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Gnáthamharc

Thursday, 25 Nov 2021

Written Answers Nos. 72-91

Social Welfare Benefits

Question No. 73 answered with Question No. 56.

Ceisteanna (72)

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

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.

Social Welfare Benefits

Ceisteanna (74)

Brian Leddin

Ceist:

74. Deputy Brian Leddin asked the Minister for Social Protection the specific social protection measures that will be funded in 2022 from the increase in the rate of carbon tax; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57598/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

The Programme for Government is committed to ensuring that increases in the carbon tax will be progressive. This means protecting the most vulnerable in society from the impacts of the tax. In 2020; the ESRI examined the options available to offset the impacts of a carbon tax increase on low income households.

In light of this research, the Government has committed to very significant increases in a targeted package of social protection supports in Budget 2022, which will offset the impact of the increased carbon tax on low income households.

The specific measures are:

- An increase to the Qualified Child Payment of €2 per week for children under 12 and €3 per week for children aged 12 and over;

- An increase in the Living Alone Allowance of €3 per week. People living alone are often the elderly or people suffering from a disability who are at higher risk of poverty. These groups are also likely to have higher energy needs than other households;

- An increase to the Fuel Allowance of €5 per week. This will compensate a broad range of lower income households for the additional energy costs they are likely to incur, due to an increase in the carbon tax. This measure will be combined with a broadening of the threshold for Fuel Allowance eligibility and an increase in the income allowed for the means test that is applied to applicants. The increase in the rate of payment was effective from Budget week.

- An increase in the income threshold for the Working Family Payment of €10 per week. Research has found that children in energy poverty have a greater likelihood of respiratory illness. Using carbon tax funds to compensate low paid employees with children, will contribute to improved health outcomes, particularly when combined with the increases in the qualifying child payment.

Analysis undertaken using SWITCH, the ESRI tax and benefit model, to simulate the impact of the carbon tax increase and the compensatory welfare package, estimates that the net impact of the combined measures ensures that households in the bottom four income deciles will see all of the cost of the carbon tax increase offset, with the bottom three deciles being better off as a result of these measures.

The total cost of these interventions is projected at approximately €146m in 2022. This will be funded by the additional carbon tax funds of €105m that have been allocated to the Department of Social Protection, with the remaining €41m cost met by the Exchequer.

Pension Provisions

Ceisteanna (75)

Niamh Smyth

Ceist:

75. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Social Protection the status of pension entitlements for community employment scheme supervisors and assistant supervisors; if further discussions have taken place with unions on this matter; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [58006/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

As the Deputy will be aware, CE supervisors and CE assistant supervisors have been seeking for several years, through their union representatives, SIPTU and Forsa, the allocation of Exchequer funding to implement a 2008 Labour Court recommendation relating to the provision of a pension scheme for CE supervisors and CE assistant supervisors who are employed by CE scheme sponsors. This claim creates some difficulties because the State is not the employer of the supervisors.

Within this context, officials from my Department and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform held discussions on proposals to progress and resolve this complex issue, while having regard to the wider budgetary framework. Department officials also held discussions with unions representing CE supervisors and CE assistant supervisors.

At the start of April this year, agreement was reached between the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and the Minister for Social Protection on proposals to resolve the long-standing issue. These proposals included a financial package.

Since that time, discussions on these proposals took place between my Department and the unions representing CE supervisors and CE assistant supervisors, in consultation with other relevant Government Departments; the Department of Expenditure and Reform and the Department of Finance.

Department officials wrote to both SIPTU and Fórsa recently setting out the terms of a full and final settlement. The total value of the financial element package now on the table is in excess of €24 million.

The final settlement has the potential to benefit up to 2,200 existing and former CE supervisors and CE assistant supervisors subject to certain qualifying criteria.

The proposal is currently under consideration by the representative unions.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Poverty Impact Assessment

Question No. 77 answered with Question No. 29.

