register who had previous stated employment in the construction sector; the breakdown of the figure for areas termed as unemployment blackspots; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50365/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

In the October Live Register published by the Central Statistics Office (CSO), 31,296 people reported that their last held occupation was in the construction sector.  This represented 17.3% of the total Live Register.

Over 57% of those who previously worked in the Construction sector are considered short-term unemployed, while just under 43% have been on the Live Register for more than one year.

Measurement of unemployment is solely the remit of the CSO, and the CSO’s Labour Force Survey is the official measurement of unemployment in the state.  Neither the Live Register nor the so-called "unemployment blackspots" can be used to measure unemployment in the state.   

The concept of “unemployment blackspots” was developed by the CSO following the 2016 Census, and was based on Census 2016 data, specifically electoral districts with 200+ people in the labour force on Census night 2016.  It did not use the internationally accepted methodology for the measurement of unemployment.

My Department does not collect data at the electoral division level, and so I am unable to answer this part of the Deputy's question.  If the Deputy would like information on the number of former construction workers on the Live Register broken down by county, officials in my Department will be happy to oblige.

Social Welfare Appeals Data

Ceisteanna (52)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

52. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the number of appeals in her Department in respect to various decisions made regarding applications for payment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50366/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

The Social Welfare Appeals Office  is responsible for determining appeals against decisions in relation to social welfare entitlements.  It was established under Statute and  discharges its functions independently of  both me and the Department.

I am advised that the total number of appeals waiting to be determined at the end of October 2019 was 9,739.  This includes all appeals at various stages of the appeals process including those with my Department awaiting submissions and those scheduled for oral hearings.

I am also advised that there has been an 20.2% increase in the receipt of appeals in the year to the end of October with 19,436 appeals compared to 16,166 appeals received in the same period in 2018. 18,660 appeals were finalised to the end of October 2019 compared with 15,171 in  the same period in 2018.  This is an increase of 23%. 

Of the 18,660 appeals finalised to the end of October 2019 3,974 (21.3%) were finalised as a result of a revised decision by a Deciding Officer in favour of the appellant.  This reflects the fact that many appeals include new evidence or documents not originally provided to the Department's Deciding Officer.  Of the remainder, 6,570 (35.2%) were allowed or partly allowed by an Appeals Officer, 6,939 (37.2%) were disallowed by an Appeals Officer and 1,177 (6.3%) were withdrawn.  This means that 56.5% of appellants had a favourable outcome to their appeal.

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.

With regard to processing times,  processing performance has in the past number of years been affected by a relatively large number of retirements in the office - although these staff have been replaced it takes time for a new Appeals Officer to reach full productivity.  Nevertheless data for 2019 show an improvement from 30 weeks for an oral hearing and 24.6 weeks for a summary decision in 2018 to 27.5 and 22.7 weeks respectively in 2019.  Although this is still too long additional resources have been allocated to the Appeals Office with seven additional Appeals Officers now in place compared to December 2018, and I am advised that this progress will continue.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Low Pay

Ceisteanna (53)

Paul Murphy

Ceist:

53. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if she will report on the high incidence of low pay within the meat industry; and her plans to address same. [50380/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection role in relation to wage setting is restricted to the setting of the National Minimum Wage on the basis of recommendations from the Low Pay Commission.

Legislation in relation to the setting of the National Minimum Wage has existed since 2000.  The Low Pay Commission was established in 2015 and its primary function is, on an annual basis, to examine and make recommendations on the national minimum wage, with a view to providing for adjustments which do not impact negatively on jobs or competitiveness.  The Commission thus takes an evidence-based approach to its recommendations, having regard to changes in earnings, productivity, overall competitiveness and the likely impact any adjustment will have on employment and unemployment levels.  

The most recent figures published by Eurostat in January 2019 show that Ireland has the second highest national minimum wage of any country in the EU at €1,656.2 per month, behind only Luxembourg whose minimum wage is €2,071 per month (for comparison purposes Eurostat converts countries’ hourly or weekly rates into monthly rates).  Allowing for purchasing power standards, Ireland drops to sixth place, but still remains in the group with the highest minimum wage rates in the EU.

Notwithstanding the problems recently faced in the Meat Industry the Government continues to assist low income earners with a number of in-work and other supports.  The Government continues its ongoing communication with all stakeholders of the sector to reach best possible outcomes.

The average earnings per week for the manufacturing sector as published by the CSO for Quarter 1 in 2019 increased by 3.5% from Quarter 4 in 2018, however manufacturing, among other factors, is subject to external competition and exchange rate fluctuations.

