Dáil Éireann - Volume 568 - 12 June, 2003

Written Answers. - Social Welfare Benefits.

  125. Mr. Cregan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the position in relation to homemakers pension; the position regarding credit contributions for women with young children who are currently not in the workforce; if they automatically receive credits; if it is confined to women who gave up employment generally or when their children were a specific age; her future plans for homemaker's pension for persons over 65 as stated in the Programme for Government; if this pension will be created over a number of years; if it is confined strictly to those who are currently receiving an adult dependant's allowance on their spouse's old age pensions; the percentage the adult dependant rate currently is in relation to the full old age pension; the movements in this ratio over the past 15 years; the approximate timetable on the way in which this ratio will move in future; and if the target is 80%, 90% or 100% of the full old age pension. [16294/03]

  Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mary Coughlan): In recent years a number of measures have been introduced to protect the pension rights of those who take time out of the paid workforce to care for children or sick relatives and to make qualification for a pension easier for those with broken or interrupted insurance records. The homemaker's scheme was introduced in 1994 and allows for periods of up to 20 years, spent out of the work force caring for children up to 12 years of age or sick relatives to be disregarded when a person's contribution record is being averaged for pension purposes. To benefit from the homemaker's scheme, a person must have worked and paid PRSI or do so in the future at class A, E, H and-or S. A person in receipt of child benefit and providing children up to 12 years of age with full-time care, or in receipt of carer's allowance-carer's benefit, will automatically be registered as a homemaker and this information will be noted on his-her insurance record. A person who is not in receipt of any of the above payments and who at any time from 6 April 1994 onwards, is caring for a child or adult as specified above, must register as a homemaker.

[946]   The homemaker's scheme is at present being reviewed as part of an overall review of the qualifying conditions for the old age contributory and retirement pensions, the first phase of which was published in August 2000. Changes to the homemaker's scheme will be considered in the context of the findings of the phase 2 report which I expect to publish in the coming months. In the Agreed Programme for Government and in Sustaining Progress, the Government has committed to increasing the payment for qualified adults, aged 66 or over, to the same level as the personal rate of the old age (non-contributory) pension. This process had commenced in budget 2000 and a number of special increases have been granted since then. The rate of the qualified allowance on the contributory pension now stands at €121.50 per week which is about 84% of the maximum rate of non-contributory pension.

  Over the past 15 years, the relationship between the old age (contributory) pension qualified adult allowance and the personal rate has varied considerably from some 67% to the current 77%. Further increases in the qualified adult allowance rate will be considered in a budgetary context. New applicants for retirement and old age (contributory) pensions can now apply to have the qualified adult allowance paid directly to their spouse or partner. This facility has been available since October 2002 and it will as resources permit, be extended gradually to all pensioners. More flexibility has also been introduced into the qualifying conditions for the old age (contributory) pension scheme, including a reduction in the average number of contributions required for a minimum pension to ten, the introduction of pro rata pensions for those with mixed rate insurance records and the special pension for those with pre-1953 insurance contributions These measures are of benefit to many women who have gaps in their PRSI records due to working in the home looking after children, or caring full time for an elderly or incapacitated person.

  126. Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs her plans to extend the number of weeks during which the free fuel allowance is payable, in view of the unseasonal nature of the weather since the ending of the payment period. [16303/03]

  Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mary Coughlan): The aim of the national fuel scheme is to assist householders who are in receipt of long-term social welfare or health board payments and who are unable to provide fully for their own heating needs. A fuel allowance payment of €9 per week is paid to eligible households while an additional €3.90 per week is paid in smokeless zones, bringing the total amount in those areas to €12.90 per week. The fuel allowances represent a contribution towards a person's normal heating expenses. They are not intended to meet the full cost. In addition many households also qualify for electricity and gas allow[947] ances. Improvements have been made to the fuel allowance scheme in recent budgets. The means test has been eased and the duration of payment has been increased from 26 to 29 weeks. The significant increases in recent years in primary social welfare payment rates, such as the old age pension, have also improved the income position for people dependent on the social welfare system. Primary payment rates are payable for the full 52 weeks of the year and increases in these rates benefit a wider range of recipients. The question of further changes in the fuel allowance scheme is a matter for consideration in a budgetary context.