Free Travel Scheme Administration

Ceisteanna (60)

Thomas Byrne

Ceist:

60. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the extent of data sharing between Irish Rail and her Department on the free travel scheme and public services card. [50357/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

Periodically, the Revenue Protection and Prosecutions Manager in Irish Rail submits a written request to my Department to ascertain whether a customer’s (details provided by Irish Rail) entitlement to Free Travel is valid or revoked and if revoked, from what date.  These written requests are made under section 132 of the Railway Safety Act 2005, as amended and section 41(b) of the Data Protection Act 2018, as amended.  In such cases, my Department confirms whether the Free travel entitlement is valid, or if the entitlement was revoked, confirms the date of revocation and the date the person concerned was notified of the cessation of their entitlement. 

To date in 2019, 33 such requests were received by my Department; in 2018, 35 such requests were received; and, in 2017, 32 requests were received.  I am advised that there is no record of the number of such requests (if any) received for 2016.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

JobPath Programme

Ceisteanna (61)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

61. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection her plans for JobPath; if the companies contracts will be renewed for 2020; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50368/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

The JobPath employment service commenced in 2015 and, under the terms of the contracts signed with the providers, was to run for at least six years comprising 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 has agreed with the JobPath providers to extend phase one of the contracts for a further twelve months until the end of 2020, which will enable referrals to continue throughout next year.  This is not a renewal of the JobPath contracts, but the execution of the extension clauses of the existing contracts. 

In September, my Department published a Request for Tender for consultancy services, to provide advice and support regarding the future of the State’s public employment service and assist with the procurement of contracted public employment services in Ireland, covering the period 2021-2025.  The winning tenderer is due to commence work in early December and and it is anticipated that they will provide the Department with a final report in Q2 2020.

Unemployment Levels

Question No. 63 answered with Question No. 41.

Ceisteanna (62)

Willie Penrose

Ceist:

62. Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the number of unemployment blackspots nationwide; her activation plans to increase employment in these areas; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50364/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

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.  I am advised that it did not use the internationally accepted methodology for the measurement of unemployment.

I am advised that my Department does not collect data at the electoral division level, and so it is not currently possible 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.

This analysis of unemployment blackspots is only available from the Census of Population; the CSO has no corresponding small-area statistics for more recent periods.  In general, they are small residential areas within larger urban areas.

The approach adopted by my Department is that the services delivered by Intreo are focused on unemployed individuals rather than on areas.  This means, therefore, that those areas where unemployed individuals are most concentrated will also be the areas that receive a greater share of income support payments and activation and employment services.  The focus of those services is to support unemployed people to access and prepare for jobs in the wider labour market of that area.  This involves substantial co-operation between my Department and other public authorities, particularly those engaged in education and training under the Department of Education and Skills.

The Government’s Pathways to Work Strategy is to ensure that as many jobs as possible go to people on the Live Register and to other groups that tend to have limited access to the labour market.  Ensuring that work always pays and preventing long-term dependency on welfare are also important aspects of this strategy.  Under this policy, employment services and activation supports are heavily concentrated on the areas of highest unemployment.

I am confident that policy to reduce unemployment, together with continuing economic recovery, will build on significant improvements in the labour market seen in recent years.

Question No. 63 answered with Question No. 41.

Tús Programme

Ceisteanna (64)

Martin Heydon

Ceist:

64. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the actions taken by her Department to increase levels of participation on Tús schemes in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50354/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

Tús provides work placements for a twelve month period for those who are on the Live Register for a year or more.  The initiative helps break the cycle of long-term unemployment by providing a work routine and valuable work experience.  It is a positive initiative that enables people who are long-term unemployed to make a contribution to their communities whilst up-skilling themselves for prospective future employment.

The welcome increase in the number of people at work and the continued reduction in Live Register numbers have had an impact on recruitment to all work programmes.  In this regard, the Department has implemented a number of changes to the terms and conditions of participation on Tús, in order to broaden potential availability to a greater number of people on the Live Register. 

There are two types of referral in place for the Tús initiative:

1. Random Selection - whereby customers are selected randomly and invited to participate on Tús.

2. Assisted referral or self-referral by the customer through a Case Officer or LES Mediator.  30% of available Tús places can be filled through assisted or self-referral. 

