Dáil Éireann - Volume 637 - 26 June, 2007

Written Answers. - Social Welfare Benefits.

Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the upper ceiling of rents which he has sanctioned in respect of Dublin’s northside for the receipt of supplementary welfare payments. [17448/07]

  Deputy Martin Cullen: The supplementary welfare allowance scheme, which is administered on my [420] behalf by the community welfare division of the Health Service Executive, provides for the payment of a rent supplement to assist eligible people who are unable to provide for their immediate accommodation needs from their own resources and who do not have accommodation available to them from any other source.

Rent supplements are subject to a limit on the amount of rent that an applicant for rent supplement may incur. These rent limits are set at levels that enable the different categories of eligible tenant households to secure and retain basic suitable rented accommodation, having regard to the different rental market conditions that prevail in various parts of the State.

Setting maximum rent limits higher than justified by the open market would have a distorting effect on the rental market, leading to a more general rise in rent levels. This in turn would worsen the affordability of rental accommodation unnecessarily, with particular negative impact for those tenants on lower incomes. The maximum rent limits, that rent supplement applicants can incur, are set out for each county in the tabular statement.

Rent Supplement: National Maximum Rent Levels January 2007 to 30th June 2008

Single Person Sharing

Couple Sharing

Single Person

Couple No Child

Couple or One Parent 1 Child

Couple or One Parent 2 Children

Couple or One Parent 3 Children

Dublin

98

98

130

200

1,000(PM)*

1,200(PM)*

1,200(PM)*

Kildare

98

98

120

178

953(PM)*

1,200(PM)*

1,200(PM)*

Wicklow

98

98

130

190

953(PM)*

1,200(PM)*

1,200(PM)*

Cork

75

75

115

153

175

190

203

Galway

70

70

115

140

175

200

200

Meath

70

70

115

140

175

190

200

Louth

70

70

115

130

160

170

200

Wexford

80

80

115

130

150

170

170

Waterford

80

80

115

130

150

170

170

Tipperary Sth.

80

80

115

130

150

170

170

Carlow

80

80

115

130

150

170

170

Kilkenny

80

80

115

130

150

170

170

Mayo

70

70

115

115

175

200

200

Roscommon

70

70

115

115

175

200

200

Limerick

70

70

110

130

150

170

185

Kerry

75

75

100

153

153

190

203

Tipperary Nth.

70

70

100

130

150

170

185

Clare

70

70

100

130

150

170

185

Sligo

70

70

100

120

150

170

170

Longford

70

70

100

120

140

160

175

Westmeath

70

70

100

120

140

160

175

Offaly

70

70

100

120

140

160

175

Laois

70

70

100

120

140

160

175

Monaghan

70

70

90

121

140

155

191

Cavan

70

70

90

121

140

155

191

Donegal

70

70

90

120

140

153

170

Leitrim

70

70

90

120

140

153

170

* Per month.

[421] Deputy Bernard Allen asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if the back to school clothing and footwear payment will be awarded to a person (details supplied) in County Cork. [17469/07]

  Deputy Martin Cullen: The Southern Area of the Health Service Executive has advised that it will not be in a position to deal with individual claims for back to school clothing and footwear allowance until the first week in July at the earliest. A determination of the entitlement of the person concerned to payment is expected to be made at that time and she will be notified directly of the decision. The Health Service Executive has further advised that the person concerned may also call the Southern Area HSE (Free-phone number 1800-742287) in early July to ascertain the status of her claim.

Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if a person (details supplied) in County Mayo can pay back an overpayment at a reduced amount as the amount sought by his Department would cause severe financial hardship. [17470/07]

  Deputy Martin Cullen: A Deciding Officer disallowed the jobseekers benefit claim of the person concerned from 14 September 2006 to 14 April 2007 on the grounds that she was not available for full-time work. She had not informed the Department that she was engaged in a full-time course of study during this period. Consequently, an overpayment of €5,366.90 was raised on her claim and she was notified accordingly on 12 June 2007. She should contact her Local Office so that account can be taken of all her circumstances when agreeing arrangements for recovery of the overpayment.

It is also open to her to appeal the Deciding Officer’s decision and a form for this purpose has been issued to her.

Under Social Welfare Legislation decisions in relation to claims must be made by Deciding Officers and Appeals Officers. These officers are statutorily appointed and I have no role in regard to making such decisions.

Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the qualifying criteria and treatment of income from community employment; the way this affects other social welfare entitlements; and the reason a person (details supplied) in Dublin 9 was refused a back to school allowance as a result of participating in a community employment scheme. [17490/07]

  Deputy Martin Cullen: The Community Employment [422] (CE) scheme is a programme administered by FÁS which is designed to assist long-term unemployed and others who are distant from the labour force by offering them part-time and temporary work positions in jobs based within local communities. Following the placement, participants are actively encouraged to capitalise on the skills and experience that they have obtained through the scheme by seeking more permanent part-time and full-time opportunities within the mainstream workforce. Participants on the CE scheme are provided with an average of 39 hours of paid employment per fortnight for a one-year period.