In terms of wage-setting generally, however, the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, through its responsibilities for industrial relations matters, has a role with regard to relations between businesses and employers and their employees, and in relation to wage-setting more particularly through mechanisms such as Registered Employment Agreements, Joint Labour Committees and Sectoral Employment Orders, which remain firmly in the industrial relations and wage bargaining spheres.

Pensions Reform

Ceisteanna (54)

John Curran

Ceist:

54. Deputy John Curran asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if she has brought forward proposals for a new total contribution pension scheme; if not, when she expects to do so; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50284/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

The introduction of a Total Contributions Approach (TCA) to establish the level of entitlement for all new state pension contributory claims was signalled by the then Government in the National Pensions Framework in 2010. 

Consultation is a very important part of the development and design of the new pension.  With this in mind, I launched a public consultation on the design of the TCA on the 28th of May 2018 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.

Shortly afterwards, Oireachtas members were invited to a detailed briefing by my officials in Leinster House.  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 the issues of most interest to them.

Having carefully examined the outputs of the consultation process, my Department is now designing the scheme and I intend to bring a proposal to Government in the next quarter setting out that design.  When the Government has agreed the approach to be taken, I will initiate the work required to introduce this reform.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Social Welfare Benefits Waiting Times

Ceisteanna (55)

Fiona O'Loughlin

Ceist:

55. Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the action being taken to address delays in processing applications within her Department; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50254/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

My Department is committed to providing a quality service to all its customers, ensuring that applications are processed and that decisions on entitlement are made as quickly as possible.

Processing times vary across schemes, depending on the different qualification criteria.  Schemes that require a high level of documentary evidence from the customer, particularly in the case of illness-related schemes, can take longer to process.  Similarly, means-tested payments can also require more detailed investigation and interaction with the applicant, thereby lengthening the decision-making process.  Delays can occur if a claim is submitted and all the necessary supporting documentation is not included.  If information is required from social security organisations in other jurisdictions, this can also affect processing times.

To help my Department to make timely and fair decisions on applications, applicants should ensure that they complete the application forms fully, attaching all the supporting documentation required as per the checklist provided on the application forms.  Applicants for illness-related schemes should provide, at the outset, all information they have in relation to medical conditions and the effect of those conditions on their capacity to work or their care needs.

I wish to reassure the Deputy that claim processing is kept under active review, with all possible steps taken to improve processing times and customer service.  This includes the assignment of additional resources, where available, and the review of business processes, to ensure the efficient processing of applications.  As indicated in a reply to a previous question a recent report from the Comptroller an Auditor General notes that the Department meets or exceeds performance standards on most of its schemes.  Illness related schemes given their complexity create particular difficulties, however I am pleased to report that substantial improvements have been made in the processing of the disability /caring schemes in recent months and my department will continue to work to maintain and embed these improvements.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

JobPath Programme

Ceisteanna (56)

John Brady

Ceist:

56. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection her plans for JobPath in 2020; if the plans will change in the case of a Brexit deal being agreed and passed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50249/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

As the Deputy is aware, my Department has executed the extension provisions in the existing contracts of both JobPath providers that will enable referrals to the JobPath service until end 2020. 

This decision was made partly in relation to the uncertainty caused by the Brexit process and its potential implications for the Irish labour market.  This uncertainty remains and it was therefore prudent that my Department took action to ensure that the Department retained its existing level of activation capacity.  

The extension of the JobPath service provides my Department with the opportunity to review all contracted public employment services.  My Department is undertaking this review with the aim of designing and introducing a comprehensive model that will incorporate various models and be fit for purpose for the Irish labour market from 2021 onwards.

Fuel Allowance Data

Ceisteanna (57)

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

57. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if there has been an increase in applications for the fuel allowance and the household benefits package to date in 2019; the number of recipients of both payments in 2018 and to date in 2019; the number of applications refused in each year; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50171/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

At the end of October 2019 there were 452,317 recipients of the Household Benefits package.  According to the latest figures available to my Department, there has been an increase of almost 3,400 applications for the Household Benefits package in the period from January to October 2019.  This represents an increase of around nine percent (9%) on the number of applications received during the same period in 2018. 

During the period from January to December 2018, 69,700 applications for the Household Benefits package were received, of which seventy seven percent (77%), or 53,600, were awarded.  Approximately twenty three percent (23%), or 16,000 applications were disallowed.  During the period from January to October 2019, 60,800 applications were received, of which almost 46,500, or seventy six point five per cent (76.5%) were awarded, with 14,300 applications disallowed.  

