Dáil Éireann - Volume 474 - 29 January, 1997

Written Answers. - Pension Arrears.

[167] 32. Mr. Martin asked the Minister for Social Welfare if he will grant retrospective arrears due to old age contributory pensioners who applied for their pensions late and after the date on which they became entitled to such pensions because of ignorance of their entitlements; whether he has received a special report from the Ombudsman on this issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2334/97]

Minister for Social Welfare (Proinsias De Rossa): I am concerned to ensure that social welfare beneficiaries receive their full entitlements. To that end, my Department is continuously examining options for improved targeting of information which will ensure that people are aware in time of their entitlements. However, it must be emphasised that people generally have an obligation to acquaint themselves of their entitlements. It would be unreasonable to expect the Department of Social Welfare to be responsible in all cases for people who fail for various reasons to make a claim.

Nevertheless, I regard the current rules, which limit the payment of arrears on foot of late claims to a maximum of six months, as being unduly strict. I am pleased to let the Deputy know, therefore, that this year's budget provides for the extension of the period during which arrears are paid in the case of late claims from six months to one year. These revised arrangements, which will apply in the case of retirement pension, old age contributory pension, widow's and widower's contributory pension and orphan's contributory allowance, will be brought into effect shortly and will apply in relation to claims received on or after 1 January 1997.

While I understand that the Ombudsman's office is carrying out a formal investigation into the issue of late claims, this investigation has not been finalised as yet and his report is, accordingly, still awaited.