Earnings from this work are liable to PRSI contributions at class A. Participants with reckonable weekly pay of €339 or less are insured at PRSI sub-class A8 and are exempt from paying a PRSI contribution, while participants with earnings exceeding that amount are insured under PRSI sub-class A9 which has an employee social insurance liability of 4 per cent of earnings after the first €127. In each case, the employer pays a reduced PRSI contribution of 0.50%.

The requirement to pay PRSI Class A contributions was introduced in the Social Welfare Act, 1996. This extension effectively placed these workers on an equal footing with PRSI Class A workers — both in terms of social insurance liabilities and benefits. Income from CE schemes is assessed as earnings for the purposes of any Social Welfare means tested payments. The implications this has for an individual will depend on the scheme in question as schemes have different income disregards/income limits.

The back to school clothing and footwear allowance (BSCFA) scheme provides a one-off payment to eligible families to assist with the extra costs when their children start school each autumn. The allowance is not intended to meet the full cost of school clothing and footwear but to provide assistance towards these costs. A person may qualify for payment of an allowance if they are in receipt of a social welfare payment or Health Service Executive (HSE) payment, are participating in an approved employment scheme or attending a recognised education or training course and have household income at or below certain set levels. The CE scheme is included, among others, as one of the qualifying payments for the purposes of the BSCFA scheme.

Participants in a CE scheme are assessed under the standard rules for BSCFA and must satisfy the standard means test in order to qualify for payment. The Health Service Executive has advised that it disallowed an application by the person concerned in 2006 as her household income was above the prescribed limit for entitlement to the allowance. The person concerned was advised by the Executive of the decision and she was also informed of her right to appeal. The HSE has further advised that to date they have [423] no record of an application for BSCFA from the person concerned for this year.

The weekly income limit appropriate to a single person with one child when the application was made was in 2006 was €314.90. The limit in 2007 is €331.30.

Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will arrange for the reinstatement of a payment of jobseeker’s allowance in the case of a person (details supplied) as an effort to resolve the ongoing dispute between his Department and the person in question. [17491/07]

  Deputy Martin Cullen: The person concerned was in receipt of jobseeker’s allowance from 12 July 2004. On 1 December 2006 he returned his Christmas bonus and weekly payment to his local office as he was unhappy with how his name appeared on the receipt from the Post Office.

Staff in the local office explained the problem to him and wrote to him on 6 December 2006 confirming that the receipt from An Post had been corrected and that the returned payment had re-issued. This was again confirmed to him in writing on 12 December 2006. However, no payment was collected at the post office since 5 December 2006 and the claim lapsed automatically on 2 January 2007.

The staff in the local office have made ongoing efforts to honour his wishes as far as it is possible to do so. He has been invited on many occasions since then to make a new claim but has refused to do so. It is therefore proposed to regard the current inquiry as an application for jobseeker’s allowance and process it from a current date.

Question No. 424 answered with Question No. 417.

Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if it is possible for a recipient of widow’s pension who would satisfy the medical conditions of invalidity pension to switch to invalidity pension in order to gain an entitlement to the free travel pass; and if not, his intentions to amend legislation to allow same or to extend free travel to recipients of widow’s pension in such circumstances; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17535/07]

  Deputy Martin Cullen: 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 [424] 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.

Widows and widowers aged from 60 to 65 who are permanently resident in the State, whose late spouse held a free travel pass and resided with them on a permanent basis are eligible for the free travel scheme if they are now in receipt of certain social welfare payments including widow/er’s contributory or non-contributory pension.

Where a person is in receipt of a particular payment from my Department but would also satisfy the qualifying conditions for another payment, it is possible for that person to switch to the other payment and indeed I would advise people to do so if the other payment would be more beneficial to them. In the case of a person wishing to switch to invalidity pension, he or she would need to satisfy not just the medical conditions but also the social insurance contribution conditions.

Question No. 426 answered with Question No. 412.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will restore the universality of child benefit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17581/07]

  Deputy Martin Cullen: In order to qualify for child benefit, applicants must satisfy the Habitual Residence Condition (HRC). The requirement to be habitually resident in Ireland was introduced as a qualifying condition for certain social assistance schemes and child benefit with effect from 1 May 2004. It was introduced in the context of the Government’s decision to open the Irish labour market to new EU Member States without the transitional limitations which were being imposed by many of the other Member States. The effect of the condition is that a person whose habitual residence is elsewhere is not paid social welfare payments on arrival in Ireland.

EU regulations provide that EEA nationals who have been employed since coming to this country, are entitled to payment of family benefits under the same conditions as Irish nationals and the habitual residence condition does not apply in their case. Since the introduction of the HRC in May 2004 to May 2007, the total number of child benefit claims refused was 1,780, involving approximately 2,500 children. Refusals mainly apply to people whose claims for asylum have not yet been finalised, or who do not have a work permit or who have a minimal attachment to the workforce in Ireland.

[425] Asylum seekers are provided with direct provision accommodation. In certain cases they may also avail of exceptional needs payments from the local Health Board for the period that their asylum application is being processed.