Ceisteanna (76)

Brian Leddin

Ceist:

76. Deputy Brian Leddin asked the Minister for Social Protection the details of the distributional effects of budget 2022 and the modelled anticipated impacts on those most at risk of poverty, particularly those living alone; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57601/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

Every year, the Department of Social Protection carries out a range of social impact assessments on the welfare measures contained in the Budget, using the Economic and Social Research Institute’s tax-benefit microsimulation model. Social Impact Assessment is an evidence-based methodology which estimates the likely distributive effects of policies on household incomes, families and poverty. This informs decision-making leading up to the Budget and ensures that the most vulnerable are protected.

Budget 2022 included a Social Welfare package worth €558 million, providing across-the-board increases of €5 to weekly payments to pensioners, people with disabilities, carers, lone parents and working age people, with proportionate increases for qualified adults. The package also included:

- Increases to qualified child dependant payment, with the weekly rate for children aged 12 and over increasing by €3 to €48 and the weekly rate for children up to age 12 increasing by €2 to €40.

- An increase in the income threshold in the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance for single-parent households to bring it in line with two-parent households, along with a €10 increase in the payment for each qualifying child bringing it to €160 for children aged 4 to 11 years and €285 for children aged 12 years and older.

- An increase of €10 per week to the weekly income threshold for Working Family Payment regardless of family size.

- An increase in the weekly Fuel Allowance payment of €5, bringing it to €33 per week, along with a €20 increase in the weekly income threshold to €120 per week.

- The earnings limit for the weekly Disability Allowance payment will increase from €350 to €375.

- The weekly income disregard for Carer’s Allowance will increase to €350 per week for single carers and to €750 per week for carers with a spouse/partner, and the disregard when assessing Carer’s Allowance Capital/Savings will increase to from €20,000 to €50,000.

People who are living alone and are in receipt of a weekly welfare payment will benefit from the €5 per week increase to weekly payments, with those in receipt of the weekly Living Alone allowance also seeing that payment increase by €3 to €22 per week.

Details of the Budget 2022 social welfare package and examples of the impact of the different households can be found here: www.gov.ie/en/publication/318a9-budget-2022/#download-our-budget-fact-sheet.

The initial post budget-analysis of the Budget 2022 welfare package showed an estimated average increase in disposable household income of 0.4% (€2.70 per week), with above average gains of between 0.7% and 1.8% for lower-income households (income deciles 1-4). In general, social welfare measures primarily benefit the bottom deciles while tax changes tend to be more beneficial to middle to higher income groups. In terms of household type, the biggest estimated increases were for lone parents (0.7%/€4.50 per week), retired singles (1.5%/€5.90) and retired couples (0.7%/€7.20).

The full Social Impact Assessment of the welfare and income tax changes included in Budget 2022 is being prepared. It will include analysis of the impact of the budgetary changes on the income distribution; family type (single people with and without children; couples with and without children; retired singles and retired couples) and gender (male/female). It is envisaged that it will be published on www.gov.ie by January 2022 at the latest.

Question No. 77 answered with Question No. 29.

Employment Support Services

Question No. 79 answered with Question No. 22.

Ceisteanna (78)

Pauline Tully

Ceist:

78. Deputy Pauline Tully asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will reconsider her decision to terminate the contract of her Department with the local employment service in favour of introducing a private service; if she will halt the tendering process of this service until a proper engagement with the relevant stakeholders can develop a more suitable model; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [58039/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

My Department is now at an advanced stage in the first phase of a two-phase procurement of new employment services, following extensive consultations with existing service providers over the last number of years. I can assure the Deputy that the new service is not a privatisation of employment services. Instead, it is a shift to competitive procurement as required by good governance and the State’s legal obligations.

The possibility of retaining the current LES model, which was developed decades ago, with annual contracts under a closed procurement process, is not an option. My Department has been given clear legal advice from the Chief State Solicitor’s Office and the Attorney General that this process is not in keeping with our procurement obligations and there needs to be competitive procurement for future public employment services. In addition, my Department is responsible for ensuring good governance of employment service provision, which requires greater oversight and enhanced visibility of service provision.

My Department cannot ignore this legal advice. Nonetheless, my officials are striving to ensure that the new model does not create any barriers to the community and voluntary sectors or inhibit their ability to submit a high-standard tender for future services. For example, the Regional Employment Service model prioritises the provision of quality employment services and significant marks are awarded in the evaluation to community linkages and social value.

