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Social Welfare Eligibility

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 31 May 2022

Tuesday, 31 May 2022

Ceisteanna (449)

Noel Grealish

Ceist:

449. Deputy Noel Grealish asked the Minister for Social Protection the reason that family carers are limited to an 18.5 hours working week when receiving carer's allowance and carer’s benefit, when other social welfare benefit schemes allow 19.5 hours per week; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27308/22]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

My Department provides a comprehensive package of carers’ income supports including Carer’s Allowance, Carer’s Benefit, Domiciliary Care Allowance and the Carer’s Support Grant.  Combined spending on all these payments to carers in 2022 is estimated to exceed €1.5 billion.  

The Carer’s Allowance is the main scheme by which the Department provides income support to carers in the community.  Carer’s Allowance is a means tested social assistance payment awarded to those carers who are caring for certain people who require full-time care and attention.  The means test is used to target the support to those most in need.

The primary objective of the payment is to provide an income support to carers whose earning capacity is substantially reduced as a consequence of their caring responsibilities and in so doing to support the ongoing care of the person in respect of whom care is being provided. 

The Carer's Benefit payment is an entitlement based on social insurance contributions.  Carer’s Benefit is a payment made to insured people who may be required to leave the workforce or reduce their working hours to care for a person(s) in need of full-time care.  It is payable for a period of 2 years (104 weeks) for each care recipient and may be claimed over separate periods up to a total of 2 years (104 weeks).

A primary qualifying condition for the Carer’s Allowance and Carer’s Benefit payments is that the applicant provides full-time care and attention to a person in need of such care.  The person being cared for must be so incapacitated as to require full-time care and attention and be likely to require this full-time care and attention for at least 12 months. 

The minimum hours condition for which a carer can be regarded as providing full-time care and attention is set out in legislation.  A carer will be regarded as providing full-time care and attention to a relevant person, where the number of hours providing such care is not less than 35 hours in a period of 7 consecutive days, and care is provided on any 5 days, whether consecutive or not, within a period of 7 consecutive days.

However, in order to support a carer’s continued attachment to the workforce and to support 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 and continue to receive their full payment.  During this time of employment, education or training, adequate provision must be made for the care of the relevant person. 

There have been a number of significant improvements to the Carer’s Allowance scheme regarding the relaxation of the full-time care and attention requirement so as to enable carers to engage in education, training or work.

From August 1999, the full-time care and attention requirements were relaxed to introduce some flexibility and allow carers to work for up to 10 hours per week.  As of June 2006, this was increased from 10 to 15 hours per week.  In Budget 2020, this was further increased from 15 to 18.5 hours per week.  This measure was prioritised in response to carers who had stated that they found the previous number of 15 hours to be too restrictive.

Both the full-time care and attention requirement and the 18.5-hour limitation are contained in the respective legislative provisions of the Carer’s Allowance, Carer’s Benefit and Carer’s Support Grant schemes.

The Deputy refers to other social welfare benefit schemes allowing 19.5 hours of work per week.  Other schemes operated by my Department have different objectives.  As a result, these schemes and payments will have different eligibility criteria and rules including the setting of working hours thresholds.  The objective of these schemes is either to assist people move into employment or supplement their income from employment.

For example, the Community Employment programme is designed to help people who are long-term unemployed, or otherwise disadvantaged, to get back to work by offering part-time and temporary placements in jobs based within local communities.  Participants are required to work for a period of 19.5 hours per week for the Sponsor to be eligible for a grant towards the cost of wages.

The Working Family Payment is a weekly tax-free payment designed for employees on low incomes with child dependents.  This employment must be ‘full-time’. This is defined as not less than 38 hours every fortnight.  Any combination that reaches 38 hours each fortnight is acceptable.

I consider the 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 proposals for further changes to this condition would need to maintain this balance and would have to be considered in a budgetary context.

I trust that this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

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