Officials from my Department work closely with Local Partnership companies to identify and refer potential participants to the Tús initiative and all requests from the local Partnerships for participants are considered. 

Ballyfermot, Newbridge and Edenderry Intreo Centres have responsibility for administering the Tús initiative in County Kildare in co-operation with the local Partnerships.  The practice in place is that Tús leaders contact these Intreo Centres when approved vacancies arise and candidates for these vacancies are randomly selected by the Department.   

To date this year, 915 customers in Co Kildare have been invited by the Department to participate on the Tus initiative and over 700 of these have been referred for interview and placement to local Partnerships.  

My Department keeps all aspects of its activation programmes under review to ensure the best outcomes for participants and communities whilst also having regard to the much reduced number of people claiming jobseeker payments.

The Government is mindful of the large number of work programme places involved in service delivery and other valuable services to individuals and communities across Ireland.  In this regard if any programme is experiencing particular recruitment difficulties, they should contact their local Intreo Centre for assistance.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Social Welfare Benefits Waiting Times

Ceisteanna (65)

Aindrias Moynihan

Ceist:

65. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection her plans to ensure reviews of social protection applications are dealt with in a more prompt manner; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50377/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

My Department is committed to providing a quality service to all of its customers.  This includes ensuring that requests for reviews of decisions on social welfare  claims are processed as soon as possible, and that the outcomes are notified promptly. 

At all times, every effort is made to complete the reviews as efficiently as possible.  Measures to improve the quality of decisions are ongoing and include management checks at local level and the development of guidelines and advice.  My Department's Decisions Advisory Office provides complex case advice on the legislative criteria and advise on best practice.  Deciding Officers avail of the comprehensive range of e-training and inspector-led training programmes and materials, all quality assured by policy holders.

Officials of the Department meet regularly with the Social Welfare Appeals Office to identify and resolve issues that give rise to requests for reviews and appeals.  This collaboration ensures a more consistent application of the legislation and guidelines by officers making decisions on claims, reviews and appeals.

Reducing review processing times is a on-going priority for my Department and officers continue to work hard to achieve this.

I am advised that Department does not currently maintain statistics on the length of time taken to process reviews.  The time taken depends on a number of factors including the type of review being carried out, the complexity of the conditions being considered and the information available at the time of the request.  Longer term schemes with medical or caring conditionality are relatively more complex to decide and some may need a medical assessor’s opinion and consequently take longer.  In other cases, it may be necessary to involve a social welfare inspector to investigate means or the provision of care, all of which takes time.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Public Services Card

Ceisteanna (66)

Thomas Byrne

Ceist:

66. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the position regarding the recent ruling of the Data Protection Commissioner on the public services card. [50358/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

The Public Services Card (PSC) was provided for in legislation in 1998 when it was introduced alongside the PPS Number to replace the previous Revenue and Social Insurance Number and the Social Services Card.  It acts as an identifier for access to a broad range of public services.  Successive Governments have since reaffirmed this policy both in Government decisions and through legislation.

In October 2017, the Data Protection Commission (DPC) commenced an investigation into the SAFE / PSC process and delivered its Final Report to the Department on 15th August this year.  On 17th September, the Department published the report of the DPC together with a summary of its own response to the findings of the report.

On the basis of strong legal advice from the Attorney General’s Office, I am satisfied that the processing of personal data related to the PSC does, in fact, have a robust legal basis, that the retention of data is lawful and that the information provided to users satisfies the requirements of transparency. 

I am advised that the findings in the DPC report do not have the force of law until such time as they are formalised in an Enforcement Notice.  To date, the DPC has not issued an Enforcement Notice.  On receipt of the Notice, the Department will consider its scope and terms and will respond appropriately at that time.

In the meantime, the Department will continue to conduct the SAFE registration process and issue PSCs.  It will also retain the supporting documentation collected as part of the SAFE process.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Carer's Allowance Eligibility

Questions Nos. 68 and 69 answered with Question No. 41

Ceisteanna (67, 76)

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

67. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection her plans to extend carer's allowance to persons working over the prescribed hours in cases in which the person being cared for is in a training centre; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50152/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

76. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection her plans to extend carer's allowance to persons working over the prescribed hours in cases in which the person being cared for is in school; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50151/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 67 and 76 together.

