Dáil Éireann - Volume 627 - 14 November, 2006
Written Answers. - Social Welfare Benefits.
Mr. Ferris Mr. Ferris
Mr. Ferris asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on making the family income supplement payment automatic to ensure that all entitled will receive it in view of the poor uptake of the payment by those eligible. [37656/06]
Mr. Ferris Mr. Ferris
Mr. Ferris asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he has proposals to reform the family income supplement. [37657/06]
Mr. Stanton Mr. Stanton
Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the percentage of eligible families who are availing of the family income supplement; the reasons for the low take-up rate of FIS; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37617/06]
Mr. Kehoe Mr. Kehoe
Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if his Department has carried out research on the working poor; the conclusions  of same; the actions he is taking to address this issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37630/06]
Mr. Brennan Mr. Brennan
Mr. Brennan: I propose to take Questions Nos. 96, 100, 128 and 136 together.
My Department provides income support to working families in low-income employment in various ways, including earnings disregards and tapered withdrawal of earnings on social assistance (means tested) payments. However, the principal income support from my Department which is targeted specifically for low-income families in employment is provided by the family income supplement scheme (FIS).
FIS 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.
There are currently over 21,400 families in receipt of a weekly FIS payment, which benefits more than 38,000 children. This compares with approximately 17,450 families and 34,000 children in December 2005 and represents an increased take up of 78% since 2002.
Research undertaken by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) in 1997 and based on the results of the Living in Ireland Survey 1994, suggested that fewer than one in three of potentially eligible claimants were actually in receipt of FIS at that time. Since those with a higher entitlement are more likely to avail of the scheme, the take-up in expenditure terms was estimated to be somewhat higher, at between 35% and 38% of potential expenditure.
There are a number of factors that could, in theory, have contributed to low income families not claiming the supplement over recent years. These include the impact of the National Minimum Wage, improved take home pay arising from tax reform and PRSI changes, the increase in the numbers of families where both parties are in employment and undeclared income or black economy activity, which may deter persons on low income from applying for FIS. However, there is no definitive explanation as to why a significant group of people with a potential average entitlement of approximately €113 per week apparently decide not to apply or avail of this employment support.
I am addressing this question in two ways. First, in March 2006 my Department undertook an extensive media and advertising campaign on a nationwide basis which proved successful, with FIS applications increasing significantly compared to the same period last year. In this context, it should be noted that in the course of this year, and particularly following the publicity campaign, the number of applications for family income supplement have substantially increased. For instance, in the quarter ending September  this year some 8,200 FIS applications were received, which compares with 6,000 received in the same quarter in 2005, an increase of 36%.
In the second stage, I propose to commission a specific research project to establish the reasons or factors behind the low level of take up, in which the Department, based on administrative data held, would actively engage with this potential FIS population by inviting a sample number of persons with an apparent entitlement, to apply for the payment. In the case of people who do not respond, the Department would try to establish the circumstances and the underlying reasons for not claiming.
This project, which I hope to progress in the coming months, should assist greatly in determining the actual current FIS take up rate, and inform future policy in this area.
Social Welfare and Revenue administrative records do not currently provide sufficient data in relation to either current family composition or current earnings, gross or net, to administer an automatic FIS payment. Such a payment would raise major technical and policy issues.
Dáil Éireann 627 Written Answers. Social Welfare Benefits.