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Social Welfare Benefits

Dáil Éireann Debate, Thursday - 25 November 2021

Thursday, 25 November 2021

Ceisteanna (72)

Aengus Ó Snodaigh


72. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Social Protection if her attention has been drawn to the problems facing artists with disabilities as highlighted by a campaign (details supplied), arising from the means testing of the blind pension and disability allowance; and the measures she plans to introduce to ensure artists with disabilities are not forced to choose between earning from their work and maintaining their vital stable social protection support as is currently the case. [57939/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

At the end of September 2021 there were almost 156,000 persons in receipt of means tested disability payments from my Department, comprising 154,563 persons on Disability Allowance (DA) and 1,047 in receipt of the Blind Pension (BP).

The means assessment reflects the fact that there is an expectation that people with reasonable amounts of income or capital are in a position to use these resources to support themselves, so that social welfare expenditure can be directed towards those who need it most.

In the means test, cash income that is assessed includes any income from employment or self-employment (and spouse/partner, if applicable), income from a social security pension from another country and maintenance payments.

Capital assessed as part of the means test includes all monies held in financial institutions or otherwise, the market value of shares, as well as houses and premises owned by a claimant which may or may not be put to commercial use. The family home is never assessed as part of the means test, regardless of who is the legal owner.

Both DA and BP are structured to support recipients to avail of opportunities to pursue their own employment ambitions, be that self-employment or insurable employment.

When an individual commences employment, they can avail of an income disregard of €140 per week. In addition, a 50% taper on earnings between €140 and €350 is also applied, i.e., 50% of earnings in this band are disregarded for the purpose of the means test. Earnings above €350 are assessed at 100% i.e. for every euro earned above €350 a euro reduction is applied.

Income is assessed on an annual basis, and then divided by 52 to ascertain a person’s weekly means. The means assessment is intended to reflect the income the person may reasonably be expected to receive during the coming 12 months. Where this is not ascertainable otherwise, the income for the last 12 months can be taken as a guide, allowing for any factors which it is known will vary. Assessing a person’s income in this manner takes account of the fact that some people’s income is irregular, and they will earn more during some periods than others.

The conditions attached to payment of Disability Allowance and Blind Pension 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.

It should be noted that measures introduced, in Budget 2022, will see increases to the above as follows:

1. An increase in the earnings threshold above which means is fully assessed - of €25, from €350 to €375 per week - for both the Disability Allowance and Blind Pension.

2. An increase in the general weekly means disregard entry point for Disability Allowance from €2.50 to €7.60. Currently the first €2.50 of weekly means is disregarded for Disability Allowance. The effect of this measure will be to increase the weekly rate of payment by up to €5.10 per week for DA recipients who have means. This increase also has the effect of bringing the general weekly disregard for DA in line with that of BP.

These measures take effect from June 2022.

In addition to the above, the Department also provides the Supplementary Welfare Allowance (SWA) scheme for those whose means are insufficient to meet their needs and those of their dependents. This scheme includes Exceptional Needs Payments, Urgent Needs Payments and SWA Supplements (heat, travel and dietary supplements). These means tested payments may be made to help meet essential expenditure which a person could not reasonably be expected to meet from their weekly income.

The Department regularly reviews its supports and payments schemes to ensure that they continue to meet their objectives, while any proposed changes have to be considered in an overall policy and budgetary context.

Question No. 73 answered with Question No. 56.