Carer’s Allowance is a means-tested payment, made to a person who is providing full-time care and attention to a child or an adult who has such a disability that they require that level of full-time care.  As of end of October 2019, there were 83,085 people in receipt of Carer's Allowance.  The projected expenditure on Carer's Allowance in 2019 is almost €840 million. 

In order to support a carer’s continued attachment to the workforce and broader social inclusion, carers may engage in some limited employment, education or training, while still being regarded as being in a position to provide full-time care.  During this time, adequate provision must be made for the care of the relevant person. 

As part of Budget 2020, I increased the number of hours that family carers can work, study or attend a training course outside the home, from 15 to 18.5 hours per week.  Those in receipt of Carer’s Allowance, Carer’s Benefit and the Carer’s Support Grant can avail of this change which will come into effect from Monday 6 January 2020.

Over 1,200 additional family carers are expected to qualify for payment as a result of this change at an estimated cost of €11.6 million.  Also, any carer currently working less than 18.5 hours per week can avail of the additional hours.

An increase to 18.5 hours will accommodate increased participation by carers in work or training to strengthen their connection with the labour force, while also reducing the social alienation experienced by many carers. 

Carer's Allowance acts as an income support for those who cannot earn an income due to their full-time caring responsibilities.  I consider the new limit of 18.5 hours to represent a reasonable balance between meeting the care recipient's requirement for full-time care and the carer's need to maintain contact with the workforce.  Any further changes to this condition would need to maintain this balance and also be considered in a budgetary context.

I hope this clarifies the issue for the Deputy.

Questions Nos. 68 and 69 answered with Question No. 41

Social Welfare Benefits Reviews

Question No. 71 answered with Question No. 41.

Ceisteanna (70)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Ceist:

70. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the reviews carried out by her Department since 2011 on means-testing of means-tested social welfare schemes and payments to ensure they are equitable and do not act as a disincentive to increasing income from employment or good practice in terms of thrift and saving; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50169/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

My Department examines the impact of potential policy measures on income and poverty rates, as well as employment incentives, on an ongoing basis.  These measures include changing how income is treated in means assessments, and the level of income thresholds and disregards.  Analyses often involve carrying out a social impact assessment which estimates the likely distributive effect of changes on household income using the ESRI’s SWITCH model. 

As well as carrying out reviews, I, and my officials, regularly engage with the community and voluntary sector, including at the Department’s annual Pre-Budget Forum, to learn from their insights about how our schemes and services impact people’s lives across the country and how they might be improved.

Employment is the best, and most sustainable, route out of poverty for most people.  Therefore, means testing policy aims to achieve a balance between ensuring resources are targeted towards those with the greatest need while supporting people to take up employment opportunities.  For example, over the last four Budgets, income disregards for one-parent family and jobseekers transitional payments have increased from €90 to €165 per week, enhancing the incentive for a lone parent to take up employment.

As well as these ongoing assessments, my Department has focused on specific areas of means testing.  Last year, my Department reviewed how income generated from rent-a-room relief affects payments and, earlier this year, the financial impact of maintenance payments on means assessments was reviewed.  In addition, consideration of means assessments and related issues feed into many policy decisions and strategies.  For example, the 2012 Review of Department of Social Protection Employment Support Schemes, the Make Work Pay Report for People with Disabilities and many research projects and evaluations under Pathways to Work – the Government's overarching policy framework for activation and employment policy.

Question No. 71 answered with Question No. 41.

Social Welfare Benefits Waiting Times

Ceisteanna (72)

Niamh Smyth

Ceist:

72. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the waiting times for the processing of applications for carer's allowance and carer's benefit; the number of applications waiting to be processed by county in tabular form; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50149/19]

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 also require more detailed investigation and interaction with the applicant, thereby lengthening the decision making process.  Delays can also arise if information is required from social security organisations in other jurisdictions and where additional information has been requested from the applicant but remains outstanding.  

