Dáil Éireann - Volume 495 - 13 October, 1998

Written Answers. - Pension Provisions.

333. Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs the plans, if any, he has to ensure that the recipients of old age contributory pension are entitled to full payment of arrears; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19089/98]

Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern): It has always been the case that people claiming social welfare payments are required to make their claim within a specified period of time. Where a claim is not made in time, payment can only be backdated for a specified [223] period, the duration of which varies with the type of claim.

The legislation in this matter has recently been significantly improved in the case of retirement, old age and survivors' contributory pensions. Previously the general limit on back-dating of payments in these cases was six months. The limit is now 12 months as provided for in the 1997 Social Welfare Act. This means that full arrears is now paid for up to 12 months prior to the date of claim.

Furthermore, under regulations which I made in February last, a proportion of arrears due in respect of the period beyond 12 months may also be paid. The regulations also provide for the possibility of full arrears, in cases where claims are delayed due to force majeure, proven incapacity on the part of the applicant or to Departmental error, and also to alleviate current financial hardship. These provisions were designed to strike a balance between the need for effective management of the system and for appropriate recognition to be given to cases of genuine hardship or difficulty.

Payment of full arrears in all late claim cases, regardless of the circumstances for the delay in claiming, would give rise to very significant additional ongoing costs. It is also reasonable in the context of proper management of the pensions system that people claim in time and have the responsibility of doing so.

I would strongly encourage people to submit claims promptly to the Department if they consider that they might be eligible under a particular scheme. In this way, they will receive their full entitlements from the time their need first arises. Information and scheme claim forms are widely available throughout the country, from the Department itself and from other information centres, on the range of social welfare services which are available.