Dáil Éireann - Volume 508 - 06 October, 1999
Written Answers. - Social Welfare Benefits.
Mr. Penrose Mr. Penrose
92. Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs the number of people in receipt of the farm assist payment; the  reason his Department is adopting a very restricted view in relation of the eligibility of applicants for participation in this scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18869/99]
Mr. Ring Mr. Ring
207. Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs the number of people who applied for the farm assist scheme in the past 12 months; the number who had an increase in benefits; the number who had a decrease in benefits; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18668/99]
Mr. D. Ahern Mr. D. Ahern
Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern): I propose to take Questions Nos. 92 and 207 together.
The farm assist scheme, which introduced the special arrangements for farmers on low incomes, was provided for in the Social Welfare Act, 1999, and is effective from 7 April 1999.
To date there have been 9,069 applications received for farm assist, comprising 2,364 new applications and 6,705 claimants formerly in receipt of smallholders unemployment assistance, widows non-contributory pensions, pre-retirement and disability allowances.
The number of claimants in receipt of a farm assist payment, on week ending 24 September, was 6,519.
The farm assist scheme was designed specifically for farmers on low incomes. It replaced the smallholders assistance scheme. The scheme is means-tested, taking into account both farm and off-farm income of farmer and spouse. Eligibility is based on actual income assessed being within specified income thresholds. Only 80 per cent of self-employment income is taken into account and there is also a child related disregard. Any person who is aged between 18 and 66 and engaged in farming and satisfies the means test can qualify for farm assist.
I do not accept that my Department is adopting a restricted view in relation to the application of the eligibility requirements.
Comprehensive guidelines were issued to the staff who are implementing the scheme and training seminars were organised for them. These guidelines are available to the general public.
On the application form completed by former smallholders, many indicated that their circumstances had changed since their last assessment. Reviews of these cases are ongoing. At present 3,271 claimants who have had their means reviewed have received an increased level of payment, while 803 have had a reduction in payment.
It is open to any person who is dissatisfied with a decision of a deciding officer in relation to the assessment of means in his-her case to appeal to the independent social welfare appeals office.
Dáil Éireann 508 Written Answers. Social Welfare Benefits.