I am pleased to report that the time taken to process a new claim for both Carers Allowance (CA) and Carers Benefit (CARB) has reduced over recent months.  The average time taken to award a CA claim was 10 weeks which is an improvement on the August figure of 16 weeks.  The average time taken to award a CARB claim was 10 weeks which is an improvement on the August figure of 13 weeks. 

I wish to reassure the Deputy that claim processing is kept under active review, with additional and target attention currently focused on Carer's Allowance.  This includes, since September, the assignment of a number of temporary staff to assist with processing new applications for Carer's Allowance, coupled with the implementation of a new business process.  There has been a similar focus on CARB claim processing.  These changes have worked well and have had a positive outcome in reducing claim processing times.  It is intended that current processing times will be maintained over the coming months.

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

I have attached a breakdown of the number of applications in process by county in tabular form.

Table: Carers Allowance/Benefit in process as of October 31

County

Number of Carers Allowance Claims Pending

Number of Carers Benefit Claims Pending 

Carlow

67

4

Cavan

100

12

Clare

95

13

Cork

441

79

Donegal

202

32

Dublin

986

166

Galway

209

35

Kerry

147

29

Kildare

163

28

Kilkenny

75

12

Laois

84

9

Leitrim

34

3

Limerick

219

29

Longford

51

2

Louth

138

25

Mayo

137

18

Meath

127

29

Monaghan

49

6

Offaly

111

14

Roscommon

73

16

Sligo

65

9

Tipperary

204

15

Unknown

91*

0

Waterford

115

11

Westmeath

94

12

Wexford

154

19

Wicklow

122

13

Outside Republic of Ireland

4

6

Total

4,266

646

* End of month report - 91 CA claims unscanned at end month so breakdown by County unavailable.

Jobseeker's Allowance Data

Question No. 74 answered with Question No. 41.

Ceisteanna (73)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

73. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the number of persons registered as being in receipt of short-term jobseekers’ allowance and long-term jobseeker’s allowance payments, respectively; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50367/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

At the end of October there were 135,240 persons in receipt of a jobseeker's allowance payment from my Department, of this number 47,615 were in receipt of the payment on a short-term basis i.e. less than 1 year and the remaining 87,625 were long-term recipients i.e. greater than 1 year.

Question No. 74 answered with Question No. 41.

Departmental Strategies

Question No. 76 answered with Question No. 67.

Ceisteanna (75)

Willie O'Dea

Ceist:

75. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the reason the new roadmap for social inclusion 2019 to 2025 has not been published; if the roadmap and targets set will need to be revised in view of the latest SILC data; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50349/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

The new Roadmap for Social Inclusion 2020-2025 will include data from the 2018 EU Survey on Income and Living Conditions (SILC), which was released by the CSO on 28 November, with any necessary adjustments made to the targets. 

The new social inclusion strategy "Roadmap for Social Inclusion 2019-2025", is being finalised and I expect that it will be published shortly.

Question No. 76 answered with Question No. 67.

Widow's Pension Eligibility

Ceisteanna (77)

John Brady

Ceist:

77. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if she will consider allowing an entitlement to a widow’s pension in certain circumstances and not solely dependent on marital status; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50251/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

The Widow’s, Widower’s and Surviving Civil Partner’s pension is paid to the husband, wife or surviving civil partner of a deceased person and is available to those who satisfy the necessary PRSI contribution conditions, either on their own record or on that of the deceased spouse or civil partner, provided the applicant is not cohabiting. 

The legal context governing relationships such as marriage or civil partnership is regulated by the Minister for Justice and Equality.  Entering into a marriage or civil partnership is a legal act, which confers both rights and obligations on both parties that do not exist in law between cohabiting couples.  Widows, widowers and surviving civil partners, who become bereaved, therefore, lose someone who had legal duties towards them, and the social welfare code recognises this by providing a pension to them, subject to certain conditions.

It was for these reasons that the social welfare supports for widows and widowers were extended to surviving civil partners from 1 January 2011, when the provisions of the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010 came into force.

Awarding widows pensions, or a similar benefit, to people who are not legally widows, widowers or surviving civil partners would involve a significant income support policy change and could also be very costly.  The basis on which a person would become entitled to such a pension, would require significant consideration and raise complex challenges.  Accordingly, any changes to eligibility criteria for widow's pension would need to be considered in the overall policy and budgetary context.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.