The RFTs for Phase two will issue prior to year-end and my Department has written to service providers outlining the revised timelines. Learnings from the Phase one procurement will be factored into the finalisation of the Phase two procurement process and my Department will continue to engage in ongoing dialogue with the various service providers and representative groups and will engage with them further, as appropriate, before finalising the RFTs for Phase two.

Question No. 79 answered with Question No. 22.

Rural Schemes

Ceisteanna (80)

Brendan Griffin

Ceist:

80. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Social Protection if the six-year limit will be removed from the rural social scheme given the disruption to community services by the removal of such participants from rural social schemes and the impact of the policy on the participants themselves, noting the challenges of progressing to further employment or upskilling after the conclusion of participants’ rural social scheme terms; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57966/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

The Rural Social Scheme (RSS) is an income support scheme that provides part-time employment opportunities for farmers and fishermen and women in receipt of specified social welfare payments, and who are underemployed in their primary occupation.

RSS is specifically designed and delivered to certain qualified people of working age whose income falls below certain limits. The valuable work undertaken by participants draws on their existing skills which may be further developed and shared throughout their participation.

During 2017 and 2018 the number of places funded on RSS was increased by 750, bringing the total number of places available to 3,350. A six-year time limit was also introduced for new RSS participants with effect from February 2017. The limit was introduced to ensure that there will be places available for newer cohorts of eligible persons and aligns the RSS with other employment support programmes. This only applies to new entrants to RSS from February 2017.

Prior to the introduction of the six year time limit, a RSS participant could remain on the RSS scheme for a significant part of their working life. This had the effect of limiting turnover of places on RSS and thereby reducing the opportunities for potential new entrants.

The first group of participants that will leave RSS on the basis of the 6-year rule will not arise until February, 2023 and those who leave may continue to be eligible for one of a number of existing employment supports such as Farm Assist, Fish Assist or Jobseekers Assistance, subject to certain qualification criteria.

The Department continually monitors all of its employment support programmes and intends to complete a review of RSS in 2022.

I trust this clarifies matters for the Deputy.

Social Welfare Benefits

Question No. 82 answered with Question No. 29.

Ceisteanna (81)

Seán Canney

Ceist:

81. Deputy Seán Canney asked the Minister for Social Protection her views on the current situation in which a carer whose sole income is the carer’s allowance cannot access the fuel allowance; if she plans to address this anomaly; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57012/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

The Fuel Allowance is a payment of €33.00 per week for 28 weeks (a total of €924 over a full fuel season) from October to April, to 369,000 low income households, at an estimated cost of €300 million in 2021. The purpose of this payment is to assist these households with their energy costs. The allowance represents a contribution towards the energy costs of a household. It is not intended to meet those costs in full. Only one allowance is paid per household.

The Government values the role of carers very much and it is for this reason that they receive significant income supports from my Department. In addition to Carer’s Allowance or Carer’s Benefit carers receive additional support in the form of Free Travel and Household Benefits (for those who live with the person for whom they care) and the annual Carer's Support Grant in respect of each person for whom they care.

While Carer's Allowance is not a qualifying payment for Fuel Allowance, a person in receipt of Carer's Allowance may avail of the fuel allowance payment in certain circumstances. Fuel Allowance is a household-based payment, and a carer will very often live with and care for a person in receipt of a qualifying payment for Fuel Allowance. Income from full rate Carer's Allowance is disregarded from the fuel means test, if the carer is providing full time care and attention to the Fuel Allowance applicant, his/her qualified spouse / civil partner or cohabitant or qualified child(ren).

The maximum rates of Carer's Allowance for those aged under 66, at €219 (€257 for carers aged 66 or over) for where one person is being cared for, and €328.50 (€385.50 for carers aged 66 or over) where there are two or more carees, is higher than that for most schemes administered by my Department.

The means test for carers allowance has been significantly eased over the years and is now one of the most generous means tests in the social welfare system, most notably with regard to spouse’s earnings. In Budget 2022, I announced further easing of the means test with the disregard when assessing capital increased to €50,000 from June 2022 and with the earnings disregard increasing to €350 for a single carer and to €750 for a carer with a spouse/partner. Carers can also engage in employment, self-employment, training or education courses outside the home for not more than 18.5 hours a week.

