Dáil Éireann - Volume 653 - 08 May, 2008

Written Answers. - Social Welfare Benefits.

Deputy Arthur Morgan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the amount it would cost in a year to increase maternity benefit to a flat rate of 60% of the average industrial wage. [17196/08]

  Deputy Mary Hanafin: The estimated Gross Average Industrial Wage (GAIE) in quarter 2, 2007 was €627.24 per week. Based on this figure the estimated full year cost of increasing Maternity Benefit to a flat rate of 60% GAIE would be some €91 million in 2008 terms.

From quarter 3, 2007 earnings are being calculated by the Central Statistics Office using an EU methodology, the Earnings, Hours and Employment Costs Survey (EHECS), only. The comparable EHECS estimate of industrial earnings per week was €609.04 in quarter 3, 2007. Based on this figure, which is the most up-to-date available, the estimated full year cost of increasing Maternity Benefit to a flat rate of 60% of the EHECS estimate of industrial earnings would be some €80 million in 2008 terms.

Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the criteria used to determine if an Irish citizen who has returned home after spending some years abroad is entitled to social welfare benefits here including benefits for their children. [17210/08]

  Deputy Mary Hanafin: The Habitual Residence Condition was introduced in the context of the Government’s decision to open the Irish labour market to workers from the 10 new EU Member States, without the transitional limitations which were imposed at that time by most of the other Member States.

The question of what is a person’s “habitual residence” has been decided in accordance with European Court of Justice case law, which sets out the grounds for assessing individual claims. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has set down a number of factors to be considered when deciding whether someone is “habitually resident”. The Court has determined that five factors are relevant in determining whether a person is habitually resident, and these grounds are specified in Section 30 of the Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2007 as follows:

(a) the length and continuity of residence in the State or in any other particular country;

(b) the length and purpose of any absence from the State;

(c) the nature and pattern of the person’s employment;

(d) the person’s main centre of interest, and

(e) the future intentions of the person concerned as they appear from all the circumstances.

[1190] An Irish national returning to this country having lived abroad for a number of years, would have their entitlement to Social Welfare payment assessed in the context of the factors outlined above. It is likely that a person returning to live permanently in this country would satisfy the requirements of the habitual residence condition.

Each case received for a determination on the Habitual Residence Condition is dealt with in its own right and a decision is based on application of the legislation and guidelines to the particular individual circumstances of each case. The Habitual Residence Condition is being operated in a careful manner to ensure that Ireland’s social welfare system is protected, while at the same time ensuring that persons whose cases are appropriate to the system have access to it when they need it.

Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if persons (details supplied) in Dublin 9 will be assisted. [17229/08]

  Deputy Mary Hanafin: The Health Service Executive has stated that the matter is currently under review with the Executive’s Appeals Office and has advised that the person concerned will be informed of the outcome of its decision in due course.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if she will address the anomaly in the family income supplement allowance which states that local elected councillors are self-employed and therefore cannot qualify for FIS, even though their only source of income may be the representational allowance from their council; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17258/08]

  Deputy Mary Hanafin: Family income supplement (FIS) is designed to provide cash support for employees on low earnings with families. This preserves the incentive to remain in employment in circumstances where the employee might only be marginally better off than if he or she were unemployed and claiming other social welfare payments. FIS is paid on a weekly basis over a period of 52 weeks, taking into account a family’s net earnings and the number of children under aged 18 or aged between 18 and 22 years and in full time education.

Where self employment is the sole employment in a household, Family Income Supplement is not payable. Arrangements already exist whereby self employed people on low earnings can receive additional payments under the social welfare system. Self-employed people whose income falls below the rate of unemployment assistance (UA) appropriate to their family circumstances are entitled to claim assistance. The rate of assistance payable depends on the person’s means. In assessing means, account is taken of the net income which the applicant may reasonably expect to receive in the next year, and all expenses necessarily incurred by the applicant in carrying out the business are disregarded.

