Dáil Éireann - Volume 584 - 05 May, 2004

Written Answers. - Social Welfare Code.

  184. Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if a person (details supplied) in County Carlow is entitled to any of the free schemes when they turn 60 in June 2004; if not, the reason therefor; and the number of widows between the ages of 60 and 66 who are in a similar situation to this person. [12776/04]

  Mary Coughlan: The person concerned is in receipt of [1632] a widow’s contributory pension. This is not a qualifying payment for household benefit purposes for persons aged under 66, except in the case of widowers aged between 60 and 65 where their spouses were in receipt of these benefits before they died. As the late spouse of the person concerned had not been in receipt of household benefits, she is not eligible for these benefits until she is 66 years of age.

According to the records of my Department, there are nearly 16,000 people aged between 60 and 65 in receipt of a widow-er’s pension who are not in receipt of the household benefits. An extension of household benefits entitlement to all of this group would have significant cost implications which could only be considered in a budgetary context.

  185. Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the reasons persons (details supplied) in County Cork had rent subsidy allowance discontinued without notification; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12777/04]

  Mary Coughlan: The Southern Health Board was contacted regarding this case and has advised that the reason rent supplement was discontinued in this case is because the amount of rent sought by the landlord is above the maximum limit allowable for rent supplement purposes and the health board advises that suitable accommodation is available within the maximum rent limits that currently apply.

The board has advised that payment of the rent supplement ceased without the normal prior notification being issued to the person concerned. When the lack of prior notification came to light the payment of the rent supplement, including arrears, was restored on a temporary basis.

The person concerned was formally notified that the limited period for which the rent supplement was to be paid had expired and that payment of the supplement was to terminate after a further 21 days. He was also advised of his right to appeal against this decision.

The board has further advised that the person concerned exercised his right to appeal against this decision. The health board’s appeals officer found no grounds on which to overturn the decision and accordingly payment of the rent supplement has ceased in this case. The person concerned was advised by the health board on 24 April that if he is dissatisfied with the decision of the health board’s appeals officer, he may appeal to the social welfare appeals office.

  186. Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs her views on whether it is fair or equitable that a person who has worked and paid PRSI all their working lives should, on being made redundant, be penalised by having the payment of unemployment benefit curtailed for a number of weeks depending on the amount of redundancy payment they received; when this [1633] penny pinching measure was introduced; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12780/04]

  Mary Coughlan: Unemployment benefit claimants who receive a redundancy lump sum payment in accordance with the terms of the Redundancy Payment Acts which is in excess of €19,046.07 may be disqualified from receiving payment for up to nine weeks. Certain payments are disregarded in determining the duration of the disqualification, for example, encashment of independent pension entitlements, moneys paid in lieu of notice or accrued holiday entitlements.

Guidelines issued to deciding officers advise that, in considering a UB claim made by a person who has just been made redundant, they should also take account of a range of factors which could include, for example, such as the claimant’s age, family difficulties, etc. In addition, in cases where the customer intends to use some of the redundancy payment to clear or reduce debts which have accrued, deciding officers may offset these debts against the amount received before determining an appropriate period of disqualification, for example, arrears of mortgage or rent, arrears of telephone-electricity-gas bills and particularly debts to moneylenders. Regard may similarly be had to costs related to any exceptional needs, for example, the cost of converting the customer’s home to facilitate wheelchair access by a family member.

To ensure consistency in the application of the legislation, the following schedule is used as a guide to what might be considered to be an appropriate period of disqualification, having regard to the gross amount of redundancy received:

Amount of Redundancy Payment: Period of Disqualification

19,046.07 — 25,400

1 Week

25,401 — 31,750

2 Weeks

31,751 — 38,100

3 Weeks

38,101 — 44,450

4 Weeks

44,451 — 50,800

5 Weeks

50,801 — 57,150

6 Weeks

57,151 — 63,500

7 Weeks

63,501 — 69,850

8 Weeks

69,851 and over

9 Weeks

This measure was introduced in 1992 and was designed to counter situations where the social insurance fund was, in effect, being used as a top-up to substantial redundancy packages which also, in some cases, offered fixed period seasonal work. It is important to achieve a balance between the need to ensure that the integrity of the social insurance fund is protected with the need to ensure that the legitimate expectations of insured workers are met. In that context the [1634] arrangements in respect of people who receive redundancy payments, as I have outlined them, are not unreasonable.