Any decision to include Carer's Allowance as a qualifying payment for fuel allowance would have to be considered in the overall policy and budgetary context.

Under the Supplementary Welfare Allowance scheme, Exceptional Needs Payments may be made to help meet an essential, once-off cost which customers are unable to meet out of their own resources, and this may include exceptional heating costs. Decisions on such payments are made on a case-by-case basis.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Question No. 82 answered with Question No. 29.

Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment

Question No. 84 answered with Question No. 22.

Ceisteanna (83)

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

83. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Social Protection her plans to undertake an independent external analysis of the impact of the pandemic unemployment payment on different sectors, particularly the arts sector, given the proposals to introduce a basic income pilot scheme in that sector, and the potential relevant feedback from the experience of the pandemic unemployment payment as a basic income guarantee for workers unable to work due to Covid-19 restrictions. [57938/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

Budget 2022 included the announcement of €25 million to pilot a new Basic Income scheme for artists and arts workers, as reflected in the National Economic Recovery Plan. My colleague the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media has lead responsibility for this initiative. Her Department is examining the various options associated with introducing a pilot income scheme for artists and this is being overseen by the Arts and Culture Recovery Oversight Group. My Department is actively engaging in this process through both the Oversight Group and the associated technical sub-group.

The pandemic unemployment payment (PUP) was made available to all eligible workers who lost their employment, and similar to other social welfare supports, it is not sectoral specific. I therefore have no plans to undertake an independent external analysis of the impact of PUP on different sectors.

Internal labour market reports are produced on a regular basis. Examples of published reports which provide an overview of the level of analysis conducted include the recently published ‘PUP Labour Market Transitions Analysis’ and a policy paper published last June detailing the impact of COVID-19 on the Irish labour market.

I trust that this clarifies the position for the Deputy.

Question No. 84 answered with Question No. 22.

Social Welfare Appeals

Question No. 86 answered with Question No. 29.

Ceisteanna (85)

Brendan Smith

Ceist:

85. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Social Protection the proposals to provide additional resources to eliminate delays in the social welfare appeals process; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [58040/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

The Social Welfare Appeals Office functions independently of the Minister for Social Protection and of the Department and is responsible for determining appeals against decisions in relation to social welfare entitlements. All claim decisions taken by the Department’s Deciding Officers and Designated Persons are appealable to the Chief Appeals Officer. In any year about 85% of all claims are awarded by the Department and just 1% are appealed. Nevertheless, the Department endeavours to ensure that these cases are dealt with as quickly as possible. The time taken to process an appeal reflects a number of factors including that the appeals process is a quasi-judicial process with Appeals Officers being required to decide all appeals on a ‘de-novo’ basis. In addition, appeals decisions are themselves subject to review by the High Court and decisions have to be formally written up to quasi-judicial standards. Significant efforts and resources have been devoted to reforming the appeal process in recent years. As a result, average appeal processing times have generally improved between 2018 and 2020 from 30.0 weeks for an oral hearing in 2018 to 27.1 weeks in 2020, and from 24.8 weeks for a summary decision in 2018 to 15.5 weeks in 2020.

Currently, the number of Appeals Officers (full-time equivalent) is 40 which is similar to the position over the last two years. A number of new Appeals Officers have joined the Appeals Office over the past 12-18 months to replace staff leaving on retirement. Given the complexity of the appeals process it can take some time for new staff to be trained up and develop expertise. The desire to process appeals quickly has to be balanced with the competing demand to ensure that decisions are consistent and of high quality and made in accordance with the legislative provisions and the general principles of fair procedures and natural justice. Nevertheless, the latest data for the period January to end of October 2021 shows a further improvement with an average of 25.6 weeks for an oral hearing and 13.8 weeks for a summary decision. Further improvements in appeals processing times is a priority for the Chief Appeals Officer. 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. If their application for supplementary welfare allowance is refused, they can also appeal that decision. The supplementary welfare allowance appeal will be prioritised for attention within the Appeals Office as soon as the appeal file and submission is received from the Department. I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Question No. 86 answered with Question No. 29.