Representational Payments are insurable at PRSI class M and Councillors are regarded as office holders in the same manner as TDs, MEPs Senators and members of the judiciary. Under Social Welfare Regulations (Article 27 of SI 312/96) all emoluments received in respect of the office held are exempt from Social Insurance with the exception of the Health Levy. A Representational Payment is therefore considered to be an emolument from self-employment and treated as such in accordance with the provisions of the Social Welfare legislation.

Any extension of FIS to other categories of persons would have to be considered in a budgetary context. There are currently no plans for such an extension.

[1191] Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the reason a person (details supplied) in Dublin 20 was refused family income supplement to supplement their council representational allowance; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17259/08]

  Deputy Mary Hanafin: Family income supplement (FIS) is designed to provide cash support for employees, with families on low earnings. This preserves the incentive to remain in employment in circumstances where the employee might only be marginally better off than if he or she were unemployed and claiming other social welfare payments. FIS is paid on a weekly basis over a period of 52 weeks, taking into account a family’s net earnings and the number of children under aged 18 or aged between 18 and 22 years and in full time education. Where self-employment is the sole employment in a household FIS is not payable.

Representational Payments are insurable at PRSI class M and Councillors are regarded as office holders in the same manner as TDs, MEPs, Senators and members of the judiciary. Under Social Welfare Regulations (Article 27 of SI 312/96) all emoluments received in respect of the office held are exempt from Social Insurance with the exception of the Health Levy. A Representational Payment is therefore considered to be an emolument from self-employment and treated as such in accordance with the provisions of the Social Welfare legislation.

The person concerned is in receipt of a Representational Payment. As this is their sole income and is considered to be from self employment their application for FIS was refused.

Deputy Michael D’Arcy asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the reason there is a backlog of applications for family income supplement with her Department only dealing with applications from September 2007 at this time, resulting in new applicants being told they will have to wait months for their claims to be processed; the action she will take to shift the backlog in order that those in need of this income support are not left waiting for months; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17268/08]

  Deputy Mary Hanafin: Following improvements made to the qualifying income thresholds for family income supplement (FIS) in recent budgets and publicity campaigns promoting the scheme, there has been a substantial increase in the scheme take-up.

In 2007, my Department received 36,000 new and renewal FIS claims compared to 33,000 in 2006 and 23,000 in 2005 — an increase of over 60% on 2005 and 11% on 2006. In the first 16 weeks of 2008 over 15,000 new and renewal claims were received compared to some 12,000 in the same period in 2007 — an increase of 20%.

The Department has introduced a number of measures to address the efficiency of claim processing for FIS in light of the increased current backlog:

A review of existing processes and procedures has been undertaken with the explicit objective of reducing delays in claim processing;

Priority is being given to claims where a claim is being renewed to ensure continuity of payment;

The ongoing staffing requirement was recently reviewed in light of the increased volumes of claims;

Overtime working is being judiciously applied;

[1192] 5 extra temporary staff have been recruited to help with processing the backlog of FIS claims.

These measures will, over time, lead to more efficient processing and reduce the number of claims on hand. The position is being closely monitored and kept under review by my Department.

Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the position regarding an application for an exceptional needs payment for a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17296/08]

  Deputy Mary Hanafin: Under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme, which is administered on my behalf by the community welfare division of the Health Service Executive, an exceptional needs payment (ENP) may be made to help meet an essential, once-off cost which the applicant is unable to meet out of his/her own resources. There is no automatic entitlement to this payment. Each application is determined by the Executive based on the particular circumstances of the case. Eligible people would normally be in receipt of a social welfare or health service executive payment.

The Dublin / Mid-Leinster Area of the Executive has advised that the wife of the person concerned applied to the local Community Welfare Office (CWO) for two ENPs in April 2008, one of which was for an orthopaedic bed. The CWO refused the ENP requests on the grounds that an exceptional need was not in evidence. The person has been advised of her right to appeal the decision to the designated officer of the HSE Appeals Office. To date no appeal has been received.

The person concerned was further advised that if there are any changes in her circumstances she should make a formal application for an ENP that will be considered under the terms of the scheme.