As at end October 2019, around 368,500 people were in receipt of Fuel Allowance.  This represents a slight reduction of around one percent (1%) on the number of recipients at the end of October 2018 - which was 372,300.  At the end of December 2018, there were almost 380,500 Fuel Allowance recipients.  Due to the payment of fuel allowance across different IT platforms, accurate numbers of disallowed fuel allowance claims is not readily available to my Department.  However, based on the information available, approximately 22, 000 Fuel Allowance claims were disallowed in 2018, with approximately 18,000 disallowed in 2019 to date.

The number of recipients of both Household Benefits and the Fuel Allowance at the end of October 2019 is 201,615, increased from the figure of 200,512 at the end of 2018.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Poverty Impact Assessment

Ceisteanna (58)

Willie O'Dea

Ceist:

58. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if the social welfare Estimates are poverty proofed each year; if not, her plans to poverty proof same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50351/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

The revised estimates volume for my Department contains context and impact indicators including three with a specific poverty focus: the at-risk-of poverty rate before social transfers; the at-risk-of-poverty rate after social transfers and the consistent poverty rates.

The most recent poverty data from the 2018 Survey on Income and Living Conditions was published by the CSO on 28 November 2019.  It shows that social transfers (excluding pensions) continued to perform strongly in reducing the at-risk-of-poverty rate, from 30.2% before social transfers to 14% after social transfers.  This equates to a poverty reduction effect of 54% in 2018; ensuring Ireland remains one of the best performing EU countries in reducing poverty through social transfers.

The 2018 consistent poverty rate was 5.6%, down from 6.7% in 2017.  This is the lowest rate since 2009 (when the rate was 5.5%).

My Department also undertakes ex-ante and ex-post social impact assessments of the main welfare and direct tax budgetary policies.  The Social Impact Assessment (SIA) is an evidence-based methodology which estimates the likely distributive effects of policies on household incomes, families and poverty.  The analysis is generated through the ESRI’s tax/benefit micro-simulation model, SWITCH.  The model simulates the impact of budgetary changes on a representative sample of households from the CSO Survey on Income and Living Conditions.  Social impact assessments using SWITCH are also used in relation to potential policy options and to assess the cumulative impact of budgetary policies.

Social Insurance

Ceisteanna (59)

Joan Collins

Ceist:

59. Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection her plans to deal with bogus self-employment which could be costing the State as much as €1 billion per annum. [50359/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

I am on record as stating very clearly that I am committed to tackling the issue of false self-employment. The deliberate mis-classification of a worker as a self-employed contractor, in a situation where they are actually working as an employee, is wrong.  I am progressing a number of initiatives to combat this.

The existing Code of Practice is being revised to bring it up-to-date in terms of case law and new developments in the labour market.  This Department, Revenue and the WRC are jointly producing a new Guidance document, which is expected to be finalised by the end of this year, following observations by ICTU and IBEC.

A dedicated unit of Social Welfare Inspectors – the Employment Status Investigation Unit (ESIU) – has been established and additional decision-making support in Scope Section has been redeployed, with a special focus on targeting and reducing false self-employment nationwide for the purpose of supporting employment rights and the integrity of the Social Insurance Fund.

There are approximately 350 Social Welfare Inspectors appointed nationwide who carry out work across PRSI and social welfare schemes, including the Special Investigation Unit (SIU) and the newly established ESIU.  Social Welfare Inspectors are engaged in a programme of employer inspections nationwide.

A total of 1,931 employer inspections have been carried out across the country by SWI’s this year up to the end of August (excluding the work of the ESIU).  The savings achieved so far this year from all PRSI inspections carried out comes to a total of €1.184m.  False self-employment cases form a portion of those figures.

SWI’s nationwide are engaged with renewed focus on a programme of employer inspections, with upskilling on false self-employment issues ongoing.

In this year to date, SIU have completed 1,214 employer inspections with outcomes of €762k in PRSI savings.  It is expected that SIU will more than double the number of employer visits in 2019 over 2018. 

Legislative proposals are also in train to underpin the increased inspections and strategic targeting approach.  These include anti-victimisation measures to give workers recourse to the Workplace Relations Commission if they feel they have been victimised by their employer as a result of questioning their employment status.

Legislation is also being drafted to introduce a new criminal offence of wilfully misclassifying a worker as being self-employed. 

In addition, a legislative amendment will place the Guidance Document on a statutory footing, once the final draft is agreed later this year.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.