Employment Support Services

Ceisteanna (87)

Jackie Cahill

Ceist:

87. Deputy Jackie Cahill asked the Minister for Social Protection the status of changes to the local employment service model; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [58013/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

My Department is now at an advanced stage in its first phase of a two-phase procurement of new employment services. This procurement process follows extensive consultations by my Department with existing service providers over the last number of years. The new model will extend high quality employment services across the State, deliver enhanced governance arrangements and provide successful tenderers with greater flexibility to innovate and deliver services for their clients.

Phase Two will see the Regional Employment Service model rolled out across the State and will consider the learnings from the first phase. This is a significant expansion of employment services and will result in State-wide coverage of employment services for those furthest from the labour market for the first time.

The RFTs for Phase Two will issue prior to year end with an approximate deadline for tenders in March 2022. Learnings arising from the Phase One procurement are already being incorporated by my Department in preparing the RFT for the remaining lots for the Regional Employment Service under Phase Two.

My Department is continuing to engage with its service partners and representative groups, including staff representatives, before finalising the RFT for Phase Two.

Employment Support Services

Question No. 89 answered with Question No. 28.

Ceisteanna (88)

Joe Flaherty

Ceist:

88. Deputy Joe Flaherty asked the Minister for Social Protection the strategies in place to increase labour market participation among groups distant from the labour market including lone parents, persons with disabilities, members of minority ethnic groups and persons who may have taken time out of the workforce and would now like to return; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [58018/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

I am very aware of the importance of employment in supporting individuals, society and the economy. My Department is committed to assisting all prepare for and secure employment. I also understand that the path to employment is not the same for everyone and that additional help is required for those facing additional challenges including those in minority communities.

This is a key focus of ‘Pathways to Work 2021-2025’, Government’s national employment services strategy, launched last July. The strategy, while dealing with labour market challenges arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, also sets out specific actions to increase the labour market participation of those in society facing additional difficulties in accessing employment. This is the focus of the Strategy’s Fourth Strand ‘Working For All - Leaving No One Behind’, which focusses on extending targeted employment supports to groups facing additional challenges accessing work such as people with disabilities, lone parents, minority groups, including travellers, as well as those who may have taken time out of the workforce and would now like to return.

Some of the key measures under Pathways to Work aimed at increasing labour market participation among these groups most distant from the labour market include, but are not limited to:

- Completing the consultation on the Early Engagement Roadmap for young people with disabilities and implement the approach starting in 2021 - Implementing the Public Appointments Service Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy 2021-2023, including by supporting engagement with representative organisations and individuals from diverse backgrounds to understand employment barriers and to awareness of public sector employment opportunities among these individuals.

- Reserving places on public employment programmes for people from disadvantaged and minority backgrounds

- Developing a Traveller and Roma Training, Employment and Enterprise Plan

- Engagement with community representative bodies to produce Traveller (and/or Roma)-specific employment service engagement tools.

- Deliver bespoke job promotion and local recruitment events for older workers seeking to re-enter employment and engaging with employers to encourage the recruitment of older workers.

- Developing and implementing a new ‘Returners’ programme to encourage and support people who left the workforce, and have been outside of the workforce for some time, to take up employment.

- Ensuring that the particular circumstances of lone parents are considered in the assessment of a Working Age Payment/Basic Income Guarantee.

- Increasing the number of children in receipt of State supports provided under Early Learning and Care and School-Age Childcare Funding Programmes.

In addition, my Department works closely with the Further Education and Training sector in the provision of activation supports, including opportunities for training, upskilling and reskilling. The Action Plan for Apprenticeship 2021-2025, launched by my colleague, Minister Harris earlier this year, includes a bursary support scheme to be established for participants from disadvantaged groups, including lone parents, people with disabilities, Travellers and Roma.

It is important to note that there are also specific employment supports in place for people with disabilities such as the EmployAbility service, the reasonable accommodation fund for employers which can provide workplace adaptation and employee retention grants, and the wage subsidy scheme among others.

The above initiatives also build on the measures that are already in place in my Department, such as earnings disregards in means assessments for the one-parent family payment and disability allowance schemes.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the deputy.

Question No. 89 answered with Question No. 28.

