Dáil Éireann - Volume 627 - 14 November, 2006
Written Answers. - Social Welfare Benefits.
Mr. Quinn Mr. Quinn
Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the progress made in discussions with the EU Commission regarding the possibility of providing free travel passes to Irish pensioners resident abroad; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37611/06]
Mr. Brennan Mr. Brennan
Mr. Brennan: The free travel scheme is available to all people living in the State aged 66 years or over. All carers in receipt of carer’s allowance and carers of people in receipt of constant attendance or prescribed relative’s allowance, regardless of their age, receive a free travel pass. It is also available to people under age 66 who are in receipt of certain disability type welfare payments, such as disability allowance, invalidity pension and blind person’s pension. People resident in the State who are in receipt of a social security invalidity or disability payment from a country covered by EU Regulations, or from a country with which Ireland has a bilateral social security agreement, and who have been in receipt of this payment for at least 12 months, are also eligible for free travel.
The scheme provides free travel on the main public and private transport services for those eligible under the scheme. These include road, rail and ferry services provided by companies such as Bus Átha Cliath, Bus Éireann and Iarnród Éireann, as well as Luas and services provided by over 80 private transport operators.
The free travel scheme applies to travel within the State and point to point cross-border journeys between here and Northern Ireland. In line with the Government objective to put in place an all Ireland free travel scheme for pensioners resident in all parts of this island, I am committed to improving the North/South element of the current arrangements.
There have been a number of requests and enquiries in relation to the extension of entitlement to free travel in Ireland to Irish born people living outside Ireland, or to those in receipt of pensions from my Department, particularly in the UK, when they return to Ireland for a visit.
I have been advised that it would not be possible to extend entitlement to free travel only to Irish born people living abroad as to do so would be contrary to European legislation which prohibits discrimination on the grounds of nationality. In addition, legal advice also indicates that to  extend the free travel scheme to people in receipt of Irish pensions who live outside the State would also be discriminatory under EU law.
However, I am determined to explore all options and I have raised the issue in meetings with the Commissioner for Employment and Social Affairs. Also, officials from my Department met with European Commission officials on two occasions in an effort to clarify the legal issues involved. I am keeping this issue under close review and contacts with the European Commission are ongoing.
Ms O’Sullivan Ms O’Sullivan
Ms O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the estimated increase in the cost of welfare claims in 2007 arising from the entitlement of EU migrant workers to the new childcare supplement and child benefit; the level of increase in applications for such benefits that has been evident since the beginning of 2006; his views on these increases; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37607/06]
Mr. Brennan Mr. Brennan
Mr. Brennan: EU migrant workers have an entitlement to Child Benefit and other “Family benefits” including Early Childcare Supplement (ECS) under EU Regulation 1408/71. Where a national of an EU State with a family is working in Ireland, the worker is entitled to payment of family benefits, even if the children are resident abroad.
Applications for family benefits from EU migrant workers who come to live in Ireland with their families are dealt with under domestic legislation. Currently just over 31,000 EU nationals are in receipt of Child Benefit for 56,000 children who are resident with them in Ireland. The majority of these recipients, some 16,500, are UK nationals, with a further 10,500 recipients from the ten States that joined the EU in 2004.
The process for establishing entitlement to child benefit for non-resident children is complex as it is necessary to contact the authorities in the country of residence of the children to confirm details and establish what if any family benefits are payable there.
This process can take a number of months to complete and, as a result, the number of claims that has been finalised to date is relatively small. There are approximately 12,000 claims at various stages of processing and awaiting finalisation. The number of claims to child benefit in respect of non-resident children of EU nationals, since the start of 2006, has averaged close to 300 per week. The number of children under 6 years qualifying for ECS is estimated at 40% of this number. Applications of child benefit reached a peak of 400 per week in June but have been reducing somewhat in the months since.
At the start of 2006, 650 families were receiving child benefit under EU regulations 1408/71. Currently 599 such families, with 1,444 children, are receiving Child Benefit. Some 86% of non-resident families are in the UK.
 The total child benefit expenditure for EU migrants with non resident children in respect of 2006 is estimated at €36m or 1.8% of overall child benefit expenditure of €2.04 billion. The total cost in 2007 is difficult to estimate but on current trends, the potential accrued cost could be of the order of €80 million. The corresponding figures for early childcare supplement are €8m in respect of 2006 and €17m in respect of 2007.
Question No. 147 answered with Question No. 102.
Dáil Éireann 627 Written Answers. Social Welfare Benefits.