Dáil Éireann - Volume 625 - 10 October, 2006
Written Answers. - Social Welfare Benefits.
Mr. Gogarty Mr. Gogarty
Mr. Gogartyasked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if payments have been restored to all parents who recently had their child welfare halted when his Department became aware it did not have addresses for thousands of parents who had moved residence in recent months. [31784/06]
Ms O’Sullivan Ms O’Sullivan
Ms O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the circumstances of the discovery that between 4,500 and 5,000 people in receipt of child benefit were not living at addresses supplied to his Department; the estimate of the proportion of these that may have been fraudulent claims; the number of such pay ments that have been terminated; the steps which have been taken to tighten up procedures in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31741/06]
Mr. Brennan Mr. Brennan
Mr. Brennan: I propose to take Questions Nos. 126 and 143 together.
The Early Childcare Supplement (ECS) scheme was introduced in Budget 2006. The scheme is under the remit of the office of the Minister for Children, who is responsible for policy and legislation in relation to the scheme. The administration of the scheme is being undertaken by my Department.
As part of the introduction of the scheme, customers who would qualify for the payment were contacted in April 2006 with information on the new payment, including method and frequency of payment and the approximate date of the first payment. In August, customers were advised of the confirmed date of the first payment and payment dates for the remainder of 2006 and 2007. Approximately 265,000 letters issued on both occasions.
A number of letters were returned undelivered by An Post as the customer was no longer at that address. From the April mailing, approximately 6,000 letters were returned and from the August Mailing 3000 have been returned to date.
In the case of the April mailing, following checks and contact from customers, new addresses were updated for almost 2500 customers prior to the end of July. In 3500 cases, where a new address could not be found, payment of Child Benefit was suspended from August 2006. In the last two months, 2700 of these customers have contacted us with new addresses and confirmation of their continuing residency in Ireland. The remaining 800 or so are still suspended and have not received Child Benefit payments since July. These cases will be terminated if investigations currently ongoing indicate that they are no longer entitled to child benefit.
In the case of the August mailing, of the 3,000 letters returned to date as undelivered, 400 new addresses have been found, 500 customers have had payment suspended from September as no new address can be found for them, a further 2100 are still being checked and will be suspended in the coming weeks if no current whereabouts can be confirmed for them.
In total, payments of Child Benefit is still suspended for 1330 customers as a result of their ECS information letter being returned as undelivered by An Post.
Work is continuing to establish the whereabouts of these customers and if it is confirmed that they are no longer resident in the country or otherwise not entitled to child benefit, their  claims will be terminated and overpayments assessed where appropriate.
My Department has put in place measures to ensure that customers in receipt of both Child Benefit and Early Childcare Allowance are reviewed on a regular basis to ensure they still fulfil the qualifying conditions for the receipt of the payments. These measures will include mailshots to confirm residency of the children in Ireland and confirm insurable employment of a parent in cases paid under EU regulations. In addition home visits by Investigation staff will be used to verify and validate information given.
Aengus Ó Snodaigh Aengus Ó Snodaigh
Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the success of the campaign for informing the public of the eligibility criteria and details of the family income supplement payment; and the uptake of such payments out of the amount of people eligible. [31811/06]
Aengus Ó Snodaigh Aengus Ó Snodaigh
Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the percentage of eligible people who are in receipt of family income supplement; and the value of those uncollected payments to date in 2006. [31815/06]
Mr. Brennan Mr. Brennan
Mr. Brennan: I propose to take Questions Nos. 127 and 176 together.
Family income supplement is designed to provide support for people on low earnings with child dependants. This preserves the incentive for them to remain in employment in circumstances where they might only be marginally better off than if they were claiming other social welfare payments. FIS is a central element of a programme of reforms targeted specifically at addressing child poverty.
There are at present almost 19,400 families in receipt of a weekly FIS payment, which benefits more than 38,000 children. This compares with approximately 17,450 families (34,000 children) in December 2005 and represents an increase of 60% since 2002. Families can receive top-up supports of between €20 and €400 a week, depending on their income and the size of their family. The current average weekly FIS payment is €105.
With regard to the level of take up, it is not possible to estimate from administrative sources the number of families who may be eligible but do not apply for their FIS entitlements. However, research undertaken by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) in 1997, which was based on the results of the Living in Ireland Survey 1994, suggested that, at that time, fewer than one in three of potentially eligible claimants had actually made a claim and been awarded payment of FIS. Since those with a higher entitlement are more likely to avail of the scheme, the take-up in expenditure terms was then estimated to be  somewhat higher, at between 35% and 38% of potential expenditure.
The provision of information is an essential element in the effective delivery of social welfare schemes and services. The underlying objective of my Department’s information policy is to ensure that all citizens are made aware of their entitlement and other supports and are kept informed of changes and improvements to schemes and services as they occur.
Improvements to the family income supplement scheme, including the new increased income limits announced in Budget 2006, mean that it is now easier for families to qualify under the scheme. To ensure that families are made aware of these improvements, my Department undertook a nationwide awareness campaign last March to promote and encourage a greatly increased take up of the Family Income Supplement scheme for working families on low incomes.
This extensive week-long campaign included advertising on TV, on national and local radio and in the national and regional press. A nation-wide poster campaign was also undertaken. The total cost of the advertising campaign was €272,000. During the media campaign, my Department provided a LoCall helpline for the public to answer their enquiries regarding eligibility under the improved scheme. The helpline responded to over 2,800 calls.
In addition, the scheme was promoted through my Department’s network of Local Offices, Citizen Information Centres and Citizens Information Phone service and by Comhairle, the national information support agency. Information was also made available through my Department’s website.
I am very pleased with the response so far to the campaign. For example directly after the advertising campaign in the months of March and April this year, my Department received 3,013 new FIS claims; this compares with 1,337 received in the same 2 months in 2005. My Department has received 10,357 new claims in the first 9 months of this year compared with 5,489 for the corresponding period in 2005. The advertising campaign has resulted in a higher than normal number of claims on hand and I would expect a high percentage of these to translate into awards. The full impact will not be known until all of these claims have been decided.
My Department has been working closely with the Revenue Commissioners to ensure that families on low incomes are made aware of the availability of FIS. Improvements in the scheme were outlined in an information leaflet distributed by the Revenue Commissioners with the 2006 Tax Credit certificates to all PAYE taxpayers. My Department will continue to work with Revenue on other initiatives to ensure that  people are made aware of their entitlements in a timely manner.
Every effort is being made to ensure that families eligible for FIS are encouraged to apply for the scheme, and every opportunity is taken by my Department to promote the benefits of the scheme.
In order to establish an up to date view of the factors influencing the level of FIS take up, my Department is commissioning a specific research project with the objective of designing and undertaking a proactive take-up campaign for a sample of 1,000 persons who have children and who may have earnings within the FIS income thresholds.
The project will also examine if access barriers exist, if so, how they can be mitigated or removed. In addition, it will assess whether alternative mechanisms to enhance take up of FIS can be implemented and finally, if customer service and access to family income supplement eligibility for low income families can be improved.
The increase in the numbers of persons receiving FIS is a positive development, reflecting the success of a range of Government measures which have improved net incomes for the low paid. Efforts are continuing to ensure that families eligible for FIS are encouraged to apply for the scheme, and every opportunity is taken to promote the benefits of the scheme.
Question No. 128 answered with Question No. 111.
Dáil Éireann 625 Written Answers. Social Welfare Benefits.