Dáil Éireann - Volume 625 - 10 October, 2006

Written Answers. - Social Welfare Code.

Mr. O’Dowdasked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on making all qualified adult payments directly to the qualified adult automatically; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31828/06]

  Mr. Brennan: Over the years my Department has introduced various measures to make payments directly to qualified adults. For example, separate payments are made in case of domestic difficulty where a spouse might otherwise have no other form of income. Also, for certain categories of Old Age non-Contributory Pension, where the couple are both aged 66 or over, payment is made individually to each partner.

In October 2002, my Department introduced administrative arrangements to provide an option to have the qualified adult allowance paid directly to the spouse for all new applicants to State Pension (Transition), (formerly known as Retirement Pension) and State Pension (Contributory), (formerly known as Old Age (Contributory) Pension). Since these arrangements were implemented, some 1,400 couples have indicated their preference to have the qualified adult allowance paid directly to the spouse. This represents around 8% of the pension claims awarded with an increase for a qualified adult since October 2002.

I am aware of the desire of certain sectors of the community to have direct payment to qualified adults implemented and that various groups and reports have recommended that direct payments to qualified adults be progressed within the social welfare code. I am also conscious of the need to take account of the views of our customers regarding this matter. These issues are under active consideration by my Department and I intend to progress the matter in the coming year.

Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs when he expects the review of means tests currently being undertaken by his Department to be completed; when this review was begun; when the previous work was completed on the central means database as referred to in Parliamentary Question No. 265 of 10 May 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31857/06]

[142]   Mr. Brennan: A review of the Department’s approach to means testing was set up by my Department in November 2005. The objective of the review is to identify policy and administrative changes that would rationalise and simplify means testing in the Department. It is expected that this review will be completed by the end of 2006.

The possibility of creating the central means database to which the Deputy refers arose in the context of proposals drawn up in the early 1990s aimed at achieving integrated delivery of social welfare and other services. It was recognised at the time that there were considerable complications in this area which would have to be addressed before such a database could be developed.

It was concluded that it would not be possible to develop a common database at that time because of the breadth of the project and the business and technical issues to be addressed. It was clear that the technical infrastructure available in the mid-1990s across the public service would not support the requirements of a cross-organisational database.

In these circumstances, this Department undertook a project to develop within the Department a central computer based means recording system to enable staff across the organisation to access means information recorded on it. That system was developed using internal technical resources. Development work was completed at the end of 1992. Over time, as other systems were developed, for example, to support the work of the Department’s investigators, the system became less critical as means were recorded on these other systems.

It is now intended to develop an enhanced means database which can be integrated with the Department’s principal payment schemes and which could ultimately support a shared means service with other public sector organisations. This is a major programme which will take a number of years to complete.