Dáil Éireann - Volume 602 - 24 May, 2005
Written Answers - Social Welfare Benefits.
Mr. Cuffe Mr. Cuffe
80. Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the consideration which he is giving to the social welfare treatment of former members of religious congregations. [17133/05]
Mr. Brennan Mr. Brennan
Mr. Brennan: I understand the Deputy’s inquiry relates to instances concerning former members of religious congregations who are absent from work on the grounds of illness and who, owing to their previous employment history, have insufficient PRSI contributions to qualify for social insurance benefits.
People in such circumstances who have an injury, disease or illness which has continued, or is expected to continue, for at least one year could be eligible for support through the means tested disability allowance scheme operated by my Department. If this scheme is not appropriate in their situation, they could apply for financial assistance under the terms of the supplementary welfare allowance scheme which is administered on my behalf by the community welfare division of the Health Service Executive.
The objective of the supplementary welfare allowance scheme is to provide financial assistance to an eligible person whose means are insufficient to meet his or her basic needs and those of his or her dependants. Any person habitually resident in the State who satisfies a means test and who has applied for any other benefit, assistance or allowance to which he or she may be entitled may be eligible to receive assistance under the terms of the scheme. In addition to a basic weekly allowance, assistance may be pro vided in the form of supplements which may be paid in respect of such needs as rent, mortgage interest and special dietary or heating needs.
The legislation governing the supplementary welfare allowance scheme also provides for a single payment, known as an exceptional needs payment, to help meet essential, once-off, exceptional expenditure which a person could not reasonably be expected to meet out of his or her household income or other sources. There is no automatic entitlement to this; payments are issued at the discretion of the Health Service Executive and every decision is based on consideration of all the circumstances of each individual case taking account of the nature and extent of the need.
An application for assistance under the terms of the supplementary welfare allowance scheme may be made by contacting the community welfare office at the local health centre. The community welfare officer will carry out an assessment of the applicant’s circumstances in order to determine the level of assistance, if any, payable in any particular case.
Mr. Neville Mr. Neville
81. Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will give recognition to the importance of the post office to rural communities by desisting from his campaign to force social welfare recipients to transfer to receiving their payments through the commercial banks. [16883/05]
Mr. Brennan Mr. Brennan
Mr. Brennan: My Department’s policy is to ensure that a range of payment options is available to customers and that service is continually improved by providing access to the wide range of payment options and new services and facilities now available. In this regard I recently announced a strategic review of my Department’s future payment requirements with a view to the customer receiving the most modern payment delivery service which suits their needs.
Current payment methods include payment at post offices by means of a pension order book, electronic or manual post draft issued to the customer’s designated post office each week, payment by cheque and direct payment to customers’ bank or building society accounts by electronic fund transfer. Where possible, my Department provides a payment option which best suits the needs of customers. Customers opting for a particular payment method do so on a voluntary basis having regard to their own circumstances and particular needs. There is no compulsion involved and there is no campaign to force customers to move to a payment method that does not suit them.
Some 58% of customers currently receive payment through their local post office, 10% are paid by cheque through the postal system and 32% receive an electronic fund transfer, EFT, payment to their bank or building society account. The  growth in the number of customers opting for the direct payment option can be attributed to a number of reasons such as the growing use of electronic payments in business and society generally, the increase in the use of electronic banking and debit-credit cards at the personal level and the changing profile of our customer base across all schemes.
The Government recognises the importance of the post office network and is committed to maintaining a viable network throughout the country. My colleague, the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, who is the Minister responsible for An Post, and I have already met on this matter and I will continue to liaise with him as appropriate.
Dáil Éireann 602 Written Answers Social Welfare Benefits.