Dáil Éireann - Volume 569 - 26 June, 2003

Written Answers. - Social Welfare Benefits.

  24. Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if she will examine the basis for payment of FIS with a view to improving and expanding the scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18091/03]

  Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mary Coughlan): Family income supplement is [1176]designed to provide cash support for employees on low earnings with families. This preserves the incentive to remain in employment in circumstances where the employee might only be marginally better off than if he or she were claiming other social welfare payments. FIS is paid on a weekly basis over a period of 52 weeks, taking into account a family's net earnings and the number of children under age 18 or aged between 18 and 22 years and in full-time education.

  In addition to the progressive annual increases in the income limits, the range of improvements to the scheme instituted by the Government include the assessment of FIS on the basis of net rather than gross income and an increase in the minimum supplement payable, which now stands at €13. These improvements have made it easier for lower income households to qualify for payment under the scheme. This year I provided for further increases in the FIS income limits with effect from January 2003. These increases raised the weekly limit by €17 at each point, adding an extra €10.20 to the payments of most existing FIS recipients. The average weekly payment now stands at €62.71 per week, with over 12,300 families receiving a supplement under the scheme.

  A working group was established under the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness to examine the role which refundable tax credits could play in the tax and welfare systems, including the possibility of paying FIS through the tax system. While the report of the group has yet to be finalised, I envisage that it will make some recommendations to improve the take-up of FIS but will not recommend a radical overhaul of the scheme.

  In the recent partnership agreement, Sustaining Progress, the importance of child income support is recognised, with a commitment to examine the effectiveness of current arrangements, including the role of FIS and child dependant allowances in tackling child poverty. Further improvements to the scheme will be considered in the context of the above review and overall budgetary priorities, having regard to available resources and Government commitments.

  25. Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs her views on whether it is unfair that a person for whom a qualified adult allowance was payable on her late spouse's old age contributory pension should herself be denied a payment of widow's pension following the death of her spouse; and if she will arrange to have the case of a person (details supplied) in County Cork re-opened with a view to payment of a widow's pension. [17917/03]

  Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mary Coughlan): Under social welfare legislation, where a person in receipt of a standard rate retirement or old age contributory pension, which includes a full qualified adult allowance in respect of his or her spouse, dies, the widow or widower [1177]automatically qualifies for the maximum rate of widow's-widower's contributory pension. These provisions also apply where a qualified adult allowance would have been payable but for the receipt by the spouse of a non-contributory old age pension, a blind pension or carer's allowance in his or her own right.

  In all other circumstances, entitlement to widow's or widower's contributory pension is based on the qualifying contribution conditions being satisfied on either the insurance record of the deceased spouse or on the insurance record of the widow or widower.

  In the particular case referred to by the Deputy, the deceased spouse was in receipt of a special pre-53 rate of old age contributory pension. This is a non-standard pension the weekly rate of which is 50% of the maximum weekly personal rate of the contributory pension. The pension included a qualified adult allowance which is also payable at 50% of the standard qualified adult rate. Accordingly, the person concerned does not come within the criteria to automatically qualify for the widow's contributory pension.

  The person also did not qualify for the pension based on her own contribution record or that of her late husband as both records have insufficient contributions to satisfy the yearly average condition. The person concerned was informed of the position and of her right to appeal against the decision. It is open to the person concerned to make an application for the means tested non-contributory widow's pension.

  Decisions in relation to claims must be made within the terms of the legislation and such decisions are made by deciding officers and appeals officers. It is not open to me to reopen any case which does not qualify for payment under the terms of the legislation.

  26. Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the estimates for allowing a widow or widower under 60 years of age to qualify for the free schemes on the death of his or her spouse. [18082/03]

  Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mary Coughlan): The household benefits package, which comprises the electricity-gas allowance, telephone allowance and free television licence schemes, is generally available to people living in the State, aged 66 years or over, who are in receipt of a social welfare-type payment or who fulfil a means test. Widows and widowers aged from 60 to 65 whose late spouses had been in receipt of the household benefit package retain that entitlement following the death of a spouse.

  In relation to widows under 60 years of age, recently published data from census 2002 state that there are 27,600 widows and widowers in this category. The cost of extending the household benefits package to all of these widows and widowers would be in the region of €20 million. If free travel were also included, this would add a further €2.4 million to the cost. These figures [1178]assume that none of the 27,600 widowed persons are currently in receipt of these benefits. There would be additional costs in respect of widowed people in the age group 60-65, some of whom are not currently in receipt of the free schemes. The current arrangements for the free schemes will be kept under review in the context of the future budgets and available resources.