Cybersecurity Policy

Ceisteanna (90)

Alan Farrell

Ceist:

90. Deputy Alan Farrell asked the Minister for Social Protection the measures in place regarding cybersecurity, including the mywelfare.ie platform at her Department, given the substantial number of customers her Department has and the increasing provision of online services; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57134/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

My Department is a major user of Information Technology for the provision of customer services. The MyWelfare platform provides customers with easy access to a range of social welfare services including applying for benefits such as family payments and out-of-work payments, updating personal details, viewing payment and contribution history, and checking eligibility for schemes such as dental and optical benefits. In 2021 there have been over 2.7 million customer transactions on MyWelfare.

MyWelfare uses the highest levels of industry standard security and has been built from the ground up with security in mind. This includes the design and build of MyWelfare and a defence-in-depth approach to cybersecurity. My Department has an extensive Information Security Management System (ISMS) in place and is certified to ISO 27001 international standard. Technical staff operate and monitor all systems to the highest levels and work closely with the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer (OGCIO) and the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) to ensure cybersecurity best practice. For operational and security reasons, I cannot disclose further specific details of my Department’s operational cybersecurity arrangements.

Customers can access MyWelfare services with the utmost confidence using their MyGovID account, which provides a very high level of security for customers involving the use of a username and password, and a one-time code to their mobile phone. MyGovID is built on the strong SAFE/PSC identity management framework and this month reached a very significant milestone with over 3 million accounts now set up. Customers are advised to keep their MyGovID password secret, and to be wary of fake emails and text messages. Information is provided on the MyWelfare and MyGovID websites about how to stay safe online and protect personal data.

My Department will continue to modernise service delivery through even greater use of online and digital channels. The threat landscape is constantly evolving, and I am satisfied that my Department follows best practice regarding cybersecurity and will continue to invest in ensuring online services are safe and secure for our customers.

Social Welfare Benefits

Ceisteanna (91)

Christopher O'Sullivan

Ceist:

91. Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will consider awarding the fuel allowance to recipients of half-rate carer’s payments in cases in which the person has another social welfare payment but no other source of income, as in the case of a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57926/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

The Fuel Allowance is a payment of €33.00 per week for 28 weeks (a total of €924 each year) from October to April, to 369,000 low income households, at an estimated cost of €300 million in 2021. The purpose of this payment is to assist these households with their energy costs. The allowance represents a contribution towards the energy costs of a household. It is not intended to meet those costs in full. Only one allowance is paid per household.

My Department also pays an electricity or gas allowance under the Household Benefits scheme at an estimated cost of €195 million in 2021.

The Government values the role of carers very much and it is for this reason that they receive significant income supports from my Department. In addition to Carer’s Allowance or Carer’s Benefit, carers receive additional support in the form of Free Travel and Household Benefits (for those who live with the person for whom they care) and the annual Carer's Support Grant in respect of each person for whom they care.

Since 2013, the payment of half-rate Carer’s Allowance does not preclude a person from qualifying for Fuel Allowance. If a person is in receipt of a qualifying non-contributory social welfare payment and a half-rate Carer’s Allowance then they are deemed to have satisfied the means test and Fuel Allowance is payable subject to all remaining criteria being satisfied. If a person is in receipt of a qualifying contributory social welfare payment and a half-rate Carer’s Allowance, then the value of the half-rate Carer’s Allowance will be assessed in the means test for Fuel Allowance.

Following the announced €20 increase in allowable means in Budget 2022, a fuel applicant and members of his/her household may have a combined assessable income of up to €120 a week above the appropriate rate of State Pension Contributory and qualify for a payment. The €120 a week means limit is significantly higher that the weekly fuel allowance rate of €33.

Any decision to award fuel allowance to all persons in receipt of half-rate Carer's Allowance and another Social Welfare payment would change the nature of the scheme, would have significant cost implications, and would have to be considered in the context of overall budgetary negotiations.

Under the Supplementary Welfare Allowance scheme, Exceptional Needs Payments may be made to help meet an essential, once-off cost which customers are unable to meet out of their own resources, and this may include exceptional heating and travel costs. Decisions on such payments are made on a case-by-case basis.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

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