Dáil Éireann - Volume 456 - 10 October, 1995
Written Answers. - Staff Statistics
Mr. J. Walsh Mr. J. Walsh
147. Mr. J. Walsh asked the Minister for Social Welfare the number of staff employed directly in the maintenance enforcement section of his Department. [14563/95]
Minister for Social Welfare (Proinsias De Rossa) Proinsias De Rossa
Minister for Social Welfare (Proinsias De Rossa): Four staff are employed directly in the administration of the “Liability to Maintain Family” provisions of the Social Welfare Acts. They operate under the general supervision of two officers at more senior level. Review of entitlements under the various schemes as a result of the efforts of these staff are conducted by deciding officers whose main function is to determine entitlement under the various long term schemes.
The scheme is administered by four staff directly, based in the Pension Services Office, Sligo. The following are the grades involved: one higher executive officer (section manager); one executive officer; and two clerical officers. The section is managed generally by an assistant principal officer working to a principal officer in the PSO. These staff  are very experienced in all aspects of the administration of this system.
This unit works in close conjunction with the lone parent's allowance and deserted wife's benefit allowance decisions area. Where liable relative action necessitates a more general review of the relevant lone parent claim, the claim is passed by the unit to this bigger pool of staff for reassessment. In effect, this broadens the range of staff resources available to deal with maintenance issues.
Social Welfare inspectors are briefed to deal with liable relative cases whenever they arise. Most such cases are sent to the relevant inspectors for investigation. These inspectors provide further support and additional resources, in processing liability matters.
Since the provisions of the 1989 Act came into force on 29 November 1990 15,753 cases in payment have been examined to determine liability on the part of a spouse to make contributions to the Departmenmt.
Priority is being given at present to the cases already examined which are in the process of having a determination raised on them and to new cases coming on stream weekly.
The circumstances of the liable relatives in these cases examined to date can be classified as follows: (1) employed/self employed, 25 per cent; (2) social welfare recipient, 48 per cent; (3) whereabouts cannot be traced, 27 per cent.
Maintenance recovery action is at present pursued by the Department only in the case of persons within category (1) at present, that is, those in employment with the means to make some contribution towards the relevant payment of benefit or allowance.
There are 4,015 cases identified so far in this category including 83 cases where the liable relative is resident in the UK.
A total of 542 determination orders have been issued to liable relatives directing that weekly payments be made to the Department. Some 512 of these are still current, the circumstances of  the remainder having changed in the meantime.
Total receipts so far amount to £630,000 from 236 contributors.
In addition to moneys recovered by way of contributions from liable relatives, the operation of the maintenance recovery provisions is also yielding some savings on scheme expenditure. These savings have arisen where the “recovery” operation has resulted in the withdrawal, by the deserted wife or lone parent herself, of some claims which were actively in payment, or by claim termination by the Department on the discovery of new facts. To date, 52 such claims have been withdrawn, resulting in savings of £533,000 in total. In some such cases the couple may have arranged adequate maintenance bilaterally, while in other cases, the lone parent herself has formed a new relationship without need for social welfare support. In summary, the total savings and appropriations-in-aid of the social welfare vote amount to £1.163 million so far.
The small number of cases in payment is indicative of the level of difficulty associated with the present collection process, rather than any direct reflection of staffing resources provided.
Problems encountered in the five year period since the system commenced include the following: only about 25 per cent of liable relatives are traceable and in a financial position to pay and liable relatives are resisting investigation and subsequent payment.
There are a number of issues which have emerged during the course of the operation of the system. These include the lack of an appeals mechanism in the legislation; the administrative rules for assessment of ability to pay, and the correlation of these to court assessment rules in family law maintenance cases; the effect of the system on existing informal maintenance arrangements, part-time child custody, provision by liable relatives of “maintenance-in-kind”, for example, VHI, mortgage  repayments etc. for their spouses; transfer of maintenance from women recipients, particularly when they have mortgage commitments and other regular outgoings; the identification and pursuit of putative fathers in unmarried cases; the need to interact more effectively with family mediation services, at initial desertion/separation stage, to ensure that maintenance issues are resolved then; the tracing of deserting spouses who have disappeared without making any contribution at all to their families.
Dáil Éireann 456 Written Answers. Staff Statistics